What happens to Gmail messages you archive?

How to use labels in Gmail to organise your messages

If you are a Google Mail user you will have noticed options to archive email messages. There is a button to archive the currently selected message in the toolbar for example. What happens to emails you archive?

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Where do archived emails disappear to and how do you get them back if you change your mind? How do you unarchive them?

There are two things to realise when using Gmail and the first is that it makes use of labels. A label is a bit like a keyword or tag.

Imagine you had a collection of photographs and a photo manager program. You could add keywords or tags to your photos to organise them. For example, all photos taken on a particular holiday or trip, all photos of landscapes, photos with a particular person on.

You could select a keyword and filter the photos so that only photos with that keyword are displayed. Gmail is the same. When you select the Inbox on the left, your messages are filtered so that you only see those with the Inbox label associated with them.

You can create your own labels and assign them to messages, such as Work, Personal, Family or whatever. If you delete an email, the Bin label is added and the Inbox label is removed.

Select a label in the left panel and you see only those messages with that label. What the Archive function does is to remove the Inbox label. If an email doesn’t have an Inbox label, you won’t see it when you select the Inbox on the left.

Archive your Gmail messages

Archiving emails does not delete them or move them, it just removes system labels so you won’t see them in the Inbox, Important, Sent Mail and so on.

It does not remove labels you have added yourself, so if you create a label called Work, and add the Work label to an email in the Inbox, then archive it, only the Inbox label is removed. Your Work label is still attached. This means that you could select the Work label on the left and the archived email would be displayed.

If an archived email has no user-created labels, it cannot be viewed by selecting labels on the left, which is fairly obvious of course. However, if you click the More link on the left and select All Mail, then every email message is displayed whether it has labels or not (except for the Bin label – you don’t see deleted emails).

So the archive function is for hiding emails you don’t want to see and for clearing the clutter from your inbox. It hides emails you don;t want to see, but don’t want to delete.

You can view them by selecting All Mail on the left or by using the search box at the top.


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