Reclaiming Storage Space on macOS

When a storage drive on a computer is close to full capacity, it can cause problems such as application instability and inability to install security updates and OS upgrades. This document will help with identifying and cleaning files that are filling the drive.

The first step in reclaiming storage space is to identify files that are using the most space. Due to interface differences, there is a section below for computers running macOS 13 or later, as well as a section for computers running macOS 12 or earlier. Click any header bar to expand or collapse it. A header bar can be identified by the up and down arrows near the right end of the bar.

Reclaiming Storage (Basics)

macOS 13 Ventura and later

If your Mac is running macOS 13 or later, click on the Apple menu and select System Settings.

Apple menu with System Settings highlighted.

In System Settings, choose General, then Storage. Note the free space available (to the right of the name of your internal drive).

System Settings in the General category with Storage highlighed.

If you have files taking up a lot of space on the drive, this is a good time to empty your Trash if you’re sure it’s OK to delete everything you’ve placed there. You can do this by right-clicking on the Trash in the Dock and selecting Empty Trash or by clicking on it and clicking Empty in the upper right-hand corner of the window.

Image of the right end of the Dock with the Empty Trash menu item visible.

Go back to the Storage pane of System Settings and scroll down. First, you’ll notice that there’s an option to turn on a setting that empties the Trash automatically. If you don’t typically remember to empty the Trash regularly, it might be a good idea to turn on this setting.

System Settings Storage detail page.

Scrolling down further, there are categories of files on your computer, including Applications, Documents, and Photos, among others. With a large number of files on your computer, it will take a few minutes for many of these values to calculate. To get details about each, click on the Information icon (the lowercase i in a circle ).

System Settings Storage detail page with file categories visible.

With items such as Documents and Messages, the largest files will be at the top of the list, though it’s possible to sort by other properties such as Name by clicking on the appropriate header of each. If an item is single-clicked, it can often be previewed by pressing the Space bar. Also when an item is single-clicked, its location on the drive can be viewed at the bottom of the window, and a button just below that, Show in Finder, will open the location of the item.

To delete an item, select it and click the Delete… button in the lower right area of the window. View this article for more information on how to select multiple items.

Also in the Documents details, there are several header tabs: Large Files, Downloads, Unsupported Apps, and File Browser. Large Files and Downloads are the easiest to use, and both can be sorted by the date and time the file was last accessed.

macOS prior to 13

If your Mac is running macOS 12 or earlier, click on the Apple menu and select About This Mac. Click the Storage tab in the title bar of the window that appears, then note the free space available (right under the name of your internal drive).

Apple Menu with About This Mac selected.
Screenshot of macOS Monterey About This Mac window with Storage tab highlighted.

If you have files taking up a lot of space on the drive, this is a good time to empty your Trash if you’re sure it’s OK to delete everything you’ve placed there. You can do this by right-clicking on the Trash in the Dock and selecting Empty Trash or by clicking on it and clicking Empty in the upper right-hand corner of the window.

Image of the right end of the Dock with the Empty Trash menu item visible.

Go back to the Storage window and click Manage. First, you’ll notice that there’s an option to turn on a setting that empties the Trash automatically. If you don’t typically think about emptying the Trash, it might be a good idea to turn on this setting.

Screenshot of the manage storage dialog with the section for Empty Trash Automatically highlighted.

On the left menu, there are categories of files on your computer, including Applications, Documents, and Photos, among others. With a large number of files on your computer, it will take a few minutes for many of these values to calculate. To get details about each, click on the category, and a list of files will appear in the main part of the window, to the right.

Screenshot of the manage storage window with file categories highlighted.
Screenshot with details for the Documents category in the manage storage window.

With items such as Documents and Messages, the largest files will be at the top of the list, though it’s possible to sort by other properties such as Name by clicking on the appropriate header of each. If an item is single-clicked, it can often be previewed by pressing the Space bar. Also when an item is single-clicked, its location on the drive can be viewed at the bottom of the window, and a button just below that, Show in Finder, will open the location of the item.

