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After some time of owning any type of computer, you might begin to collect large amounts of files. Just like in real life, it is important to regularly do some spring cleaning with your machine in order to keep things running smoothly.

In computer life, when you run out of space, you run the risk of the computer accidentally overwriting very important system files — such as the ones that make your computer run. It is always a good idea to be proactive with storage management because once those files are overwritten, they are gone forever — only a clean install will guarantee their recovery. Therefore, first I want to talk about a few ways to monitor the amount of free space you have on your Mac.

If you are using a Mac running OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) or earlier, you can easily check the amount of free space you have by selecting the hard drive icon on your desktop and hitting Command + I. This will open a new window with a section called General containing two lines labeled Capacity and Available. They will respectively tell you the total capacity of the drive and the total amount you have taken up of that drive.

If you are using a Mac running OS X Lion (10.7) or newer, Apple improved the ability to discern what it taking up space on your machine a little bit better. To find this information open the Apple Menu by clicking the apple icon in the top left of your screen and select the About This Mac option. In the new window that pops up, click the More Info… button. Doing so will open up a different view of the About This Mac window. Clicking on the Storage tab will show a visual breakdown of a few predetermined types of files you have on your machine and how much space each is taking up.

Now you may notice that there is a catch-all category called Other and wonder what that is and why it is so big. The short and sweet version is that it is a bunch of important system files that the average person shouldn’t really mess with. However, if you are still interested in figuring out what exactly the “other” category is, comprised of there is a free app called Disk Inventory X that I use to see a complete break down of every thing on my drive. It is sort of like the About This Mac utility on steroids and isn’t for the faint of heart. It even gives you the ability to delete things right from the app. However, I don’t recommend using it for much more than investigating what is taking up space so you don’t accidentally delete something important.

So you’ve got all this information, now what does it mean? Well, Our IT department suggests that you have 10-20% of your total capacity free on your drive regardless of the type of drive (hard drive or solid state drive). This will ensure that no files are accidentally overwritten. By using these tools you can proactively monitor how close you are getting to that mark and adjust how you are saving or begin moving files.

In the next installment of Cleaning Up Your Mac, I will detail my best practices for deleting and managing your files to maximize your storage space.

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