Optimized Storage on macOS

Updated April 2017: Added steps for optimizing storage using Photos on Mac. Included a link for how to disable Optimize Storage.

As we use desktop and laptop computers, we tend to fill up our hard drives with stuff we've collected over the years. It's like an attic, basement, or garage that slowly fills up over the years. Some stuff gets used often, other stuff sits in a box gets forgotten about. Eventually, though, the clutter becomes too much and you have to start getting rid of things. But how do you sort the import stuff from the trash? On macOS Sierra, that's where Optimized Storage comes in.

Optimized Storage takes files you've been storing in iCloud and moves them off of your computer if your local storage gets too full. It also leaves behind an icon of the item that has been removed so that, when you finally do want to access it again, you don't have to go somewhere different to find it. You can just click on the file and it will download back onto your computer.

There are four features to Optimized Storage that you can enable separately or altogether. You can Store in iCloud, Optimize Storage, Empty Trash Automatically, and Reduce Clutter.

How to access Optimized Storage

There are two ways to access Optimized Storage. The first is easy. Do nothing until your storage gets full. When it does, you'll get a notification asking if you want to optimize your storage. Click Yes to be directly taken to the Optimized Storage tool window.

To access Optimized Storage manually:

  1. Click on the Apple icon () in the upper left corner of your screen.
  2. Select About this Mac from the drop-down menu.

    About this Mac

  3. Click on the Storage tab in the System Information window.
  4. Click on Details.

    Storage details

This opens up the four Optimized Storage tools, which are on the right side of the window.

How to use Store in iCloud

Store in iCloud is basically a one-stop shop for turning on iCloud Photo Library and Desktop and Documents Syncing (the latter of which is new in macOS Sierra). When you turn it on, you can select one or both iCloud syncing features (you don't have to use both if you don't want to). You may already have both enabled if you turned them on prior, in which case, Store in iCloud will not affect your iCloud storage any further. If you do not have iCloud Photo Library or Desktop and Documents Syncing already turned on, Store in iCloud will affect your iCloud storage limit. If it does, you will receive a notification with a recommendation for which tier that will work best for your needs. The average person only needs the $0.99 per-month 50GB tier, though some might need a larger plan.

  1. Click on Store in iCloud.
  2. Tick the box for Store files from Desktop and Documents in iCloud Drive to store all files on your desktop and in your Mac's Documents folder in iCloud.
  3. Tick the box for Store photos and videos in iCloud Photo Library to store all original photos and videos in iCloud.
  4. Click Store in iCloud to enable these iCloud features.

    Store in iCloud

How to use Optimize Storage

Optimize Storage relates to storing media in the cloud that is not necessarily already in your iCloud storage, specifically movies and TV shows you have already watched on iTunes. When you select Optimize Storage, it will remove these files from your computer. If you want to watch them again, you can redownload them from iTunes.

It also gives you the option to store your email attachments. You can set it up so that recent email attachments are stored on your Mac, or you can store all of your email attachments in the cloud and download files that you need when you need them.

  1. Click on Optimize... in the Optimize Storage section of the window.
  2. Click on Optimize again to confirm that you want to enable the feature to automatically remove iTunes movies and TV shows that you've already watched.

    Optimize Storage

This feature does not count against your iCloud storage at all.

How to use Empty Trash Automatically

It is pretty common for the average computer user to forget to empty the trash bin regularly. Just like a real garbage can, trash can start to add up. Unfortunately, unlike a garbage can, your Mac's trash bin doesn't get full, so you don't realize you've been stocking up digital waste for months and months. Empty Trash Automatically will enable a tool that will erase items that have been in the Trash for more than 30 days. You don't even have to think about it anymore.

  1. Click on Turn On in the Empty Trash Automatically section of the Optimized Storage window.
  2. Click Turn On again to confirm that you want to enable the feature to automatically erase files that have been in the Trash for more than 30 days.

    Empty Trash

How to use Reduce Clutter

Reduce Clutter is the one feature in Optimized Storage that requires you to manually clean files on your Mac.

The list of categories on the left side of the Optimized Storage window represent the folders that tend to store files that are older and can be removed from your Mac.

You can either click on Review Files in the Reduce Clutter section of the Optimized Storage window or select a Folder from the list on the right side of the window.

You can then go through the files individually and decide whether you want to keep or remove them from your Mac.

For example, in the Applications folder, you can view apps on your Mac by type. Older versions of apps you are currently using can sometimes take up dozens of GB of space. You can delete the files right from the Optimized Storage window.

Reduce Clutter

How to use Optimized Storage with Photos

Photos on the Mac optimizes storage by letting you store full-resolution photos and videos in iCloud instead on your internal hard drive. Even if you don't want to store all of your files and documents in iCloud, you can keep your photos safe, while freeing up space on your hard drive.

Your photos will also remain on your Mac's hard drive until it starts to get full, at which point, photos and videos — starting with the oldest — will be removed from your Mac and only stored in iCloud.

Photos and videos tend to take up a lot of space. You may find you don't have enough iCloud storage to keep your entire photo library in iCloud. You can upgrade your iCloud storage to a larger plan if you are running out.

  1. Launch the Photos app on your Mac.
  2. Click Photos in the App menu in the upper left corner of your screen.
  3. Select Preferences from the drop down menu.

    Optimized Storage in the Photos app

  4. Click the iCloud tab.
  5. Click Optimize Mac Storage.

    Optimized Storage in the Photos app

Full-resolution versions of your photos and videos will be uploaded to iCloud.

How to disable Optimized Storage features on Mac

If you decide that you don't want to optimize storage for any or all of the features listed, you can disable (or customize) it. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as unchecking a box. You'll have to access each one separately.

How to customize or disable Optimized Storage on Mac

Any questions?

Do you have any questions about what Optimized Storage is or how to use the tools? Let me know and I'll help you out.

macOS High Sierra


macOS Sierra