How to free up space in Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive

How many unread Do you have email now? sixty? Six thousand? Well, all those messages and attachments take up space, whether they are unread, old, or archived. If you use Gmail and aren’t one of those weird inbox-zero people who are on top of things that matter most, you might be running out of space.

If Google’s Gmail appeals to you, there’s a good chance you’re also invested in the other parts of the Google Cloud ecosystem — Drive and Photos. Google used to be the bastion of unlimited storage—it used to offer unlimited space for photos and emails. But now the company is stricter about how many megabytes you use on its service. Soon, even WhatsApp backups might eat up your storage allocation.

Google provides users with 15 GB of digital storage for free. This includes everything in Gmail, Google Drive, and any uncompressed images stored in Google Photos. That’s a lot of free space, but if you’re invested in the Google ecosystem (especially if your Android phone automatically backs up your data to the Google Cloud), you may find that it fills up quickly. Once you reach the limit, you won’t be able to add anything to Google Drive, save new photos, or even send or receive email. Google will send warnings when you’re running out of space, but these warnings are easy to ignore and often leave users scrambling to free up some space. Here’s how to avoid getting yourself into this situation.

Before you get started, here’s what you know: Google’s storage page will show you how much space you’re taking up in Drive, Gmail, and Photos.

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The easiest way to free up space in Gmail is to bulk delete almost every damn thing in your inbox. Go to the Promotions tab and the Social tab at the top of your inbox, check the box in the upper left corner to select all messages, and click Delete. (Of course, the button looks like a trash can). The only problem with this approach is that there may be messages in there that you want to keep. For example, if you do most of your shopping online, it’s a good idea to keep all your receipts. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to sift through the clutter and keep only what you need.

One method suggested by Wired senior writer Lily Hay Newman is to manage bulk deletions by email address. Even if they come from the same company, spam emails are often sent from a different email address than the actual useful information like receipts or order information. For example, PayPal sends receipts from, while its marketing pitch (“Sign up for PayPal credit now!”) comes from Shipping information from Amazon is provided at Spam emails come from and etc. Once you determine which email addresses you can safely ignore, you can delete them all without clearing out the ones you want to keep. Simply copy and paste the email address in question into the search bar and bulk delete everything that pops up.

Another method (this one comes from former Wired magazine writer Peter Rubin) is to sort emails by file size. In the Gmail search bar, enter “size:10mb” or “larger:10mb” (or whatever size you want) to display emails with attachments larger than the size you define in the search. You still have to go through and choose what to delete, but at least it has all your big emails in one place. Your best bet is to start big and work your way down.

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After deleting the thousands of emails you filtered out, you may notice no change in your storage space. Even though you may have thrown everything in the trash, you still need to empty the trash itself. Unlike real-life spam, your spam messages will be automatically deleted after 30 days if you leave them in Gmail’s trash. But if your goal is to free up space, it’s best to clear it manually. (Plus, you’ll have a chance to double-check to make sure nothing important got accidentally thrown into the trash.)

Find the trash can in the left sidebar of Gmail and click it. (If you don’t see it, click More to expand the menu to reveal the Trash icon.) Once in the Trash, you can simply click Empty Trash Now near the top of the screen and everything will disappear In the digital underworld. Finally, you can enjoy all your newfound space.

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Still not enough space? Well, Gmail isn’t the only place in the Google suite that takes up storage space. If you upload full-quality images or other files, Google Drive and Google Photos will fill up quickly. If you’re using Photos, go into your settings and make sure your upload quality is set to “Storage Saver.” (This used to be called “High Quality,” but Google changed the name as is customary.) Keep in mind that this means the image will be compressed into Google’s own space-saving but still high-resolution format, while “Original” means As a result they will maintain the (usually better) resolution you were shooting at.

Every Google Drive account has a storage dashboard that you can use to monitor your usage. The login page displays all files in a list, and clicking the arrow next to “Used Storage” on the right will sort the list by file size and display the largest files at the top. It may also be helpful to look in your “Shared with me” folder for large files or folders. You never know when someone might share 4 GB of very important photos.

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