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How To Free Up Storage Space On Your Mac

Learn what’s taking up space on your Mac and how to free up disk space and manage storage on your Mac.

You’re not alone if you’re getting error messages about a full disk, having trouble downloading and installing new apps, or wondering how to free up space on a Mac.

We all had tons of space on our Macs when they had hard drives, but the SSDs that are now in our Macs are more limited in capacity, and high-resolution video, photos, music, and other essential files take up more storage than ever.

Running out of space can seriously impede your computing: if you want your Mac to run quickly, you should keep at least 10% of your storage free at all times; otherwise, your Mac will slow down significantly (read: How to speed up a Mac). If you don’t delete some of the items taking up storage space on your Mac, you might find yourself unable to start it one day because the startup disk is full! You may already be receiving warnings that your startup disk is nearly full; do not disregard them.

If you are installing an operating system update, you may also need to clear some space on your Mac. For example, when Apple released macOS Big Sur in 2020, many Mac users discovered that they didn’t have enough free space to install the new macOS (read: Not enough space for Big Sur). We anticipate similar issues when macOS Ventura is released in October 2022. Under those conditions, you’re probably looking for quick and easy ways to free up space on a Mac, so figuring out what’s taking up space on your Mac and the best way to remove it will be your top priority.

In this article, we’ll walk you through simple steps to identify what’s taking up space on your Mac, what you can and can’t delete, the safest way to remove the biggest space hogs, and how to manage your Mac’s storage so you never run out of space again.

How much space do you have?

Your hard drive has a limited amount of storage space. There are numerous benefits to upgrading to an SSD, but storage space is a significant one. Internal processes take up some of that space, the operating system takes up some, and the rest is reserved for programs, music, photos, files, movies, and anything else you’ve saved. Storage capacity is typically measured in gigabytes (GB).

Follow these steps to determine how much space you have on your storage drive:

  1. Select the Apple menu.
  2. Select About this Mac, followed by Storage.

The total size of the disk will be displayed, as well as the amount of free space remaining on the disk. We recommend leaving 20% of free space for the system to exchange files with the memory module.

How to Find Out What’s Using Up Your Mac’s Storage

If you run out of space on your Mac, it may slow down, which is bad enough, but if you run out of space on your Mac, it may not even start! Before you get there, check to see what is taking up space on your Mac, as this will determine what you should delete.

Several apps will show you which files are taking up a lot of disk space or allow you to sort files in the Finder by size.

Free or low-cost apps such as GrandPerspective and DaisyDisk ($9.99/£8.99, buy it here) provide useful visual cues, whereas OmniDiskSweeper uses the standard hierarchical file window to display the sizes of each file and folder. CleanMyMac (approximately $30/£30) displays disk usage as part of its cleanup features. Parallels Toolbox (approximately $15/£15) includes a Clean Drive tool, as well as a slew of other useful utilities.

However, before you spend any money, you can easily get an overview of what’s taking up space on your Mac.

This view shows how much space certain items take up, but how do you delete the items that are taking up space?

  1. Click on the Apple logo in the upper left corner.
  2. Select About This Mac.
  3. Click the Storage tab and wait for it to calculate. Eventually, you’ll see a series of bars indicating how much storage is assigned to specific items and how much storage is available.
  4. Hover over the various bars to see what they represent and how much space they take up. In our case, yellow represented Photos (you could have 100GB+ of Photos, in which case we recommend using iCloud Photos to reduce what’s stored on your Mac).

What exactly are System and Other?

Older versions of macOS had some oddly named storage divisions, such as System and Other. Nowadays, these types of files are commonly referred to as macOS files (as seen above).

If you are running an older version of macOS, which may be the case if your Mac is a little older and unable to support newer versions, you may be confronted with nearly 40GB of ‘Other’ data (as we were, see below). We’ve heard of people with more than 40GB of Other storage. With a name like Other, it’s no surprise that people assume this is a collection of redundant files that can be deleted. They can be in some cases, but you must exercise caution.

You might be wondering if you can get rid of Other. That is not something you should try to do lightly. However, we explain How to Delete Other on a Mac in a separate article.

