How Outlook 2007 deletes your messages without asking

A puzzled Outlook 2007 user asked me why his Outlook 2007 archive folders were empty. Investigation led me to this dialog, found at Tools – Options – Other – AutoArchive:

This is actually from my own Outlook; but as you can see, it is set to move old items to an archive folder. Note that the option to Move rather than delete is set by default.

However, I was puzzled by the option to Delete expired items (e-mail folders only). What does this mean? In particular, why does it refer to expired items when the rest of the dialog refers to old items? The word expired suggests some kind of non-validity, like an expired subscription, or password, or credit card.

Pressing F1 did not yield anything helpful; but this article explains:

Delete expired items (e-mail folders only)   This option is not selected by default. You can choose to have e-mail messages deleted when their aging period has expired. The default period for your Draft and Inbox items is six months, and three months for your Sent Items, but you can change these periods using the Clean out items older than option.

As I understand it, this means that items are deleted after as little as three months if the option is checked; and expired means exactly the same as old. But that’s OK; it isn’t checked by default.

Or is it? For sure, I have never checked that option, nor did my contact, but it is checked on all my Outlook installations, and on his. Take a look: is your Outlook set up like this? I’d be interested to know.

The consequence is that old emails simply disappear. The only dialog the user will see is that auto-archive wants to run. By the way, most people would not imagine that an archive process will delete items. Archive means long-term storage. Words like prune or purge imply deletion, but not archive.

Now, I happen to think that archiving in Outlook is a mess anyway. If you have several machines on the go (which is one of the reasons for using Exchange and Outlook), then you usually end up with several archives, buried deep in hidden folders where nobody is likely to find them without help. It is easy to miss these archive files when migrating to a new machine.

Still, I hadn’t realised that Outlook actually deletes old emails without asking – that is, if I am right and this is (incorrectly) the default.

It may seem a small matter; but there are times when finding that old email, sent or received, is critically important. It is another reason why I am fed up with Outlook 2007: its amusingly obscure dialogs, its broken RSS support, and its disgracefully slow performance.

Update: Duncan Smart below suggests that the “Expired items” refers to emails that have an expiry date set in message options. I must say that makes more sense to me. On the other hand, it isn’t what the help document says, and it doesn’t explain why why my contact had no messages in his archive folder, until I changed the setting. I’ll try some experiments … [slightly later] … if I archive a folder with File – Archive, it does not delete old messages (good); on the other hand this dialog is different because you specify the archive date so it is not a perfect test.

I suspect it is not as bad as I first thought, that the help document is incorrect, and that some other factor must have messed up my contact’s archiving. I hope that is the case.

See also this official help document:

Choosing an option to have items deleted permanently deletes the items automatically when they expire. They are not archived. For instance, if you click Delete expired items (e-mail folders only), this option deletes all messages in all your e-mail folders, such as Inbox, Sent, or Drafts, when they reach the end of their aging periods. The messages are not archived.

So … either Outlook really is deleting messages without asking; or I’m not the only one confused.

14 thoughts on “How Outlook 2007 deletes your messages without asking”

  1. Emails you send can have an expiry date. e.g. I sent one this morning at 9am about a server being rebooted that expired at 10am so that people who first checked their email at 10:30am wouldn’t see the email. In the new message window click Options and set an “Expires after” date/time. So *this* is what the term “expired” is referring to.

  2. Emails you send can have an expiry date

    @Duncan, that’s correct, it’s in the message options dialog. But if you are right, and that is what this refers to, why does the Microsoft document I linked to state that this is 3 or 6 months by default, since by default emails don’t have an expiry date at all?


  3. I have just rebuilt my laptop with XP SP3 build with Office Enterprise 2007 SP1. I do not use email archive but I went into the settings and enabled the archive option. The default setting for ‘Delete expired items (e-mail folders only)’ was checked. Also the option to prompt before archive was unchecked. Note this is in a workgroup environment so no GPOs are in operation.

    This seems like an extremely dangerous combination to me.

  4. I have lost very important emails due to this stoopid thing. Is there anyway of getting them back….?

  5. Tracy

    In general, these are the main possibilities for deleted Outlook items:

    1. In an archive file. Search your hard drive for *.pst. If you use Exchange and have Outlook on more than one PC, repeat on all machines on which you use Outlook.

    2. Outlook has a little-known Recover Deleted Items option. Select a folder and find this on the Tools menu.

    3. If you use Exchange, you can recover items from a server backup (this is often complex).

    4. If you have your own PC backup, you could try restoring to a spare machine.


  6. I can assure you, the email is GONE. I gave the go ahead to archive and find everything – EVERYTHING – more than six months old is gone and cannot be recovered. I looked for the “recover deleted items” option and can’t find it. I’ve tried four different programs that say they recover “accidentally deleted” (including “hard” deleted) files – specifically, outlook files. None of them found a single file that’s been deleted.

    I did NOT check the box for “delete” the “expired” items. I agree with the original poster – it never occurred to me that mail would be not just deleted but shredded without so much as a warning. Even when I delete a file I’m asked “are you sure?” But this thing is like a booby trap – it blows up and says, “gotcha.” My advice? IMMEDIATELY go to the options, open “other” and disable auto archiving.

  7. how do i remove the expiry date from all the emails in my outlook because it is deleting all the messages after some period of time so please somebody help me out.

  8. I’ve lost all my auto-archived emails too. But goto: Tools/options/auto-archive/During AutoArtchive/Delete expired items and ensure this is NOT checked.
    As I understand it, when an item expires it becomes a candidate for auto-archive, and so if this is checked it is then auto-deleted.

  9. This just doesn’t make sense. The help page says –

    [code]Delete expired items – (checkbox) You can choose to have e-mail messages deleted when their aging period has expired…

    Archive or delete old items – You must choose this option if you want AutoArchive to delete some or all items when they expire.

    Well which is it? If I check the first box but not the second, what happens?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to deal with deleting items separately to archiving them? Deletion is not a form of archiving as I understand the term.

  10. At this point, I’m almost ready to just kill the mailboxes and create new ones, but both affected users have over a dozen Inbox subfolders. Plus, I’m not sure how to do that without messing their their AD accounts. 

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