Keep your computer clean with digital decluttering

A few days ago I got a desperate call from a friend. “My computer says ‘disk full’ and basically won’t work. What do I do?” Her laptop’s hard drive was full to capacity. She tried deleting the contents of her downloads folder, some unwanted photos, old emails, and stray files on the desktop and it wasn’t enough. Albeit a good start, I told her, but it’s kind of like using an eyedropper to empty a swimming pool. For real digital de-cluttering, you’ve got to break out the big guns.

While photo and video libraries can take up a lot of storage space, as well as music, backups and more, there are other, space-hungry files on your machine that you can’t see. For keeping those in check, I recommend using a piece of software. I recommend Clean My Mac and Clean My PC by the folks at Macpaw. (Both pieces of software are $40.)

Before I explain why, let me quickly discuss memory vs. storage.

Computer memory vs. computer storage

In the 20 years that I’ve been working with computers professionally, I’ve found that memory vs. storage causes confusion for people more than anything else. One refers to how much your machine can physically hold; the other, how much it can do at once.

Here’s an analogy: Consider an office desk. It’s got a broad worktop and many drawers for storing all sorts of stuff. To work on something, you pull it from a drawer and place it on the work top. The drawers are your storage. The more drawers you have, or the more spacious they are, the more they can hold. A desk with six drawers can store more stuff than one with four (assuming the drawers are all the same size). The drawers are your computer’s internal hard drive. The larger it is, the more “stuff” — photos, videos, Word docs, music, etc. — it can physically hold. Back to the desk.

To work with something, you pull it from a drawer and place it on the work top. The bigger the top of your desk is, the more you can spread out and work on at once. The work top is your computer’s memory. The more memory your computer has, the more you can look at one time. There’s a little more to memory than that, but this is a good basic explanation.

Kill digital clutter

As I mentioned, there are big ‘ol files lurking on your machine that many people can’t easily find and drag to the trash. That’s why I recommend using a piece of software to help you find these. As a Mac user, I use Clean My Mac from Macpaw. Clean My PC has a reputation for doing an equally fantastic job on Windows machines. However, since I don’t have a PC, I can’t speak for it directly.

I like Clean My Mac for three reasons: It’s thorough, it’s clear on what’s happening, and it’s safe.


I cleaned my MacBook Pro earlier today, and Clean My Mac found outdated cache files amounting to nearly 2 GB, as well as iPhone updates that I no longer need. Additionally, much software is “localized” for several languages. I only need English, so Clean My Mac found the superfluous (for me) language files from my software and removed them — to the tune of 2.45 GB.


Whenever Clean My Mac conducts a scan, it identifies what it calls “Large & Old Files.” These files are not removed without your review and approval. You might find video projects in there, large audio files, and the like. For instance, the scan I recently conducted found several iMovie files that are quite large but not for deletion. Clean My Mac was smart enough to leave them intact for me.


This software’s help system is fantastic. Deleting files from your computer should not be taken lightly, even when you’re talking about known junk. The help section defines every term and process clearly and concisely, so you’ll know what’s going to happen. Additionally, the software’s main screen is quite legible and logically arranged.

It can be frustrating when your computer is cluttered. Fortunately, you can be safely proactive about it. Grab a good piece of software and stay on top of your digital decluttering before you end up with a virtual mess on your hands.

9 Comments for “Keep your computer clean with digital decluttering”

  1. posted by Susan S on

    Is there software or an app that will do the same thing for your phone/tablets?

  2. posted by Kinshuk on

    There are many apps available on App store, which do the similar work as Clean my Mac does. But each app have something different than the other, making it more user friendly. So there is no number app, you have to download and use, before you purchase the one of your kind.

  3. posted by April on

    If you go to their site, it has buttons for “free download” or “buy now” but doesn’t tell you the difference between the two. Is the free one only for 30 days, or a “lite” version, or something else? Can you tell us since I can’t figure it out from looking at the site? Thanks!

  4. posted by DONNA on

    I really think you should alert people to the fact that you MUST purchase in order to utilize the application. Why have people go through the whole scan process only to find out that they MUST purchase the application. Shame on you

  5. posted by Matthias on

    Next post: How to reinstall OSX fast after destroying it using some “optimization” tools.

    BTW: You should mark advertising posts.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    Matthias — Not an advertised or sponsored post. It’s a review of software Dave has purchased with his own money and benefitted from using. If you have other apps or software you like instead of this one, feel welcome to mention them in the comments. Except for our unitasker joke posts or expressly stated otherwise, we only recommend products we have actually tried and have had a positive experience using.

  7. posted by Janne on

    CAUTION: Do not use CleanMyMac on your photo library or removing any apps that have their own uninstallers like, say, old Adobe apps.

    CleanMyMac appears compelling after first uses, but the damage it is capable of is vast.

    CleanMyMac will tinker with the photo app’s database directly, which I now know software developers generally consider an illegal thing to do for any app other than the one that created the database. CleanMyMac left me with a bunch of missing photos, and photos that I’d rotated, which after cleanup appeared stretched up to fit the original picture’s dimensions. Had I not dutifully backed up my photo library every couple of years or so, I’d have ended up with a lot of (over ten thousand) missing or stretched photos. I had to start with an empty photo library, adding photos from backups starting with the oldest backup, since I’d used CMM for a couple of years and hadn’t noticed the extent of damage it had done. I ended up with about 20,000 duplicate photos which the excellent PhotoSweeper took care of in a much less ham-fisted manner — by creating an album with marked duplicate photos for my manual removal. As far as I can see, out of my 78,000 photos, only 1 (one!) is corrupted now. I can live with that! I will never get those two or three work days back, though.

    Also, I thought it would be wise to use CleanMyMac to remove old Adobe apps related files, since those take up some space on the disk. Unfortunately that left me with tens of gigs of newer Adobe apps which now wouldn’t open nor uninstall, so what I ended up doing was starting afresh with a new OS install and re-downloaded and re-installed all my apps.

    All in all, CleanMyMac 2 & 3 have caused me far more suffering than it has been worth and a quick google search revealed I wasn’t the only one. I haven’t tried — and won’t — the latest versions, but the last time I used the app was around April/May 2015 after which I noticed some fresh damage in my photo library.

    But MAYBE it will work just fine for you 😉

  8. posted by MacPaw Support on

    Greetings everyone!

    April – the limitation of the trial version of CleanMyMac 3 is mentioned on our FAQ page, you’re welcome to read FAQ and Knowledge Base + Manual before purchasing the full version of CleanMyMac 3, here is the link below:

    Janne – as for Abode applications – they’re all in the Ignore List of CleanMyMac 3 by default, so we don’t clean their caches, since that we’ve received lots of complains and decided to ignore them for safety reasons. By the way, same thing with Spotify application.
    Please provide with examples of Adobe applications which you can’t remove? If possible, our email is: [email protected]
    Also, as for iPhoto issue we’d like to investigate whether CleanMyMac 2/3 caused this or no.

    MacPaw Support Team.

  9. posted by Beata on

    This topic is so near and dear to my heart! I specifically struggled with my personal documents stored all over the place – from shoebox, file cabinet, desktop, to cloud storages. I connected with Docady app ( and consolidated all of my vital docs onto one place. Plus, it has offline accessibility, so my docs are always available, especially awesome when traveling!

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