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Clearing hard drive space on your Smartphone

You’re running around, living life, and the last thing you want to deal with is a phone that runs out of hard drive space. But it can be tough to figure out what to delete, and how to delete it, to restore a little breathing room to your phone’s busy hard drive. I’m in the same boat […]

clearing hard drive space

You’re running around, living life, and the last thing you want to deal with is a phone that runs out of hard drive space. But it can be tough to figure out what to delete, and how to delete it, to restore a little breathing room to your phone’s busy hard drive. I’m in the same boat as you, and sometimes I go for months without clearing hard drive space on my iPhone, only to pay for it later when I want to download, say, some movies for a plane ride, and they won’t fit.

So, I set out to find dead-simple ways to clear hard drive space, and came up with five quick things that you could do this weekend.

Note: I have an iPhone, so this article is geared towards iPhone users, but I’ve included resources for Android users along the way, so I hope it’s helpful to all of you!

Okay, let’s get going:

Starting: Free hard drive space

I headed to Settings > Storage & iCloud Usage > Storage to see how much space I had available, so I could track my progress along the way. Here’s where I started: 12.2GB available. Not a dire situation, but let’s see if we can improve on it.

Android users should go to Settings > Storage to see a similar layout.

1. Get rid of apps you’re not using

apps: clearing hard drive space

I got ruthless, and deleted apps I’m not using. Some apps were things I need on a temporary basis, like the altitude and ski trackers from our ski trip in December, or shopping apps that I decided I’d be better off without. I’m pretty good at keeping my apps list trim, and try not to play a ton of games, so this wasn’t a goldmine in terms of freeing up hard drive space, but I did get 1.2GB, which is pretty significant. This took 3 minutes. I’m off to the races…

Android users can use an app like DiskUsage to see what the biggest offending apps are, if they want guidance on what to delete. Then just press and hold apps and drag them to “Uninstall”.


2. Get Rid of Photos & Videos

Ok, so we all could have guessed that photos were the biggest offender on my phone, but it’s few of us who have the time and patience to really keep up with pruning them. I found a couple pain-free ways to handle them, though— all of this literally took 15 minutes, so imagine what you could accomplish with a few sessions here and there!

Flic: Free hard drive space

First, I tried a Tinder-style app called Flic, which lets you swipe right for photos you want to keep, and left for ones you want to trash. This made easy work of tossing a bunch of photos, but the free version of the app has a 100 photo/day limit, so my productivity was cut short.

Cleen: Free hard drive space

Next I tried a similar app called Cleen, which I liked a lot better. There was no limit on the swiping I could do, and in about 8 minutes I deleted just over 100MB of photos I didn’t need.

Albums: Free hard drive space

Android users don’t have cool apps to help them weed through photos, as far as I can tell, but one idea is to use cloud storage apps like Google Photos to store pictures, and then your phone not to store a local copy.

Next, I got rid of photos that my phone was saving twice, and made sure it wouldn’t happen again. When checking my Albums (right), I noticed one from Instagram and one from Snapseed (a photo editing app I use, available for Android too), which were saving my edited files in a separate album, adding bulk where I didn’t need it. So I deleted all the pictures in those two folders, and made sure my “Recently Deleted” photos were empty too.

Instagram: Free hard drive space

Next I went into the Instagram settings, and made sure that the “Save Original Photos” switch was turned off, so it wouldn’t save my Instagram photos in my camera roll going forward.

HDR: Free hard drive space

Lastly, I went into Settings > Photos & Camera to deal with HDR photos. If you don’t know what those are, they’re a special thing your iPhone does to optimize the pictures you take. And when you take an HDR photo, your phone saves both the original version as well as the optimized HDR version… unless you tell it not to. See the “Keep Normal Photo” switch below… and turn it off.

Photo Storage: Free hard drive space

Whoa! My photo purge yielded 2.3 GB! And that was just with 15 minutes of work!


3. Delete Media & Start Streaming

Books: Free hard drive space

Next up, all your media. Getting rid of videos you’re not watching, music you don’t listen to, and even extra books you’re not currently reading will free up tons of space. For me, it wasn’t a huge win, because I don’t really store any of that stuff on my phone. Thanks to Netflix, Hulu, Spotify and Pandora, I don’t really have much media on my phone. But I did purge some of my books— I only read one at a time!— and freed up an additional 2.1 GB! Of course, getting them off my phone doesn’t delete them from my iTunes… I can always re-download them if I’d like to read them later.

Android users can check Play Books, Play Movies and Play Music settings to ensure that they’re not storing more offline files on their phone than they need.


4. Get rid of old messages

Messages: Free hard drive space

This is an easy one: Get in the habit of pulling important information out of your Messages, and don’t rely on old ones like you would old emails to keep track of things. I have to admit I haven’t been the best at this, but I decided to wipe the slate clean and change my settings in Settings > Messages to store them for 30 days only, not forever. When I did this, my phone asked if it was okay to delete any messages older than 30 days, and I held my breath and said yes. Reward? An extra 300MB.

Over on Android, head to Settings > SMS, then check the “Delete old messages” box and the app will clear out the oldest texts when necessary; there is no option to set a limit.


5. Clear Browser Cache

Browser Cache: Free hard drive space

Chrome is my iPhone browser of choice, but lots of apps default to Safari so I end up using both. Head to Settings > Safari and tap the “Clear History and Website Data” button to get rid of cached images and web pages. In the Chrome app, tap the menu button (three dots in the right-hand corner), and you’ll find the “Clear Browsing Data” button at the bottom of your browsing history. These two taps slimmed my phone down another 500MB!

Droid-types, head to Chrome and do the same as above. Your cache is now empty.


With a little bit of time (I think doing it all and taking notes for this post took about 35-45 minutes), and very little effort, my iPhone will live another day, with enough space to keep me up and running. So take this cheat sheet and see if you can free up some space on your device!

Is your iPhone bursting at the seams? Let me know in the comments!

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