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Why is My Outlook.com Email Suddenly Full?

Microsoft has changed how they allocate your storage.

Microsoft made a confusing change to how storage is allocated between Outlook.com and OneDrive.
Exceeded your storage limit in OneDrive.
“Storage limit exceeded” message in OneDrive. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

I’m hearing from people who suddenly cannot send or receive email via Outlook.com, or are seeing warnings they’ll soon be unable to, unless they take action.

The action? Buying more OneDrive space.

What does OneDrive have to do with Outlook.com? Until recently, not much. Now, though, they’re attached1 at the hip.

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TL;DR:

Outlook.com email and OneDrive

Email attachments and in-line images in Outlook.com emails now count against your OneDrive storage limitations. If you exceed a limit, your alternatives are to delete files from OneDrive, delete emails with attachments from Outlook.com, or purchase more OneDrive space.

The past: two separate worlds

In the past, your free Microsoft account included:

  • 15GB (gigabytes) of storage for your Outlook.com email.
  • 5GB of cloud storage in OneDrive.

They were separate entities. A nice clean division.

Outlook.com and OneDrive as separate.
Outlook.com and OneDrive as separate. (Image: askleo.com)

That clarity apparently couldn’t stand.

The present: it’s more complicated

The rule seems pretty simple: email attachments and in-line images count against your OneDrive storage.

Where things are stored now in Outloook.com and OneDrive. (Image: askleo.com)
Where things are stored now in Outlook.com and OneDrive. (Image: askleo.com)

The net result, however, is complicated. Your OneDrive usage is now comprised of whatever you previously had in OneDrive (whether or not you realized it) plus all of your email attachments and in-message images.2

And that’s where it gets weird.

Instant failure scenario

Let’s assume you have a lot of mail at outlook.com. Perhaps not a full 15GB, but something significant. Say 10GB.

Let’s further assume your email has a lot of attachments. Perhaps 7GB of that 10GB are images and attachments.

Everything’s been working just fine until Microsoft makes this change. Then, suddenly, that 7GB counts against your (free) 5GB limit, and you’re way over. “Your files are at risk of deletion,” as Microsoft’s message at the top of the page warns you.

You did nothing. Microsoft simply changed the rules underneath you.

Examining your storage

In Outlook.com, at the lower left, click on the amount of storage usage reported.

Microsoft Storage used.
Microsoft storage used. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

In the example above, I would click on “5.0 GB used of 5 GB (101%)”.

This will take you directly to the Storage report in Outlook.com settings.

Storage report.
Outlook.com storage report. Click for larger image. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

Be sure that both “Microsoft storage” and “Email storage” are expanded by clicking the small down-arrows in the positions indicated (they’re up-arrows in the image, as they’ve already been clicked).

Here you can see that my “Microsoft storage” — AKA OneDrive — is over the limit at 101% used. The bar graph shows this is mostly files stored in OneDrive, but at the end, there’s a small indication showing Outlook.com attachments are included as well.

You can also see that my “Email storage” is negligible; it’s well under the 15GB allocated to free accounts.

Solutions

The solution I hear most people wanting to try is to delete attachments from specific email messages without deleting the email message itself.

The problem? There’s no way to do that in Outlook.com. You can’t delete just the attachment. You can only delete the entire email. I’ll cover a cumbersome workaround for this in an upcoming article, but for now, with the Outlook.com user interface at hand, it can’t be done.

Your options are:

  • Delete files from OneDrive to free up space. (And it’s quite possible you have more in OneDrive than you think.)
  • Delete emails with attachments to free up space. This means deleting the entire email, and perhaps also emptying Trash when you’re done.

You might be tempted to forward some of those emails with attachments to another account, but there are apparently situations where:

  • You can’t send emails because you’re using too much space.
  • You can’t free up space by forwarding some emails elsewhere.

A classic Catch-22 situation.

It’s a mess. And it’s not your fault.

Do this

Honestly, if you’re running into this situation, particularly if you use OneDrive, I’d be tempted to have you stop using the Outlook.com account for anything (other than perhaps needing it as your Microsoft account) and moving your email to a service with less restrictive, and certainly less confusing, rules.

Alternative #1, as outlined above, is deleting things from either your email at Outlook.com or your cloud storage at OneDrive.com.

Alternative #2 is to purchase more OneDrive storage. I’m reluctant to recommend this, because it seems like we’re letting slimy marketing tactics win if we do.3 However, if you do, I recommend purchasing a Microsoft 365 subscription. Even if you ignore everything else included in the subscription (which is a lot), it’s a cost effective approach to getting OneDrive space, as it includes a terabyte (1024 gigabytes) of storage.

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Footnotes & References

1: *cough*

2: Email treats in-line images similarly to attachments. The only difference is that they’re displayed in the email’s body rather than separately in an attachment.

