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How to Retrieve Your Deleted or Archived MS Outlook Emails

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This post is part of a series called How to Use Microsoft Outlook (Essential Tutorial Guide).
How to Find Missing Emails in MS Outlook (Where Is My Email?)
How to Back Up All Your Microsoft Outlook Emails

It's common for email users to accidentally delete their email messages, and Microsoft Outlook is no different. If you've accidentally deleted an email message from Outlook, don't panic. In many cases, you can get the deleted email back.

Another common problem that email users have is not considering their email's auto-archive feature. The AutoArchive feature in Outlook automatically sends old messages to the Archive folder, which can make it seem like those messages have disappeared to the unsuspecting user. Fortunately, it's not too difficult to retrieve archived emails in Outlook.

In this tutorial, we'll explore both problems in more depth. First, we'll review how to find lost emails in Outlook. Then, we'll discuss how to recover deleted emails from Outlook (including a discussion of the Recover Deleted Items tool). Next, we'll explore Outlook's Auto Archive option so that you can define Archive settings that are right for you. This will keep your emails from being archived unexpectedly or too often. Finally, we'll review how to retrieve archived emails in Outlook.

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1. How to Find Lost Emails in MS Outlook

If one of your emails is missing, here’s where to check first:

  • Archive folder
  • Deleted Items folder
  • Junk email (or Spam) folder

You can find these folders in the Navigation Pane on the left of your MS Outlook inbox:

Where missing emails often are
You can often find missing emails in the folders shown here.

To learn more about each of these folders as well as other procedures related to retrieving lost messages, review this tutorial:

The tutorial also has information about how to use the MS Outlook search tool to find lost emails in Outlook.

2. How to Retrieve Deleted Emails From Outlook

If you find the lost emails in one of the folders above, you’ll want to retrieve them. There are basically two ways to retrieve email from the Deleted Items or Junk Email folder:

1. Drag and Drop Messages

You can use drag-and-drop functionality to retrieve deleted emails from Outlook. Both the Deleted Items folder and the Junk Email folder allow you to drag and drop messages between folders. To move a message from one of those folders use the following three steps:

  1. Open the folder containing the message.
  2. Select the message you want to move (on the right).
  3. Drag the selected message to the folder (in the Navigation Pane) where you want to put it.

In the illustration below I’m moving the “Photos for Regional Design” message from the Deleted Items folder to the From My New Boss folder.

Drag and Drop email messages to move them
Use drag-and-drop functionality to recover lost email messages to their proper folders.

2. Use the Move Tool

Outlook also has a Move tool that you can use to move messages between folders. You can find the ribbon on the Home tab, as in the illustration below:

Use the move tool to recover messages
Use the Move tool to restore messages to their proper folders.

You can also access the Move tool by selecting the message you want to move and right-clicking on it. A drop-down menu appears with the Move option on it:

Recover email using the Move tool
Here's another way to move email messages.

To move the selected email to the correct folder, choose the folder from the available folders on the drop-down menu.

3. What Is the Recover Deleted Items From Server Tool & When Can You Use It?

An email message is considered “permanently” deleted if you delete it from the Deleted Items folder. However, in some cases you may be able to retrieve those “permanently” deleted messages.

If you’re using a work or school MS Outlook email address (or any other large organization), your email may be backed up onto a Microsoft Exchange email server. Depending on how your administrator has your system set up, your “permanently” deleted items are stored on the email server for a defined period. This means that you may be able to use the Recover Deleted Items From Server tool to retrieve email Outlook messages even after they’ve been “permanently” deleted.

To use the Recover Deleted Items From Server tool, click on the icon in the Ribbon (it looks like a recycle bin). The Recover Deleted Items popup displays showing all the deleted messages stored on the server. Click on the messages you want to restore. The click the Restore Selected Items toggle and click the OK button. The messages will be restored to the folder they were deleted from.

As I mentioned above, this option is only available to those users whose email is backed up on onto a server. However, a very similar feature is available on Microsoft Outlook.com, Microsoft’s web-based version of Outlook. Here's how to recover permanently deleted email in Outlook.com:

In the Outlook.com illustration below you can see that the Deleted Items folder is empty:

Outlookcom example
This example is based on Outlook.com functionality.

