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How to Free Up Storage Space on a Mac

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path® by rating it at the end.

Introduction

After using your Mac for a while you may start noticing it to slow down, you may not be able to install any more apps or updates, or even get notification or error messages saying you need to free up some space.
To free up space on your Mac you have a few options:
  • Uninstall unneeded apps,
  • Delete unneeded or temporary files,
  • Move or store personal files on:
    • External drives,
    • Cloud storage such as iCloud.
Drive space allotment in macOS.

1 Delete Unnecessary Apps

You may sometimes want to uninstall applications from your Mac because you want to free up disk space, you no longer use them or they're no longer working as intended.

Only uninstall applications if you know for certain what they're used for and you've backed up any data you may need later on.

  1. Select Finder in your Dock.
    Finder.
  2. Select Go > Applications.
    Finder Go menu with Applications highlighted.
  3. Look through the Applications folder then drag any application's icon you want to uninstall to the Trash icon on your Dock.
    Dragging Google Chrome to Trash.

2 Clean Up Storage

Mac computers offer built-in tools that can help you find and delete unneeded files and applications. Here's what you can do:

Go to Manage Storage

  1. Open the Apple Menu and click About This Mac.
    Apple menu icon highlighted with about this mac highlighted in the menu below.
  2. Go to the Storage tab at the top of the window.
    macOS about window with storage button highlighted.
  3. Then click the Manage button.
    macOS about window displaying the storage tab with manage button highlighted.

Optimize Storage

This feature automatically handles large files such as movies, TV shows or email attachments to increase storage space on your Mac.

  1. Click Optimize.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the optimize button.
  2. From there you can choose to:
    • Automatically remove watched movies and TV shows – This option will remove movies or TV shows that you purchased from the iTunes Store and you've already watched. You'll be able to download them again by clicking the cloud icon next to their title.
    • Download only recent attachments – With this option the Mail application will only download attachments recently received within your emails. You'll still be able to download older attachments by opening the respective email or attachment itself.
    • Don't automatically download attachments – This is similar to the above option, except the Mail application won't download any attachments automatically, but only if you do it manually.

Empty Trash Automatically

Enabling this feature will permanently delete any items that have been in the trash for 30 days.

  1. To enable this feature, click Turn On.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the turn on button.

Reduce Clutter

This feature can assist you in manually identifying and deleting large or unneeded files.

  1. Click the Review Files button, then choose any of the categories in the sidebar, such as Applications, Documents, Music Creation, iOS Files, iTunes, or Trash.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the review files button.
  2. Carefully inspect the files within each category and delete the ones you no longer need.

    To delete files click the X when hovering over the item or by right clicking the item and choosing Delete.

3 Move Files to an External Storage Device

One of the best ways to free up a significant amount of storage space is to take some or all of your files, photos, videos and transfer them to a backup storage device and then deleting the original. If your Mac computer has USB or Firewire ports, you can connect external storage devices to it and store your files on them.

External Data Storage Options

There are various devices that can help you increase your Mac computer's data storage capacity:

USB Flash Drives A usb thumbdrive
  • Flash drives offer the easiest and quickest way to store data externally.
  • To use your USB flash drive, connect it to any available USB port.
External Hard Drives A WD MyPassport external harddrive
  • External hard drives typically offer the largest amount of storage space for the money, and easily connect to your computer via USB.
  • There are both portable and larger form factor external drives on the market. The difference is not only in their size, but larger external hard drives usually require external power, while portable drives only require a USB connection. Keep this in mind if you would like your external drive to be portable.
SD or Micro SD Cards A 32GB microSD card
  • Your computer may have an available SD or Micro SD card slot. While this type of storage does not typically afford the same amount of space as the other options listed, its ultra compact form factor can still be very desirable for removable storage.
    A microSD slot in the side of a laptop
  • To use this type of storage, simply insert the SD card into the available slot.
  • The card itself can only be inserted into the slot in one way. These card slots are typically spring loaded, and the card should click into and out of place.
External Port Adapters
  • If your computer does not come equipped with a port that you need, then you may need to purchase a dongle to be able to connect the accessory to it.
    USB Type C dongle adapter.

Move Files to External Storage

  1. Plug in a storage device into an available port on your Mac.
    MacBook showing Firewire and USB ports.
  2. After inserting the device, it will show up on your Desktop and in Finder.
    Finder window highlighting the external storage.
  3. Copy any files you don't use very often or take up a lot of space to the external media.
  4. Delete the original files from your computer or any other files you no longer need.

4 Use iCloud

iCloud is an online storage service where you can safely and securely store or back up your personal files. Once you sign into iCloud and choose the content you want to store online, it uploads the files automatically and synchronizes them later on whenever you make changes on your Mac.

You have up to 5 GB of free storage in iCloud and you can upgrade to a bigger storage plan for a premium.

If you need to sign into iCloud:

To Configure iCloud

  1. Open the Apple Menu and click About This Mac.
    Apple menu highlighted with about this mac highlighted
  2. Click on Storage.
    about this mac page with storage tab highlighted
  3. Click on Manage.
    storage tab with the manage button highlighted
  4. Click Store in iCloud and choose from the options below.
    Storage options with store in icloud button highlighted
    • Desktop and Documents – Will store all files in these locations in iCloud. If you get low in storage, only recently used items will remain on the computer. You can download any file back to the computer by clicking the cloud icon.
    • Photos – Will store full resolution images and videos in iCloud. When space is needed, only optimized versions remain on the computer. You can download the original item by opening it.

