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How much email do you keep…and why?

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Over the last several weeks I’ve noticed several threads like these:

talking about email searching and archiving. I must admit to being stunned to see the magnitude of the email stores being discussed – tens of thousands of emails, multi-GB size mailboxes, archives and .pst files, email histories of 10 years or more, etc.

Perhaps it’s a stereotype of engineers (I’m a Chemical Engineer) that we can be packrats who don’t like to throw anything away that we think we might use again, but I guess I must be an anomaly.

Partly because of document retention policies where I work (email Inboxes and Sent Items folders are purged every week of any email older than 60 days, and mailbox sizes are limited to 200 MB), my Inbox is pretty lean. Right now my workplace Inbox has about 25 items and my total mailbox (all folders) is about 80 MB including attachments. My home mailbox is similar – I probably have about 15-20 messages in my Inbox with fewer than 50 messages in other folders.

My wife, on the other hand, has messages from last summer reminding us to send bathing suits with our girls for their Girl Scout swim party!

So I’m a little curious to hear why people keep all the email they do, how frequently they actually search or otherwise access archived email, and how they decide what to keep. For those that may have business reasons for keeping email, do they ever have concerns that they’ve kept too much (i.e., stuff that would turn up during a “discovery” process in litigation?)

I must admit that I do cut-and-paste bits of information into Evernote or into Copernic-searchable files, but email for me is a pretty transient thing.

i don't know about you, but if you work at a company where a lot of communication is done by mail
or in general, when you tell people stuff by mail or get told. no matter what.

you keep your mail.
all of it.

it's called 'cover your ass'.

on a side note, i even keep a lot of my spam to teach my filters

I used to keep a lot of e-mail but also delete a lot. Then I got Gmail. Now I archive everything except spam and the occasional stupid chain e-mail that comes my way.

I have two Gmail accounts now, but the one I've had the longest (back when invites were still rare) is only at 19% storage capacity. The one I use most often these days is only at 1% of capacity.

My inbox is tidy because I only keep a few in the inbox, but nearly everything else goes to the archive.

EDIT: As to why? Um... Not really sure. Most of it I could do without, but I have to tell you it has been very helpful when a year and a half later I vaguely remember an e-mail conversation I had with someone about some topic (such as coding) that I'm suddenly very interested in remembering. A quick Gmail search or two and I've found it. It's very, very useful when you need it.

I keep all boxes completely empty - might move a message or two to drafts once in a while so I can deal with them properly later but that's about it.

I'm sure there's a lot of CYA at our place too, but people would have to print out emails and keep them in a hardcopy file. Our SysAdmins run jobs every Sunday night that purge email older than 60 days from our mailboxes (for a week or so there is a way to retrieve stuff that should have been saved for coporate reasons). Outlook archiving is also deactivated.

Apart from the storage issues (we have many thousands of Outlook users), the main reasons are compliance with corporate document retention policies.


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