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How to Delete (But Not Delete) Unnecessary Google Contacts

My friend (and occasional writer for Means I/O ) Raphaël JR has a newsletter in which he recently wrote about cleaning up your Google contact list by deleting old and unnecessary entries.

SummaryHide your excess contacts Hide a single contactHide multiple contactsExport and delete your excess contacts

What a great idea, I thought. Corn.

Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a collector when it comes to contacts. After years as a tech reporter, I have umpteen professional contact lists, many of which are completely outdated. But while it's likely that many of these people have moved to different companies and different email addresses, I think I should keep the entries - what if I ran into them at some point and wanted to check from where I knew them? Or if they're still working on it even though it's been several years and I want to say hello?

There is another reason why I am reluctant to delete certain contacts – an unfortunate one. Over the years, my contact list began to include friends and relatives who are no longer with us – and I find myself loath to remove those names from my list. It's not logical or reasonable, but to me it feels like some kind of rejection. In 2015, in an article titled “My Digital Graveyard,” New York Times Writer Rob Walker put it this way:"The practical act by design of removing a dead friend's name with a simple tap or click can feel like you're openly participating in removing that person from the world. . »

The result of all of this is a Google contact list that contains several hundred names, many of which belong to people I haven't contacted in a long time, or just don't want delete entries. What to do?

I've found several ways to tidy up Google Contacts without permanently losing people's names, numbers, and other information. Here they are:

Hide your excess contacts

Google has a weird way of removing names from your main contact list:you "hide" them. I put "hide" in quotes because what you're essentially doing is moving this entry from your main contact list to an "Other Contacts" list.

"Other Contacts" contains entries for all the different people you have emailed to or received from. For this reason, it can be a huge list – but since it's usually not visible, if you move your old 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 list of labels. (On the mobile version of Contacts, you can't see your "Other Contacts" list, but if you search for a specific contact that's in that list, they'll show up in this search.)

Here's how to move one or more contacts to the "Other Contacts" list using the Google Contacts web app:

Hide a single contact

  • Hover over the contact list to highlight it, then click the three dots to the right of the entry.
  • Select "Hide from contacts".

Hide multiple contacts

  • Click the icon of each contact you want to hide; the icon will turn into a checkbox.
  • When you have selected all the contacts you want to hide, click on the three dots at the top of the page.
  • Click "Hide from contacts".

Incidentally, if your "Other Contacts" list is too big on its own, you can prevent Gmail from adding names to it every time you send or receive an email.

  • Go to "Settings"> "View all settings".
  • In the "General" tab, scroll down to "Create contacts for auto-complete:" and check "I will add contacts myself".

Export and delete your excess contacts

If you really want to clean up your contact list, but don't want to lose contact information, you can export it to a separate CSV or vCard file. Once they are safely stored, you can delete them from your Google Contacts list.

If you're like me, you probably have more excess contacts than you'd like to deal with in a single session. So here's how I found to handle it. (Again, this uses the web interface for Google Contacts).

  • In the left column, scroll down and click "Create Label". Choose an appropriate name (I named mine "Bye bye").

  • Spend as much time as you need going through your contact list. Add this tag to any entry you want to remove from the list. The quickest way is to tick all the entries you want to label, click on the label symbol above, select the label you created for this purpose in the pop-up window, and click "Apply".

  • When you're ready to export everything you've put under this label, click on the label on the left side of the app.
  • Scroll down the same left column and click "Export".

  • The label you chose should be at the top of the popup. If not, you can click on the small arrow to the right of the label and select the correct one.
  • You can export your contacts as CSV files formatted for Google or Microsoft Outlook, or as iCards (if importing to iOS).
  • Once you have CSV or iCards files, import them into a spreadsheet or other application where you can access them if you need them. For example, I imported mine into a Google Sheets file.
  • Once you are happy with your export, return to Google Contacts and click on the label you created for your exports.
  • Click the delete button.

  • You have the choice of removing just the tag (in which case all those entries will still be there) or removing both the tag and all entries that have the tag. Select the latter.

Now you've cleaned up (at least somewhat) your contact list – and all the contacts you still wanted to keep are safe in another file where you can find them if you ever have them need.