Archiving old emails in Outlook

 Jun 22, 2015

Quite a few people at my work seem to have trouble with archiving their emails. They get a tech person to set up archiving and then when something goes wrong, they can’t seem to find the archive and then complain that the process is too hard. Here is a process that I like to go through with people so that they feel in control of their email archives in Outlook.

Why archive?

While putting old emails in an archive does make searching your inbox slightly quicker, the main reason the IT department would like you to archive is storage space. Emails exist not only on your machine but also on the Outlook Exchange Server and if everyone in your organisation keeps gigabytes of email then the server runs out of room. This is why almost every organisation has a size limit on each person’s total mailbox size. An archive doesn't live on the Exchange Server and so it doesn't waste space on the server.

What is an archive?

An archive is like a zip file that holds a person’s email files (at their heart, emails are basically text files). Outlook archives have the .pst extension and the advantage of a .pst file is that you can open it in Outlook and look at the emails as easily as you can look at emails in your mailbox.

How to set up an archive

The easiest way to set up an archive in Outlook 2013 is this: File > Cleanup Tools > Archive


And you will end up in this menu:


Here you can choose which folder or folders to archive, most people normally archive their inbox and all folders within it. Note: at this point we won’t actually be moving any emails to the archive, we’ll just be setting up the archive itself.

If you click on the Browse button, you’ll notice the folder where the archive is going to be saved (buried fairly deeply on the local disk) and the name of the archive file (archive.pst by default).

I prefer to store my archives somewhere where I know exactly where they are so I’m going to change this to a folder I’ve created called C:archives and I’ll change the name to archive2014.pst. Note: you could also have the archive sit on a network drive that IT backs up regularly.

Now I know exactly where my archive file is and can put a copy of it on a memory stick or burn it to a disk so I have a backup.

Next, click in the Archive items older then: textbox and type a date that is a long way in the past, say “1/1/1980”. Remember that we don’t want any actual emails moved into the archive yet. Now click on Ok.

If you go back to your inbox and look at the bottom of your list of folders in the navigation pane you’ll see this:


Note: It may take a good 30 seconds for all the folders under your archive’s inbox to appear. This is because Outlook has to check every email in every folder to see if it was from before 1980, even though none of them will be.

The archive will have all your folders, but they will be completely empty. You can drag and drop old emails into the appropriate folders in your archive, or you can go back to the File > Cleanup Tools > Archive menu and put a more appropriate date and run the archive process again.

You can have one or more archives down the bottom of your folder list and the emails are just as easy to read as if they were in your inbox. You can right click on the Archive and choose 'Close Archive' which removes it from the folder list, and if you need it again (or something goes really wrong with your PC and need to use that backup you made), go: File > Open & Export > Outlook Data File (.pst), navigate to the .pst file (because you know where it is) and open it to get access to those old emails.

Hope that helps with making archiving in Outlook a lot easier to understand.

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About the Author:

Matthew Goodall  

Matthew is a qualified Microsoft Office Specialist, Microsoft Certified Applications Specialist and a Microsoft Certified Trainer with over 11 years of hands-on experience in a training facilitation role. He is one of New Horizons most dynamic instructors who consistently receives high feedback scores from students. Matt enjoys helping students achieve real professional and personal growth through the courses he delivers. He is best known for creating “fans” of students, who regularly request him as an instructor for any future courses they undertake at New Horizons.

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