Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Apple > Operating Systems

What to Do When Your Mac’s Hard Disk Runs Out of Space

Your hard drive once seemed impossibly huge, but now you’re running out of room. What can you delete safely? Maria Langer helps you decide how to perform triage on both data and Mac system files.
Like this article? We recommend

It’s happened to all of us. We buy a new computer with a hard disk so big we’re convinced we could never fill it up. Six months or a year later, we wonder where all that free space went and we worry about having enough space for the next six months.

Before you run out and get a new hard disk, you can do a few things to free up space on the hard disk you already have. If you offload the things you really don’t need, you might wind up with enough room to put off that new hard disk purchase until you’re ready for a whole new computer.

In this article, I explain how to find and delete files that are unnecessarily filling up your hard disk so you can free up space for new files. I start with the easy stuff — the document files you can archive and take off your hard disk because you really don’t need them there — and work my way up to unused application and system files that probably shouldn’t be on your hard disk in the first place.

Take Out the Trash

If you’ve used a Mac for any length of time, you should know that items you put in the Trash stay there – and on your hard disk – until you empty the Trash. This is pretty basic stuff and I shouldn’t have to tell you.

If you’re brand new to a Mac and don’t know how to do this, it’s easy. Here are three different ways to get the job done:

  • In the Finder, choose Finder > Empty Trash (Figure 1).
  • Figure 1 To empty the Trash, choose Finder, Empty Trash.

  • In the Finder, press Shift-Command-Delete.
  • With any application active, point to the Trash icon in the Dock, hold down the mouse button, and choose Empty Trash from the menu that appears (Figure 2).

Figure 2 You can also use the Trash’s shortcut menu to empty the trash.

What you might not know, however, is that some programs maintain their own separate Trash. iPhoto is a good example. When you delete a photo in iPhoto, it goes into iPhoto’s Trash “folder.” You can view the contents of its Trash by selecting the Trash item under Recent in the sidebar. As shown in Figure 3, when the Trash is selected, the total number of items and the disk space they occupy are shown at the bottom of the sidebar. When you empty iPhoto’s trash, you permanently remove these items from disk.

Figure 3 iPhoto has its own Trash.

To empty iPhoto’s trash, choose iPhoto > Empty iPhoto Trash (Figure 4) or press Shift-Command-Delete. Click OK in the dialog that appears. The items are permanently removed from iPhoto – and your hard disk.

Figure 4 Choose iPhoto > Empty iPhoto Trash.

iPhoto isn’t the only application with its own Trash. Check the documentation for the applications you use, or just peek under the application or File menu. That’s usually where you find commands related to an application’s internal Trash.

Clear Off Your Desktop

If you’re like me, your Mac’s desktop is a minefield of file and folder icons. What is all that junk? Do you need it all? Go through it all, file the keepers, and delete the junk. Then empty the Trash.

Don’t do what I do, which is to wait until there are too many icons to actually find new ones that arrive and then file them all in a Desktop Junk folder on the Desktop. That just shuffles the junk around; it doesn’t eliminate it and clear out disk space.

As I type this, almost 1 GB of disk space on my main Mac is taken up by 539 files on my Desktop, most of which are in a Desktop Junk folder I created to keep them out of the way. Very dumb!

Clear Out the Downloads Folder

In the most recent Mac OS X versions, files you download from the Web are usually saved to the Downloads folder. You can find this folder inside your Home folder. You may even have an icon for it in the Dock.

Have you ever looked inside this folder? It contains all the files you downloaded, even the ones you didn’t think of as downloads at the time. For example, when you click a Web page link that displays a PDF file, that PDF file is downloaded to your computer and stored in – you guessed it – the Downloads folder. You’ll also find Quicken or QuickBooks account download files (if you use the Web connect feature), image attachments to e-mail messages that you may have saved by clicking the Save button in Mail, and countless other files you may not realize are on your computer.

As I type this, there’s 2.72 GB of disk space taken up by the 112 files in my Downloads folder (Figure 5) – and I routinely weed out the junk.

Figure 5 Is your Downloads folder full of junk you don’t need?

Roll up your sleeves and dive into that folder. Delete the files you don’t want or need. Move the ones you do want to a more appropriate location on your hard disk or back them up to a CD or other media. Then empty the Trash.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020