Advice needed: Mail inbox too big, but want to keep old emails. Best way?

Discussion in 'Mac Apps and Mac App Store' started by sjinsjca, Dec 18, 2011.

  1. sjinsjca macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    I've searched (and continue to search) for an answer to this.

    I love Lion's mail application, and especially its integration with Spotlight. The ability to fan through a bunch of search hits using Cover Flow is a lifesaver for me! It's a marvelous capability that brought me firmly into the camp after using several other email applications. Really good stuff.

    Problem: My email records go back more than a decade, comprising hundreds of thousands of emails, including to groups of which I'm either a member or an administrator. It is important that these emails be accessible to me, and quickly searchable. + Spotlight fills the bill admirably for me.

    But my inbox is growing too swollen and is bogging down my system. Right now, I triggered some action (I have no idea how) and my machine is "Writing changes to disk - 20927 of 150425 messages". This is a common occurence and will go on for an hour or so. And when I reinstalled Lion recently it took overnight for Mail to import my previous inboxes!

    Too darn many emails. :eek:

    What I need to do:

    • Take all emails older than a year and put them in some sort of archive folder where they don't clutter up Mail's everyday activities but Spotlight can find them (and Mail can open them when asked to when previewing or opening in Spotlight's search results).

    I have one gmail (IMAP) account, three POP accounts, and a new iCloud accout I'm not using much yet. I want to include the gmail and iCloud emails in my archive for local searching. I have plenty of disk space.

    My question for the community: What is the best way to locally archive old emails, including attachments, so they're still searchable and openable but don't bog-down Mail?

    I have searched (and continue to search) for solutions but am finding suggestions that plain don't work, such as "drag old emails to the desktop and Mail will create a file" (that'd be great, but it doesn't work, at least in Lion). Mail's own Archive function spits an error for the gmail messages, The message "[subject]” could not be moved to the mailbox “(null)”. The destination mailbox does not exist..

    This place has never steered me wrong, so I'm hoping for some suitable suggestions! Thanks in advance.
  2. Dimwhit macrumors 68000


    Apr 10, 2007
    Are you saying all that email is in your inbox?

    How about just creating a new Mailbox in Mail and drag all the old email to it? Gets it out of the Inbox, but it's still in Mail and will be searched with Spotlight.
  3. pjo macrumors regular

    Feb 20, 2006
    Thunderbird has "archive folders" which allegedly can be organised by year/month. I haven't tried that though - but if they did work then exporting your (popped) mail to thunderbird (as well as archiving your IMAP mail) should give you what you need.
  4. sjinsjca, Dec 18, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2011

    sjinsjca thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    Yes. I have no sub-folders (although the Gmail account created its own folders, replicating the Labels structure in the web version of Gmail).

    I could try creating separate folders in Mail if you feel it will help. That might help the issue of Mail bogging down periodically in everyday usage since a smaller database would need managing with every incoming email, etc. But it seems to me (perhaps incorrectly!) that it would still take overnight for Mail to import all my messages next time I do an OS reinstall, buy a new machine or something.

    Ideally my old emails (with attachments) would reside in a folder outside of the Mail app until I use Spotlight to find and preview or open 'em.

    EDIT: I just created a new folder (selecting the "On My Mac" option) for one of my POP accounts. I have not yet put anything into it. Then I clicked on it... and it's been a few minutes, and the activity pane still says it's "Opening mailbox..."

    Okay, it just finished. Took about three minutes to open a mailbox with nothing in it! ...This is why I'd like to get old emails out of Mail entirely: stored in Mail folders, they'd still be part of the big database of emails that Mail would be managing and would slow everything down.

    UPDATE: Holy moly, my mail folder is 118GB!! I really need to separate the older emails... yikes!
  5. sjinsjca thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
    Thunderbird is not an option for me. I used to use version 2 and tried version 3: terrible integration with Spotlight.
  6. pjo macrumors regular

    Feb 20, 2006
    I meant using it to create the archives, then importing the archives into
  7. sjinsjca thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008
  8. technical88 macrumors newbie

    Jul 29, 2012
    Any updates on this?

    My mac is in the process of writing changes to disk... for two days now.

    any advice would be great, or updates on what you finally decided.


  9. Consultant macrumors G5


    Jun 27, 2007
    Well, Mailwing has a 30 day trial. Try it out and report how well it works:
  10. decksnap macrumors 68040


    Apr 11, 2003
    I have a similar amount if mail. I just create a separate 'on my mac' mailbox for every year. That way you can still search all the mail in one place. I try to keep my inbox under 10,000. There shouldn't be any performance issues unless a single mailbox gets tremendously large. This was a bigger issue back in Tiger when if you hit 2Gb on a single mailbox it would start to behave erratically.
  11. osx-addict macrumors newbie

    Jan 8, 2013
    Another option to consider is putting your older emails into DevonThink -- I believe it can easily archive emails with full search,etc.. I've not personally tried it yet but I've been very happy with DevonThink so far and have no reason to believe it wouldn't excel at this sort of task..
  12. glenthompson macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2011
    I have a mailbox hierarchy "on my Mac" that replicates what I used for years on a PC. Routine emails that I need to save get dragged to the appropriate mailbox. The mailboxes I have were imported from Outlook.

    I try to keep my inbox below 100 messages. I'm on a number of mailing lists but those get automatically routed to their own mailbox via rules.
  13. James Craner macrumors 68000

    James Craner

    Sep 13, 2002
    Bristol, UK
    I completely agree with what others have said. You need to reduce the number of emails in your active e-mail folders and move the old stuff to an Archive under On My Mac. This way you are going to significantly reduce you number of emails that you are syncing with your email service provider, but by keeping your archived emails under 'On My Mac' you can still use spotlight or mail search to find them. Finally make sure that you have a backup strategy as these emails will no longer be on your Email provider's server and is something happens to your hard disk you could lose all of your archived emails along with everything else that you have not backed up.
  14. sjinsjca thread starter macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2008

    No updates, alas. I'm still in need of a good/easy mail-archiving solution which keeps my archived emails searchable by Spotlight (and openable in and doesn't take a lot of time or effort to administer.

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