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Updated: 19 Apr 2022

Spring cleaning: 5 easy ways to free up space on your Windows PC or Mac

In a couple of minutes, you can make more room for your most important files

If your computer is starting to run low on space, then it's time to reorganise your files so your device doesn't slow to a crawl. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to improve the amount of storage you have available.

Limited storage space can lead to a sluggish PC that's a pain to use, but it can be dangerous as well. If your PC doesn't have enough free space, it might not be able to install essential security updates.

By occasionally cleaning up your files, you can regain a fairly significant chunk of space. Plus, taking care of your current PC means you won't need to spend big on a replacement. Keep scrolling and we'll explain how to get the job done.

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How to free up space on your computer: at a glance

  1. Uninstall programs you don't use anymore.
  2. Get rid of junk files by exploring system settings and emptying your Recycle Bin.
  3. Use an external hard drive, memory card or flash drive for additional storage.
  4. Transfer your pictures and videos to a cloud storage service.
  5. Delete inactive user accounts.

Need extra help? Read on and we've got easy step-by-steps for you to follow.

1. Get rid of unwanted software

If you've had your computer for a number of years, there's a good chance you have software installed that you rarely use. For example, an out-of-date printer app or files linked to a webcam you don't even own anymore. By getting rid of that clutter, you can free up a satisfying chunk of space.

Be fairly ruthless. If you don't really use something, uninstall it as you can always reinstall it later if you realise you do need it. However, don't uninstall anything essential - run an internet search for any app names you don't recognise. That way, you won't be getting rid of something linked to PC performance, such as graphics drivers or audio drivers.

Whether you're using a Windows machine or a Mac, you might need to restart your computer for the uninstall process to take full effect.

To uninstall programs on your computer, run through these steps:

On Windows 10

  1. Click theWindows logoin the bottom-left corner of your screen and chooseSettings.
  2. Select Appsand you'll be taken to Apps & Features (shown below).
  3. Choose Sort by. If you select Size, you'll see which apps are taking up the most space. If you selectDate, you can identify older apps that you might not need anymore.
  4. Select the app, then Uninstall and follow the on-screen instructions.

On Windows 11

  1. Right-click the Windows icon at the bottom of your screen and choose Settings.
  2. Select Apps, then Apps & Features.
  3. You'll now see your installed apps. Experiment with the Sort bytool or search for an app using the search box.
  4. Click the three dots next to any app you don't want, then click Uninstall > Uninstallto remove each one.

On Mac

  1. Click theFindericon in your task bar and select theApplications folder (shown below).
  2. Find the app you want to remove.
  3. Left-clickand hold on the app icon, then drag it over to your Trash icon on the task bar.

2. Delete junk files and clear your 'Downloads' folder

As a by-product of running your PC for you, your operating system (OS) creates a lot of junk - temporary files, update files and so on. Thankfully, the OS also provides an easy way to purge your PC of this digital debris.

Before you start your search for unnecessary files, consider how many user accounts you have on your computer and whether some of them can be deleted or merged together.

To remove junk files, follow these steps:

On Windows 10

  1. Click Start > Settings > System > Storage.
  2. Wait for the page to load fully, then click on Temporary files.
  3. Decide which files you'd like to remove and then select Remove files.
  4. From theStoragepage mentioned in step one, you can also select Configure Storage Sense or run it now (shown below). Once enabled, this tool will automatically remove files as often as you'd like.
  5. Next, open File Explorer, select Downloads and delete anything you don't need.
  6. Finally, check yourRecycle Binand make sure it has been emptied recently.

On Windows 11

  1. Right-click the Windows icon at the bottom of your screen and choose Settings.
  2. Click System > Storage > Temporary files.
  3. Select the temporary files you'd like to remove and clickRemove files at the top of the screen.
  4. From theStoragepage mentioned in step two, you can also select Storage Sense. Considering ticking the box that says Keep Windows running smoothly by automatically cleaning up temporary system and app files.
  5. Open File Explorer, select Downloads and delete anything you don't need.
  6. Finally, check yourRecycle Binand make sure it has been emptied recently.

On Mac

  1. Click the Finder icon in your task bar.
  2. On the left side of the screen, selectDownloads.
  3. Take a look through this folder and, if you spot something you don't need, drag it to your Trash.
  4. Finally, check yourTrash and make sure it has been emptied recently.

3. Buy an external storage device

Investing in plug-in storage is a great idea if you're managing lots of large files and don't want them eating up space on your computer.

There are a couple of options for you to pick from:

  • External hard drives - if you need to add a lot of extra space to your PC, an external hard drive is likely to be the best solution. You can get a roomy 1TB external HDD for less than £40 online.
  • Memory cards - many laptops have a memory card slot on the side. If yours does, then this could provide a cheap and easy way to expand your PC's general storage capacity, without the inconvenience of having a USB drive hanging off the side. Memory cards are reasonably cheap - you can get a 128GB SD card for around £20 online.
  • USB stick - best employed as temporary storage (for transferring files from one device to another, for example).

4. Try a cloud storage service

Using cloud storage means you can offload files from your PC's storage and keep them backed up at the same time. Transfer a document from your PC to your OneDrive storage, for example, and you'll be able to open it on your phone or tablet by installing the OneDrive app and logging in with your Microsoft account.

Here's an overview of several popular cloud storage services and what they offer:

Free storage allowanceCheapest paid-for storage plan (monthly fee)
iCloud5GB79p (50GB)
Google Drive15GB£1.59 (100GB)
Microsoft OneDrive5GB£1.99 (100GB)
Dropbox2GB£7.99 (2,000GB)

Interested in paying for cloud storage? Check in with our expert guide on how to choose the best cloud storage service.

5. Invest in a new computer

If you've owned your current computer for a number of years and it's starting to run poorly (or run out of space), you might decide it's time for an upgrade.

When shopping for an alternative, make sure your replacement computer offers enough internal storage space for your needs:

  • For everyday light use (browse the web and stream films) - we'd say that 256GB is the lowest storage size you should consider.
  • For heavier home office tasks (complex documents and image editing) - opt for a PC with a 512GB drive, or even 1TB. If you have hundreds of photos stored on your PC, then they can easily consume several gigabytes of space.
  • For games or video editing - modern PC games can take up vast amounts of storage. Video files can be huge, too - one minute of 4K video could take up more than a gigabyte. If you're going to be playing any games or editing video clips, you'll probably need 1TB or more.

Note that you can get rid of your old computer by selling it to a second-hand electronics retailer, including CeX or Laptops Direct. You can also recycle your old laptop - see our advice on how to recycle electrical items.

To see which laptops have impressed in our in-depth lab tests, consult our expert laptop reviews to find out which are worth buying (and avoiding). Want to make more of your money? Consider a desktop PC - see our expert desktop PC reviews.

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Additional reporting by Tom Morgan