Internal Mac hard drive too small – 12 practical tips and tricks

Mac internal hard drive full

If you have bought an iMac, Mac Mini or a MacBook Pro or Air where you have saved on the size of the SSD or hard drive, you will quickly run into problems because the internal "Macintosh HD" does not have enough space.

With the next Mac you can make sure that you plan a little more capacity for the hard drive, but if you already have a Mac, you have to somehow manage with the small hard drive in the Mac.

You can do this with a few tricks and I would like to suggest you some ideas for solving the problem. I have many of the ideas from this video from the English-language YouTube channel "macmostvideo“, where there are always practical Mac tips. I have added my two cents and hope that such a practical guide has emerged.

Don't forget the download folder and "Empty Recycle Bin"!

One more note: The download folder on the Mac is often a collection point for all kinds of data that you have downloaded from the Internet. If you no longer need these files, you can simply empty the folder regularly.

Another thing is the Trash on Mac: you can put as many files in the Trash on Mac as you like. However, the storage space is only freed up if you click on the recycle bin with the right mouse button and select "Empty Recycle Bin".

If you muck out diligently, you also have to empty the wastepaper basket afterwards, otherwise the space will not be cleared.

If you muck out diligently, you also have to empty the wastepaper basket afterwards, otherwise the space will not be cleared.

1. Outsource data to an external hard drive

Get a USB 3 portable hard drive that you can plug into your Mac and then put files on. Especially things that you would like to keep but are no longer using are perfect for storing them on an external hard drive.

You don't have to buy an SSD just to swap out data, but you can get a cheap drive that even works without an external power supply and is powered via the USB port. While an SSD is fast, it's also expensive, and when archiving files, transfer speed is usually secondary.

I have had very good experiences with the "WD Elements Portable". I've now had a few of these disks lying around for backup or offloading files, and none of them have had a problem so far. Users of newer Macs with USB-C ports should check out directly this cable (see my post USB-C to USB Micro B cable) to buy it so that you can connect the hard drive without an adapter.

On the left my SSD and on the right the rotating HDD hard drive. The SSD is actually only interesting if you frequently exchange large data between Mac and SSD. The classic hard drive is cheaper for archiving data and offers more memory for the same money (photo: Sir Apfelot).

On the left my SSD and on the right the rotating HDD hard drive. The SSD is actually only interesting if you frequently exchange large data between Mac and SSD. The classic hard drive is cheaper for archiving data and offers more storage space for the same money (photo: Sir Apfelot).

2. Use iCloud Photo Library

The Photos app on Mac can take up a lot of storage space. To find out how much memory it's using, open the Photos app and then go through the menu Photos → Settings → General → Im Finder show.

Now you can see the folder in which the photo library is located in a new Finder window. If a size of several gigabytes is displayed here for the photo library, then it may be worth activating iCloud Photos.

To do this, go to the menu in the Photos app Photos → Preferences → iCloud and tick “iCloud Photos” and then select the option “Optimize Mac Storage”. This saves the large originals in the iCloud and you only have a kind of low-resolution preview on the Mac. But as soon as you open a photo, it is loaded from the iCloud so that you can work with the original.

Important: If you activate this option, it will take a while (hours to days) for the Mac to load all the photos into iCloud. But then you should notice that the hard drive on the Mac has more free space.

It is also important that you need more storage space in the Apple iCloud if you store a lot of photos there. There is a high probability that you will have to choose a paid iCloud subscription to have enough storage space.

These options turn on iCloud Photo Library and save space on Mac.

These options turn on iCloud Photo Library and save space on Mac.

3. Offload videos from Photos app

Another way to free up memory through the Photos app is by space Albums → Media Types → Videos. As a rule, you don't really need the videos very often and you only watch them rarely. Therefore, it is not a great loss to go through them first to delete recordings that are no longer needed. In the second step, you can then mark the videos and move them to the external hard drive using drag-and-drop. You can then completely delete the videos in the Photos app.

4. Outsource files to iCloud

Just like you can move your photo library to iCloud, you can also move your files to iCloud. The Mac has an automatic function for this, which can be found in the following way: System Preferences → Apple ID → iCloud → iCloud Drive → Options → Check “Desktop & Documents Folders”..