The same is true for System. The vast majority of your System files should not be deleted, but there are a few that you can probably do without, such as Time Machine snapshots, iOS backups, and so on. There is also a separate article on what is in the System and what you can delete.

Tools such as CleanMyMac X can assist you in dealing with these Other and System files, as well as files found under macOS in newer versions of the operating system. CleanMyMac costs £29.95/$29.95 (you can download it here). We also have a list of the Best Mac Cleaners, which includes DaisyDisk, MacBooster, Parallels ToolBox, and MacCleaner Pro as alternatives to CleanMyMac.

How to Quickly Free Up Space on a Mac

There are many ideas for freeing up disk space below, but if you’re in a hurry and don’t need a lot of space, or if you’re not concerned about running out of space again, here are a few things you can do right now:

Step 1: Clear your desktop first

  1. Examine your desktop and uninstall any apps or files that you no longer use. To permanently remove any apps from your storage disk, go to Software Update.
  2. Click the apple icon, then select App Store, where you can update or uninstall programs.

Step 2: Examine your folders

  1. Examine the Downloads folder for duplicate files. Check that everything you want is saved to the correct location on the storage disk, then delete the copy in the Downloads folder.
  2. Go through your hard drive and delete any files, programs, games, or music that you no longer need. You can also move items to the cloud or an external storage drive that you want to keep but rarely use.
  3. Delete any previously downloaded movies or television shows. If you want to watch them again, they are available on iTunes®.

Step 3: Get rid of any duplicates

Follow the steps below to remove duplicate photos, documents, and music.

  1. Choose File from the main menu.
  2. Choose New Smart Folder, then click the “+” sign on the right-hand side to add search parameters like File Extension under Other. You can then delete everything except the most recent version.
  3. If you have OS X® Sierra installed on your Mac, you can configure some items to be automatically moved to iCloud. Choose the Apple menu, then About This Mac, Manage, and Storage Tools.
  4. Then choose Store in iCloud. This option copies item from your hard drive to your Apple account in the cloud.

Note: There are several reasons why you have so many duplicate files. If you have ‘Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library’ checked in the preferences, you keep the original when you add songs to iTunes. Duplication occurs instantly. A couple of thousand high-quality songs and you’ve squandered up to 10GB of hard drive space. This does not include duplicates within iTunes.

Step 4: Make use of automated tools

Other options for automatically clearing space on your storage disk exist in this category:

  1. Optimize Storage—this option deletes movies and TV shows purchased and downloaded from iTunes. You can download the item again if you want to see it again.
  2. Automatically Empty Trash—this option permanently deletes items in the trash after 30 days.
  3. Reduce Clutter—this option assists you in sorting through your files to determine which can be moved to other storage options, such as the cloud or an external drive.
  4. If you’ve done all of this and still don’t have enough space, consider upgrading to a larger solid-state drive. Use System Scanner to determine which upgrades you require.

Step 5: Complete the cleanup

Clear the cache files in your browser. If you’re using Safari, you should:

  1. Open Safari and then go to Preferences.
  2. Select Advanced, followed by Show Develop Menu.
  3. Check the Develop Menu and Empty Caches boxes.
  4. Items placed in the trash remain there, taking up space until you empty them. Select Empty Trash from the context menu when you right-click on the trash icon. Some apps, such as iPhoto®, iMovie®, and Mail, have their own trash cans; empty those as well by going into each program and selecting Empty Trash.

Additional ways to save space on your Mac

These are the steps Apple provides to assist you in managing the storage available on your Mac. We’ll now go over some of the other ways to save space, of which there are plenty.

1. Reduce the size of your Mac’s photo library

If you have a large photo library, you may believe that you could save space by deleting hundreds of blurry or poor quality photos. While there are apps that promise to delete duplicate photos on your Mac (such as Photos Duplicate Cleaner or MacPaw’s Gemini 2, the latter of which promises to remove duplicate files from your Mac),

However, there is an easy way to reduce the number of photos on your Mac: simply move them to iCloud.

