How to manage the Trash on your Mac and get more disk space

Trash can

This might seem like a no-brainer and you delete files, they are moved to the Trash. You empty the Trash. What more is there? You might be surprised and there are better ways to manage the Trash.

You probably don't think about deleting files on the Apple Mac and you just do it, knowing that they end up in the Trash folder. If you delete a file or folder by mistake, or if you discover a day, a week or a month later that you actually need a file you deleted, you can open the Trash folder by clicking the icon in the Dock and recover it by dragging it out onto the desktop or wherever you want it placed.

There is even a helpful Put Back command that puts a deleted file back where it was deleted from. Just right click a file.

How much Trash is there?

Many people don't keep track of the number or size of items in the Trash folder and we just keep on deleting files and sending them to the Trash. It is only when people have a problem, such as running short of disk space, which is all too easy with a small SSD, that we think about emptying the Trash.

How do you find out how much Trash there is? How many files are there? How many megabytes or gigabytes of Trash is there?

To find out, click the Trash icon in the Dock to open the window.

Apple Mac Trash

Click a file to select it and then press Command+A to select all files. Now press Command+I to open the Info window.

OS X file info window

Oh dear, there is a massive 13.71 GB of Trash on this Mac. In fact, I can't remember when I last emptied it. Have you checked your Trash folder? Anyone got more Trash than this?

Never empty the Trash

In an effort to recover lost disk space or tidy up the system if you are spring cleaning, it is tempting to empty the Trash. All of it. But is this a good idea? 

You should never empty the Trash. Not that way. Not by right clicking the Trash icon in the Dock and selecting Empty Trash, or by opening the Trash folder and using Empty button or option on the file menu. 

If you do this, you lose all files and you never know, you might find one day that you need something you recently deleted. 

Don't empty the Trash! Here is what to do instead. 

Click the Date Added column header to sort the items in the Trash folder by date deleted. Here you can see that I have files deleted last year. It is safe to say that I probably won't miss them or I would have recovered them by now. It is safe to delete last year's Trash.

Scroll right down to the bottom, which has the very oldest file and click it. Scroll back up to more recent files and Shift+click one to select everything in between. I am going to delete all files from 2015 – click the first, Shift+click the last.

OS X Trash folder

To delete just these select files, right click them and select Delete Immediately on the menu.

Delete files in the Trash

After sorting the files into date order, you can choose any date range you want. A system I often use (and one I often forgot to implement), is to select all files over two months old. I figure that if I haven't needed a deleted file for two months then I will never need it and it is safe to really delete it.

Every now and then I open the Trash, sort by date, and delete everything over two months old. You should, too.

Problems and errors

That is the theory anyway. In practice it did not work out so well and I go this error:

Mac error code -8072

It provides little information as to the cause, but it is obviously related to deleting one or more files. The solution was to delete a few files at a time instead of trying to delete everything. Eventually the problem was found to be just a handful of files that would not delete.

Dragging them out of the Trash onto the desktop and pressing Command+I showed the permissions set to No Access. Click the padlock, enter the administrator password, set the access to read and write, and the file could then be deleted.

Change file permissions

The result of all this is a much smaller Trash folder and several gigabytes of extra disk space I didn't have before. However, I still have recently deleted files that can be recovered if I discover that I need them.

 The ability to selectively deleted files in the Trash has not always been in OS X, so if you are running an old version then the tip above might not work.



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