It depends on your definition of “a while”.
Probably, but it depends on a couple of things: the rules that your email provider imposes and just how popular you are.
But yes, if you don’t check your email account often enough, it could be closed and deleted.
Planned absences are definitely something worth planning ahead for.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Not checking email for a while?
Not checking email for a few weeks while you’re on vacation is not going to cause your account to be closed. Email will simply accumulate while you’re away. However, if your email service has a quota and it is exceeded, emails to you may start bouncing. Not checking email for many months, however, can lead to your account being considered abandoned and closed.
Weeks versus months
I want to clarify one thing right off the bat: if you don’t log in to your online email account for a few weeks, that’s one thing, but if you don’t log in for several months, it’s an entirely different matter.
Not checking email for a few weeks shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll be fine.
Most email providers, particularly free email providers, do keep an eye out for accounts they consider “inactive”. That means you haven’t accessed the account for a “long time” — and how just how long that is varies from provider to provider.
Inactivity generally initiates a multi-step process:
- After “a while” (usually several months) of inactivity, everything in the account is permanently deleted, including email and contacts.
- After “a while” longer (some more months) the account is closed. You can no longer log in to it.
- After “a while” longer, or sometimes when the account is closed, the email address associated with the account is made available for anyone to create a new account.
So if you’ve ignored your account for several months, you may well lose accumulated email. Ignore it long enough, and you could lose the account completely, and someone else could use that email address for themselves.
If it matters to you, make sure to log in to your account every so often.
Personally, I don’t think I could go for three weeks without email. Too much of my business and my life revolves around it. I also know not everyone’s quite as addicted geeky as I am.
The biggest issue with not checking email for a number of weeks, besides the inactivity suspension I mentioned above, is that many email providers limit the amount of email they will store for you — often called a quota. If you don’t download your email for a prolonged period of time, your email simply accumulates on your provider’s server until this limit is reached, and then further email is bounced back to the sender.
I’d start by checking to see how likely it is you’ll run into that limit. Take a look at your incoming email rate, if you can, and do the math to make a guess as to how much email you might get in the weeks you’ll be gone. Make sure your email provider can handle it. In fact, I’d be tempted to make sure they can handle at least twice that, just to be safe.
Gmail’s 15 gigabytes, as just one example, is a LOT of space. However, I encourage you to look anyway. If you’re a heavy email user or are on lists that regularly send large attachments, it’s possible that that isn’t quite enough. (You can check in the lower-left corner any time you’re signed in to Gmail.)
On the other hand, if the math shows you have room to spare (as will be the case for most folks), then you probably have nothing to worry about.
Bumping into the limit
If you suspect you might run into your limit, there are a few options to consider.
- If you can, suspend your subscriptions to mailing lists while you’re away. Much like stopping the newspaper delivery at home when you take a vacation, this is a quick and easy way to slow the rate at which your inbox fills up.
- Another approach is to make sure you have a way of logging in and downloading email occasionally while you’re away.
- Alternatively, you could have a (very) trusted friend do that for you.
- If you’re lucky enough to have an unusually responsive email provider, you might even be able to contact them beforehand to make arrangements to have the limit temporarily raised for your account.
In general, you’re most at risk with free email accounts. These providers constantly need to prune inactive accounts to recover their resources. Time limits and quotas are a common method.