We mentioned above that you can choose to store your photos in iCloud by selecting the Store in iCloud option in About This Mac > Storage > Manage.

The advantage of using iCloud Photo Library is that any photos you upload to your Mac in the future will also appear on your other devices, such as your iPhone and iPad.

Our photo library (before enabling iCloud Photo Library) was 96GB, so we began by purchasing the 200GB of space offered by Apple. We eventually upgraded to the full 2TB because we were storing all of our documents, desktop, photos, and other data in iCloud. A Family account can share the 2TB of iCloud storage.

You may have enabled iCloud Photo Library, but if not, you can do so in the Photos app.

  1. Navigate to Photos > Preferences.
  2. Select the checkbox next to iCloud Photos.
  3. Important: Choose Optimise Mac Storage to ensure that full-resolution photos are replaced with low-resolution versions (you can always download the full-res version if you need it).

With that setting, your library should gradually shrink as high-resolution versions of your images are replaced with low-resolution versions. However, keep in mind that you will also receive low-resolution versions of all the images you have on all of your devices, so you may not save much space.

Be aware that deleting photos from your Mac will also delete them from iCloud: iCloud is not a method of backing up your photos so that you can delete them from your Mac.

If you want to free up space in your photo library, consider our next suggestion.

2. Move photos to external storage

Another option is to move your photo library to an external hard drive to free up space on your Mac. We have a separate article that explains how to move your Mac’s photo library to an external drive, but we’ll summarize the steps below.

  1. Quit Photos.
  2. Make a backup of your Photos Library on an external drive. (To avoid having to delete them later, press the Command key when dragging the files over to move them, with the original files automatically deleted rather than copied.)
  3. Hold down the Option/Alt key while starting up Photos after the files have finished copying.
  4. Select Photos > Preferences, then General, and then Use as System Photo Library.
  5. If you have enabled iCloud Photo Library, the Mac may become busy as it determines which photos are in iCloud, but it should eventually complete without requiring a large data transfer.

3. Move your music collection

Your Music library (iTunes in older versions of macOS) may also be a candidate for reclaiming disk space, especially if you spent a significant amount of time importing CDs many years ago. If your iTunes library contains several gigabytes of music, you have a few options.

You can move everything from your Music directory to an external hard drive and then point Music/iTunes to it in Preferences. That’s great if you have a desktop Mac, but it’s not ideal if you have a notebook, unless you have a NAS drive to which you connect wirelessly. There is a separate tutorial for moving your iTunes library to an external hard drive.

Another option is to subscribe to iTunes Match for £21.99 per year. Here’s how to get iTunes Match up and running. Nota bene: If you have an Apple Music subscription, you will receive all of the benefits of iTunes Match as well as access to the entire Apple Music catalog. So you don’t require both.

Once activated, iTunes Match allows you to access all of the music in your music Library on Apple’s servers, eliminating the need to store it locally. You’ll need to be connected to the internet to play music, but otherwise, it’s the same as using Music/iTunes with locally stored music.

As a bonus, if you decide to download your music from iTunes Match later, you will receive 256-bit AAC files that are likely to be of higher quality than the ones you previously stored on your Mac.

The final option is to subscribe to Apple Music, Apple’s service that gives you access to its entire music library for £9.99 per month, so assuming all of your music is on iTunes, you can delete all of your music from your Mac and just stream the music from Apple Music instead.

If you later decide not to subscribe, you will always be able to download for free any tracks you purchased from the iTunes Music Store before taking out the subscription, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to download tracks that you uploaded to your iTunes library yourself unless you have iTunes Match, so don’t throw out those CDs just yet.

4. Uninstall any unwanted apps

There is an option to remove unsupported apps in Mac > Storage > Manage, but what about the other apps you have installed but don’t use or need?

Normally, deleting apps on a Mac is fairly simple:

  1. You can delete an app from the Applications folder in the Finder by right-clicking on it and selecting Move to Bin/Trash.
  2. Alternatively, press F4 to open Launchpad, find the app, press Alt/Option, and hover over it. To delete it, click the x.

