(Jump Straight to The Fix)

All of a sudden, you can’t send or receive e-mail.


Your mailbox may be full.

Your computer doesn’t actually send and receive e-mails directly.  Your mail client software, either Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, Apple Mail etc.  will send and receive mail via the Internet’s version of the local post office, your Internet service provider’s mail server.   Your provider sets aside storage space on their servers to store mail while you are not connected to it (when your mail software isn’t running).  Most providers have a limit of how much mail you can store on their servers, and the mail stored on their servers.  If your provider offers webmail as a service, only the mail stored at the provider’s servers will be visible in your mailbox.

When this storage space at the servers is used up (full) you cannot send or receive any more e-mail until you delete something.  It’s more or less the same as having a post office box at the post office, and the box being too full to cram any more letters into.  Periodically, you have to go to the post office and empty it.  Big parcels will fill the box faster than small letters.  With e-mail, the big parcels are e-mails with attachments, or e-mails with pictures or video embedded in them. The bigger the mail messages are, the faster the mailbox fills up.  Consider carefully what you send and receive.

Let me show you how to fix this…

Just How Much Mail Do You Have?

Here’s how to find out how much mail is actually in your mailbox:

Microsoft Outlook

  1. With your mouse, right-click on your Inbox and then select Properties from the menu.
    Outlook 2010 - Inbox Properties

    Outlook 2010 – Inbox Properties

  2. A window will appear. Click the button labeled Folder Size
    Outlook 2010 - Folder Properties

    Outlook 2010 – Folder Properties

  3. A window will appear. The total amount of space used by your e-mail at the server is shown in kilobytes. This number needs to be less than the total space your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has put aside for you.
    Folder Sizes

    Outlook 2010 – Folder Sizes


Emptying the Mailbox

To empty your mailbox, you can try several things:

  • Easiest/Good– deleting individual old email messages, starting with the oldest e-mails with attachments. This usually helps, but only for a short time.
  • Not as Easy/Better – Use Outlook’s mail purging tools, only works for a short time.
  • Hard/Best  – Configure Outlook so that the mailbox never fills up.
  • Impossible/Worst – Ask your provider to delete the mail.

First step in this tutorial is to make my lawyers happy:

WARNING: The section below outlines a procedure for configuring Outlook to automatically delete e-mails that could be devastating to your inbox if misconfigured. I make no guarantee or warranty as to the usability, appropriateness, applicability of the steps shown below. By continuing, you agree to release us from all liability and hold us blamless for any financial, personal or other problems caused by the deletion of e-mails.

We’re going to reconfigure Outlook to automatically delete mail from the server so that the mailbox never fills up. It’s not complicated, it is just a few steps.


How to Configure Outlook to Automatically Clean Up Your Mailbox

Done correctly, the steps I’m showing you won’t actually cause any mail to be lost if you’re using Outlook. Your mail client will have downloaded the e-mail already and stored it on your computer, so deleting the oldest and unwanted e-mails from the mail server is safe.  The only problem you will see is when you use the webmail service–webmail will only show the mail stored on the server. When you delete mail via webmail, it’s permanently gone.

You can modify Outlook 2010’s mail retention settings by opening the Account Settings Controls.


Click the File menu tab:

Outlook 2010 File Tab

Outlook 2010 File Tab


Click the Account Settings button and select Account Settings:

Outlook 2010 Account Settings

Outlook 2010 Account Settings


Left click the correct e-mail account name, then click the Change button:

Outlook 2010 - Account Settings - Change

Outlook 2010 – Account Settings – Change


Click the More Settings button (you might want to un-check the Test Account Settings by…checkbox first):

Outlook 2010 - More Settings

Outlook 2010 – More Settings



Click the Advanced Settings Tab.

Outlook 2010 - Leave Copy on Server Settings

Outlook 2010 – Leave Copy on Server Settings


By default, the “Remove from server when deleted from ‘Deleted Items’” option is not checked in Outlook, so mail never gets deleted and your mailbox fills up.  You must check the box to have any hope of shrinking the mailbox at the server.

If the Remove from server checkbox is already checked, try lowering the number of days mail will be left on the server if it is greater than 14 days.  You will also need to turn on the “Empty the Trash on Exit” setting to automatically purge the deleted items folder when you close Outlook.


Empty Deleted Items Folder on Exit

To empty the Deleted Items when you close Outlook:

  1. Click the Filemenu tab:
    Outlook 2010 File Tab

    Outlook 2010 File Tab


  2. Click Options
    Outlook 2010 - File > Options

    Outlook 2010 – File > Options


  3. Click the “Empty Deleted Items folder on Exit” checkbox, click OK
    Empty Deleted Items on Exit

    Empty Deleted Items on Exit


A Clean Mailbox

From now on, whenver you download mail and shut down Outlook, any mail you deleted will be deleted from the server and mail you have not deleted will be removed from the server after the number of days you selected.  These two settings will keep your mailbox from getting out of control. Short of a flood e-mails with large attachments, you will have prevented any future ‘mailbox full’ errors.



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