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How to Remove Useless Files from a Mac

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/5/2009

Delete old files like system logs and temporary downloads to free up space on your Mac.

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    You take out the trash on a regular basis, put away your toys after you’re finished playing with them, and fold and put away your clothes. You also have to store your valuable pictures in a photo album (or shoebox), organize your CDs, and file your important documents. These tasks are necessary to keep your house from becoming unorganized an inefficient.

    You need to take the same type of care with your Mac. You can't go on, year after year, never taking out the trash. By getting rid of data you no longer need --music files, digital pictures, files you unzipped or unstuffed and no longer want or need, temporary files, duplicate files, unnecessary or broken aliases, unnecessary log files, and documents that are no longer needed (like that letter you wrote to the city complaining that the tax appraisal on your house was way off), you can really improve the performance of your Mac.

    When it comes to storing and managing files on your Mac, your system operates like a busy train station. There’s a lot going on under the scenes that you might need to be aware of. For example, if you use a digital camera or an iPod with your Mac, your images or music files are stored in a certain place and managed in a special way. If multiple users use your Mac, special areas are set up to store and manage the files that are common to the different users. I’m bringing all of this up because to be effective at cleaning up your Mac, you’ll need to understand how your Mac operates under the hood. And as you’ll learn here, a little knowledge can really help you keep your Mac clutter free.

    I hope you’ve been saving some of your files to the default folders, located inside your Home folder. These folders include:

    · Documents

    · Pictures

    · Movies

    · Music

    · Library

    · Public

    You can think of these folders as default folders inside the Home folder. If you haven’t been saving to these folders, if you’ve simply saved everything haphazardly, or if you’re created folders of your own, you should start the cleaning process here. For the most part, the Mac OS tries to guide you in the right direction each time you save a file. For that reason, you’re likely to have a lot of stuff in these folders.

    Deleting superfluous files might not seem necessary if you have a huge hard drive, but it is. When your Mac looks for a file, it has to search the entire disk for it. The more stuff it has to sift through, the longer the process takes. Additionally, deleting unnecessary files is certainly essential if you don’t have a large hard drive, and it’s especially important if you can’t remember the last time you deleted anything. Whatever the case, I’m betting the bank that you can find plenty of stuff to delete!

    Tip: Not only does it take your Mac more time to sort through unneeded files, but it takes you longer also. If you have folders that are bursting at the seams with files, you’ll need to spend more time looking through all of the files to locate the one you want. Those extra minutes can really add up, especially if you use your computer a lot. Get all of the unneeded files off your Mac on a regular basis and you’ll save yourself from a lot of eye strain and aggravation.

    The Documents Folder

    The Mac OS provides a Documents folder for storing documents you create. Stop reading for a minute and open up the Documents folder and take a peek at what’s in there. If you see something you don’t like, or you don’t need, delete it. Here’s how:

    1. Open the Finder window.

    2. From the left pane, select your user folder.

    3. From your user folder, select Documents.

    4. Locate a file or folder you want to get rid of, and drag it to the Trash. Keep in mind, though, that if you delete a folder, you also delete everything else in it.

    Tip: If you don’t know what something is (and that’s a good possibility if you haven’t named your files descriptively), open the file before deleting it just to ensure it isn’t anything you want to keep.

    Delete to your heart’s content, but be careful about deleting something you didn’t create. Don’t delete any weird folders that look like misplaced applications, and don’t move anything just yet. For now, let’s just focus on taking out the garbage.

    Tip: You should also look at all of your aliases. They are essentially shortcuts you’ve created. Aliases are displayed with a little arrow by them. You should always check them to see if they work, and if they don’t or if you don’t need them, delete them or use Get Info to select a new original.

    The Pictures Folder

    Now that I have you in a deleting mood, let’s take a look at the Pictures folder. f you have (and use) a digital camera or create your own artwork, you probably have a lot of files in there. If you use iPhoto, you’ll have a subfolder named iPhoto Library. You’ll also find plenty of pictures in there. The Pictures folder isn’t the only place you’ll find pictures, though.

    Delete any pictures you don’t need from the Pictures folder, as well as pictures in any other folders. If you find pictures in other folders that you’d like to keep, move them to the appropriate folder by dragging and dropping.

    Tip: Don’t delete pictures you’ve linked to other files or used in movie projects. When those files and applications are opened, your Mac will try to access those missing pictures and you’ll hear about it!

    iPhoto and Duplicate Files

    If you use iPhoto to import pictures from your digital camera, you likely have duplicate pictures on your hard drive. Why? After importing an original picture into iPhoto (thus placing it in the iPhoto Library folder), you probably then open it, make some changes, and save the new and improved image in your Pictures folder, a personal folder you created for your clients or for artwork, or in a specific folder for graphics files. With that process complete, you likely don’t delete the original. (Of course, you might not always want to delete the original, but many times you should.) If you don’t need the original, you’re just creating extra junk!

    Because iPhoto is a common place for gunk, open it and delete anything you don’t need. This is easier than deleting from the Pictures folder because iPhoto shows thumbnails of each picture in the iPhoto Library folder by default. It also has a place to drag images inside the iPhoto window and even has its own Trash folder. Once deleted from this application, a picture is also deleted from the Pictures>iPhoto Library folder stored in the Pictures folder.

    With many of your documents and pictures now moved to the Trash, continue working to improve your Mac by deleted items from your other default folders.