Deleting Old Mailing List Emails
March 5, 2018 7:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm drowning in mailing list emails. I don't mind them in my inbox, as I like to monitor as they arrive (if they flowed into a separate Gmail folder, they'd be invisible). But they mess with searches. E.g. if I'm searching for a Jcrew order confirmation, results will include 2000 Jcrew marketing list emails. Also, any search term can be found a zillion times among my WaPo Daily 202 emails, etc. I need a process for deleting old mailing list items once they've gone cold, i.e. after a few days.

Ideally, I'd be able to set each mailing list item to auto-self-destruct after five days, but that's not a feature anyone offers, to my knowledge. So every couple months I laboriously search for and nuke the backlog from a couple dozen lists, and that's a huge pain (is there any way to macro at least some of this process?).

Any suggestions? Again: I do want to see these mails in my inbox as they come in hot, and I do want them to remain underfoot (i.e. in my inbox) for five days or so.
posted by Quisp Lover to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The halfway solution would be to build and manually update a filter for all of your mailing lists older than a week and run it once a week to clear out the old stuff. Would take a bit of upfront time but once it's setup, shouldn't be too bad to maintain.
posted by yeahlikethat at 7:31 AM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

When you build that search, consider adding "negative" search terms. For example ["J. Crew" -"Order Summary"] would find marketing emails and skip order confirmations (obviously, consult the emails in question to find specific terms that appear in the confirmations).
posted by Rock Steady at 7:39 AM on March 5, 2018

yeahlikethat: How do I create a filter that DOESN'T work automatically? I didn't know that was even an option!

Rock Steady: thanks, you're absolutely right, but the stuff I want to expunge is consistent and easily keyed.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:53 AM on March 5, 2018

Here's how I'd do it:
  1. Create a label (e.g., "MyLists").
  2. Create a filter that matches only your mailing list messages. This is key. Add the options "Skip the inbox" and "Apply the label MyLists."
  3. In Settings, go to Multiple inboxes and create an inbox using "in:MyLists" as the search query.
All your list messages will now arrive and appear separately in their own inbox, below (or above, or to the right of) your main inbox.

For deleting, Gmail has search options that let you find messages by age and label: "older_than:5d in:MyLists".

If you really wanted to get fancy you could create two new inboxes: "newer_than:6d in:MyLists" for your current lists and "older_than:5d in:MyLists" for your older lists.
posted by davcoo at 8:03 AM on March 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Whoops, you're right! I got confused with some other programs where you can save searches/queries. For Gmail, what I'd do is create the same filter but have it tag incoming emails with the label "puuuurge" or something, and then once a week search for "label:puuuurge older_than:5d".
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2018

And after reading yeahlikethat's note, I see I made a typo: Instead of in:MyLists, it should be label:MyLists.
posted by davcoo at 8:12 AM on March 5, 2018

yeahlikethat - Obviously, I'd like something a bit more automatic, but that will do as a fallback, thanks! Also, would be helpful to have all these emails smartly labeled for whatever final solution I arrive at.

davcoo, thanks, but as I said, " I don't mind them in my inbox, as I like to monitor as they arrive (if they flowed into a separate Gmail folder, they'd be invisible)."
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:17 AM on March 5, 2018

> I like to monitor as they arrive
With Multiple inboxes you can.
posted by davcoo at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2018

How is that better thanyeahlikethat's solution (labeling all such mails, then periodically deleting all emails >5 days with that label)?
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2018

Have you looked to switching to Inbox? It's just a prettier (and, to my mind, more functional) display of your gmail.

It automatically sorts emails into "bundles". It would put all your JCrew promo emails into the "promotions" bundle, but it would put your orders into the "purchases" bundle, solving the first problem--you just search "in:purchases jcrew", or even just click on "purchases" and eyeball it.