You should still be in System Preferences → Apple ID → iCloud turn on “Optimize Mac Storage”..

This means that all files that are on the desktop or in the user's "Documents" folder are loaded into the iCloud and only currently used files are kept on the Mac. However, you won't notice much difference in using the Mac since all files are displayed as before. Only some have a cloud in the file list and these are currently only stored in iCloud.

The "Optimize Mac Storage" option swaps files to iCloud when storage space on the Mac is running low.

The "Optimize Mac Storage" option swaps files to iCloud when storage space on the Mac is running low.

5. Create an iMovie library per project

In iMovie all projects are stored in the pre-set iMovie library. This file keeps growing with each new project.

Instead, it makes more sense to create a separate library for each new iMovie project. This goes over iMovie → File → Open Library → New.

Libraries from old projects can then be moved back to an external hard drive and deleted from the Mac's internal hard drive. You can find the libraries in the user folder under "Movies".

6. Delete unused apps

It's always a good idea to clean up your Mac every once in a while. This is very easy to do by opening the "Launchpad" on the Mac and then unused apps such as GarageBand, iMovie, or Final Cut Pro X, or similar. To do this, click with the left mouse button on any app icon and hold the mouse button until the app icons start to wobble.

There is now an X at the top left of each icon. If you click on it, the corresponding app will be deleted. However, apps downloaded from the App Store can be quickly reinstalled at any time using this method: App Store → your account (bottom left). Now you'll see all the Mac apps you bought or installed and can reinstall any of them with one click.

7. Save space with Apple Mail

To see how much disk space Apple Mail is using, go to the Apple menu in Finder (top left) → About This Mac → Disks → Manage → Mail. There you will see an indication in megabytes or gigabytes that indicates the space that Apple Mail requires.

If this number is very high, you might consider deleting Apple Mail entirely and using the web-based version of your mail account, such as Gmail or iCloud Mail, instead.

For many people, myself included, this may not be an option, but if you absolutely need free memory and use a lot of space with Apple Mail, you can consider the step.

My Apple Mail is taking up a lot of hard drive space, but it's my main tool at work as I need mail really constantly, so I can't switch to a webmail service.

My Apple Mail takes up a lot of hard drive space, but it's my main tool at work that I really need all the time. That's why I can't switch to a webmail service to free up disk space.

8. Outsource files to a cloud

Instead of storing files on an external hard drive, you can store them in the cloud. Unfortunately, this does not work so easily with iCloud, since every file is on the Mac AND in the iCloud and thus no space is saved. But Google Drive allows this option, for example, by dragging files from the Mac to My Drive and then deleting the file from the Mac itself.

Dropbox has a feature called "smart sync' which makes it even easier. To do this, right-click on a folder or file in the Dropbox folder and then select For the Dropbox icons, select the option "Only online". The file or folder is still displayed on the Mac, but technically it is only on a Dropbox server and is only loaded onto the Mac when you access it.

DropBox's Smart Sync feature allows you to save files online only, saving Mac space.

DropBox's Smart Sync feature allows you to save files online only, saving Mac space.

9. Do not import music files to Apple Music Library

With Apple Music's default settings, every file you play with the app is first copied to the library folder and then played from there. But if you have all your songs in folders on an external hard drive, this procedure makes no sense because it takes up an unnecessarily large amount of space.

This behavior can be switched off in the music app under Music → Settings → Files → Uncheck the option "Copy files to the music media folder when adding to library". Alternatively, you can also change the storage location of the media library and outsource it to an external hard drive, for example.

Incidentally, the same option is also available in Apple's TV app. There, too, it can be said that video files are not imported into the media library before playing.

In the music app, you can switch off the option that imports music files directly into the media library when you open them.

In the music app, you can switch off the option that imports music files directly into the media library when you open them.

10. Delete iPhone and iPad backups

Especially iTunes used to like to create backups of iPhone and iPad and then not delete them. But you can still do this with newer macOS versions and fill your hard drive space quite properly.

To delete these backups manually, go to the "Go" menu in the Finder and then select "Go to Folder". Then enter the following line there:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

After pressing the return key, this folder opens and there are usually other folders with cryptic names made up of lots of letters and numbers. Simply drag and drop these folders into the recycle bin and then empty it.

