Cloud storage services like Dropbox and iCloud came along to stop us from running out of room on our phones and laptops, but what happens when you’re running out of cloud storage space too? To save you having to pay Apple, Google or anyone else even more money every month, here are some quick tips for freeing up space in your accounts.
You can see how much free space you’ve got in iCloud from Apple ID and iCloud in System Preferences on a Mac, or by tapping your name and then iCloud in Settings on iOS. You can also check in any web browser: Log into iCloud, click on your name (top right), then choose Account Settings.
Manually deleting files is an option of course: Try the iCloud Drive folder in Finder, or on the web, or in the Files app on your iPhone or iPad. Any file or folder that you delete in any of these locations is removed from your other devices too — until you take a look at what’s in your iCloud Drive, you might not realise how many files and how much data you’ve actually amassed.
It’s worth checking if you’ve got any iCloud backups from old devices that you don’t need any more as well — though do make sure that you don’t need them. From Settings on iOS, tap your name then iCloud, Manage Storage, and Backups to review them. Go back to Manage Storage and you can see how much room other apps are taking up — messaging apps, productivity apps, games — and delete these chunks of data if you decide that you can do without them.
Open up the Photos app on macOS or iOS and you can free up some room here (assuming your photos and videos are being backed up to iCloud). Use the Albums entry in the navigation options on either desktop or mobile to identify pictures that you might be able to do without — screenshots and selfies will each have their own entries, for example.
Remember text and images from your Messages apps, and text and attachments from your Mail apps take up iCloud space too — trimming older messages from these apps can also help. While iCloud doesn’t give you much in the way of tools for automatically freeing up room in the cloud, it will at least show you what’s taking up most of the space, so you can go through your apps and delete data and files as needed.
Here’s a neat trick for Google Drive: If you log in on the web, then click the Storage link on the left, you’ll see the biggest files in your Google Drive cloud storage at the top of the list. If you’re looking for candidates to delete, you might want to start with those space hoggers. Check in the My Drive and Computers folders for files and folders that you might now be able to do without.
Some apps will use Google Drive to back up data from your phone, and you can check on them by clicking on the cog icon in the top right corner of the Google Drive web interface, and choosing Settings and Manage apps. You might find that some apps here are taking up more space than they really should, even if they’re apps you’re no longer actively making use of.
Remember that your Google storage is split across Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. That means you’ll have to do a little detective work to find the biggest data hogs. Follow this link to your Google One page to see where all your space is going across these different apps. You can also find quick links to some of the space-saving ideas that we’re covering here, such as identifying the biggest files in your Google Drive account.
Another of those quick links suggests removing Gmail files with large attachments. You can review these yourself by going to Gmail on the web and running a search for “has:attachment larger:5m” to return emails with attachments larger than 5MB (you can adjust the figure as you wish).
Last but by no means least, Google Photos (and videos). Besides just manually going through your photos and albums and deleting the unwanted stuff, you can go to settings and switch to the “high quality” plan rather than the “original quality” plan. This will shrink down your photos to a maximum of 16MP, and your videos down to 1080p, but none of them will ever count against your Google storage quota. If you’re thinking about doing this, note that the action can’t be undone.
When it comes to OneDrive, there’s no particularly easy way to get rid of files and folders en masse. It’s really just a case of looking at what you’ve got stored, either in the cloud on the web or inside the OneDrive folder on Windows, and removing anything that you don’t need any longer. If you can manage files on Windows, then you can manage the files synced to OneDrive too.
OneDrive does at least make it simple to see where all your allotted storage space has gone: If you go to the Manage Storage page on the web, sign in with your Microsoft credentials, and then click What’s taking up space?, you’ll get a detailed breakdown. You’ll be shown the largest files first, so this is a good place to start your delete spree.
There is a OneDrive recycle bin, available in the left-hand navigation pane when you load up OneDrive on the web. Deleting files from here might free up a bit of room for you — just click Empty recycle bin — but these files and folders get trashed eventually anyway after they’ve been sitting there for 30 days. The idea of the recycle bin is that you can easily get files back if you accidentally delete them.
You might have a lot of photos and videos stored in your OneDrive account, especially if you’ve got the app installed on your phone. Click the Photos link on the left to take a look through them. While there’s no easy way of organising images and videos by size, you can scroll through by date, and click Albums to see files you’ve grouped together. Click the tick boxes and Delete to remove photos and videos you no longer want.
OneDrive doesn’t offer much in terms of storage management tools compared to iCloud and Google Drive, and you might actually be better tackling the issue from Windows rather than your web browser: Right-click on any file or folder and choose Properties to see how much room it’s taking up. You can also set whether OneDrive also backs up your Windows desktop and Documents folder — right-click on the OneDrive icon in the notification area, then choose Settings and Backup.
Your Dropbox folder on Windows and macOS is key to how much data you’ve got stored in the cloud — you can just open it up in File Explorer or Finder and start deleting the files and folders you think you can do without. These changes will sync to Dropbox in the cloud and your other devices — if you’ve got the Dropbox client installed.
Unfortunately, your Dropbox account page on the web doesn’t reveal too much about where all your precious gigabytes are being used up. It does at least split your storage up into standard files and shared files, so you’ll know if you’ve got yourself or someone else to blame for all your cloud storage space running out.
Open up Dropbox on the web, click the Modified link at the top and change this to Size, and you can see the biggest files and folders first — though this trick doesn’t show you everything in your Dropbox, just what’s listed in the current folder. You can also select a folder, then click the three-dot button on the far right-hand side, then choose Calculate size to see how much room it’s taking up.
Keep an eye out for duplicate folders in your Dropbox account: If you’ve got the client app installed on several computers, syncing errors can sometimes create duplicate folders as Dropbox doesn’t know which one to keep. There’s no simple way to find them, except browsing through your folders, but a search for “copy” might throw up some hits (the duplicate folder will have “Copy” appended at the end).
It’s obviously not in Dropbox’s interests to have you freeing up storage space all the time, but something like a feature that shows what types of files are taking up the most room would be helpful. One alternative option would be to use WinDirStat (Windows) or Disk Inventory X (macOS) to visualise the biggest folders inside your Dropbox folder. Then at least you find the worst offenders.