However, some macOS apps have preferences (plist) and application support files, which can be found in a variety of locations on your Mac. In those cases, the methods described above will not delete all of the files and libraries associated with an app.

If you want to be absolutely certain that every trace of an app has been removed, you can use an app that completely deletes apps.

Some large applications include an uninstaller. One of these, for example, can be found in Microsoft Office’s Additional Tools folder. Sometimes the installer for an app also functions as an uninstaller. However, the absence of a dedicated uninstaller in macOS is a significant oversight.

Fortunately, there are several third-party alternatives. CleanMyMac X, Uninstaller, and CleanApp are all good options, as is AppCleaner (free, download from the Mac App Store here), AppDelete ($7.99), and AppZapper ($12.95).

Another tip is to ensure that all background apps are closed. Quitting apps that have been open for several days or more, or even restarting your Mac entirely, will also help free up disk space.

Temporary files are created by applications to store data, and the longer they run without being terminated, the larger those files become. When you exit the app, the cache files are deleted and disk space is restored.

6. Remove any extra languages

macOS supports a variety of languages, having been localized for over 25 of them, all of which are included automatically during installation. Go to System Preferences > Language & Region; here, languages can be arranged in a preferred order to make switching between them easier.

Many major applications also support multiple languages, with the order Language & Text being used to select one if the app does not support your primary language. The issue is that if you only want to use one or two languages, macOS and many of your apps become bloated with the rest.

Go to the Resources folder and look for folders ending in. lproj if you want to delete extra language files that you know you won’t need. A language file will be included in each of those folders. You should be able to delete these folders without issue.

7. Remove any unnecessary code

Another way to save disk space is to remove unnecessary code.

Monolingual (donation required) allows you to remove specific architectures and languages from macOS. While it can free up massive amounts of hard drive space, if you’re not careful, it can also render your Mac unbootable. Use with extreme caution.

8. Make use of cloud storage space

We’ve already discussed iCloud, but there are other cloud storage options.

Cloud storage services are useful for making files accessible from anywhere, but they can take up space on your Mac. Dropbox and OneDrive, for example, automatically sync everything you store in them with your Mac if you have the Dropbox/OneDrive app installed.

If you only have the standard 2GB of free Dropbox storage, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, Microsoft provides Office 365 subscribers with 1TB of free storage space, so if you use it to store a large number of files, you may quickly run out of disk space. The same is true if you pay for additional storage space on Dropbox.

However, in both cases, you can choose to sync only the files and folders you specify.

In Dropbox, click the menu bar item, then the cog, and finally Preferences. Click the Account tab, then the Change Settings button. Uncheck the boxes next to the files and folders you don’t want to sync with your Mac.

In OneDrive, select Preferences from the menu bar. Choose Folders, then Choose Folders, and finally Choose Folders to sync. Uncheck the boxes next to folders, or use the expand arrow to access individual files and uncheck them.

As previously mentioned, another option is to sign up for more iCloud storage.

9. Back up or archive

You may think I need the extra space, but I don’t want to delete anything! If you truly are the proverbial data squirrel, consider the following suggestions:

Archive any files that you are unlikely to need regularly. Ctrl-click a folder and then choose the compress option. (For more information on how to zip Mac files, click here.) The amount of space saved will vary depending on the type of file being archived: JPEGs and DMGs, for example, are unlikely to compress significantly. Once created, archives can be saved to your Mac or an external drive.

If you do decide to delete files or folders, always make a backup first.

All Done

Once you’ve finished all of the tasks, restart or shut down your computer to clear the memory.

You’ve just finished cleaning up your Mac! If your Mac is still running slowly, you may need to do some more research. Our guide to speeding up your Mac system may be of assistance.

Why Trust Us?

Best Top Reviews Online was established in 2018 to provide our readers with detailed, truthful, and impartial advice on what to buy. We now have millions of monthly users from all over the world and annually evaluate over a thousand products.

The above article was written by the BestTopReviewsOnline team, which consists of some of the most knowledgeable technical experts in the United States. Our team consists of highly regarded writers with vast experience in smartphones, computer components, technology apps, security, and photography, among other fields.

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