How to free up drive space

Adam Turner
23 May, 2012
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Every time you view a photo or open a PDF in an email message in Apple’s Mail, that file gets saved in a folder called Mail Downloads. If you don’t receive many attachments, this folder will remain relatively small, but if you’re a frequent file exchanger, it can quickly siphon away hundreds of megabytes from your drive – much of it for files you’ve likely already saved somewhere else.

Thankfully, emptying this folder is easy once you know where it is. In the Finder, choose Go > Go To Folder and then type ~/Library/Mail Downloads – select everything in the folder that appears and then move the lot to the Trash.

Along those same lines, chances are you’ve got a bunch of stuff downloaded from the web that you no longer need. These files are stored in your main Downloads folder, which is a little bit easier to find – it’s sitting directly in your home folder, so you can just open it and start cleaning.

Unlike with the Mail Downloads folder, however, you probably haven’t saved your web downloads elsewhere, so it’s good to give them a good once- over to make sure you aren’t deleting something you might need later.


Whenever you buy the high-definition (HD) version of a movie or TV show from the iTunes Store, iTunes downloads both the HD and the SD versions of that title. (As of March 2012, whether the HD version’s resolution is 720p or 1080p depends on your iTunes settings and whether or not the video is available in 1080p.)

This means that downloading the two-hour Hugo, for example, uses up a whopping 6GB to 7GB of drive space: roughly 1.9GB for the SD version and another 4.3GB or 5.2GB for the HD version (720p or 1080p, respectively).

Similarly, even if you opt for the 720p versions of TV shows, a 45-minute episode requires around 2.2GB of space: roughly 1.5GB for the 720p HD version and 650MB for the SD version.

To delete the version of each video, high- or standard-definition, that you don’t need, first select the TV Shows or Movies list in iTunes and then look for TV episodes that have an HD/SD icon to the right of the episode name. Select an episode, choose File > Show In Finder (or press c-Shift-R) and then delete the unwanted version (the one with (HD) in the name for the HD version or the other for the standard- definition version).


Many of us use the free Dropbox service to keep documents and data synchronised between our Macs. But if you don’t need all of your Dropbox-synced files – especially if you’re on the road – you’re wasting space on your drive.

To exclude particular files from syncing, click the Dropbox icon in the menu bar and choose Preferences. In the resulting window, click Advanced and then click Change Settings next to Selective Sync.

You’ll see a column-view file browser displaying the contents of your Dropbox folder. Uncheck a top- level folder to stop syncing that entire folder or click a folder name to view that folder’s contents – you can disable syncing for just particular sub-folders.

Click Update and Dropbox will ask you to confirm that you want to stop syncing unchecked folders to this particular computer (which will remove them from this computer, though not from Dropbox’s servers or your other computers).


If you sync your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to your Mac, iTunes is probably still hanging on to older device backups and OS updates that can fill up huge chunks of your drive.

To find the old backups, launch iTunes, choose iTunes > Preferences and then click the Devices icon in the window toolbar. You’ll see a list of backups for your various synced iOS devices – likely multiple versions for each device – along with the date each backup was made.

You definitely don’t want to delete all these backups, but if a particular iOS device has been running smoothly for a while, you can safely delete older backups for it, keeping only the most-recent version.

To do so, select a backup (or Command-click to select multiple backups) and then click the Delete Backup button.

After you confirm your intentions, iTunes will erase the unneeded backups, freeing up plenty of space. Each of the local backups for our iPhone 4S, for example, weighs in at over 4GB.

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