Hazel remembers to empty the Trash, that secret hoarder of files
Mac Tip #571, 20 February 2013
It’s so easy to Trash files on the Mac: just drag them to the Trash can — or use a keystroke or a Toolbar button. Trash, Trash, Trash, all day long. But those files aren’t gone. Oh no. They’re quietly sucking up space on your hard drive, as my pal April realised one day:
nothing like remembering to empty the Trash folder and gaining 25 GB of space
No. You have to remember to empty the Trash from time to time. Here are some reminders of how the Trash works on the Mac, and a pointer to a nifty app that means I never empty my own Trash.
Trashing an item just removes it from view
In the real world in our house we have a rubbish bucket in a drawer under the kitchen sink. It’s great — we put stuff in the bucket and it’s out of sight out of mind. But we have to remember to empty that bucket into the official rubbish collection container and put that container at the kerb for city council workers to take away each week. Then it’s really out of sight and out of mind, for us, anyway.
The Trash on your Mac works almost exactly the same way: when you Trash a file it goes into the Trash can, where you could still get it back or look at it if you like. But it’s still taking up space on your computer. From time to time you need to empty the Mac’s Trash to reclaim the space it’s using.
Empty the Trash
When you empty the Trash on a Mac one of two things happens, and the data may be gone, or it may not.
Even when you Empty Trash the files still aren’t really gone. The computer has simply noted that the space where those files are is now available to be used for something else.
If you need to, you may still be able to get the ‘deleted’ files back, especially if the computer hasn’t yet made use of that now available space.
In this case, by simply emptying the Trash you’ve asked the computer to mark the space the files were using as free and available for use for something else.
In the other case you can choose to Secure Empty Trash…
When you choose Secure Empty Trash… the Mac doesn’t just mark the space as being available, it actually replaces the data already in the Trashed file with different data. The new data obliterates what was there before.
Hazel the handy helper
One of my favourite utility apps is called Hazel (US$25). Hazel works quietly behind the scenes, cleaning up my mess, and emptying the Trash without my having to think about it.
Hazel also carries out many other tasks for me, such as automatically zipping and shifting files around.
Hazel installs as a System Preference pane. Under the
Folders tab you can choose to have Hazel automatically delete files from the Trash, according to criteria you set.
In the screenshot you can see that I have Hazel delete files normally (not securely) when they’ve been in the Trash for a week. Other options include keeping the Trash folder under a certain size, and securely deleting files.
This is a set-and-forget app. It just runs and I never have to think about the Trash, unless I want to retrieve a file I trashed less than a week before.
Hazel’s App Sweep handles trashed apps
Sometimes you have no further use for an installed app. You may go to the Applications folder and delete the app you no longer need. But apps frequently actually leave all kinds of files scattered around on the hard drive, such as preferences or other user data.
Hazel also tidies up nicely in that case too. If you trash an app, Hazel checks the hard drive for other files that form part of the app and offers to trash those files too.
Select individual files to trash or elect to
At least, unlike in real world landfills, the Trash on your Mac really does just disappear eventually. Have you emptied your Mac’s Trash recently?