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After using your Mac for a while you may start noticing it to slow down, you may not be able to install any more apps or updates, or even get notification or error messages saying you need to free up some space.
To free up space on your Mac you have a few options:
  • Uninstall unneeded apps,
  • Delete unneeded or temporary files,
  • Move or store personal files on:
    • External drives,
    • Cloud storage such as iCloud.
Drive space allotment in macOS.

You may sometimes want to uninstall applications from your Mac because you want to free up disk space, you no longer use them or they're no longer working as intended.

Only uninstall applications if you know for certain what they're used for and you've backed up any data you may need later on.

  1. Select Finder in your Dock.
    Finder.
  2. Select Go > Applications.
    Finder Go menu with Applications highlighted.
  3. Look through the Applications folder then drag any application's icon you want to uninstall to the Trash icon on your Dock.
    Dragging Google Chrome to Trash.

Mac computers offer built-in tools that can help you find and delete unneeded files and applications. Here's what you can do:

Go to Manage Storage

  1. Open the Apple Menu and click About This Mac.
    Apple menu icon highlighted with about this mac highlighted in the menu below.
  2. Go to the Storage tab at the top of the window.
    macOS about window with storage button highlighted.
  3. Then click the Manage button.
    macOS about window displaying the storage tab with manage button highlighted.

Optimize Storage

This feature automatically handles large files such as movies, TV shows or email attachments to increase storage space on your Mac.

  1. Click Optimize.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the optimize button.
  2. From there you can choose to:
    • Automatically remove watched movies and TV shows – This option will remove movies or TV shows that you purchased from the iTunes Store and you've already watched. You'll be able to download them again by clicking the cloud icon next to their title.
    • Download only recent attachments – With this option the Mail application will only download attachments recently received within your emails. You'll still be able to download older attachments by opening the respective email or attachment itself.
    • Don't automatically download attachments – This is similar to the above option, except the Mail application won't download any attachments automatically, but only if you do it manually.

Empty Trash Automatically

Enabling this feature will permanently delete any items that have been in the trash for 30 days.

  1. To enable this feature, click Turn On.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the turn on button.

Reduce Clutter

This feature can assist you in manually identifying and deleting large or unneeded files.

  1. Click the Review Files button, then choose any of the categories in the sidebar, such as Applications, Documents, Music Creation, iOS Files, iTunes, or Trash.
    macOS manage storage window highlighting the review files button.
  2. Carefully inspect the files within each category and delete the ones you no longer need.

    To delete files click the X when hovering over the item or by right clicking the item and choosing Delete.

One of the best ways to free up a significant amount of storage space is to take some or all of your files, photos, videos and transfer them to a backup storage device and then deleting the original. If your Mac computer has USB or Firewire ports, you can connect external storage devices to it and store your files on them.

External Data Storage Options

There are various devices that can help you increase your Mac computer's data storage capacity:

USB Flash Drives A usb thumbdrive
  • Flash drives offer the easiest and quickest way to store data externally.
  • To use your USB flash drive, connect it to any available USB port.
External Hard Drives A WD MyPassport external harddrive
  • External hard drives typically offer the largest amount of storage space for the money, and easily connect to your computer via USB.
  • There are both portable and larger form factor external drives on the market. The difference is not only in their size, but larger external hard drives usually require external power, while portable drives only require a USB connection. Keep this in mind if you would like your external drive to be portable.
SD or Micro SD Cards A 32GB microSD card
  • Your computer may have an available SD or Micro SD card slot. While this type of storage does not typically afford the same amount of space as the other options listed, its ultra compact form factor can still be very desirable for removable storage.
    A microSD slot in the side of a laptop
  • To use this type of storage, simply insert the SD card into the available slot.
  • The card itself can only be inserted into the slot in one way. These card slots are typically spring loaded, and the card should click into and out of place.
External Port Adapters
  • If your computer does not come equipped with a port that you need, then you may need to purchase a dongle to be able to connect the accessory to it.
    USB Type C dongle adapter.

Move Files to External Storage

  1. Plug in a storage device into an available port on your Mac.
    MacBook showing Firewire and USB ports.
  2. After inserting the device, it will show up on your Desktop and in Finder.
    Finder window highlighting the external storage.
  3. Copy any files you don't use very often or take up a lot of space to the external media.
  4. Delete the original files from your computer or any other files you no longer need.

iCloud is an online storage service where you can safely and securely store or back up your personal files. Once you sign into iCloud and choose the content you want to store online, it uploads the files automatically and synchronizes them later on whenever you make changes on your Mac.

You have up to 5 GB of free storage in iCloud and you can upgrade to a bigger storage plan for a premium.

If you need to sign into iCloud:

To Configure iCloud

  1. Open the Apple Menu and click About This Mac.
    Apple menu highlighted with about this mac highlighted
  2. Click on Storage.
    about this mac page with storage tab highlighted
  3. Click on Manage.
    storage tab with the manage button highlighted
  4. Click Store in iCloud and choose from the options below.
    Storage options with store in icloud button highlighted
    • Desktop and Documents – Will store all files in these locations in iCloud. If you get low in storage, only recently used items will remain on the computer. You can download any file back to the computer by clicking the cloud icon.
    • Photos – Will store full resolution images and videos in iCloud. When space is needed, only optimized versions remain on the computer. You can download the original item by opening it.