3: And yes, this feels a marketing attempt to get more people to pay more money for an ongoing subscription of some sort. I’d love for a Microsoft representative to explain how this is all supposed to make sense.

43 comments on “Why is My Outlook.com Email Suddenly Full?”

  1. A workaround to this can be to have a free account with cloud storage providers such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, ProtonDrive, and iCloud all installed and running on my machine.”
    I have a few cloud services running simultaneously with no problems. This can be useful if you are using the free versions and you need more cloud storage space than any one provider offers.

    Reply
  2. It isn’t just Outlook.com. I have a Microsoft 365 subscription and just checked the storage space I’m using. While doing so, I found a link to this article from Microsoft Support titled “Changes to Microsoft 365 email features and storage” (https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/changes-to-microsoft-365-email-features-and-storage-637e353b-87b8-40d4-aa3f-a269bb9dfeb6)
    It appears it also applies to Outlook.com users who don’t have a Microsoft 365 subscription.

    Reply
  3. I have one word for this: MONEY. Microsoft might have a different reason for this change but it would be hard to justify any other reason for this complicated change.

    Reply
    • Of course, it can’t be anything else other than money. It’s not bad to make money, but this is bait and switch, definitely a shady business tactic.

      Gmail gives you 15GB of email storage. This 15GB includes anything in Google Drive and Google Photos, so it’s 5GB less than the old MS account total quota, but Gmail also allows you to download the attachments and delete them from the email.

      A workaround to get your emails moved to GMail:
      Open a Gmail account.
      Have Gmail fetch all your Outlook.com mail and delete them from Outlook.com.
      or
      Use an email program such as Thunderbird or Outlook.exe. Have it download all your emails via POP3 set up so or deletes mail from the server,
      Move Email Messages to Another Account

      You can continue using your newly emptied Outlook.com account, and only use the Gmail account as an archive if you prefer. If the Gmail account fills up, open a new Gmail account as a second archive. Periodically, log in to your Gmail account(s) so they’re not closed due to disuse.

      Reply
  4. Praise be to God on high, I have as little to do with Microsoft — other than Windows — as I can possibly get away with. I don’t have any OneDrive or Outlook or Microsoft accounts, and God willing, I never will.

    So I am not impacted by MS’s action. But I very much do feel sorry those who are.

    I know, Leo, that you hate to see people write the name as “Micro$oft,” which is understandable — after all, you once worked for them. You’ve even commented, one time, that one person’s constant use of the term tempted you to reject his post.

    But, really, when they do slimy things like this, can you really blame them???

    God!!!

    Reply
    • What annoys me is when they send email referencing Micro$oft (which still seems childish, but I understand) … and they do so from an outlook.com account. If you hate ’em so much, why are you using them??

      But, yeah, using “Micro$oft” turns me off. Perhaps in part because I worked for them (over 20 years ago now), but more because it just makes is a little more difficult to take question-asker seriously.

      Reply
        • There are degrees. Ask Leo! is not a charity, (and, indeed, a project of Puget Sound Software, LLC — where the “C” stands for “Corporation”) but I’m hoping people don’t view me the same way.

          Reply
          • Excuse me, Leo, but the “C” in “LLC” does NOT stand for “Corporation;” it stands for “Company” — in full, a “Limited Liability Company.”

            LLC’s are NOT corporations, although they have many of the same features. LLC’s have several characteristics that in many cases make them very much superior to the traditional corporation (charging order protection — ask your attorney if you don’t know what that means — being a huge one).

            LLC’s are understandably all the rage today in choice of business form. Even Amazon — or portions of it — is an LLC! You’d do well to read up on the business form which you yourself have chosen. :)

  5. You’ve hit on something important, Leo.
    Even though Microsoft is the culprit here, the sad fact is that we’re at the mercy of all the free storage givers who can (and many already have) severely limit or even totally do away with the service.
    I even expect Microsoft’s allocation of a terabyte of storage with a 365 subscription to either lower the storage space or raise the price…..or do both in the near term.

    Reply
    • You know, when Office 365 (now Microsoft 365) first came out I was expecting the same thing: a raise in price, or a reduction in service/features. It’s been YEARS and that’s not happened. Of course it could, but I’ve become less concerned/cynical about that happening as time has moved on.

      Reply
  6. Fortunately I neither use Outlook nor one drive.

    I have a Hotmail e-mail address but rarely look at it. You’ve prompted me to look at it. But I’m not overly worried.

    All it says to me is, avoid anything Microsoft and I’m beginning to worry about Google as well.

    Reply
  7. The issue, as I see it, is that Microsoft apparently made this change without warning. So some users (a few, many, most?) were blind sided with no immediate solution other than buying more storage so they could continue their daily email activity. Microsoft knew this before they made the change and Microsoft knew this would be a money maker. Outlook.com’s inability to delete attachments from emails exacerbates the problem rather than proving a solution.

