9 steps to make your Mac run faster and free up memory

Being a digital media student, a freelancer and a blogger means that my computer fills up very quickly. Deleting things and clearing it out is great, but you won’t notice any difference because the files are still recoverable from the hard drive.

I’m going to show you how I went from having 73GB free memory to 380GB free memory & counting… that’s more than half my memory back from these simple tips.

Related: How I organise my computer and keep it running efficiently

How does the mac trash can work?

If you have ever used a Windows computer, you’ll know that when you delete something, it goes to the recycling bin and memory is freed up instantly. However, I’ve read that on a Mac when you delete something it goes to the trash can but still takes up full memory. When you empty the trash can, you get some memory back. What is really happening however, is the files are moved to a temporary folder waiting to be over-written by new files.

Be careful when cleaning your Mac. Make sure you don’t delete anything that your Mac needs. I’d suggest backing up your Mac using Time Machine before preforming any of these tasks and please do your own research.

How to free up memory on your MacBook

  1. Delete anything you don’t need – Photos, Application, Documents. Clear web browser cache, website data, history. Delete unwanted items in downloads. iPhoto has its own trash can, so if you delete something there make sure to also empty the trash. Don’t forget iMovie and Final Cut, if you imported clips then they are in the iMovie folder as well as the original folder. Delete unnecessary iChat icons (Pictures > iChat icons) & GarageBand demo songs.
  2. Compress & Archive – Compress folders that you need but never open. Move items that aren’t used regularly to an external backup drive. For example, I keep all my movies and photos on an external hard drive.
  3. Login – Have a look at what loads when you login (System Preferences > Accounts > Login Items). If its is trying to open everything at once, it’s going to be slow.
  4. Maintenance – make sure your disks are working properly by verifying and repairing disk permissions & the disk itself ( Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility)
  5. Language – you can use Monolingual to delete unwanted extra language packs.
  6. Duplicates – iTunes > File > Display Duplicates, delete all duplicate music & files. Removing Album Art will also clear up space, Select All (CMD & A) > Get Info > Choose Yes when prompted if you want to edit multiples > Tick the unlabeled checkbox next to artwork.
  7. Updates – it is important to install updates which will keep your Mac running properly.
  8. Tools – CleanMyMac X [affiliate link] is great for keeping your Mac clean and running as it’s supposed to. It keeps an eye on the health of your Mac and gives you ways to optimise it for better performance. I also love Gemini [affiliate link] for locating and removing duplicate files, more on that in a future post. Disk Inventory X is amazing too. It creates a “tree map” of your hard drive usage showing you where your memory is being used. I found things that I didn’t even know I still had on my Mac, got rid of so many old photos and videos, duplicate college files such as huge flash, animation, movie & photoshop files. Another great tool is EaseMac Mac Cleaner CleanGenius, which frees up disk space, deletes duplicate files, locates large files and displays them in order, removes unwanted apps & related files.
  9. Trash – When emptying your trash can, click Finder in the menu bar > Secure Empty Trash. This will permanently delete them so they don’t take up space. This will take some time but it will free up so much space.

How to completely clear Mac data

Before selling your Mac, it’s recommended to do this step to completely clear all personal data. So if your Mac is running extra slow, you may find this useful but please backup any important files first. Go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility > Hard Drive > Erase > Erase Free Space. Choose fastest which is the quickest option and provides good security (used to be Zero-Out Data). You could also select the middle  (7-Pass Erase) or Most Secure (35-Pass Erase) which is a longer process with the highest security. 

CAUTION: You should backup your Mac before this, just incase anything happens. I’ve never had any problems but you never know. Sometimes it may say that you have run out of free space, ignore this. Once the utility is complete, space will return. If you cancel half way through, you may have to restart or empty the trash can to recover disk space.


There is nothing worse than a slow computer when you are trying to work, so I hope you fond this useful. Have you tried these steps? Let me know how they worked for you.

