When the dreaded notification pops up at the top right of your Mac’s screen, it might sound maddening: your disk is almost full. Your precious disk — it’s almost full.
You can save space by optimizing storage, the notification tells you, with the choice to close the notification (temporary happiness) or “manage” your space (eternally frustrating). The Storage Management pane is at best an overview of the massive clutter that is collected in your Mac.
Here’s the best thing to do: download an app to view your disk space, find the files that are taking up your disk, and then work to remove them. (If you are unsure whether or not it is acceptable to delete an unknown file, we recommend that you google it to see what it is for. Or, to be really safe, only delete files that you know you don’t need it.)
I tried a bunch of options to get the job done – read on for my favorites.
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The name of this one will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. BigPerspective creates a super detailed map of your entire drive, with each colored block representing a folder, subfolder or file. The size of the map can be intimidating at first, but navigating it ends up being a breeze. You can also scan only a specific folder or section of your drive if you prefer a more digestible look.
It’s one of the most responsive disk mapping apps I’ve tried, probably because it’s as simple as it gets. You don’t even need to keep this one installed; the program runs directly from the download. And it’s free if you opt for the SourceForge version rather than the App Store one.
The currency you will see during installation OmniDiskSweeper is Delete with an iron fist – and that ends up being a pretty good summary of what the app will help you do. This app is the easiest to navigate if you prefer viewing a list of items rather than a photo of them. Rather than creating a huge map of your storage, OmniDiskSweeper presents you with a textual list of top-level folders on your drive, sorting them by size from largest to smallest. Open them directly from this list or drag them directly to the trash, it’s your choice. This one installs on your drive, but at only 35MB, you should have plenty of space for it now.
This app is a best-of-both-worlds situation, providing both a visual map and a top-down list view of your storage. When you navigate one map, the other follows you, so you don’t have to choose a view; you can browse your drive on both maps at once. The color code of Disk Inventory X visual map is particularly useful because each shade corresponds to a specific file type.
This focus on file type can be a boon when you know you’re sitting on way too many MP3s, for example. Disk Inventory X allows browsing by file type with just a few clicks. The interface is as easy to navigate as the other options on this list, though it also allows for some customization of your view.
One of the first places you’ll likely look when cleaning your Mac’s drive is the Applications folder; surely there are great apps you have installed that are never actually used. In most cases, you’ll be right about that too. But simply dragging an app file to the Trash won’t actually remove it from storage. Many apps leave behind files that can take up a lot of space on their own – a sad fact Grab associate editor Ray Wong highlighted his own free Mac app recommendations.
Drag the app in question to App Cleaner instead of the Recycle Bin and you’ll be presented with a full list of files it leaves in its wake. Delete them all with one click or pick and choose if there is something you want to keep. It’s also a great tool to have on hand once you’ve finished the bulk of your cleaning. Keep using it whenever you need to uninstall an app.
You might be wondering: why haven’t we included any apps that automatically clean up your storage space? Automation can be finicky, removing too little or too much. Doing things the (semi-)manual way ensures you keep what you want to keep and send the rest in your luggage. Yes, this method will take a little more intentionality and thought, but your results will definitely be more comprehensive as well.