    The point of most businesses is to make money, that’s the bottom line so to speak. But it’s how a company makes money that shines the light of Ethics on them. Whenever a company does me wrong, I abandon them, that’s just my way; it has little – if any – impact on them. I’ll not be cheated: burn me once and shame on you, burn me twice then shame on me. As more and more people do this it eventually does have an impact. Assuming this was a ploy to make money it’s short sighted, penny wise but pound foolish. Applying my standard, I’d like to see the majority of users who were burned, along with users who simply don’t like Microsoft’s business ethics, drop them and move to another service.

    One last point: fire the marketeer who came up with this idea, and no bonuses for the executives that approved it.

    Reply
    • There was lots of warning. I saw the announcement months ago, but waited to write about it until it happened to one of my accounts. I waited and waited.

      Could they have done a better job warning people? Absolutely. But it was not a total surprise.

      Reply
  8. If Outlook.com is still working properly, one (cumbersome) method to delete an attachment(s) might be to “reply” to that email and then change the “to” address to your own address and send the email to yourself sans attachment. After that, delete the original email that still contains the attachment(s). This would obviously be hopelessly time-consuming if dozens of emails are involved, but might work as a temporary solution.

    Reply
  9. Another solution to freeing up space is MailStore Home. It is a program designed to archive email messages and is free to use for non-commercial usage.
    Also can be used for backing up email and works with Gmail and Outlook.

    Reply
  10. Ya know Leo, I’ve been using MS products a long time. I started with MS DOS (Disk Operating System) on a PC XT with 250 MB of RAM and a 250MB tape drive! I was truly high tech. Actually, the XT was an upgrade from an Atari 800.

    I’ve had about all the Microsoft I can take. I’ve been considering moving to Linux and Open Office a long time and every time MS does something that may benefit the majority, it doesn’t benefit me. They just push me one step closer…

    Thanks for spelling out the details and keep doing what you do. I and so many others benefit.

    Reply
  11. I’ve always used Thunderbird to keep email in Local Folders stored on Dropbox. Recall Leo suggests using Thunderbird anyway to keep copy of email. That protects you from email provider making changes or in 1 case recently I deleted the wrong account!

    Reply
  12. While I’m disappointed, I cannot say I’m surprised at this most recent action (remembering Microsoft’s long-term history). The truth is that every commercial business is all about making money, but the difference between an ethical business and one run by Shysters is that an ethical business warns their customers before making any change that may impact their service or catch them off guard, and one that is run by shysters won’t because they want any money they can get, any way they can get it.

    In a manner similar to @Mr. Grump, I’ve been considering dropping Windows and anything to do with Microsoft for some time now, and this policy change (and the way it was carried out) takes me another step closer to doing just that. Even though I’m not directly impacted by this latest policy change, I am angry that they would make such a change without notifying their customers (free OR paid) beforehand. I am simply outraged!

    My2Cents,

    Ernie

    Reply
  13. easy solution. I have a copy of ALL email sent to my FREE YAHOO MAIL account which gives me a free TERRABYTE of storage. Then delete the outlook copy.
    I have been doing this for years. FREE TERRABYTE!!!!
    Kevin in Atlanta

    Reply
  14. Microsoft caught me off guard like everyone else. I decided to look at all the emails, it didn’t look like all that much space. I moved what I wanted keep to Gmail and deleted everything. The storage barely changed. I also deleted eveything in the deleted folder but it didn’t make much difference either. It was actually the sent folder that was using all my storage. There were thousands of emails wasting space. I also no longer let One drive save anything. Google Drive works fine for me. I will still use for Outlook my newsletters. One thought is maybe besides added revenue they want people to clean up their accounts.

    Reply
  15. Thanks for the MailStore suggestion. I’m running it now. I have used Outlook.com since it was Hotmail.com, and I prefer to keep it since a lot of organizations I deal with have that email. So now I will delete as much of my email as I can, and archive the rest. Thanks again!

    Reply
  16. I’ve used MailStore Home for some years. It’s been very useful to archive old e-mails and consolidate across different accounts (total ~ 50GB)
    I’ve had 2 issues with it.
    Sometimes flaky & crashes.
    It only works off a local drive or USB stick & does not support network/ NAS drives.
    There does not seem to be a moderately priced (non-enterprise) version that supports network drives.

    Reply
  17. I followed the process that Mark describes, copying 6GB of old e-mails from Thunderbird to an outlook.com account that i established as an on-line archive.
    Guess I need to review that account.
    The difficulty I experienced was that it took several weeks to do the migration, a folder at a time. I had to confirm successful transfer by comparing the # of e-mails in source & destination.
    With folders containing many e-mails I often had to find what had not transferred and the resume transfers.
    Basically the process is very vulnerable to timeouts or throttling by the cloud mail host.