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14 responses to “9 steps to make your Mac run faster and free up memory”

  1. Wow

    You really shouldn’t blog about things if you know nothing about them. This is how deleting files works on ~all operating systems~, it just marks the space on the disk as ‘available to be written over’, which is what free space is. Space that you can write over. Using 35 pass erase is very good for security practices, don’t get me wrong, and I literally just finished using Disk Inventory X, it’s a fantastic tool, so I don’t understand why you’d feel the need to include false information like “you never really get that space back” and “the files are moved to a temporary folder”. They aren’t moved to a folder, they’re kept in the same spot, those *sectors of the disk* are what is marked as ‘available to be written over’. You ‘get the space back’ as soon as you click empty, the polarity of the magnetism of the sections of your hard drive that have been marked as available has literally no effect whatsoever on your ‘available space’. Secure delete doesn’t free up any more space than emptying the trash can normally, and in the case of solid state drives, can seriously impact the lifespan of your drive (google ‘wear leveling’).

    So please, in the future, don’t make stuff up out of thin air while writing articles, it’s embarrassing to see people lying about things that can be easily fact-checked with Google at the press of a button.

    1. Thank you for the extra information, although there really was no need to be so rude about it. I never claimed to know everything, I simply stated some steps I had used in order to free up space after researching many different articles on many different sites. These stated that files are moved to a temp folder to be overwritten or restored. Normal empty trash deletes the information used to open the file, but not the actual file. Secure empty trash deletes the files altogether, so you can’t restore it which is why it is used for private data. It re-writes patterns of data over a trashed file immediately, removing it and creating space. This is all explained on the Apple support page.

    2. MARISSA

      “Wow”, your comment did come across as rude in tone. There are more constructive ways to provide feedback fyi. Elaine, recently I started working as an IT Technician and have become obsessed with finding ways to speed up my Mac. I went through your recos one-by-one, and my Mac has gotten noticeably faster already. I will share some of them with friends, so thank you for posting them!

  2. Steve

    Thank you, I was looking for tips on how to speed up my Mac and found your page. I’m not very technical with computers, so need simple instruction and found this page easy to understand.

    Sometimes when you get tips from “experts”, it can be hard to understand and overcomplicated for me, with loads of jargon and abbreviations.

    You stated clearly in the beginning that you are not an expert and that you should do your own research so I don’t see what Wows problem is!

    Thanks again


    thank you, I will use this.., don’t listen to WOW

    1. Thank you, hope you found it useful.

  4. Rafael

    Wow is right about what he says.
    There’s no need to be rude, nevertheless.

    Yet, you will have better results by deleting all your unnecessary cashe files.
    Search in Finder for ~/Libraby/Caches and delete all this stuff. It will give you tons of MB’s back.

    1. Hello Rafael, thank you for your suggestion. I will into it further although I have done so in the past and not noticed any difference. As I stated I am not an expert but I researched this loads myself and followed instructions from numerous people including Apple themselves.

  5. This is the right way to solve my problem that you write down here. It’s really impressive post for me. I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. Thank you so much for your great sharing.

  6. Umesh Gaire

    Thank you so much, I liked your tips. Really Great

  7. Great post. Indeed as a freelancer and blogger writer my desktop fills up quickly – and the computer even quicker! Your steps in getting so much free space is great. Thank you for sharing it.

  8. Colin Crane

    hi, I’m using Tweak and Tuneup for my mac, and i found that it’s very helpful cleaning temp and junk files, i also found that app shows the duplicate files on my mac, which is very good , i found lot’s of duplicates present there, also it shows my internet browsing history and cookies for Safari and other browers. And the option which i like the most is the Shredder in it, it deletes the files permanently and it can’t be recovered, i deleted some of my important docs and pretty happy. The best and useful app on Mac App store.

  9. Thank you so much for your post! I have had my Mac for a couple of months now and couldn’t figure out how to remove the ‘temp’ files from my trash can. I had managed to delete all the files in the trash but couldn’t understand why my Mac was still so slow. On following your instructions (9) despite there being nothing in the trash my Mac still had 3000 items to remove!!! This shocked me so much & I now understand why it was running so slow!! Really useful post, thank you for your help!

  10. Robin Wakelin

    I’ve had my mac for SIX years and recently it’s started getting really slow more often. I’m SO GLAD i found this. It took a couple of hours to clean but it worked! thank you!!

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