How to Get Control Your Out-of-Control Hard Drive

Today's Tech Talk post is from a reader. She asks, "It seems like my hard drive is always full and I can't seem to find what is using all the space. Can you help me understand this??" Absolutely, and that's a great question, Patti!

Understanding what your data is and where it's being stored on your computer is essential to enjoying your computer experience. If it feels like a big mess, then you will enjoy your experience far less than if you felt organized and in control. Here are some tips on gaining and maintaining control over your Mac's hard drive or SSD (from here on, I will just refer to these as "internal storage") usage.

The first place to start is with the "About This Mac" screen. This screen will give you a high-level overview of what kind of files are taking up space on internal storage.

To access this screen, click on the Apple logo in the top left corner of your screen, then click on "About This Mac". The first tab on this window you see will give you very basic hardware and software information about your Mac.

To see specific information related to your internal storage, click on the "Storage" tab at the top. In some cases, this can be useful information, but for the purposes of getting control of your internal storage and really understanding its contents, you need to dig deeper.

My tool of choice in doing this is Finder. Yes, Finder. That's it. When we open Finder, you will see your user data folders (Documents, Pictures, Music, etc) listed on the left side (if you don't, go to Finder > Preferences... and choose the "Sidebar" tab to customize what you see and don't see). From here, we simply want to select each folder individually and determine how much data is stored within that folder.

To determine how much space is being used in each folder, all you need to do is highlight the folder, then go to File > Get Info (or press Command+I). The amount of data contained within the folder will be shown in the top right-hand corner of that window.

You will want to do this for each of your user folders so that you can visually see which folders are taking up the most space. I usually jot them down on a piece of paper. My storage break-down looks like this:

Now that we can see which folder is taking up the most space, it's time to drill down a little deeper. In my case, I have a 1 TB SSD, which has 150 GB of free storage (just to put the sizes into perspective). From my list above, I can see that my "Movies" folder is taking up more space than I would have expected, so I will drill into that folder and go through the same process of using "Get Info" on the folders within that folder. Eventually, you will fun across certain files and folders which are probably ready tone archived to an external hard drive to free up space on your internal storage.

For most Mac users, there are two files which you should expect to be quite large, depending on your use of course. They are your iTunes library (contained within your "Music" folder) and your iPhoto library (contained within your "Pictures" folder). It won't do you any good to look at the size of those files. Instead, you will want to open iTunes and iPhoto (respectively) to determine what's taking up the most space within the apps.

Going through this process can be a little daunting if you aren't comfortable with the organization of your Mac's internal storage. However, spending the time will be worth your time, I promise you that.

Posted on May 21, 2015 and filed under How To, Mac, Opinion.