6 Ways to Free up Space When MacBook Disk is Almost Full

Are you getting a disk full warning on your MacBook Pro? It says you need to make more space available on your startup disk and urges you to delete files or save space by optimizing storage.

Like this – “Your disk is almost full” (on macOS Sierra or later).

Or this – “Your startup disk is almost full” (for earlier macOS versions).

How can you actually “optimize storage”? Although Apple has some tips on freeing up storage space, let’s be honest — the tips are fairly generic! For example, one of them is a “promotion” to use its product iCloud, a subscription service that we’re simply not a fan of.

That’s why we decide to write this post, offering a number of better ways to reclaim more space when your MacBook startup disk is full. We’ll make it as detailed as possible so you won’t feel lost.

What’s Filling up My MacBook Startup Disk?

So what exactly is your startup disk? Well, your startup disk is the partition on which your Mac operating system runs. It has a set amount of space (say, 500GB) that you can use to store applications and files.

startup disk

You can’t get rid of that disk because it’s what your Mac uses to function. However, as time goes on the files and apps you add to the MacBook drive will begin to accumulate and limit the space remaining on that disk.

Most MacBook users will have just one disk named “Macintosh HD” by default, power users may have two or more.

You’ll get a message from Apple when your disk is almost full, and if it fills all the way up you won’t be able to download new files, open attachments, or install new programs.

An overfilled startup disk will also cause your MacBook to run slower since it won’t be able to use RAM as effectively. This means keeping your disk clean is extremely important for daily operations.

To check what’s taking up space on your mac, you can choose “Manage” on the startup disk warning notification. If you’re ahead of the curve and trying to clean up your Mac before being warned, you can access the management screen by going to About This Mac from the Apple menu (top left of your screen), and then choosing Storage.

Also Read: How to Clean up MacBook Pro Hard Drive

How to Fix “Disk Almost Full” on MacBook?

Now that you know what’s stealing your storage, how can you fix the problem? Aside from the obvious solutions like clearing the trash and downloads folder, there are a few different methods you can use.

1. Delete Duplicate or Similar Files

These days we all are used to back up iPhone photos to our computer and believe it or not, identical or similar files can quickly add up and occupy lots of space. They can be duplicate documents, images taken twice (or more times), redundant backups, and several other formats. The tricky part is those files are usually not easy to be found.

Fortunately, you can use a handy app like Gemini 2 to quickly locate them.

The main interface of Gemini 2 – a smart duplicate finder app for Mac.

Using the app, you can choose folders to scan and find these unneeded duplicates. Gemini then separates exact duplicates from similar files so you know exactly what you’re looking at, and you’ll be prompted before deleting anything. It can help you reclaim a lot of valuable disk space in just a few minutes.

2. Offload Old Large Files

How often do you watch the movies you’ve downloaded to your computer?

Do your old photos need to be within reach at all times or only upon occasion? If you’re someone who keeps archives of documents, images, movies, programs, or other files but only occasionally references them you might benefit from transferring them to an external drive.

Then start copying files from your MacBook to the external drive. If you’re copying projects such as unfinished movies or designs, make sure you copy all assets as well or the file will not be able to load properly.

Don’t forget to check those old large documents that you probably don’t need. Open Finder > Documents, and click on Size to sort all the files based on file size. Review the top results and see if they are still worth saving on your Mac. If not, delete them.

A quick check helps me find this big old backup file that’s taking 3.29 GB of valuable disk space, ouch!

3. Beware of Mac System Data

Depending on the macOS you’re using, you might notice that “System Data” or “Other Storage” keeps increasing and as a result, taking up way too much disk space. The worst part? You can’t analyze what’s stored inside as this option is greyed out by macOS by default.

Thankfully, you can use CleanMyMac X to get an “insider” look and clean those unneeded system files. Just download the app and install it on your Mac. Open it, click on Space Lens, run a quick scan of your Macintosh HD, then under the “System” folder, you’ll be able to see all the details.

4. Sign up for a Better Cloud Storage Program

You may have noticed that Mac’s storage manage panel prompts you to consider Apple’s iCloud as a way to clear space (see the screenshot below). Personally, I’m not a huge fan of iCloud, as there are plenty of good alternatives out there.

Two of the most popular are Google Drive and Dropbox.

Google Drive will give you 15GB of free storage space and offers unlimited image and video storage at 16MP or 1080p and less. If you still don’t have enough space, you can upgrade your Google Drive to 100GB for just $2/month or a terabyte for $9.99/month.

Dropbox offers a basic account for free with 2GB of space, but upgrading to Dropbox Plus will get you a terabyte of uploads for $9.99/month. According to 9to5mac, Dropbox stands out for its file-sync speed and reliability as he put:

“For me, the crucial benefit of Dropbox is speed and reliability. I’ve tried all the main services over the years, and Dropbox has always been 100% reliable and has consistently synced within seconds.”

Both cloud storage services offer an automatic import function as well to help cut down on your work.

5. Clean Your MacBook Drive

If storage space seems to be a recurring problem, you will benefit from cleaning out system junk and useless files to stay on top of any storage issues. Again, CleanMyMac X is my favorite solution. There are a handful of other Mac cleaner apps that are worth considering as well, some are even free to use.

CleanMyMac helps you to scan unnecessary files such as temporary documents, attachments, and iMovie junk that usually require extensive searching to find buried in your Mac’s library. After the scan, it then offers a number of suggested actions you can take to reclaim more space.

It’s not free ($34.95 per Mac per year), but does offer a free trial version for you to evaluate.

6. Manually Delete Old Large Files & Apps

If you’re looking for a quick and short-term fix, manually clearing out those old large files will help you get a few extra gigabytes of space.

First, open Finder and navigate to “All My Files” from the sidebar. Make sure your files are in list view (the icon that looks like 4 stacked lines should be dark grey) and then choose “Size” from the header.

If you’re on an older macOS, you’ll need to click the settings gear in Finder and select ARRANGE BY > SIZE.

This will produce a slightly different layout that groups your files by category (100MB – 10GB, 1MB – 100 MB, etc). You can find the size of each file by right-clicking and choosing “Get Info”.

Once you know which files are the largest, you can start removing those you no longer need and clearing space as efficiently as possible. Some common space hogs include videos, old DMGs, creative applications, and large audio files.

A quicker way to spot out old big files on your Mac is to run CleanMyMac X (again) and navigate through the Large & Old Files feature as it will sort all those items based on file size.

That’s it. Did you manage to address the disk almost full issue on your MacBook Pro? Which method(s) do you find most helpful? Or do you have another awesome tip to reclaim more storage quickly? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

About Lorena
Lorena holds a 13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pro with Apple M1 Chip. Her role involves editorial management from writing to editing and ensuring that the articles are informative, useful, and relevant to readers who are new to Mac.

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  • Miriam

    This has been very helpful and I’m going to give it a try, thank you.

    Reply
  • Mahi

    If I delete the media in Imovie Library, will the final movie be affected? Will the deleted media will also be deleted in my final project?

    Reply
  • Fernando

    What I really need is the Terminal command to remove the core dump files that are gumming up my system.I found them a couple of times online and now nowhere. Any thoughts?

    Reply