Will double-filing my Gmail email use up my space?

A reader wants to know whether storing email messages in multiple folders will increase space utilization. We explain that folders aren't really folders in Gmail.

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A reader recently found one of my Gmail quick tip articles on label use and sent in this question as a follow-up:

Am I duplicating messages by saving them in multiple places? I'm worried that I will fill up my Gmail box, use up all my space, and have to pay for more. How can I see the size of my email box to find out if I've filled it up?

Dear Reader's, question about size has a quick answer. Google makes it surprisingly easy to find out how much space you're using in Gmail.

Just scroll down to the bottom of your email box, and there's a nice little one-entry bar chart. I'm using a little under 30% of my 100GB allocation in this account. I pay a few bucks a month for more email storage. If you need to increase your storage, you can do so by clicking here and paying a small monthly fee.

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If you hit the little page-open icon next to the chart, you can see Google One's storage page. Since this is my personal account, there's not much in main storage (I use the corporate account for that). But you can see how your storage breaks down.

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More Gmail quick tips:

How labels work

Dear Reader's other question had to do with saving messages in multiple places. Technically, Gmail doesn't ever save messages in multiple places. It merely tags messages with label indexes. When you look in what appears to be a folder, it's doing a smart search to show you the messages that match the label index.

But what does that all mean?

Most user interfaces use two fundamental ways to represent organized storage: folders and tags.

Folders hold files or data items. Generally, you can only move a given file into one folder. Different systems use different internal architectures for this. Some actually move the data, while others assign an ID to the file or folder and use indexes. But, from a user's perspective, it's one folder per file (although most systems usually allow folders to be inside other folders).

While a given file can only be in one folder, any given file can have one or more tags or many different tags. Think of tags as characteristics or properties.

A car, for example, can be 'blue', have 'four-doors', and have '8-cylinders'. But you can only park the car in one parking space at a time. So while it could be parked in 'the-garage', 'on-the-street', or 'outside-the-hardware-store', it can't be in all three at once. 'Blue', 'four-doors', and '8-cylinders' would be tags. 'The-garage', 'on-the-street', or 'outside-the-hardware-store' would be folders.

Depending on what software you're using, you'll see folders, directories, or categories used for the same thing. Likewise, you'll see tags and labels often used interchangeably. When Gmail talks about labels, they're really just tagging messages.

This is understandably confusing because the sidebar of Gmail presents labels as if they're folders. You can even nest labels, which makes it look like you're putting a folder inside a folder. But they're just tags.

This is particularly confusing to former Outlook users because those folders on the sidebar were actually folders, and if you put a message in two folders, you were duplicating the message. That's absolutely not the case with Gmail.

I automatically label my emails when they come from my team, when they're attached to a given project, and more. Sometimes, I have two or three labels for a given email. I could have more, but I try to limit the number of labels just because things start to get excessive after two or three.

All that brings us back to Dear Reader's concern about increasing mailbox space with multiple labels. Other than a few bytes for the label's index, there's no increase in space if you put messages in multiple labels (even if it seems like you're putting something in more than one folder). It doesn't matter whether you have a little 24KB message or a giant 25MB PowerPoint presentation, it doesn't matter. Multiple labels won't increase your space utilization.

So there you go. Feel free to post more questions to me about Gmail or any of your other favorite productivity apps. I can be reached via the Email icon at the top of this article or the socials listed below. What labels do you use with your Gmail? You can also post questions or tips and tricks you've learned in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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