OS X Mavericks: Archiving messages in Apple Mail

Clutter grows fast and it doesn't matter if that clutter is physical or digital -- on your Mac, there's nowhere it accumulates faster than in Mail. And from time to time, it's good to tame your email box. Here's how it's done.

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[ABOVE: Clutter accumulates, real or virtual, IMAGE c/o: Tim Sinfield.]

We're going to look at a quick and easy way to archive your old messages from Mail. There are lots of reasons to do this, not least that once your mailboxes become really large you'll often experience slow Mail performance on your Mac. You can archive these messages without losing them.

Things to know:

  • Once you archive your emails they won't be available on any of your Macs or devices -- they will only "live" inside your archive mailbox.
  • This also makes it essential you backup your Mac, so you won't lose these messages if disaster strikes.
  • Archiving only works if you have Mail set up to remove deleted mail from the server sending mail to that account. (Mail>Preferences>Accounts>Mailbox Behaviours>Trash. Uncheck Store deleted messages on server).
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Step one

Launch Mail and choose Mailbox>New Mailbox. Now name the mailbox (Archive 2011-12, for example) and choose On My Mac as the location. Press OK and the mailbox appears in the list at the left.

Step two

Select the messages you wish to archive. You might want to choose all the mail you received between 2011-2012, if that happens to be appropriate to you. Once you've selected the messages you wish to archive, drag-&-drop them into your new Archive mailbox. Repeat this until all your messages are tucked away there.

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Step three

With all your messages in the Archive, it's time to export them. Control-click on the mailbox name in the list on the left, and select Export Mailbox… from the contextual menu that appears. You can also do this by choosing the mailbox and using Export Mailbox in the menu.

Step four

Choose where to save your archive, but remember to check Export all subfolders, if you have any, to export. Click Choose.

Step five

Exporting your mail will take time -- it could take a long time. You might want to go do something more interesting for a while.

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Step six

Once export is complete, you'll see an mbox file icon appear where you exported the Mailbox too. Do check to make sure all the mbox files and subfolders you created are there.

Step seven

Now delete the Archive you created in Mail by Control-clicking the mailbox and selecting Delete Mailbox. Don't worry -- all your messages are already saved in your exported Archive.

Step eight

Whenever you need to search messages stored inside that archive, you should launch Mail and select File>Import Mailboxes, (select Apple Mail as data format). Click Continue and navigate to the exported archive(s) on your Mac, select the right collection and click Choose. In a little while, all your archived mails will reappear in Mail. Find the ones you need and copy, print or move them. Now, you can delete the Archived Mail you just imported (Right-click, Delete Mailbox) -- all your archived mail remains safe in the originally exported box.

This is how to cut clutter from Mail without losing any important messages. I agree it's an unwieldy process, so I'm looking at several third-party Mail archiving solutions that should be more straightforward to use for a future post.

I hope this short report helps you take control of Mail.

Also read:

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