How can you clear up the clutter in your Outlook email folders? Here are some tips and tricks.

Are your Microsoft Outlook email folders overflowing with hundreds or thousands of unorganized messages? Are you unsure what to do with a new email when it arrives, thereby cluttering up your inbox? That’s a common malady, but one for which there is a remedy, or rather several remedies. By following some helpful tips and tricks, you can make your Outlook inbox much more manageable.

In this article, we’ll review the following skills:

  • You can create Quick Steps that can put new email in the right folders at the click of a button.
  • You can create rules that determine what happens with a new email based on subject line, sender, and other criteria.
  • You can clean up a conversation thread so that extraneous and redundant messages are deleted or moved.
  • You can archive your older messages so they’re forgotten but not gone.

Let’s look at each of the tips and tricks to see how you can better organize your mail in Microsoft Outlook.

A Quick Note: When I say Microsoft Outlook, I’m talking about the full email client that’s part of Microsoft Office, not the online email service. Also, I’m using Outlook 2016 through the article, but the tips will work in Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2010 as well.

How To Create Quick Steps

Quick Steps enable you to easily file emails in certain folders and perform other actions by simply clicking on a button. I use Quick Steps to send new emails that I’ve read to specific work folders and personal folders so they don’t clutter up my inbox. Here’s how to create a Quick Step.

At the top of your Outlook screen, make sure the Home toolbar is selected. You should see the Quick Steps group in the middle of the toolbar. Some Quick Steps are already built into Outlook, and you may find those useful. But let’s say we want to create a Quick Step that moves all email for your Netflix subscription into a folder called Netflix. Click on the Create New command in the Quick Steps section. Name it and then select an action, such as moving the message to the Netflix folder. Click on the Add Action button.

You’ll see the new step you just created in the Quick Step section. Now click on an email from Netflix and then click on the new Quick Step. Your email is transported to the Netflix folder. You can create multiple Quick Steps for different messages and tasks to make it easier to file new messages.

How to Create Rules

Rules place your email messages into the right folders but before you actually read them. As such, rules may be useful for organizing messages that you plan to read at a later day and don’t want them crowding your inbox in the meantime.

Let’s use the same Netflix example. Let’s say you don’t need to read the Netflix messages hitting your inbox and want to place them in the correct folder right off the bat. Click on one of the messages from Netflix. Then click on the down arrow under the Rules button on the Home toolbar and click on the command to Create Rule. In the Create Rule window, click on the checkmark for the Sender’s address. The click on the checkmark for the “Move the item to folder” command and select the Netflix folder. Click OK. Now any message you receive from that address will automatically be placed in the Netflix folder. You can create additional rules to file away other types of messages.

How to Clean Up a Conversation Thread

You probably get into long conversation threads sometimes where all the previous emails in the thread are quoted in each new message. That can result in plenty of messages with duplicate and redundant information. You can tell Outlook to clean up such a conversation thread, removing the older and unnecessary messages and leaving you with the latest version quoting the entire thread.

To give this a shot, click on an email that’s part of a conversation thread. In the Delete group on the Home toolbar, click on the button for Clean up and then click on the command to Clean Up Conversation.

A message pops up telling you that “All redundant messages in this conversation will be moved to the ‘Deleted Items’ folder.” Click on the Settings button on the message if you wish to tweak the options for this feature.

At the Clean Up Conversation section in the Outlook Options window, you can change the folder to which the redundant messages are sent. You can tell Outlook not to move unread, categorized, and flagged messages. Click OK to close the Options window. Then click the Clean Up button on the “Clean Up Conversation” message. Outlook will tell you if any messages were moved. You can then open the Deleted Items folder to review your redundant messages.

How to Archive Older Messages

Do you have messages that are many years old? If so, do you ever still read them? If not, but you don’t want to delete them, you can archive them. An archive is a separate PST file, or Outlook Data File (a file that stores your messages and other content). By placing such messages in an archive file, they’re removed from your current Outlook folders but still available in the archive should you ever need to refer to them.

You can tell Outlook to automatically and periodically archive older messages, or you can manually send messages to an archive. To automatically have older messages archived, click on the File menu and then select Options. Click on the Advanced category. Under AutoArchive, click on AutoArchive Settings.

Click on the checkmark to Run AutoArchive if it’s not already checked. Select how often AutoArchive should run by setting the number of days. Click on any of the other options you wish to enable. Then make sure the option to “Move old items to” is set for a specific archive file in the folder where you store your main Outlook PST file. This should automatically be selected for you, but you’ll still want to double check. Click OK to close this window.

Manually archiving older messages creates a folder called Archive in your current mailbox. This way, the messages don’t crowd your other folders but are easily accessible. To manually archive message, select the message you wish to archive. Right-click on them and select Archive from the popup menu.

Outlook asks if you want it to create an archive folder or use an existing folder. Select the option to create an archive folder. Outlook creates a folder called Archive and moves your selected messages to it. In the future, you can select messages, click on the Archive command, and those messages will be moved to the Archive folder.