Don’t Use the Outlook Deleted Items Folder as Long Term Storage

May 27, 2011

In recent weeks I have met a number of people in the Outlook seminars I teach who tell me they do the following: they delete all mail they are “done with,” including important mail, and then use the Deleted Items folder as their long-term storage area for later searching. They point out that that in this case the Deleted Items folder becomes the equivalent of the MYN Processed Mail Folder. And they point out that deleting in bulk saves time over selectively saving some mail into the Processed Mail folder.

Here are the reasons not to do that:

  1. What about all the mail you really do intend to fully delete? How do you really delete those? If it’s only a few e-mails, then saving them also is not a big ‘deal’. However, I do actually fully delete about 1/3 to 1/2 of my mail (making instant decisions based on titles). And keeping those would significantly impact my storage space and later “eye-ball” searching overhead.
  2. Outlook sometimes purposely erases the contents of the deleted items folder—so it is not a reliable long term storage area. It usually gives a warning before it does it, but I could see the case where I am moving fast and click the wrong answer.
  3. Outlook puts –all- deleted items in that folder too: deleted tasks, calendar items, contacts; why save all those too? Again, sometimes you really do want to get rid of things (like duplicate contacts or an old contact with incorrect contact info) and Outlook might find these in later searches and that may lead you astray.
  4. I don’t know the answer to this, but it would not surprise me if Exchange does not back up the contents of the Deleted Items folder. So if your servers went down and you had to restore, all that mail would be lost.

To summarize, I think you want to make a clear distinction between what you really never want to see again, and those things you do intend to possibly search later as reference material. There is a big difference in how you treat them, and in how Outlook treats them. So don’t mix them together.


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2 Responses to Don’t Use the Outlook Deleted Items Folder as Long Term Storage

  1. Thomas Wenzl says:

    Regarding number 4:
    By default the complete mailbox is backed up, including the deleted items folder. But administrators can put server-side rules to regularly purge all items in the deleted items folder.

    The deleted items folder is like a waste paper basket – you wouldn’t store your important paper-based documents there, too. So don’t do that in Outlook. Deleted items are deleted items and not important anymore. So do not wonder if your admins delete them to save space on their servers. It’s like having the office cleaner emptying your waste basket in the evening.

    If the admins emptied the Deleted Items folder, there is usually a 3 to 21 days timeframe (depends on server configuration), in which you can easily restore them from within Outlook without the need of a backup. Anyway, don’t save your mails there! 🙂

  2. Tracy Lively says:

    I use the Deleted Items folder only for items that are truly trash. I do have a folder in my mailbox for “Delete in One Month”. Here I put thank you notes, back-and-forth conversations that negotiate the time and place for meetings (which eventually go on the calendar), newsletters that I don’t intend to archive–all time-sensitive things that I may need to look at again to confirm some detail but will have no value in a month. Auto-Archive purges this on schedule. It keeps my version of the Processed Mail folder a little less enormous than it otherwise would be.

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