To find the iPhone and iPad backups, enter the path that leads to the appropriate folder on the Mac.

To find the iPhone and iPad backups, enter the path that leads to the appropriate folder on the Mac.

11. Load only the latest attachments in Apple Mail

E-mail attachments can quickly accumulate and take up a lot of hard drive space. If you (like most people) only set up IMAP accounts in your mail program, then the mail server keeps all mail attachments and you can load them if necessary. Apple Mail offers an option to do this at Mail → Settings → Accounts → click on the relevant mail account → select the option "Only the latest" for "Load attachments"..

As a result, old attachments from Apple Mail are no longer loaded and the program is limited to the attachments of the newer mails. If you want an attachment to an old email, just click on the attachment and Apple Mail will load it from the server.

With this setting, Apple Mail will only download the most recent attachments from the server.

With this setting, Apple Mail will only download the most recent attachments from the server.

12. Do spring cleaning more often

Anyone who is always at the limit with their hard drive should take the time at regular intervals to see whether they can delete files or apps from the Mac.

This can be done, for example, in the following way: Apple menu → About This Mac → Disks → Manage. On the left side you will find a number of indications as to which file types take up a lot of space on the Mac. There you can click through and see which files are in detail.

Also right click "Reduce Chaos" gives a few helpful tips, such as particularly large files that are listed there, or apps that are no longer supported by this Mac anyway and can be deleted.

If you want a little more help with cleaning, you can take a look at the following apps:

  • DaisyDisk (costs) and GrandPerspective (open source) also find large files and folders on the Mac and display them graphically in a very functional way so that you can declutter efficiently.
  • CleanMyMac X is a tool that searches and declutters caches, broken iPhone and iPad backups and many other things. I run this through every few weeks and it always frees up a few GB. However, the app is not free, but is in the SetApp subscription included, which I booked anyway.

CleanMyMac also removes programs with your leftover files and also shows large and long unused files. For me, the app is a nice all-purpose tool that I use again and again on the Mac.

More tips ready?

Do you have any tips on how to create even more space? Then feel free to leave a comment here so that I can include it in the article and other readers can benefit from it.

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7 comments

  1. Beatrice Willius says:

    I have no faith in the cloud. I would never have data only in the cloud. Of course, this is especially true for emails. Needless to say, I use my program for emails.

    iCloud synchronization is not a good idea. This only makes data access unnecessarily slow. iCloud sometimes eats data or it just stops syncing. Other cloud systems are known for the creative use of special characters.

    In addition to DaisyDisk, I also use FindAnyFile to clean up. This can, for example, find larger files (the unnecessary TimeMachine snapshots or downloaded mp4 files) or if an app quickly produces a lot of data garbage (eg Mail or Valentina Server).

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Beatrice! I'm totally into the Apple universe... the lag on files in the cloud is noticeable and in my case it didn't save much space so I'll probably turn that off again. But so far nothing has really been lost in the iCloud. But maybe I was just lucky. 😊

  2. Johannes Domke says:

    A small addition from me:

    On the Apple MacBook (Pro) with an SD card slot, use a memory card that is not protruding from the housing in order to permanently expand the memory and to be able to change it without conversion and thus without voiding the warranty. All information is available here :)

  3. Bodo Schoenfelder says:

    For outsourcing to external hard drives, I use "raw" internal HDs, which I connect to the computer via a hard drive adapter or docking station. I pack them in cases for when I'm on the go. That gives me order in the structuring of the archives.

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Bodo! Yes, I've had that thought a number of times. Above all: If you have several hard drives of the same type and one of them breaks the controller, you can easily swap it out to save the data. What hard drive case are you using, if I may ask?

  4. Bodo Schoenfelder says:

    I use three cases in total. The first was one from Icybox

    something like this: Icy Box IB-273StU3 External Enclosure
    Bought from Saturn, whose branch is now closed.

    I now still use an Inateck case for tool-free use in case I need to change on the go. It's quicker and you don't have to pay attention to whether the screwdriver is with you. It's just a little more sensitive to shock, but that's not a real problem.
    Something like this

    Inateck hard drive enclosure 2,5 inch USB 3.0 for 7/9.5mm SATA SSD and HDD

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