Warning icon
MacPaw stands with Ukraine. Here’s how you can help our country win with just several clicks.

Tips to free up space on your Mac

10 min read

A slow Mac is no fun for anyone. It happens to the best of us — which is why everyone should know how to declutter and free up disk space on their Mac. Not only will this speed up your computer, it’s also a great opportunity to organize your files.

Clearing disk space on a Mac can make your computer feel like new. Over time, most Macs, especially those that experience regular use, get full of documents, files, apps, images, videos, and other junk and clutter.Low disk space

In this article, we’ll show you how to free up space on Mac computers, and highlight some apps that make maintenance of your computer’s file system much simpler.

What's taking up space

Have you ever seen this pop up on your Mac?

'Your disk is almost full' error

It’s frustrating! This occurs because the memory your Mac has is full. It may be saved movies, large documents, mail attachments, or just plain cached items from apps like iMessage that are taking up space on your Mac. 

Not only is the popup message annoying, diminished disk space on your Mac can prevent you from being productive. Mail attachments or other files may not save to your Mac, all because you’ve got a bunch of old stuff cluttering your memory system. It can even cause apps to quit, or fail to load. 

Low disk space isn’t always an "old Mac" problem, either. While it’s true older Macs typically have less memory available to them, even modern Macs can get cluttered. That’s why it’s important to know how to clear space on Mac hard drives.

How to check storage on Mac

Here’s how to check the storage on your Mac using Apple’s method:

  1. From the menu bar on your Mac, click the Apple logo on the top left
  2. Select "About this Mac"
  3. Select the "Storage" option in the new window

This is a basic way to check how much storage is being occupied on your Mac. Another good tip is to check your disk usage with iStat Menus. It’s an app that allows you to monitor – in real time – how your Mac is performing. iStat Menus lives in your Mac’s menu bar, running in the background until you need it. Each of its monitoring services has a menu bar icon, including one for memory.

When you click on the iStat Menus icon, it shows you exactly what’s happening with your disk space. When your Mac is running slowly, it’s possible an app is taking up more resources than you would like. iStat Menus shows you which app is to blame.

Monitoring Mac’s disk usage

How to optimize storage using macOS

If you’re using macOS Sierra or later, you can benefit from Apple’s Optimize Storage functionality. It allows you to store files in iCloud, renewing your access to these files whenever you need. Here’s how to use the Apple way of managing storage on Mac: 

  1. Repeat the steps above to check the available and used storage on your Mac 
  2. Click on "Manage" to access the storage management window
  3. Enable the "Empty Trash Automatically" and "Reduce Clutter" options to remove files you deleted, and large files you might no longer need. 
  4. Select "Store in iCloud" to move your desktop file and docs, photos, and messages to iCloud. You can choose what file types to transfer. 

Optimize storage in macOS

Go to the Optimize Storage menu and choose from three options that help you use storage more cleverly. You can select to remove watched files from your Apple TV app (or iTunes if you use macOS Mojave and earlier), download only recent attachments, or not to delete attachments at all. Also, read an article about how to clear scratch disk.

Move Files to the Cloud

iCloud is Apple’s preferred method for storing files and folders in the cloud. It makes your data available across devices, and is now the default service for system backups.

Apple gives you 5GB free iCloud storage, but it’s just enough for an iPhone backup and a few gigabytes of pictures. It’s almost never enough for the average user.

Activating it on your Mac will help save room in your system memory, though. It moves the actual storage of files to the cloud, and ann image of those files on your Mac. It also compresses images for optimized storage on the Mac, but keeps them available in the Photos app.

If you have a different cloud storage system you prefer, CloudMounter makes it easy to back your Mac’s files up to Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Mega, Amazon S3, and other services. It lives in your Mac’s Finder app and menu bar, and makes moving files from your Mac to the cloud as easy as dragging and dropping them into CloudMounter, and directly into your connected cloud account.

Connect external storage in CloudMounter

Manage large files and archive data

You can find and delete large files on your Mac directly. Here’s how:

  1. From the menu bar on your Mac, click the Apple logo on the top left
  2. Select "About this Mac"
  3. Select the "Storage" option in the new window
  4. Select "Manage"
  5. Select "Documents"
  6. On the right side of the window, click the "Size" column header to show the largest files first

We prefer using CleanMyMac X’s file system manager. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X on your Mac
  2. Select the "Large & Old Files" module on the right side of the window
  3. Select "Scan"

    Large and Old files

This is a smarter way of discerning which files are taking up space on your Mac – especially if you don’t need access to those files often. It shows you which types of files they are, how old they are, and lets you delete batches of files by size.

Find and delete duplicate files

When you download an app, it usually has associated files it stores on your Mac. That’s normal; duplicates of those files aren’t. Downloading an app more than once, or even updating an app, can cause it to duplicate existing files on your Mac. 

You may also download files more than once. Your Mac is smart, but doesn’t bother checking to see if you already have a file before downloading it again. There’s no clean way to check for duplicates on your Mac. Apple would ask that you look for duplicated filenames in your storage, and delete one of them.

A better way is to use Gemini, an innovative cleanup app built to help you find and eliminate duplicate files on your hard drive. Even better, it can identify near-identical files as well, giving you an easy way to delete the slightly shaky versions of your vacation snaps in one convenient window.

Here’s how to detect and delete duplicate files with Gemini:

  1. Open Gemini on your Mac
  2. Click the ‘plus’ icon, or drag a folder to the app
  3. Select "Review Results" to delete files manually, or "Smart Cleanup" to allow Gemini to delete all duplicates

    remove duplicate files

Remove temporary files

Your macOS, your apps, and your browser all use a shortcut called "caching" to run faster. But over time, those caches fill up with useless information that bogs down your computer. 