To delete an item, select it and click the Delete… button in the lower right area of the window. View this article for more information on how to select multiple items.

Also in the Documents details, there are several header tabs: Large Files, Downloads, Unsupported Apps, and File Browser. Large Files and Downloads are the easiest to use, and both can be sorted by the date and time the file was last accessed.

Reclaiming Storage (Advanced)

If you’re looking for a more advanced method to see a graphical representation of files on the drive by size, another option is to use Grand Perspective, a free app. Grand Perspective can be installed through Self Service. If you’re not familiar with how to use self service, expand the section below.

How to Navigate to Self Service and Install an App (macOS)

In macOS, there are multiple ways to navigate to Self Service, and this will outline one way to do so. First, click on the Self Service icon on the Dock, normally found near the left end of the Dock. The Dock is normally found at the bottom of the display.

Image of the left end of the macOS Dock, with Self Service selected.

Once Self Service is open, scroll to the application you wish to install, or search. Click Install to install the app. If an expected installer is not showing up, it may be necessary to log in by clicking Log In, found in the lower left corner of the Self Service window.

Image of the Self Service window, with the Log In text highlighted.

After installation, applications will usually appear in the Applications directory.

After installing Grand Perspective from Self Service, find it in the Applications directory and open it. If you’re not familiar with how to navigate to Applications, expand the section below.

How to Navigate to Applications (macOS)

In macOS, there are multiple ways to navigate to the Applications directory, and this will outline one way to do so. First, click on the Finder icon on the Dock, the smiling face at the left end of the Dock. The Dock is normally found at the bottom of the display.

Image of the left end of the Dock in macOS

Go in the File menu in the upper left part of the display and choose New Finder Window.

Screenshot of the File menu in macOS with New Finder Window selected.

In the window that appears, click the Applications link under Favorites on the left navigation section of the window. You can double-click an Application to start using it.

When Grand Perspective is launched the first time, the folder to be scanned must be selected. To do so, double-click Select Folder and navigate to the top level of the drive, Macintosh HD. If you’re not familiar with how to navigate in an open dialog box, expand the section below.

Grand Perspective main application window.

Navigating to Macintosh HD in an Open Dialog (macOS)

To navigate to the top level of the drive in an open dialog, click the dropdown menu (in the screenshot below, in Documents), then select Macintosh HD.

macOS open dialog box with Macintosh HD selected.

Click the Scan button, and Grand Perspective will scan file sizes for all files it can access on the computer.

Screenshot of the Scanning in progress dialog box.

After scanning is completed, a window similar to the one below will appear. The window can be enlarged by clicking and dragging a corner of the window.

Screenshot of main Grand Perspective window.

The size of each box in the main window is representative of the file size compared to other files on the drive. Hovering with the cursor over any box will show the location of the file on the drive along the bottom edge of the window. Right clicking (or holding the control key and clicking) a file will show an options menu, and choosing Reveal in Finder will navigate to that directory in the Finder, the desktop interface on macOS to work with files stored on the drive. To right click on a trackpad, it’s possible to click with two fingers, which will do the same thing a clicking the right mouse button on a traditional mouse.

Be very careful with the following step. Deleting a critical file can leave macOS or an application unstable or unusable, so please check with DTS if you’re not sure about deleting a file. If you’re sure you want to delete a file, you can hold the command key and press the delete key, or drag it to the Trash in the Dock. If the Trash has not yet been emptied and you want to restore the file to its previous location, you can hold the command key and press Z. Space on the drive will not be reclaimed until the Trash is emptied. To empty the Trash, right click on the Trash icon in the Dock and choose Empty Trash.

Image of the right end of the Dock with an Empty Trash menu item displayed.

If assistance is needed with this process, please submit a work request for General Computer Assistance.