JR Raphael, a friend and occasional writer for The Verge, has a newsletter where he writes about cleaning out your Google Contacts by deleting outdated or no-longer wanted entries.
It was a great idea! But.
Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a hoarder with regards to contacts. As a tech journalist for many years, I can compile many business contact lists, many of which are out of date. Although many of these people have likely moved on to other companies and email addresses, I believe I should still keep the entries. What if I find them and want to know where they came from? What if they are still working there, even though it has been a while? Would you like to say hello?
Another reason I hesitate to delete contacts is that they are not my friends or family. My contact list has grown to include relatives and friends who have passed away over the years. I feel reluctant to delete those names. Although it’s not rational or reasonable, it feels to me like a form of rejection. Rob Walker, a New York Times journalist, wrote in 2015 “My Digital Cemetery”: “The convenient by-design act to delete the name of a deceased friend with a single tap or click can feel overtly like you are participating in the removal of that person from this world.”
All this has led to a Google contacts listing with several hundred names. I haven’t contacted many of these for a while or whose entries I don’t want to delete. What should I do?
I have found a few ways to order Google Contacts without permanently losing names, numbers, and other information. These are the details:
HIDE YOUR EXCESS CONTACTS
Google offers a strange way to get names off your main contacts list: you “hide”. Because you’re essentially moving the entry from your main contact list to an “Other contact” list, I have put “hide” in quotes.
“Other contact” includes entries from all of the people you have sent or received emails to. It can be large, but it won’t be visible often. If you move older contacts there, they won’t clutter up your main contact list.
You can find your “Other contacts” on the desktop version of Google Contacts at the bottom of the left-hand list of labels. You can’t view your “Other contact” list on the mobile version. However, if you search for specific contacts in that list in the left-hand list of labels, it will be displayed.
This is how you can move one or more contacts into the “Other contacts list” using the Google Contacts app.
HIDE A SINGLE CONTACT
- Click on the three dots at the top of the contact listing to highlight it.
- Select “Hide contacts.”
HIDE MANY CONTACTS
- Click on the icon for each contact that you wish to hide. The icon will transform into a checkbox.
- After you have selected all communications that you want to hide, click the three dots at the top of the page.
- Click on “Hide contacts.”
If it is too large, you can also stop Gmail from adding people to your “Other contact” list.
- Click on “Settings”> See all settings.
- Scroll down to the “General” tab and click “Create Contacts for Auto-complete:” then check “I’ll Add Contacts Myself.”
EXPORT and DELETE EXCESS CONTACTS
You can export your contacts into separate CSV files or vCard files if you need to clean up your contacts list. After they are safely stored, you can remove them from your Google Contacts list.
You probably have more contacts than you need to in one day if you are like me. Here’s how I handled it. (This is again using the web interface of Google Contacts.
- Scroll down in the left column and click on “Create Label.” You can choose a name that you like (mine was “Bye Bye”).
- Take as long as you like going through your contacts. You can add that label to any entry you wish to remove from the list. To quickly check for entries you need to label, click the label symbol above and select the label you created from the popup. Click on “Apply” to apply.
- Click on the label to the left of the app when you are ready to export all the data you have put under the title.
- Scroll down to the left and click “Export.”
- The label you have chosen should appear at the topmost of the popup window. You can click the small arrow at the right of the title to change the label.
- Export your contacts in CSV format for Google or Microsoft Outlook or as iCards if you’re importing to iOS.
- Once you have CSV or iCards files, you can import them into a spreadsheet or another app that allows you to access them if necessary. For example, I exported mine to a Google Sheets spreadsheet.
- After you are satisfied with your export, return to Google Contacts and click the label you created for your exports.
- Click the delete button.
- You can choose to delete only the label (in which event all entries will remain there) or both the label and all entries associated with it. Choose the latter.
You have now cleaned up your contacts list (at least partially). All the contacts you want to keep are in a separate file so you can locate them whenever you need them.