How to free up disk space

Discover how best to manage disk space, while enhancing both the performance of your computer and your own productivity.

How to get more disk space manually

Low disk space on your computer can cause a number of issues. It can negatively impact the performance and speed of your computer, while preventing you from downloading important files and updates.

While a slow, unresponsive computer is a frustrating issue, fortunately there are plenty of ways to manage and clear disk space on your computer even if you deal with large files and loads of data.

Before delving into the tools and applications designed to help you clear space, let’s first look at the simplest—and easiest—way to clear space; manually deleting what you don’t need.

How to permanently empty your trash on Windows and Mac

First and foremost, it’s important to remember to regularly clear your Recycle Bin, or Trash, on Mac. Any time you delete a file, you’re not completely deleting it, you’re just sending it to the Recycle Bin, where it will continue to take up space until you’ve cleared the bin completely.

To do so on Windows 10, from the Start menu, open Recycle Bin. Click the Recycle Bin Tools tab, and you’ll see the Empty Recycling Bin.

On Mac, locate Trash on your dock, hold down or right-click on the icon, and select Empty Trash.

It’s easy to do, but just as easy to forget to do. Clearing up the space you need can be as simple as permanently removing your deleted files.

Uninstall unwanted apps on Windows and Mac

Both Windows and Mac computers come pre-loaded with a bunch of applications and programs, some of which you may find useful, and others not so much. You don’t need to regularly use or even open an app at all for it to take a significant amount of space on your computer, so it’s a good idea to look through all of the apps installed in your computer and delete anything you don’t use.

To delete programs on Windows, open Control Panel from the Start menu, select Programs, and then Programs and Features. You may also be able to select Add or Remove Programs directly from the Start menu. You’ll then be presented with a list of programs, and you’ll be able to click on any that you don’t want, and select Uninstall.

On a Mac, open the Applications folder, and then simply drag the unwanted apps into the Trash, remembering to empty the Trash when you’re done. Some applications however, may store files and data elsewhere, and removing these is a little more complicated. Some of these programs will offer an Uninstall utility to make it easier, but if they don’t, you’ll have to search for the program files and remove them manually.

If you use Spotlight to search for the program you want to uninstall, you should be presented with a list of every folder and file associated with it, which you can then simply drag into Trash.

There a plenty of third-party apps designed to simplify the uninstalling process, so if you’re nervous about removing something that shouldn’t be removed, look into options that may be helpful on the App Store, but be very wary about giving an unfamiliar third-party application access to your data.

How to clear disk space using built-in applications

Both Windows and Mac have introduced tools and applications to help you manage and clear storage space on your computer. Windows 10 users can use both Disk Cleanup and Storage Sense, while Mac users running the MacOS Sierra operating system or higher can use the Storage Management feature.

How to free up space on Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

When you’re running low on space, it helps to know exactly how much space is available, and exactly what’s taking up all your storage. To check on Windows, select File Explorer from the taskbar and then open This PC from the menu on the left. You’ll then be able to see how much space you have available in the Device and Drives section.

Microsoft computers come with a built-in application called Disk Cleanup designed help you clear temporary files and unneeded data that you might not otherwise be able to identify.

There are a few different ways you can open Disk Cleanup. You can right-click on any hard drive in your Computer menu, select Properties from the drop-down, and then open Disk Cleanup from the General tab. Alternatively, simply search for Disk Cleanup in the taskbar and open the application.

You’ll then be able to select which drive you want to clean up, and choose which temporary file types you want to delete. If you want to get rid of more than just the temporary files, you can select Clean Up System Files from Disk Cleanup and select which file types to get rid of.

Disk Cleanup is an older application that while still available, is not quite as intuitive as its successor, Storage Sense.

How to free up space on Windows 10 with Storage Sense

While Disk Cleanup requires a bit of manual work to pick and choose which files you don’t want, Storage Sense was introduced with Windows 10 as an autonomous solution that can work behind the scenes to keep your storage low. Storage Sense is able to detect which files you don’t need and automatically get rid of them either whenever your disk space is low, or at intervals you define.

To enable and configure Storage Sense, select Start and then open Settings. From here, select System and then Storage, and slide the button above Configure Storage Sense into the On position. Then, click on Configure Storage Sense, and you’ll be able to choose how frequently the program runs automatically.