To solve the deleting problem, you'd go to your "promotions" bundle. It automatically sorts the emails under headers "today", "this week", "older"--you'd just select the first email in "older" and then shift-select the last email in older and delete. It's not quite automatic, but it's pretty close.
posted by AmandaA at 8:56 AM on March 5, 2018

My setup is basically what yeahlikethat describes and it works pretty well. It did require some initial training to make sure I weeded out e.g. receipts I wanted to keep from general sale notices, that sort of thing, so you'll want to keep a close eye on what you're deleting at first to make sure you've got your filter set up just right. But then it's no big thing to pop in once a month or however often works for you and just delete everything in that tag, sparing a day or three if so inclined.

The 'to be deleted' tag is also a nice one to send shipping notifications, pizza delivery receipts, etc. to if you don't need to keep that sort of documentation permanently.
posted by Stacey at 9:12 AM on March 5, 2018

Ok, I've got it all set up. There are a few problem cases like Betabrand, which sends marketing and customer service both from the same address, and offers no consistent patterns to draw distinctions from. But if I lose a few order invoice emails along with the marketing, I guess it won't kill me.

AmandaA - this stuff's so personal. That sounds like it would drive me nuts, but I completely understand why other people might like it! I need everything arranged flat in one single view, or else I will miss stuff. Out of site = out of mind. This is also why my fancy to-do app has 11,000 items in the gutbucket, and moldering stuff from the 90's in the separate well-organized categories!

Stacey - you get pizza delivery receipts via email?? What have I been doing wrong??
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:22 AM on March 5, 2018

To handle things like Betabrand, try excluding emails that contain your zip code, house number, or last four digits of your credit card.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:27 AM on March 5, 2018

Yeah, sometimes you have to drill in and find some specific phrase that *only* appears in receipts and not marketing, which is annoying. But as you say, maybe not fatal.

(I order my pizza online! Talking to people on the phone is for suckers! Or, you know, people with fewer anxiety issues and better social interaction abilities.)
posted by Stacey at 9:31 AM on March 5, 2018

yeahlikethat - Unfortunately, I also see some personalized customer service messages about refunds and such that contain no such data. I guess this can never be a flawless process....

Stacey - I keep reminding myself that avoiding social interaction just accelerates the vicious circle. Comfort zones retract if you don't consciously push back at them. That's why old people can be so cranky!
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:52 AM on March 5, 2018

I run into this problem to and, honestly, the way I get around it is I complicate the search term. Usually it's by adding a phrase like "order confirmation" or "has shipped" or the last four digits of my credit card or my address -- I just figure out some uniform language that appears in all order emails that won't appear in the marketing emails. And be sure to use quotes, "order confirmation" as a search and not order confirmation.

I also periodically just delete all marketing emails. They usually come from a different email address that order confirmation emails are sent from. So I'd search for all emails from or and make sure it is all marketing crap (not orders) and just delete everything that comes up.

It's a pain in the butt, for sure.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:21 AM on March 5, 2018

I accidentally stumbled into a solution that mostly works for me. I still send all that kind of stuff to my ancient hotmail account, which I have set to exclusive. (Only replies to my own messages or messages from those in my contacts go to my inbox.) This means everything else goes to junk mail. The junk mail filters are actually quite good, so it's rare that true spam shows up there. I scan my junk mail as often as I check my inbox in that account, and move over anything that I really want to keep into the inbox. Messages like marketing flyers, weekly school newsletters, etc. hang out in junk mail for the two weeks that they are relevant, then they magically auto-delete. Works like a charm!
posted by hessie at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2018

Most mailing lists have the word unsubscribe in them. I tag orders with billing so I can easily mass delete stuff without that tag. If you identify an email address for preferred vendors, you can auto-tag with promo for easier deletion.
posted by theora55 at 1:13 PM on March 5, 2018

Ok, so I created the label, I created filters to ensure that the right messages get labelled, and I nuked a thousand so-labelled emails, using the Gmail web interface.

I go to my iphone, and all those emails still exist. I assume they're cached? Is there any way to clear that cache and trigger a resynch from the gmail server? I guess I'm going to need to do this every time I cull my emails, so I'm looking for a simple solution here....
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:46 PM on March 5, 2018

I don’t know if you’re open to changing email providers, but provides a great set of built-in tools for managing your inbox. See the sweep function described here.
posted by doctord at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2018

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