How to Free Up Storage Space on a Mac® System

There are plenty of reasons to free up storage space, whether you need to download or install new applications or if you’re suffering from performance issues associated with a full storage drive. Our guide will help you work out what approach might work best for you. 

Symptoms of a full storage drive

When your hard disk drive or solid state drive is getting full, you’ll notice that program performance and overall computer responsiveness will slow down. The drive needs about 20% of its space to find existing information and write new information. You might also notice that you aren’t able to install new applications because of space limitations.

How to check storage capacity on a Mac

First, check your storage drive to see how much space is available.

  • Double-click the disk icon on your desktop and open a Finder window


  • Right-click on the disk icon and select Get Info

In either case, the total capacity of the drive and the remaining capacity will be listed.

Macintosh HD information window

Remove storage-hungry or unused apps

You can do a few things to free up space on your storage drive. The biggest thing is to go through your files and applications to delete or move to an external storage drive or the cloud items you no longer want.

Check Applications

To look at a list of your applications, and their size, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the drive icon on your desktop, then select Applications
  2. Click the drive icon to show items in a list, then click Arrange, and Size

Starting with the largest files, delete any that you don’t use anymore. Additionally, you can filter files by Last Used to get a quick view of old files you might want to clear out. 

Clear out the downloads file

Clean out the Downloads file by clicking on the drive icon on your desktop, select your user name, then find the Downloads file. Delete any items that have been saved somewhere else or that you no longer need.

Downloads folder of an Apple Mac computer

Delete unneeded e-mail attachments

Go into Mail and delete attachments from your emails that you don’t need or that have been saved. In Mail, select View, then Sort by, and Attachments. This will move the emails that have attachments to the top of the list. Open all your Document files to see if there’s anything you can delete.

Remove old or duplicate photos

If you switched from iPhoto® to Photos, you might have duplicate libraries; one in each application. Open each application and compare the photos to see if you can delete one set of pictures.

Go through your photos to see if there are any you want to keep but don’t need access to all the time. These can be moved to an external drive or the cloud. 

Empty trash cans

After you’ve gone through all your applications and files to free up space, be sure to empty your trash cans. Items in the trash cans are still taking up space on your drive. Right-click on the trash icon and select Empty Trash. iPhoto, iMovie, and Mail all have their own trash. Right-click on Trash in each program and select Empty Trash.

Empty trash pop-up window on an Apple Mac computer

Utilize Storage Tools

If you have OS X® Sierra or beyond, there is a feature that allows you to specify your storage options. To find these options, click the Apple menu then About this Mac, select Manage, then Storage Tools. There are four options:

  • Store in iCloud--Free up space on your computer by storing files in iCloud. This option moves items off your storage drive and into your Apple® account in the cloud.
  • Optimize Storage--This option deletes movies and TV shows purchased on iTunes and downloaded. If you want to see the item again, you can download it again.
  • Empty Trash Automatically--Clean out the trash effortlessly! This option permanently deletes items in the trash after 30 days.
  • Reduce Clutter--This option helps you sift through your files to find which ones can be moved to other storage options, such as the cloud or an external drive. 

Get more storage with an upgraded drive

If you find you still need more space after following the procedures above, consider upgrading to a larger drive. If you have a hard disk drive, now might be a good time to consider upgrading to a solid state drive (SSD). If you already have a solid state drive, upgrade to one with more space.

Your storage disk should be cleaned up and ready for new files and applications!

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