Notice the gray bar below the name of the folder labeled Recover deleted items. To recover “permanently” deleted items, click on the gray bar. A popup window appears showing deleted messages:

How to recover deleted emails
Here's how to recover permanently deleted email in Outlook.com

To restore a permanently deleted message from Outlook.com, click to the left of the message you want to restore. A checkbox appears (make sure that it's checked). Click the Recover option at the top left of the popup window. Confirm that you want to restore the message. The message is restored.

Note: This feature isn't reflected on the desktop version of MS Outlook for Home Users.

4. Why Email Gets Archived (& How to Retrieve It)

If your missing email is the Archive folder you can drag-and-drop it from there to the folder where you want it to be. Use the same drag-and-drop technique I described above for the Deleted Items folder.

You can also retrieve an archived message using the Move tool to move an archived message into another folder.

Finally, you may be able to retrieve Outlook email messages stored on your computer in PST format.

You can avoid the need to constantly be retrieving emails that were accidentally archived by understanding and adjusting the Outlook AutoArchive option, so I’m going to discuss the settings now.

1. How to Access Outlook AutoArchive Settings

The MS Outlook AutoArchive option determines how often email is automatically moved to your archive location and also which email items are moved. If you’re unaware of this function or aren’t sure what the settings are it can seem like messages are randomly disappearing from your email inbox and folders.

Fortunately, you can access the Outlook AutoArchive tool and change the settings. Here’s what to do:

Start in the inbox
Start with Outlook open.

From your open email inbox, click the File tab. The Account Information screen displays:

Account Information screen
Choose Options from the Account Information screen.

From the menu on the left, click Options. The Outlook Options screen appears:

The Outlook Options Screen
Select the Advanced option from the Outlook Options screen.

From the choices on the left, select the Advanced option to see the Advanced options:

AutoArchive Dialog Box
Use the AutoArchive dialog box to change your archive settings.

You can use this dialog box to change your AutoArchive settings. You can also turn the AutoArchive feature off from this dialog box.

2. How to Change Outlook AutoArchive Settings

Understanding how to control your AutoArchive settings is the key to understanding how the AutoArchive function works in Outlook. If you know how the AutoArchive tool is set up and how often it’ll run, you’re less likely to be surprised when messages are automatically archived. Archived messages are stored as PST files on your computer or your mail server.

To turn an AutoArchive setting on, check in the box to the left of it. To turn the setting off, make sure that the box is unchecked.

As you can see, the AutoArchive dialog box gives you a lot of different choices. Let’s take a closer look at how to change some of the main settings:

  • Set the frequency of how often AutoArchive runs. The Run AutoArchive every x days option appears at the top of the dialog box. Make sure the option is selected (checked). Then, use the up and down arrows on the right to modify how often your system will automatically archive your email messages. Choose from archiving daily to archiving once every 60 days. Generally speaking, the more messages you get the more often you should archive them.
  • Automatically archive or delete expired messages. The Delete expired items (email folders only) option archives or deletes older messages. By default, Outlook considers messages that have been in your email software for longer than a certain period of time to be expired. For example, inbox messages and drafts are considered expired after six months. Sent and deleted items are considered expired after only two months. If this option is turned on, those older messages will be automatically archived as part of the AutoArchive process.
  • Choose a folder where archived items are stored. The Move old items to option lets you choose the folder where the archive tool places your archived items. This is especially important to know if you ever need to access or restore an archived message.
  • Instead of archiving old items, delete them. You can choose to have the AutoArchive tool automatically delete older messages instead of storing them using the Permanently delete old items option. If you make this choice, you won’t be able to restore the files after the archive process runs because there will be no backup copies to restore.

Once you’ve made your selections, click the OK button in the dialog box to save your changes. Then, click the OK button on the Outlook Options screen. You’ve just changed your AutoArchive settings!

More Helpful Email Tips and Strategies

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Conclusion

You've just learned how to retrieve archived emails in Outlook and how to recover deleted emails. You've also learned how to use the Recover Deleted Items tool and the set up the Auto Archive feature in Outlook. Knowing more about how your Outlook email systems works helps you control which email messages are archived (or deleted) and when they're deleted.

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