Why is it important to clear the cache? The short answer is that caches litter and bloat Macs. They aren't just a byproduct of browser history — most systems and apps, such as Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Mail and Photos, create huge amounts of temporary files that linger in the background. These caches of data are essentially just junk files, and they can be safely deleted to free up storage space.

When it comes to cleaning a Mac, you have two options: delete files manually or get a cleaner app to help you. Clearing your cache files with CleanMyMac is the quickest, safest way we know.cleanmymac user cache files

Get rid of hidden trash

Another source of system-slowing junk is email and text attachments. Even if you don’t download an attachment, your desktop mail client holds onto a version so that it can show you previews and access the file more easily. "But I deleted that email!" you say. Often that’s not enough—these downloads can hang around long after the original email is gone. 

It’s possible to clean them out manually. You can use the macOS Optimize Storage feature we’ve described above. Choose what exactly you want to be removed — mail attachments, watched video, or both. Still, CleanMyMac X is a much faster option to clean up the trash on Mac. Here’s how to use CleanMyMac X to empty all trash folders on your Mac:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X on your Mac
  2. Select "Trash Bins" from the left hand side
  3. Select "Scan" at the bottom of the window
  4. Select "Review Details" to see what CleanMyMac X found, or "Empty" to delete all trash files on your Mac

Here’s a little trick for you: If you want to be sure you keep the needed files and attachments at your fingertips, use Trickster app to remember them for you. Configure your file tracking inside the app and make sure you’re never confused about what’s stored on your Mac. The important stuff is always in Trickster.

If you want a clutter-free email client, Canary Mail is your perfect choice. The app not only automatically clear away the trash, but also allows to automatically unsubscribe from tons of mailing lists — so that you stop receiving the clutter. 

Canary Mail app

Empty downloads and trash bin

Your Mac’s ‘download’ folder is where most apps, like Safari or Chrome, dump files. It’s also the default folder for email downloads. And it can get really full.

Many of us simply download a file, access it, then forget about it once we’re done with it. The downloads folder can get chock full of files we no longer need, or want. It’s smart to comb through it ever so often and delete files you don’t want, or move them to cloud storage containers using CloudMounter.

Some downloads are hidden, taking up even more space. And the further back you go the more useless these documents are. Do you really need to keep a text file labelled "Christmas shopping list 2015" or "Dream holiday Summer 2016?" Probably not. Free up some much-needed space on your Mac and delete as many of these old download files as possible, and remember to come back and tidy it up every few months.

CleanMyMac can help for sure. But also, consider switching your email client to Unibox, which automatically reduces excessive downloads.


AppleInsider described Unibox as "the best client we tried," and Macworld said it is "A welcome, fresh new approach to email on the Mac." Unibox groups emails by sender and includes an attachment list, so you can quickly find what you need, then delete those documents out of the Downloads folder.

Uninstall unused apps

Have you ever downloaded an app, then stopped using it? We all have! Those apps occupy memory on your Mac – sometimes a lot of space, too.

CleanMyMac X has a handy "Uninstaller" module which makes it easy to identify and remove all unwanted apps from your Mac. It even deletes associated files, so all traces of an unused app are taken away.

Uninstall unused apps

Get rid of old backups

Something else that comes as a surprise to most Mac users is just how many backups your system carries at any given time. Copying and pasting, and the duplicate feature make it too easy to replicate your work in different folders.

At the same time, you’ve probably got dozens of cached backups of files and documents that are invisible but taking up more space than you’d want. Like Time Machine backups. Every time you use Apple’s built-in backup utility, it creates local snapshots that are stored locally on your Mac. This may result in up to 100 GB Time Machine clutter on your hard drive. 

CleanMyMac will find old backups for you and remove them in a click. In its "Maintenance" module, you can select "Time Machine Snapshot Thinning" to automatically remove older Time Machine backups you no longer need.

But also, switch your backup client to Get Backup Pro to backup only those units you want (for Mac). If you need to quickly transfer files or folders to another server, use a backup sync app ChronoSync Express.

backup with getbackup pro

If you want to quickly backup your iOS device on Mac — for instance, before hard resetting or factory resetting iPhone — you can use AnyTrans. You can even schedule instant backups to never worry about losing data when syncing your iOS device with Mac.

Get rid of desktop clutter

Organizing your Mac desktop doesn’t directly help your memory woes, but it can help you find files faster and avoid multiple downloads of the same file.

Apple’s chosen method is called Stacks. A simple right-click on your desktop brings up a menu; selecting "Use Stacks" puts your files into folders by type. Images, screenshots, and other files will be held in expandable folders, decluttering your desktop for good. Future downloads will all fall into those categories, too.

You may prefer Spotless, an app that affords you far more control over how your desktop is organized. You can set rules for organization, and tuck files into other folders on your Mac by dragging and dropping into one location. Spotless takes care of the hard work for you!

Declutter desktop with Spotless

You deserve a faster Mac

By eliminating both hard disk and desktop clutter, you’ll improve your Mac’s performance as well as your own workflow. Plus, Setapp’s decluttering, disk cleanup, and analysis apps help you complete what would be a tedious chore in just a few clicks. There’s no telling how much time and effort you’ll save by giving yourself (and your Mac) a break.

There are plenty of great ways to manage your Mac’s memory without rushing out to buy a new computer. We’ve shown you the best ways here!

All the apps we mentioned in this article are available for free during a seven day trial of Setapp, the world’s best suite of productivity apps for the Mac. In addition to ClanMyMac X, Spotless, Gemini, CloudMounter, Get Backup Pro, and ChronoSync Express, you’ll have unlimited access to Setapp’s full catalog of nearly 200 Mac apps. When your free trial is over, Setapp is only $9.99 per month. Give it a try today!

Get 240+ Mac apps for any job

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.