iCloud Drive taking up space on Mac

Apple’s iCloud storage service is at the heart of macOS, iOS, and iPad OS. Everything you sync between your Mac and other devices, including Photos in the Photos app, Calendar entries, and reminders, is done through iCloud. As well as allowing you to sync files between devices, iCloud can also be used as file storage, thanks to iCloud Drive. It appears as a folder on your Mac when you’re logged in, and you can drag files to and from it just like any other folder. The great advantage of iCloud Drive, of course, is that it uses storage on Apple’s servers, so it should free up space on your Mac. But why is iCloud Drive taking up space on my Mac, you may wonder. Glad you asked! We’ll answer that question in this article and show how to clear iCloud Drive.

System Preferences - Storage

What is iCloud Drive?

First, a recap. iCloud Drive is the file storage tool in iCloud. It’s similar to Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox in that you can copy files to and from it, sync them with other devices, share them, and even save files directly from applications. However, when you move a file to iCloud Drive, it doesn’t necessarily disappear from your Mac. Depending on how you have iCloud configured and how much storage space you have available on your Mac, files in iCloud Drive may also be stored on your Mac. That allows you to open them and work on them more quickly. Files that are only in iCloud Drive and not on your Mac have to be downloaded before you can work on them.

iCloud Drive can be accessed from the sidebar of a Finder window — in the iCloud section. It can also be accessed using the Files app on iPhone or iPad and by logging into icloud.com

Why is my storage full when I have iCloud?

By default, everything you save in iCloud Drive is mirrored on your Mac. That means that files stored in iCloud Drive are also stored on your Mac. That’s convenient because it makes it much quicker to open files, particularly if you have a slow internet connection. It also means that you can access your files even when you’re not online. However, if storage on your Mac is running low, it’s not necessarily what you want. You might prefer it if files were only stored on iCloud Drive and didn’t take up any space on your Mac. Thankfully, there is an option to reduce the space iCloud Drive takes up on your Mac.

What to do if iCloud Drive is taking up space on your Mac

That option is named Optimize Mac Storage. It works like this: when you turn it on, the full contents of your iCloud Drive are only stored on your Mac when you have plenty of free space. When you start to run low on space, older files are removed from your Mac and stored only in iCloud Drive. You can then download them whenever you need them. Here’s how to turn it on:

  1. Click the Apple menu and choose System Settings.
  2. Select your Apple ID in the sidebar and click iCloud.
  3. Turn on ‘Optimize Mac Storage.’
System Preferences - iCloud

If you use the TV app, TV shows and movies you watch may also be taking up space on your Mac, as well as being in iCloud. You can remove them from your Mac automatically once you’ve watched them while keeping them in iCloud so you can watch them again.

  1. Go to System Settings > General.
  2. Choose Storage.
  3. Look under Recommendations. If you have old TV shows and movies taking up space on your Mac, you will see an option to remove them automatically.

How to free up space on your Mac

If you’re worried about the amount of free space left on your Mac’s startup disk, or if you just want to create more, there are several things you can do. One good place to start is to get rid of junk files like temporary files that should have been removed but weren’t, settings files for apps that are no longer on your Mac, old cache files, and files for languages you don’t use.

Tracking down all those files manually and dragging them to the Trash is time-consuming and very difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to — CleanMyMac X’s System Junk module can do it for you. It scans your Mac looking for junk files and then allows you to remove them with one click. Or you can review what it has found and decide for yourself what to remove. Here’s how to use this smart tool:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X (free download here).
  2. Click System Junk > Scan.
  3. Click Clean. You can also review details before cleaning and select the categories of files that will be safely removed.
CleanMyMac X - System junk scan complete

CleanMyMac X can also help with another great way of freeing up space on your Mac — identifying and removing the largest and oldest files on your Mac. Removing the largest files frees up lots of space quickly, while removing the files that you haven’t opened in a long time is the least disruptive way to free up space.

CleanMyMac X’s Large & Old Files module makes it easy to identify both and delete or archive them. It also comes with several removal options. To use it, click Large & Old Files from the sidebar and hit Scan. Once the scan is complete, check what the app has found and decide what can be removed.

LAOF module of CleanMyMacX

How to clear space on iCloud Drive

Turn off Desktop & Documents

The Desktop & Documents feature in iCloud allows you to sync your Mac’s Desktop and Documents folders with your other Macs and devices. It’s very handy if you have more than one Mac connected to your iCloud account. However, it takes up space in iCloud. If you don’t need it, turn it off:

  1. Go to System Settings and click on your Apple ID.
  2. Choose iCloud.
  3. Click on iCloud Drive.
  4. Turn off Desktop & Documents.

Hopefully, you now know what to do with iCloud taking up space on Mac. And you know how to free up some of that space as well as how to create more space in iCloud.

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