If you are getting error messages about a full disk, having trouble downloading and installing new apps, or wondering how to free up space on a Mac, you aren’t alone. We aren’t professionals, but we do know a few things that can help you do a Mac clean-up.

How much space do you have?

Your storage drive has a finite amount of space. There are many advantages of upgrading to an SSD, but storage space is a big one. Some of that space is taken up by internal processes, some by the operating system, and the rest is reserved for programs, music, photos, files, movies, and anything else you’ve saved. Storage is usually measured in gigabytes (GB).

To see how much space you have on your storage drive, follow these instructions:

  • Click the Apple menu
  • Select About this Mac, then Storage
Storage screen

The total size of the disk will be listed, along with how much free space remains on the disk. We recommend 20% of free space to give the system plenty of room to exchange files with the memory module.

How to free up space on a Mac

There are several steps to clearing up space on a Mac.

Step 1: Clear your desktop

Check your desktop and remove the shortcuts for any apps and files that you no longer use. Go to Software Update to permanently remove any apps from your storage disk.

To use Software Update, click the apple icon, then select App Store, where you can update or uninstall programs.

Step 2: Go through your folders

Check the Downloads folder for redundant files. Make sure things you want are saved to the appropriate place on the storage disk, then delete the copy in the Downloads folder.

Software update screen

Go through your storage disk to delete files, programs, games, and music you no longer want. You can also move items you want to keep but rarely use to the cloud or to an external storage drive.

Delete any downloaded movies or TV shows that you’ve already watched. If you want to watch them again, they’re waiting for you on iTunes®.

Step 3: Remove duplicate items

Use the instructions below to remove duplicates of photos, documents, and music.

  1. Select File on the main menu
  2. Select New Smart Folder, click the “+” sign on the right-hand side, then select search parameters such as File Extension under Other. You can then delete all but the most recent version. 
Smart folder screen

If you have OS X® Sierra on your Mac, you can configure items to automatically move some items to iCloud. Select the Apple menu, then About this Mac, select Manage, then Storage Tools. Then select Store in iCloud. This option moves items off your storage drive and into your Apple account in the cloud.

Step 4: Use automatic tools

There are other options in this area that will allow you to automatically clear space on your storage disk:

  • 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—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.

If you’ve accomplished these things and still don’t have enough room, consider upgrading your storage disk to a larger solid state drive. Use our System Scanner to find out exactly what upgrade you require.

Step 5: Final cleanup

Be sure to clear your browser’s cache files. If you’re using Safari:

  1. Open Safari, then select Preferences
  2. Select Advanced, then Show Develop Menu
  3. Click Check Develop Menu and Empty Caches.
Preference screen


Items you put in the trash stay there, taking up space until you empty the trash. Right-click on the trash icon and select Empty Trash. Some applications, such as iPhoto®, iMovie®, and Mail have their own trash cans, be sure to empty those as well by going into each program and selecting Empty Trash.

Empty trash screen

All done


When you’ve completed all the tasks, restart or turn off your computer to clear the memory.

You’ve just completed your Mac clean-up! If your Mac is still performing slowly, you may have to do some further digging. Our guide on speeding up your Mac system can help.

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