When 15 GB isn’t enough for you.
Fifteen gigabytes is a lot of storage (and the limit’s not new, by the way) — but sometimes we have a lot of mail.
When it comes to Google, however, there’s more at play than mail.
And Dropbox? Well, it might be part of the solution, but then again . . . it might have an even stricter limit.
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Free up space in Gmail
Both Google Drive and Google Photos count against your Gmail storage quota; cleaning them can be a good place to start. Of course you can purchase more storage, but it’s also worth reviewing how much of your email you really need to keep. The most complete solution is to run a desktop email program and move email to your PC to free up space online, with the added benefit of backing up your email.
It’s more than email
The single most important thing to realize is that the 15GB of space you get in a free Gmail account applies to your entire Google account. Specifically, all of these share the same 15GB of storage:
- Google Drive
- Google Photos
The first thing I would do is look to see whether it’s really your email taking up all that space, or whether some or most of the space is being used by Drive and Photos. Visit one.google.com/storage,1 and you’ll see something like this:
I’ve paid for two terabytes of storage, but you can see that my email is using only just over two gigabytes. It’s my use of Google Drive that takes up the most space in my account.
Depending on your situation, you may find that Google Drive, or perhaps Google Photos, might be responsible for reaching your 15GB storage limit.
Solution #1: Get more storage
Google’s preferred solution, I’m sure, is that you pay for more storage.
And I will say it’s both easy and fairly cost-effective. The reason I’m paying for my two terabytes, as shown above, is that when I did the research a few years ago, it was the least expensive of the alternatives that met my requirements.
I know it’s not for everyone, but given the simplicity and reasonable price, it’s worth considering.
Solution #2: Check those other services
As I pointed out above, Google Drive and Google Photos count against your 15GB limit. This is a surprise to many people.
Given that photos and other things we might store in Google Drive are often large, re-evaluating what you keep in these services can be the fastest approach to freeing up space for your Gmail.
For example, moving your photos from Google Photos to Dropbox could be a quick solution if you’re in this situation.
Similarly, if you’re using Google Drive, moving some or all of what you have stored there to a different solution (like Dropbox) might also be a relatively quick fix.
Unfortunately, I can’t really give you more guidance on this approach, since we all use Google Drive and Google Photos differently, and re-thinking your approach will depend on how you use them.
Solution #3: Clean up email
I’ll assume you’ve already thought of this, but I need to mention it for those that haven’t.
Do you really need to save all that email? All 15 gigabytes of it? Really?
This might be an opportunity for you to spend a little time cleaning up what’s saved. Delete messages you no longer need.
One compromise that can be effective is to download attachments — often some of the largest contributors to space use — and save them elsewhere. This might be a great use for something like Dropbox. Once the attachment’s been downloaded, you can delete the email (assuming the value was in the attachment and the message itself is no longer needed).
It’s more time-consuming, but can be helpful.
Solution #4: Download email
This solution — perhaps the most complete — is more complex than it sounds.
To begin with, any email you remove to free up space will no longer be available in the Gmail web interface. You’ll be storing it all elsewhere.
Here’s the approach I recommend:
- Install a desktop email program like Thunderbird.
- Configure it to access your Gmail using IMAP.
- Create one or more local folders in Thunderbird. These are folders stored only on your computer.
- Using whatever criteria you like, copy messages from the Gmail folders to the local folders.
- Delete the messages you’ve copied in Gmail.2
One set of criteria might be to move all emails older than a certain date to local folders, leaving only the newer emails available online.
All email remains accessible in Thunderbird; it’s just spread out between two or more folders: some representing your live Gmail account and others representing email you’ve moved to your PC.
About moving email to Dropbox
In theory, you can configure Thunderbird to place its folders in Dropbox.
In practice, it’s fragile. I’ve done it, and I no longer do. There are two issues:
- If Thunderbird is running, some of the files are locked, and Dropbox will complain about not being able to sync them. Other than perhaps obscuring other errors you’d want to act on, this is benign, if annoying.
- If you have two machines, each running Thunderbird and each accessing the same set of folders stored in and synchronized by Dropbox, they can confuse each other. In the worst case, email can be lost if you’re not very, very careful. In theory, as long as you religiously run only one copy of Thunderbird on one machine at a time, all should be fine. In practice, it’s easy to forget that there’s another copy running.
If you truly want the email to be accessible from within Dropbox, the only practical solution I’m aware of is this: after Thunderbird has copied email to those local folders, locate and copy the files representing those emails to a folder within your Dropbox. This seems overly complicated for little value.
There’s also a third issue: a free Dropbox account has only two GB of storage, so unless you’re paying for more, Dropbox may not be enough.
The solution I generally recommend is the more complex one above — solution #4 — and here’s why: you should be doing most of it already.
I know you’re not, but you should be.
You should be backing up your email, and the first two steps — running a desktop email program and configuring it to access your account using IMAP — accomplishes just that.
Then, when you create local folders that are stored only on your PC, they’ll be backed up by your regular PC backups.
Footnotes & References
1: It’s “one.” because the storage services are all branded as Google One.
2: I call this out as two separate steps, rather than “move”, because Gmail labels and folders can confuse the issue. It’s safer to copy the messages into Thunderbird first and then go back to the Gmail interface to delete them.