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Is your iCloud storage full? Five tips on how to free up space

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(Image credit: Apple)

When creating an iCloud account, all users automatically receive 5GB of free storage. Although this free cloud storage is appreciated, it’s worth remembering that this 5GB is shared across all your devices. If you use multiple Apple devices, this 5GB won’t last long. Even if you have only one Apple device, regular use of the camera and other applications will see your iCloud storage space quickly disappear.

The easiest way to ensure you don’t run out of storage space is to buy one of Apple’s affordable iCloud storage plans. Personally, we use the 200GB plan for $2.99 per month. But even this storage space quickly disappears if we don’t take steps to manage our iCloud account.

But before upgrading your subscription, it’s important to ask how you can better manage your iCloud data. This article will explain five of the best ways to free up space on your iCloud account and ensure you can make the most of your storage space and keep your devices running smoothly.

1.  Don't back up so much

Backups are one of the most significant users of storage space on the iCloud platform. Failing to manage backups properly will result in out-of-date backups clogging up your iCloud storage space. For most devices, you only need one backup (the most recent one).

Let’s first look at system backups. These backups are essential and ensure you can restore your entire device if it is ever lost, stolen, or damaged. However, because they are essentially a freeze state of your device from a specific moment in time, they take up a lot of space. If old system backups are still on your iCloud account, they should be deleted to free up space for more important files.

To delete system backups on a macOS device, you will need to go to the iCloud section of the System Preferences app. From here, you will see a small management icon in the bottom-right corner of the window. This will enable you to view all the backups stored on your account and delete the unnecessary ones. 

On iOS, the process is similar. Go to the iCloud section of the Settings app and click on either Mange Storage or Backups, depending on the version of iOS your device is running. From here, you can delete unwanted backups.

When using iOS, you can also choose whether to backup individuals apps from the Settings > iCloud screen. Turning an application’s status from green (backing up) to grey (not backing up) can free up significant space on your iCloud account. 

2. Make your photo library smaller

With iPhone and iPad cameras continually improving, the storage space required to store your amazing images is rapidly increasing. Videos, in particular, will take up vast amounts of storage space when filming at high resolutions. Our iCloud Photos app alone is managing over 177GB of photos and videos. It is by far the biggest user of our iCloud storage space.

So, when looking to free up space on your iCloud account, managing your photo library should be one of the first things that comes to mind. Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce the size of your photo library. 

Firstly, you should develop a habit of deleting unneeded or unwanted photos as soon as they’re taken. Yes, it might take 122 selfies to get the perfect shot, but do you really need all those images taking up storage space? Probably not. Deleting images directly from your device can save you significant amounts of storage space in the long run. 

However, even if you delete all but the best images, you won’t immediately see your iCloud storage space increase. This is because pictures deleted on an iOS or macOS device aren’t deleted immediately. Instead, they are stored for thirty days in the Recently Deleted Album. To permanently delete these images, you have to go to this album and empty it.

Finally, if you don’t want to back up your images in the cloud, you can turn off backup for iCloud photos entirely. This might appeal to users who store their pictures on a personal hard drive. Turning off syncing for the Photos app will significantly increase the amount of free space on your account. But of course, it means your photos and videos are not being backed up. 

3. Get rid of your old messages

If you’re really struggling for free space on your iCloud account, and the steps above don’t seem to be helping, you might want to consider deleting old messages.

Although they don’t take up much space on their own, months or years worth of GIFS, photos, and emojis can quickly add up. At last count, old messages were taking up 1.2GB of space on our iCloud account.   

To delete old messages either on your iOS or macOS device, go to the Messages app and delete messages containing large files. An excellent place to start can be with messages from advertisers, Google verification codes, or messages from the bank.

4. Manage your mail app

Similarly to messages, emails don’t take up much space on their own. But add up 10,000 emails and you’re quickly looking at several gigabytes of data. If your emails frequently contain large attachments such as PDFs, PowerPoints, or images, then developing a strategy for managing this data would be a good idea. 

If you want to see what emails are taking up the most space, you can go to the Mail app and sort emails by attachments. From here, you can either delete the emails with the largest attachments (over 25MB, for example) or delete all emails with attachments (a more indiscriminate strategy). 

5. Delete files from iCloud Drive

Even if you’ve followed all the above steps, you might still find that you’re lacking space in your iCloud Drive. That’s because iCloud Drive will, by default, store all sorts of individual files or application data that can quickly bite into your storage capacity. 

For example, files created on applications such as Garageband, iMovie, or Photobooth can quickly add up, as can assorted voice memos and PDFs. Taking the time to delete or organize these types of data might result in several gigabytes of freed storage space.

To delete these types of data, you will have to delete files individually. This can be done on both iOS and desktop devices, but it is quicker and easier on a desktop.

On a desktop, files can be deleted directly from the iCloud Drive folder. If you’re using a macOS device, this is found in the Finder. If it’s not there, you will need to activate it by going to the iCloud section of the System Preferences app.

If you’re using a Windows device, you can delete files on the iCloud for Windows app. 

On iOS, you can delete miscellaneous files through the Files application in the iCloud Drive folder. From here, you will be able to delete large and unnecessary files. In previous versions of iOS, you will find such data in the iCloud Drive application.

Periodically taking the time to organize your iCloud Drive is an integral part of computer maintenance. Managing backups and deleting unnecessary files will ensure you don’t exceed your storage capacity and that your computer continues to run healthily.