How to Deal with Running Out of iCloud, Google, and Dropbox Space

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After being warned by both iCloud and Gmail that he was running low on storage space, Adam Engst embarked on a mission to free up cloud space rather than pay for more than he needs. If your clouds are filling up too, follow along to avoid missing email, failing file syncs, and more.


In addition to Grand Perspective, you might be interested in Disk Inventory X. It’s another open source application with similar behavior.

It is actually based on a similar Linux tool called KDirStat (which is end-of-life, replaced with QDirStat) and its Windows port, WinDirStat.

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I hate deleting anything, unless it’s a copy (eg. old finished with backups, or duplicates). So for me the procedure is always to store it in my archive folder system, and just pay for one cloud service (iCloud, currently) to keep it all. I have fairly rigorous continuous file & folder naming scheme, so this makes finding and dealing with stuff easier when it comes to archiving.

This achieves two purposes. Firstly is archival, secondly is access all my info from anywhere and at any time on virtually any device.

It’s not that much per year in the scheme of things, so for me, not bothering to muck around working out too much about what to keep vs. delete is worth it.

The only current problem, is Mail mac app. I use tons of folders (mailboxes) and the client is slowing down under their weight (many folders for year’s, that can go somewhere else).
I wonder if anyone has tried using an email archive app, so I can still read email archive info without having to import it back into a client to do so? I’ve been considering MailSteward, but not sure if it’s worth the bother?


I am glad that Apple at least allow the use of iCloud storage towards family accounts. My 2Tb is shared between the five of us and dynamically too, I don’t have to deal with quotas and I’m the largest user by far anyway.

I wish Dropbox offered something similar. Alas no. The jump from 2Gb to 1Tb is big and I use most of it. But the price jump beyond that to teams is too far…


For too long I’ve been hesitating to use payed cloud service. Have been trying almost all the clouds mentioned, as well as Amazone.
And now I’m extremely happy with OneDrive which I’ve been using for a year. At $ 69 per year for 1 TB i.e. all my stuff, together with all the Microsoft office apps, on my iMac, iPad and Android smartphone I’m happily exchanging files, photos and videos between my devices. And as a bonus sharing large items is also very easy. I think that’s value for money.

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I have tons of ancient messages in EagleFiler.

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Thanks for the link (wow, all the way back to Sep 2011 too, lol!).
It’s a long detailed one, so I’ll have to add to my to-do soon reading list. :slight_smile:

One question this raises…
Perhaps it was simply for brevity, but was there a reason you didn’t mention current archiving techniques for your last lot of old emails in the above article? (rather than simply deleting them.) I suppose the 2011 article is certainly a great starting point despite its age for most readers, given email hasn’t change that massively over the last decade has it, so its largely still relevant.

My guess is most people know how to deal with Finder for their docs (of whatever filetype) inside some kind of organisational folder structure they create (at least some simply live in everything on the desktop-type chaos, I’m sure, haha!), or the keener ones might use something like Devonthink. While most then also relying on self-enclosed database items (like Photos/Music aka iTunes) cloud functionalities now.

However, when it comes to email, I suspect many still find overcrowded email archiving too much of a headache to deal with until it becomes absolutely imperative for them to do so when perhaps their main email client eventually grounds to a halt under their weight.

Welcome to the age of data overload!

When Dropbox was still generous and relatively unknown, I managed to acquire almost 10 GB through various schemes, and that is all I need, both for synchronising my devices and a whole lot of collaborations too. I consider it as a kind of shared cloud-RAM and I archive things once I no longer need to use or share them. I heard that iCloud new lets you truly share things with others now, but as long as Dropbox works for me I see no need to explore this. Dropbox is a truly cooperative system, so sharing things requires real trust that your correspondent won’t do irreversible things. I do use iCloud but only for iLife applications across my devices but nothing else. I don’t really understand how it works. After an update, one of my machines started to push its Desktop and Document folders into my iCloud, which I managed to block and revert, but apparently the files are still there taking up space… Not really sure how to access and eventually delete these.

Sorry, I haven’t gone back to re-read that entire article either, so I’m not quite sure what the question is. Can you clarify?

Email is such structured data, with sender, date, and Subject fields, that I don’t think it makes sense to export to simple files in the Finder. You’re always going to want some sort of database to hold and search it.

Exactly! I hadn’t deleted hundreds of thousands of old Take Control email receipts before because I didn’t have to. Running out of space in Gmail forced the issue. :slight_smile:

Not yet. iCloud Folder Sharing was pulled from the updates last year. I imagine it will happen at some point.

