How to save disk space on your Mac by selectively syncing Dropbox folders

Try this tip to keep unnecessary Dropbox files from cluttering up your Mac

Like many of you, I rely on Dropbox to share files with friends, family and coworkers. When it comes to my coworkers, we have a lot of files we share, and some of them are quite sizable photos and graphics files.

I use a MacBook Pro with flash storage, so space is at a premium. While having access to those shared files is helpful, I don't need all of them taking up valuable storage space locally on my Mac.

Fortunately Dropbox has considered this. There's a Selective Sync feature that enables you to specify which folders will be copied locally to your Mac. If you need access to them, you can just pull up a web browser and grab them from there instead.

How selectively sync files in Dropbox

  1. Go to the menu bar and click on the Dropbox icon.
  2. Click on the gear icon in the lower right hand corner.
  3. Click on Preferences.
  4. Click on the Account icon.
  5. Click on the Change Settings... button next to Selective Sync.
  6. Check only the folders you want copied locally to your computer.
  7. Click the Update button
  8. Dropbox will ask you if you want to update Selective Sync settings. Click Update.
  9. Dropbox instantly removes the unchecked folders.

When I need the files that have been shared with me, I simply open Dropbox in my web browser and download what I need.

Bear in mind that this doesn't affect the amount of space you're allowed in your Dropbox account. Those files are still being shared and accessed through your account, and are accessible on other connected devices. So if you've run out of space, you'll still have to upgrade your Dropbox account. But this is a handy way to get back local space you'd rather not use storing files you only need very occasionally.

Using this technique I was able to recover about 3 GB of hard disk space. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen
  • I had to do this after someone (cough, Adam Zeis, cough) dumped tons of RAW photos in a shared folder. Sure, we defenestrated him, but I ended up turning off local sync for a punch of shared image folder and likewise regained tons of precious SSD space on my rMBP. Great tip!
  • Thanks for giving me the suggestion!
  • Great suggestion! Thanks for sharing. Sent from the iMore App
  • This is great, finally catching up to Copy. They've offered this option for a while now. I'm able I save hundreds of gigs of space for my client pics, makes life easy. Sent from the iMore App
  • Great tip - thanks for sharing! Sent from the iMore App
  • Great tip - thanks for sharing! Sent from the iMore App
  • Hello. I'm new to Mac and Dropbox. I had 4.5 GB photos and 9GB "Other" I changed my sync option as per your recommendation, but now I have .5 GB photos and my "Other" went to 13 GB. I emptied my trash just to make sure. Any way I can clean out the Other? Thanks.
  • Peter, Thank you for this tip! Wanted to save space on my HDD, so I uploaded the files to Dropbox only to find out my 250GB had only 3GB left! I'm back up to 150GB. Thanks again.