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How To Use Archiving in Outlook Effectively (2023)?

There is so much confusion about archiving in Outlook. I think the reason is that there are three different ways to archive emails in Outlook. Each method has the word archive in it but all are very different and have their advantages and disadvantages so it’s important to understand which method is the right one for you. With all this free cloud storage, do you even need archiving at all?

archiving in outlook

Why do you need archiving?

Let’s find out before we dive into the technicalities of archiving and Outlook. Let’s first clarify what it’s used for. In the old days, mail server space was expensive so the solution was archiving, meaning to keep the mailbox small by moving out old emails to a separate data file or PST file. Now you get 15 GB of cloud storage, sometimes more, even with free email accounts so why archive? Well, for me, it comes down to two main reasons. Compliance and legality, and productivity.

Compliance and legal

Each country or industry has its own standards and regulations. When it comes to data security and retention, a lot of intellectual property is contained within emails, and often during a tax audit or legal proceeding, you will have to dig up those old emails. Paper archiving can help you with that.


No one likes to waste time searching for stuff bloated mailboxes can slow things down. It’s going to get more difficult to find what you need when you archive. You can still maintain access to all messages, but it’s going to keep your mailbox lean and make searching much faster.

With that in mind, let’s check out the different archiving options you have in Outlook.

Fake Archiving

  • The archive button is located next to the delete button on the home tab.
  • I call it fake archiving because all it does is move your message to a special folder called “Archive” in your mailbox.
  • Just like the Delete button moves the message to the deleted items folder, other than the convenience of this button, there is really nothing special about the Archive folder because it’s part of your mailbox, it’s not going to reduce the overall size of your mailbox.
  • In that sense, it’s not true archiving but on the other hand, it has the advantage that all items in there are still available in Outlook for the web, on your phone, or on any other device.
  • I generally use the Archive button to clear out items from my inbox that I still want to keep handy for some time and that I don’t need anymore.
  • I use Delete and I empty the deleted items at regular intervals. Instead of the buttons and the ribbons, you can also customize quick actions to quickly archive and delete.
  • You can also use the keyboard shortcut Backspace to archive.

Auto Archiving

  • This feature was introduced with Outlook 2003 and it was Microsoft’s answer to sluggish Outlook performance.
  • When mailboxes got big, it runs in the background and automatically goes through all your mailbox folders.
  • It physically moves old emails to a separate data file or PST file on your local computer so this is true archiving, and it keeps your mailbox smaller.
  • In Outlook, you will see it as a separate group in the folder pane outside of your mailbox called Archives.
  • It maintains the folder structure when it moves the emails so it’s not just one big folder where all old emails are dumped. When you open Archives, you are going to see folders like inbox or sent items, depending on where the messages were before.
  • Remember, the archive data file sits locally on your PC so anything that’s been moved there is not going to be available to you on another computer or online.
  • Now, I admit, setting up auto archiving in Outlook is not the most intuitive experience but once you have it set up the way you want, it’s going to work quietly in the background and it’s going to free up space for you so if you have limited mail server space at home or at work, it’s still the best way in Outlook to get rid of old items.
  • Now, because it’s important to get the settings right. I have a separate post that shows you how to properly set up auto archiving. Check it out if you want to give auto archiving a try.

Online Archiving

  • The third method that we are going to take a look at is online archiving or in place archiving, as it’s also called.
  • It’s kind of superpowered auto archiving in the sense that it moves items out of your inbox but it’s cloud based so it stores the old items in an archive on a server and not in a PST file on your local computer. It’s like a specialized mailbox next to your actual mail account.
  • Because it’s online, any items stored there are available to you from your other computers as long as they are connected to the Internet.
  • Online archiving is created to provide an enterprise grade replacement for Auto Archive.
  • It requires an Exchange account, and it has certain Outlook license requirements. Take a look at the Microsoft support page for more details.
  • If you have Online Archiving or your Exchange administrator activated it for you, you are going to see it as a separate mailbox and Outlook based on your company’s default retention policy.
  • It’s going to automatically move your old items there after a certain time, while preserving the folder structure.
  • Just like with auto archiving, you can also create your own rules and Outlook to move messages to the archive mailbox, manually drag email there, or even migrate the content of your local PST file to an online archive. So online archiving kind of combines the best features of fake archiving and auto archiving. This wraps up our overview of archiving in Outlook.

I hope this article is helpful. If you would like more Outlook tips, check out this article. Thank you for reading.

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