    So for large repositories: lots of patience & checking is required.

    Reply
  18. Any recommendations on self-hosting an IMAP server?
    The use case would be archive / back-up, rather than to send or receive e-mail.
    I’ve looked at this a couple of times and there seem to be a lot of moving parts that need to be installed & configured that exceed my very modest IT skills.

    Ironically, I once successfully installed a POP3 server on a SunSparc workstation and used it to support internet e-mail before my company had an internet e-mail system (remember the days when e-mail was a tool for internal communication only?).

    Reply
    • Not for the faint of heart. If you’re Linux comfortable, I’d go that approach. You can install (or it comes with) a mail server. Yup, there’s configuration to be done. (FWIW even though I process all my email through Gmail, my actual email addresses go to Ubuntu Linux servers I’ve set up using exactly what you describe.)

      Reply
  19. I’ve had a hotmail.com account for decades. A few years ago, when replacing my computer, the new one came with Office. I wanted everything from my hard drive that was retrievable transferred to the new computer. At that time, they also set up Office as part of the transfer (a free version was already on my old computer, had been using it for years). But since they did not know my account password for hotmail, they set me up with an outlook.com account. (Grrrr.) So . . . that is how I now have to access Office (now 365). Immediately contacted Microsoft — No, you can’t consolidate two accounts. No, you can’t change the account owner’s email address (to eliminate outlook.com as the Office profile and replace with hotmail.com). Three years later, I see this whole debacle with 365 and account storage, contact again. No, I’m told I have to buy a second 365 package using the hotmail.com address. So very frustrating.

    Reply
  20. Storage is full so I spent hours deleting thousands of emails to free up space to no avail. Attachments from permanently deleted emails still appear in the Files section, and there is no option to delete them. Further, when I went to the OneDrive folder on my pc, it is empty so I cannot delete anything that way, it seems to have never synced. Please tell me there is some way to force a delete of all the email attachments in the paperclip/files section of Onedrive!! I do not need any of that anymore so I don’t need to upgrade my storage, I just need to be able to delete it from OneDrive cloud.

    Reply
  21. I have had my Hotmail account since 1997, so I have no doubt I could soon be a victim. But i do not see a way to check my storage space used. The bottom left corner just says “Upgrade to Microsoft 365”. Is it located somewhere else for Hotmail? TY Leo!!!

    Reply
    • Upgrading to Microsoft 365 is the way to get more Outlook.com (Hotmail) storage.
      Your Hotmail and OneDrive storage limits are combined into one 5 GB maximum. The way to increase your Hotmail storage limit is to upgrade to Microsoft 365 which gives you 1 TB storage for Microsoft 365 Personal for $69 a year and Microsoft 365 Family which gives you 1 TB storage for each of up to 6 users for $99. This subscription includes the latest version of MS Office for all users.

      Reply
  22. I don’t want OneDrive, I never asked for OneDrive and I never use OneDrive.
    Can someone please explain, is simple terms, how I can delete everything from OneDrive without losing the originals, how I can stop synchronising with OneDrive and, finally, how I can disconnect from it?

    Reply
  23. Hi Leo, I´ve been looking for a solution for my hotmaill account that is full. I don´t know if you tried to do a backup of all the emails as a .pst file to a hard drive, then erase the emails from chronollogical phases to free space and keep using the email account without buying anything?
    I´m trying to do the backup in the hotmail account, wich is the same I use with windows mail, but the problem is that the backup delays a lot, there is a message that delays can be up to 4 days, I´ve been doing it for more than 8 days and it isn´t finished yet. If you had tried this and know how to solve the backup delay, I will appreciate your comments or somebody who can help us with this issue. Thanks for the help

    Reply
  24. Dear Leo. I understand now that you’ve explained everything so well. I want to start deleting emails or attachments in one drive, but I don’t know how to get to my one drive folder. Is it in my outlook account somewhere? Or in my computer files somewhere. As you can see… I know some things but probably not enough to make this easy for you to answer my question. In addition to that question, today, I have a brand new problem, outlook has given me a “new outlook” that I did not give them permission to give me, and I can no longer see any of my old emails… emails I want and need! Fortunately, I also have a laptop that I can access them, but my desktop, that one that I use more often, has this “new outlook” that is not showing any of my old emails!! I will delete the ones with attachments on my laptop, but how do I get the “old” email back on this computer that has access to all my emails? I did a system restore, but that didn’t help. The only restore point was yesterday. I recently had a computer crash and had to reset the whole system on this computer, so that’s why it only has a restore point of yesterday. So, that’s 2 questions. Can you help me? Thanks, Leo!

    Reply

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