In the Storage window, you’ll see a number of categories like Apps & features, Temporary files, Downloads, Thumbnails, etc., and you’ll be able to see how much space is used by each category. Click Remove Files and you’ll be able to toggle on and off which categories you want cleared. Doing so would permanently delete files in that category, so be careful if you’re selecting Downloads that there isn’t anything you want to keep.

You’ll also see a ‘Free up space now’ section on the Storage window. Here, you can select ‘Delete previous versions of Windows’ option, which could clear up a significant amount of space by removing unnecessary files and data used for any previous Windows installation.

Once you press Clean Now in the Storage settings window, Storage Sense will begin running and start deleting any unnecessary files.

How to free up space on a Mac using Storage Management

To check how much space is available on Mac, click the Apple icon at the left of the menu bar on the top of your screen, and select About This Mac from the drop-down menu. You can then open the Storage tab and see a detailed breakdown of your disk space; separated into categories to help you visualize how and where your space is being used. You’ll be able to see specifically how much storage is being taken by Documents, System Files, Apps, Photos, iTunes, etc., so you can identify exactly what needs to be moved or deleted.

You’ll also see a button that says Manage. Click this and you’ll open Storage Management. This, like Disk Cleanup on Windows, is offered to help you manage and free space on your computer, with recommendations on what could and should be cleared. Here, you can see your usage broken down even further and see your biggest files and apps in order, and when you last used them.

From Storage Management you can also select the Optimize Storage option. Enabling this function will allow your Mac to automatically remove Apple TV shows and movies that you’ve already watched, and will force the computer to only keep recent email attachments from the Mail app whenever you’re low on space.

You can also enable an option in Storage Management that will automatically empty your Trash every 30 days.

Mac users running macOS Sierra or later also benefit from a few additional features designed to save space. Any time a duplicate file is downloaded on Safari, only the most recent version will be kept. You’ll receive reminders to delete app installers once you’ve installed the app, and any old fonts, languages and dictionaries that haven’t been used will be automatically removed from time to time. Your Mac will also automatically clear any caches, logs and data that isn’t needed whenever storage space starts to run low.

Further space-saving solutions for Mac and Windows 10 users

  • The Mail app on Mac can also take up a lot of space without your realizing it. Even if you don’t use it as your primary email client, your Apple account may still be receiving spam emails and updates, and going through and deleting all of these could clear up a lot of hard disk space.

  • A smart tip if you’re not a music-maker would be to select Music Creation from the Storage Management menu and to remove the Instrument Library from your Mac. This, along with the Garageband app itself, takes up a huge amount of space, and it’s very unlikely you’ll need it if you’re not a budding musician.

  • Windows users can save a lot of space by disabling Hibernation. When you Hibernate your computer, you’re allowing it to save data in memory to your hard drive space so that you can pick up where you left off when you turn the computer back on. This requires a lot of gigabytes that could be used elsewhere, so it’s best if you’re running low to do away with Hibernation, even if just temporarily.

  • If you’ve got an older version of Windows that you updated to Windows 10, you should also search on your computer for a file called "Windows.old.” This is a large file that, once you’ve upgraded to Windows 10, is fairly unnecessary and safe to delete.

How to get more disk space by using cloud storage

Getting rid of unwanted files and applications is the first port of call, but you may find that doing so still isn’t quite enough to get your computer performing the way it should be, and if that’s the case then you should consider moving the files you do want to keep over to the cloud. An external storage device may be useful, but is nowhere near as versatile as cloud storage.

Using a cloud storage service like Dropbox means you can save all your files online and access them from any device with internet connection. If you install the Dropbox desktop app, you can access and edit your files on your computer like you would with local files, but they’ll be saved on a remote server, and therefore won’t take up space on your computer.

Cloud storage is an increasingly important solution for individuals and businesses alike, offering as much storage as you need that you can access anywhere, without having to lug around a hefty external hard drive and without having to compromise on your device’s speed and performance.

If you keep all of your files in the cloud and have only system files and applications stored on your computer, you can expect to see huge improvements in how it runs.

Learn how you and your team can do more with Dropbox.

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