Cleaning Up Your Mac for the New Year

As a New Year is upon us, it may be a good chance to take stock and give your Mac a spring clean. Although OS X doesn’t accumulate a great deal of clutter in day-to-day operation, there are still a number of actions you can take to free up disk space, speed up operation, and ensure that your data is safe in 2010.

Inspired by a recent series of articles published at Minimal Mac (a great blog to subscribe to), this post will take a look at a variety of different steps to clean up your Mac for the New Year.

Grab a duster, throw on an apron, and let’s get cleaning…

Freeing Up Disk Space

One of the most liberating things you can begin with is your hard drive. Whether all your information fits on an 80GB laptop drive or you use several terabytes of external storage, freeing up some space is a positive step to take.

Deleting Files

I find that the quickest way to do this is through beginning with the largest files on your system. My personal tool of choice is Disk Inventory X, a free application that will show a visual representation of your hard drive. The larger blocks represent larger files, so it’s easy to see where the largest gains can be made.

You'd be surprised what accumulates!

You'd be surprised what accumulates!

Upgrade Your Cat

Another step you may like to take – if you haven’t already – is to install Snow Leopard. Because it takes up considerably less space that previous versions, you stand to gain an immediate 5GB of extra hard drive space.

Slim & Optimize

Finally, there are a few applications that can help to compress existing applications and remove unnecessary files generated by the OS:

  • Xslimmer will compress application files to only the Intel or PowerPC version (use with care!)
  • CleanMyMac is a good solution for all-round maintenance and app “slimming”
  • Cocktail can clear various files that eat up space without your knowledge

Deleting Old Applications

A couple of times a year I try to have a thorough, merciless, sweep through my Applications folder to find any software that I haven’t used in the past few months. If it isn’t used regularly, it goes in the Trash. This can free up a huge amount of space, reduce clutter, and is completely reversible (providing you don’t delete data for particular apps).

If you can’t bear the thought of culling your Applications folder, try moving anything you don’t think you’ll need to an external drive. If it hasn’t been touched after a few months, drag it to the Trash.

When deleting software, it’s worth bearing in mind that certain apps leave traces in other areas of your Mac. Try a piece of software called AppZapper for completely uninstalling an application from your system and cleaning up any hidden files you aren’t aware of.

Speeding Things Up

Generally speaking, your Mac is likely to remain fairly snappy throughout it’s lifetime. I wouldn’t recommend formatting your drive and re-installing OS X (in the same way you may have done with Windows), but there are a few pointers to pick up a little extra speed.

Activity Monitor

The first may seem obvious, but not to beginners. Open “Activity Monitor” (found in /Applications/Utilities), and use the column headings to filter the current applications by CPU and Real Memory. This will quickly show those that are using up a large proportion of system resources. Most of these will be important – Safari and iTunes for instance – but you may find a handful that are no longer needed. It’s another way to hunt down applications to delete!

System Caches, Logs & Settings

A second idea would be to take a look at an application such as Cocktail, which will help to alter all manner of system settings. A few to consider are:

  • Time Machine Backup Interval – Making this a little less often will reduce regular indexing, backup and CPU usage
  • Clear Caches & Logs – These are files that build up during the day-to-day operation of OSX, but are no longer needed
  • Clear Internet Files – Cookies, caches, temporary files. These can all go for a faster browsing experience.

Speeding up Browsing

A final option for speeding up computer usage is to install ClickToFlash, a wonderful Safari plugin for disabling Flash for all websites by default. You’ll be amazed at how useful this is, and it’s simple to enable Flash for a particular site or region later.

Keeping Everything Safe

Put Everything in Dropbox

Put Everything in Dropbox

Time Machine is great, and helps to protect from a failed hard drive, but you still (generally) have the problem of your backup being in the same location as your computer. Implementing some form of off-site backup can give great peace of mind, and the solution I’d recommend would be to use Dropbox.

I began by moving my entire user directory (with the exception of Library, Music and Movies) into my Dropbox directory, and letting the application start syncing. It will take a long time to upload everything at first, but uses virtually no CPU or overhead once set up.

I’ve then set Finder to automatically open Dropbox when I launch a new window. Easy and inexpensive off-site backup!

Social Networks

You may also be faced with the problem of having a large amount of data in the “cloud”. Although this is probably safer than being solely on your machine, there’s a great service called Backupify that can backup all your data on social networks and web applications for you. Signing up is free until the end of January, so it’s certainly worth giving a try.

Don’t Forget the Hardware

iKlear Kits

iKlear Kits

Although we’re primarily an applications blog, you really shouldn’t neglect your hardware itself! Apple machines are all beautifully designed, and it’s worth giving yours a clean from time-to-time.

