Coping With the Loss of Hard Drive Space

Does anyone remember when Lacie came out with its Big Disk 1TB drive not that long ago? It seemed like the nerd’s Holy Grail, but at about $1,200, it wasn’t necessarily a “run-right-out-and-buy” scenario. Just a few short years later, you can pick up a 1TB drive for as low as about $60 if you shop around for a deal. Despite storage becoming so cheap, it’s still a good practice to keep tabs on your hard drive’s capacity. With more and more rich media being made available, that available space can dwindle before you know it. I’ll help you arm yourself with the tools to figure out where that space is going and how to maintain and protect it in the future.

Checking Your Current State of Affairs

First, go to the Finder, right-click on your hard drive, and select “Get Info.” Under the General heading, you’ll find the details on your drive’s Capacity, Available, and Used space. It seems like I’m always shocked at how low that Available space number is, despite my best efforts to keep my Mac’s storage well-groomed. Media files (music, movies, photos) tend to be the main culprit, but Applications and other documents and support files may be to blame as well. The key is in identifying exactly what is taking up that space before you take any sort of action.

Disk Visualization

Disk visualizers are the way to go. They give you an easy way of looking at which folders contain the heavyweight files that you may or may not need (or can at least backup to an external drive if your hard drive space is at a premium). Grand Perspective and Disk Inventory X are somewhat old-school in their visuals, but are free. JDiskReport is a long time favorite of mine (also free) but in 10.6, it requires Rosetta to be installed as it’s not a Universal app for OS X. (The OS installs Rosetta for you, but if you don’t want extra background chaff, this may be a deal breaker for you.) OmniDiskSweeper is also free, but doesn’t have much in the way of visuals. WhatSize has been around for a while, and has a nice user interface and some great features to remove files once they’ve been found. It’ll set you back $12.99. Then there’s DaisyDisk, which looks stunning and works very nicely, although doesn’t have all the nice-to-have removal features. DaisyDisk goes for $19.95

Getting Rid of the Extras

As an extra tip, there are some system type files that are notorious for taking up lots of unnecessary space for many users, a major one being language packs. OS X ships with support for many different languages. There are some solutions out there for easily getting rid of those language packs to reclaim some storage space — just make sure you read the fine print so you don’t break anything!

Printer drivers are another thing that OS X comes loaded-down with. The premise is noble — make it easy for Mac users to use nearly any printer, but that convenience comes at a cost. If you regularly use only a couple of different printers, you may want to look into removing the dead weight drivers.

And lastly, a tip for iPhone/iPod/iPad users: iTunes keeps full backups of your iDevice stored within iTunes. I discovered recently that as I’ve upgraded my iPhone hardware over the years, my number of backups as grown, and taken up several extra gigabytes of storage. It’s probably worth curating those out-of-date backups while you’re at it.


Great! By now you’ve hopefully identified many of the files that are eating up space on your precious hard drive. You’ve either determined them deletable, necessary, or candidates for backup. So how do you maintain the space that you’ve reclaimed and/or have left? Unfortunately there’s no all-encompassing solution (that I’ve found yet), but the following are some applications which offer good solutions for keeping on top of your hard drive using maintenance practices.

Hazel (which we’ve written about plenty) can watch folders for you and perform intricate actions that you decide upon and build based on your criteria, and costs $21.95 — well worth it! AppZapper ($21.95) is the uninstaller that OS X lacks. CleanMyMac is a well-rounded system maintenance solution for cleaning out unused system caches, and other bloat-type files that build up over time. It costs $14.95 for six months or $29.95 for lifetime use. A smallish shareware utility called Singular identifies duplicate files on your hard drive. It was updated recently, but the developer’s main website is currently down, and I don’t recall the cost. Lastly is Squeeze. It doesn’t remove files like the rest, but it does work on compressing your drive’s files to save space. It’s sort of magical, and costs $12.95.

Bloated hard drives — whether from your own files, or the system’s — can impact the performance of your system. Using these tools to maintain that available space will not only help keep your Mac running well, but also keep you informed of the space you have, so you’re not caught by surprise when you run low on storage. Good luck waging war on your hard drive!