Easy ways of clearing disk space

I’m working on an article that’s designed to help readers work through steps to clear up disk space quickly and with minimal thought. Imagine you’re helping a friend who wants to upgrade macOS but doesn’t have anywhere near enough free space to do it, or whose drive is filling up such that they’re getting low space errors constantly. You don’t want to evaluate every possible app and document to see if it can be trashed, so this article will give you a set of steps you can follow to recover space with only easily answered questions.

For instance, you can ask the friend if they back up their iPhone via iCloud or not, and if they do, delete old local iPhone backups. That’s reasonable, but I’m waffling on including the photo-related items below because you might have to do a lot of verification to ensure that the old iPhoto library images and large image folders are actually in the main Photos library.

Here are the techniques I’ve come up with. Can you think of any other ways of recovering significant amounts of space? (These aren’t in the final order yet, and all will have directions, explanations, and disclaimers.) Thanks!

  • Empty the Trash
  • Restart
  • Delete old iPhone and iPad backups
  • Delete 32-bit apps and duplicates
  • Delete macOS installers
  • Delete the contents of the Downloads folder
  • Remove watched TV shows and movies
  • Remove orphaned iPhoto libraries (verification may be too involved)
  • Delete manually added folders of photos (verification may be too involved)
  • Deleted unused GarageBand support files
  • Optimize Mac Storage for iCloud Drive
  • Optimize Mac Storage for Photos
  • Look for out-of-control cached files with GrandPerspective, OmniDiskSweeper, DaisyDisk, etc.

A couple things come to mind.

  • Delete apps you no longer use. (Don’t forget to remove associated files by using an app such as AppCleaner.)
  • Remove duplicate photos, music, files, etc. (There are lots of apps available that look for duplicates.)

This also may be a little advanced, but for Music for people who use Apple Music or iTunes Match - remove downloads of local music flles in the Music/iTunes app, especially items that you don’t actively listen to on the Mac.

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Tell that to Apple.

Duplicate finding apps can be useful, I suppose. I know I have a LOT of large duplicate photos lurking around that I just haven’t found time for (too busy scanning all my slides and negs… :-)

Compress documents and files that need to be kept but are not accessed regularly.

When you do order them, my personal #1 is (currently) the last item on your list. I always look for the largest candidates first. The tools you mentioned (I’m especially fond of OmniDiskSweeper, but I’ve used them all), let you do just that.

A more niche product which is really useful for developers is DevCleaner by Konrad Kolokowski. Xcode can be very piggy.


Bring back DiskDoubler!


I had the storage problem “upgrading” from a 1Tb iMac running Mojave to a 500Gb M2 Macbook Air running Sonoma (why does Apple think 500Gb is OK these days?) .

Rather than trying to delete numerous files, photos and music I ended up just moving my Photos library and active video files to an external drive.
That means, of course, that when the external drive is not attached I cannot use the Photos app, but I can live with that.
At home I connect the Macbook to a 32" LG monitor with a single USB-c cable. That provides video, power and access to the external drive (that is always connected to the monitor).

I realise this is not much help for Adam’s project but for some users it might be an alternative to daunting technical solutions.

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Don’t forget the Mail Downloads folder.
~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/Library/Mail Downloads/
I found a lot of attachments-from-the-past there, deleted all of them, and saved 30 GB of hard disk space. (They were thousands of graphics files sent from my students.)


I just tested an old trick.
Restarting with shift will flush a lot of temporary files. The cache will, of course, build again so it is no permanent solution.
I lost 10 gig now on a system that was installed clean in November. I believe you can get rid of more if your mac has been running for more time.

The theoretical downside is that it might slow apps down, but I can’t say it bothers me.

First, find out where effort will pay off the most. Then delete that stuff and don’t worry about the itty-bitty.

This is soooo important! Don’t obsess about cleaning! I can’t tell you how many clients (and dinner party “clients”) have asked me whether they should delete this and that to save space and when I ask them what they want to delete and the capacity of their disk it’s preposterous. They’re worried about 200M of whatever when they have 700,000 megabytes free! It’s a decades-long holdover from small storage worries.

I’m a big fan of DaisyDisk. It’s become very elegant and really shows you what’s going on in that morass of a disk you have. That said, you have to be careful with DaisyDisk and the other “cleaners” because if you don’t really, exactly know what that big block of something does that seems so ripe for deletion you could be in a world of hurt.

As far as simple things (this is a great idea for a story, @ace), You might want to look in your AppleTV library and delete the movies you bought when you were 5 sheets to the wind and never have looked at again. (Ctrl/Right-click on the movie in the listing and choose Remove Download.)



There’s also the open source Disk Inventory X, which is based on the Linux KDirStat and its Windows port, WinDirStat.

Although the web page for Disk Inventory X says it is compatible with “macOS 10.13 - 10.15”, I am able to run version 1.3 (the latest version) on my macOS 14 (Sonoma) system without any problem.

I’ve been in exactly this situation a number times with friends wanting to upgrade macOS but apparently not having enough disk space to do so, even though Storage and Disk Utility show 50GB-odd free

  1. Empty Trash
  2. Check Downloads – move need-to-keep stuff to appropriate folders and delete the rest.
  3. Delete Caches
  4. Delete old Time Machine snapshots.
  5. Delete old iOS backups
  6. Copy the whole Movie and/or Music folder(s) to an external drive (already on external backup disks so this just extra insurance)
  7. Delete Movie and/or Music folders.
  8. Empty Trash
  9. Restart
  10. Upgrade macOS
  11. Copy Music and/or Movie folders back.
  12. Test

As @Gobit notes, it’s important to caveat this step as some people will have files/apps they use in the Downloads folder.

The other potentially quick win for someone really low on disk space is checking for runaway log files, as those can get quite large. This is something DaisyDisk or similar will help assess.

Go through the Photos app and cull all the garbage. It amazes me how much crap people keep. Videos they’ll never watch, hundreds or thousands of terrible photos no-one will ever see.

I’m a photographer by trade (long time ago) and I have hardly anything in my Photos library. Be your own harshest critic and eliminate the ‘cruft’.

Indeed, especially since Apple continued selling Sonoma-compatible machines with non-upgradeable 128 GB drives until surprisingly recently, e.g. the 2018 Mac mini and the 2019 MacBook Air.

I’m not sure when exactly the 128 GB configuration of the 2018 mini was dropped, but Apple sold new 2018 minis until January 2023, and new 128 GB MacBook Airs were sold until 2020.

I always start with the app GrandPerspective to get a quick graphical idea of the major space hogs on my disk. If you get it from SourceForge it’s free or $2.99 from the Mac App Store. This will help you decide which of the steps @ace listed would provide the most benefit.

I ran GrandPerspective and the biggest thing it found was that my “Pictures” folder contains both “Photos Library.photoslibrary” and “iPhoto Library.photolibrary”. Is it correct that the migration to Photos means that the iPhoto version is disposable? (I’m in Sonoma and haven’t intentionally used iPhoto in years–just want to make sure that the original conversion to Photos swept up everything and that there’s nothing lurking that will get confused if the old file goes away.)