I’m a big advocate of any product from iKlear, and have been really impressed with their cleaning kits in the past. You’ll probably have good results from anything that’s suitable for an LCD screen.

You’ll be surprised how much difference a shiny screen and clean keyboard can make!

Keeping Things Minimal

I always find this to be a great way to start the New Year. I usually have several extra free gigabytes of disk space, a faster operating Mac, and the secure knowledge that all my files are safe and sound.

Now you’re clean and tidy, it’s time to make a resolution to stay that way. Head over to Minimal Mac and subscribe to their RSS feed. You’ll have regular tips and reminders coming your way every day!

Have fun, and feel free to share any other ideas in the comments!


Add Yours
  • DaisyDisk is way nicer to use over Disk Inventory X in my opinion. Both are great but i prefer the DaisyDisk UI.

    • DaisyDisk does look gorgeous, but I still prefer the overall simplicity of DiskInventory.

  • AppCleaner is also a good alternative to appzapper. It’s simple, quick and free!

  • For me to backup my system using offsite storage like Dropbox is not really an option – my documents folder alone is 21GB, so this is going to take forever to upload at 256kb!

    Think I will stick with Time Machine for now, and take it everywhere with me ;-)

    • We can’t use online backups until we all have a good enough Internet connections. I’d never rely on a 3rd party to store information alone anway. Keeping the data on an external HDD to hand is the best way.

      • I agree that it does require a good internet connection.

        External hard drives are good for big files (photo library, music, video etc), but I feel safer with an extra backup of important files in the cloud.

        Nothing beats knowing that your data is off-site in another country.

    • I too have to agree with Neil. My internet connection is far too slow for uploading many files and my data would exceed the 2GB Dropbox storage. MobileMe, with it’s much larger capacity, is not an option either since it’s sooooo slow that it makes me cry every time I use it.

      Nevertheless, a combination of Time Machine, ForeverSave and SuperDuper has helped me avoid data loss the last time I had problems with my Mac.

      In addition, I would also always recommend to use multiple external HDD’s for backup (or a RAID system). If one HDD fails, you still have the backup of the backup. That might seem redundant to many, if you are using your Mac for business purposes, one can never be too careful.

  • And what about Onyx ?

    • It’s wonderful. I use it from time to time to clear out caches and stuff

  • I recently tried out CleanMyMac and love it. It cleared caches, logs, unnecessary lang. files and a bunch of other useless junk that had accumulated over time. All in one initial search. The end result free’d up approx. 10GB of space which was much needed on my puny 80GB laptop HD.

  • Time machine is the only one we use. We have several in a fire proof safe at the office, and the CEO takes one home with him.

  • This is very helpful, thanks so much!

  • I really need to activate that copy of Cleanmymac and get to da cleaning. I only have about 60 GBs of space left on my 250GB HDD. It’s only been 1 1/2 years since I’ve had my mac, and I have not even tried to clean it. God knows what could be on that thing!

  • I do love Dropbox for client work, but I feel like I must be missing something. How is Dropbox a good offline backup? I feel like there are enough extremely competitively priced options out there for FULL system backup that make Dropbox’s partial backups moot (Backblaze, Mozy, Jungle Disk to name just a few). I don’t know about anyone else, but if my computer goes tits up, or my house burns down, I want a total restore option, not just my user folder.

    At $5/month for unlimited backup on Backblaze, vs. $19.99/month for 100GB on Dropbox, I don’t see the sense.

    Spend less, back up everything. What am I missing?

  • I have to agree with MooseDesign. Dropbox is a great program, but it is really not a backup solution. My clients that run Macs tend to prefer Backblaze for backup than other systems. It just works with little to no need for the user to worry about it.

  • All operating systems have their secret corners that fill up with cruft, and many applications do a terrible job of cleaning up after themselves. In my PC days, I used to use Glary Utilities to clean out the corners of Windows and the awesome treemapping visualizations in WinDirStat to find where my storage was going. But since switching to my Mac I wasn’t aware of similar utilities.

  • I would appreciate a step-by-step, in simple English, procedure to clean up the sluggish 2009 IMac. While I may have had this a year, I am not computer literate, so I need to be told every step in plain English, and shown if possible. Is there any chance you can help?

  • A really nice tutorial thanks for sharing

  • Really helpful thank you

  • Just been sorting out my mac for first time in 18 months. Monolingual app freed around 3.5gb off the hard drive without any hassle and cleanmymac is currently getting rid of 5gb of excess caches etc. Both first rate, easy to use programs for cleaning up.

  • MacCleaning is also as good as appzapper. It is effective and free.

  • Hey! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects? Many thanks!

  • There are some apps by Nektony performing some of the above mentioned problems: Disk Expert, Disk Inspector, ClearDisk, Boost & Memory. You can read about them here: