Free up computer disk space

My main computer is a MacBook Air. I love it dearly. The thin little thing has traveled with me, and I wrote my books on it. It’s a super little machine. It’s got 128 GB of internal flash storage, which sounds like a lot, yet I get that “your startup disk is almost full” warning all the time. The fact that I photograph my kids all the time doesn’t help. I also love music, movies, and trying new software. Those are all space-hogging activities. What can I do?

If you’re in the same boat — irrespective if you’re on a Mac or PC — this post is for you. I’ve collected several tips for freeing up disk space on your computer. Put them into practice and reclaim a little bit of that precious storage space.

To the cloud!

First and foremost, take advantage of cloud storage. Flickr offers users one terabyte of storage for free. That’s huge. I use Everpix, which syncs photos taken with my iPhone and my wife’s iPhone automatically. Those shots aren’t stored on my Mac at all, saving me huge amounts of space.

Music is another opportunity to save space. For example, many people buy an external disk and move their music (like iTunes) library to it. That way your computer’s internal storage is free of your huge music library. Apple’s iCloud also lets you store music on their own servers which you can stream on demand, if you own a Mac.

Other stream-only services like Rdio, Spotify and Pandora let customers stream music to their devices for a monthly fee. I’ve been using Rdio for years and love it. I can listen to all the music I want without any of it living on my hard drive.

What about documents? Dropbox is great, but it stores local copies of all your flies. Actually, not all. In the app’s preferences, select “Selective Sync.” This lets you determine which of your Dropbox folders are copied to your computer.

Cleaning house

While researching this article, I came across this post from MacRumors. It lists several great options for freeing up disk space, including:

  1. Empty the trash. You’d be surprised how often I see digital trash cans that are bulging with files. The act of simply moving a file into the trash doesn’t get rid of it. Empty that virtual trash can. Individual applications (like iPhoto on my Mac and my email program) may also have separate Trash cans and Spam folders that should be emptied, too.
  2. Delete software and files you don’t use. I’m the guy who downloads software just to see what it does. That means I accumulate a lot of apps I don’t use. Trash them. AppZapper for the Mac is good at removing an app and all its related files, if you’re on a Mac. If you know of a similar PC product, please share that in the comments.

    It is also good to go through the files you have saved and trash all those you no longer need. The grocery list you made eight months ago can probably go, even if it’s not taking up a lot of room. All those little files are only cluttering up your computer’s hard drive.

  3. Empty your browser caches. Most web browsers will cache sites to improve their performance. These cache files can grow over time. You’ll find an option to clear your cache in your browser’s preferences.

It’s also a good idea to run software that’s designed to find and eliminate unnecessary files. I rely on Clean My Mac. It’s great at finding things like hidden iPhoto duplicates, language files that I don’t use, and a lot more. I’ve reclaimed several gigabytes of space thanks to Clean My Mac. Again, if you rely on a PC product, please share that in the comments. And, if you’re on a PC, don’t forget to defragment your drive after you delete programs to help it run more efficiently.

Add physical storage

You might have an option to add more physical storage to your computer. For example, the cool StorEDGE from PNY is a little flash storage module that fits inside an SDXC slot (provided that it has one, my Air does not) and adds either 64 GB or 128 GB of storage.

There you have a few strategies for reclaiming a little precious disk space. Try them out and de-clutter your computer.

12 Comments for “Free up computer disk space”

  1. posted by Craig on

    If you are running anything newer than Windows XP then you do not need to defragment, it is done for you. It also will not save any space.

    I also have to question the wisdom in suggesting people store their lives in the cloud without talking about having backup copies. Flickr have in the past deleted people’s accounts due to either a mistake or them being reported for something that later turned out not to be true.

    External hard drives are fine, but the cloud should never be considered the place to keep your only copy. Not least then you don’t pay them. they have no obligation to make sure they still have it.

    Cloud backup in the only slight exception. While personally I am not keen on those services, they are at least a backup, not your only copy.

  2. posted by Sheila on

    I’m a PC user and an retired programmer, so I try out a lot of software and collect music, graphics etc that fill up my hard drive also. I suggest running Cleanup or CCleaner with frequency to clear out cache, remove temp files, empty the recycle bin, etc. There may be others out there as well, but those are what I use. I run Cleanup every night before I go to bed.

  3. posted by KW on

    Last I checked, Apple’s iCloud storage had a 25,000 song limit. Some of us have more music than that..

  4. posted by Brian on

    I agree with Craig about storing items in the cloud.

    Another disadvantage to the cloud, is that if you don’t have network access you don’t have your files. I also find moving large amounts of data impractical.

    To expand local storage inexpensively and portably use a very small micro SD USB card reader and a micro SD card. A quality 32GB card is about $20 currently, and a generic 64GB is about $30. Watch for counterfeit name-brand cards (i.e. SanDisk).

    The card reader in my MBA is which makes the fit in my case a little tight, but doable. As a bonus, I can use it to copy pictures over from my wife’s phone, and with an SD card adapter I can copy files to and from other computers easily.

  5. posted by Karen Bradley on

    That is great information, thank you for sharing it.

  6. posted by Marie on

    Does anyone have any suggestions on how to clean up an IPhone and IPad? It’s constantly saying I am running out of memory, even though I purchased more ICloud space. I guess you will probably tell me to get rid some of my 147 apps!

  7. posted by Tammy Rizzo on

    I’m on a PC, as well, running Windows XP. I go through my installed programs frequently and uninstall everything I don’t use (except for games – I love my games), and clean up the traces with CCleaner. There are also several programs out there to find and delete duplicate files, that can sort by file size and checksum data, instead of file name. Delete all but one copy, unless it’s a system file. Clear your TEMP and TMP directories often. You can also set most browser cache sizes to 0 or to only 8 kb, which is negligible. There are a lot of ways to clear up space.

  8. posted by Nathan on

    I’ve worked on both PC and Mac operating systems in the past, but currently spend most of my time in the Windows world at the moment. I use a combination of the excellent CCleaner (mentioned above) and Revo Uninstaller (free verson) to keep my system free of applications I don’t use.

  9. posted by Gina on

    I feel like such an oldie since I’ve been cleaning up the computer since <1 GB hard drives. I'm actually kind of obsessive about it, as it just offends me to have junk files cluttering up the system and even sometimes getting backed up and moved along with your important documents. I also use CCleaner.

    And the best definition I heard of the cloud? "A server you don't control" so you can hardly expect it to be a good place as the only copy of anything important.

    As an archivist, I run into this problem all the time. "Archiving" means continuing to manage the file, including checking that it is stored safely and securely, while "backup" means an extra copy in case of disaster–so the idea is to hopefully never use it 🙂

  10. posted by Marco S on

    Hi everyone! If you need to free up your hard drive you may use various storage resources like Dropbox or Pandora. However if you value your files you may use these tips. It is also necessary to protect one’s files even on storage resources. By the way which protective measures do you take?

  11. posted by lannykint on

    I would recommend Duplicate Files Deleter in this case. It helped me to find and delete duplicate files from my hard drive. www*DuplicateFilesDeleter*com

  12. posted by Rainer Proksch on

    Helpful post. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.