Once you turn off Desktop & Documents syncing, those folders remain in iCloud Drive. You can move all the data back to a local-only folder, though if that happened a long time ago, you might need to be careful about it. I wrote about that here:

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That’s apparently in the next batch of OS updates. :wink:
I’m not in the public beta test, so cannot verify directly, but others have. Lots of links from this article:

re. deleting old emails:

I’m guessing you simply didn’t need those receipts again so they could just be deleted.
(eg. in case any previous book buyers came back and said they wanted to re-download stuff they bought, you could verify their old purchase, or similar).
Many other people will be in the same circumstance, and just delete old unneeded emails too. :slight_smile:

However my point is, what if they want to keep and archive them outside an email client…

Sorry I’ll clarify. I meant in the current article “How to Deal with Running Out of iCloud, Google, and Dropbox Space” (17 February 2020).

You mention how to take emails off IMAP inside the client, so they’re then stored purely on the mac inside But from that point onwards, you didn’t really elaborate on what users could then do with them from there – i.e. archiving outside, using whatever methods are currently available, so that doesn’t cave-in under the pressure of having to deal with thousands of older emails it’s storing.

As you said, their “structured” nature is the issue:

…hence if one wants it out of, readers might be interested in the current best 2020 apps/services out there for doing that, and how effective they are.

(though that previous 2009 article still looks very well researched, so really many thanks for that !)

I found a plugin for Thunderbird that allows you to export emails. One of the options is to make them into a foldered file structure where each email is a file. At the top of the folder is an html index file. This allows you to open up
that file into a web browser and then puruse the individual emails (with attachments) in the browser window. Plus since these are all text files you can finder search them. It will export a folder of folders. But not deeper which means if you are very nested
you might have to do multiple exports.

I used it when retirning an email server at a company with 200K emails and they were looking at a $15K bill to transfer them to Office 365.

When done you have a Finder (or whatever OS you want) folder setup that can then be searched, read, and moved around as needed for archiving. No custom DB or mail server needed.

Ah! I understand the context now. Yes, if I really cared about this data that I’ve archived in Mail and deleted from Gmail, I’d probably put it in EagleFiler or DEVONthink 3. In this case, I really should have no need for the data, so I’m not too worried (we don’t run Take Control anymore, and Joe has all the data too). The only time it has been at all useful is when I’m trying to find an email address for someone, or figure out who someone is. Hence my reluctance to delete it entirely.

I’m testing bringing 350,000 email messages into DEVONthink 3, since that’s new, and while it’s taking a while to import the biggest mailbox, it’s doing a fine job overall.

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Ah OK, I see. I’ll have to check-out both DevonThink 3 & EagleFiler (and that 2009 article, of course!). Thanks again.

I really liked DropBox, but don’t need anything close to 1 TB of cloud storage and was happy just having the few GB of free space I had. Until DropBox decided to allow only 3 devices to sync on the free plan. Since DropBox doesn’t offer anything between the free tier and 9,99 per month, which I am not willing to pay, I moved everything I had in DropBox to iCloud.

I can get by with the 50 GB plan in iCloud just fine for now, and, once needed, upgrade to more for just a few Euro extra. Because of the smaller tiers, I think iCloud is a much better deal than DropBox, although, arguably, DropBox works better than iCloud. But iCloud is getting better, so I think iCloud will catch up soon.

If you have a lot of photos taking up Cloud storage you’re paying for, isn’t it true that Google Photos will back them up automatically and store them (unlimited) for free, as long as the photos don’t exceed the limits of what Google considers “High quality”?

Yes, Google Photos does not count “high quality” photos against your storage limit, just full-resolution photos. I don’t have a sense of what that difference might be in the real world, but I’d be hesitant to consider the “high quality” photos to be as good as the originals.

Here’s what Google says about “High Quality”:

  • Photos are compressed to save space. If a photo is larger than 16MP, it will be resized to 16MP.
  • You can print good quality 16MP photos in sizes up to 24 inches x 16 inches.
  • Videos higher than 1080p will be resized to high-definition 1080p. A video with 1080p or less will look close to the original. Some information, like closed captions, might be lost.
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I took this picture with my iPhone Xʀ at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. I didn’t go to any trouble with the settings of the camera, just point and shoot. It’s 12,192,768 pixels, under Google’s 16MP threshold for “High Quality”. So it would be stored as is, for free. I would bet that most people’s standard everyday point and shoot photos fall under Google’s limit.