1. Use free tools to clear out bloat
If your laptop is running low on storage, Windowsâs built-in Disk Cleanup tool can find and wipe unneeded files â just search for it in the Start menu. Mac OS Sierra has a similar feature, but itâs well hidden: to find it, open the System Information tool, then open the Window menu and select âstorage managementâ. Youâll see options for saving space and clearing out clutter.
For Android smartphones, thereâs a good range of third-party cleanup apps; iOS isnât so well served here, since apps canât remove files created by other applications.
You can, however, free up space manually by clearing your Safari cache, via Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data. Consider streaming music and podcasts rather than downloading them for offline playback â and see 11, below, for our advice on photo storage.
2. Track down space-wasting documents
Old, innocuous-looking files can gobble up huge amounts of space on your laptop, such as backups that are no longer needed, or big downloads that youâd forgotten about. And since these files are unique to you, generic cleanup tools are likely to miss them.
Itâs easy to track them down, though. Windows users can use a free utility called WinDirStat; the Mac equivalent, also free, is called Disk Inventory X. These tools scan your hard disk and generate a visual map showing the relative sizes of all folders and files. Thereâs also a list view, which you can sort by size, to instantly reveal the largest folders. Deleting two or three big unneeded files can often free up more space than clearing out thousands of cache files and cookies.
3. Audit permissions on your mobile apps
Even if thereâs plenty of space free on your smartphone, itâs a good idea to keep an eye on which apps can access your personal information, or do costly things such as make phone calls or send text messages. On iOS you can easily check which apps have access to what under Settings > Privacy. To audit the permissions used by a specific app, open Settings, scroll down and tap on its name.
Android users meanwhile can go to Settings > Apps, then tap the cogwheel icon to access App Permissions. Here youâll see a breakdown of permission types â such as Calendar, Camera, Contacts and so forth. Tap on any one to see which apps have access to those permissions; you can revoke permissions by tapping the switch next to an appâs name.
4. Clear out browser extensions
Browser extensions may slow down your online experience, and they can even compromise your security, since they can spy on every site you visit. Itâs a good idea to disable or uninstall any youâre not using regularly.
On desktop browsers this is easy to do. In Chrome, you can check your installed extensions by typing chrome://extensions into the address bar. In Safari, the list is under Safari > Preferences > Extensions. In the new Microsoft Edge browser, click the menu icon in the top right of the window and select Extensions.
Chrome for Android doesnât support extensions, but apps can add âactivitiesâ to Safari for iOS. You can review these by tapping the Share button inside Safari, then scrolling right and tapping on More; youâll see a list of all installed activities, with switches to disable or enable them individually.
5. Check your connected apps on Facebook
Facebook apps are another privacy concern â plus they can pester you with annoying notifications. To review which apps you have installed, open Facebook in a desktop browser, click the dropdown arrow at the top right of the window and select Settings. Then, in the page that opens, click Apps in the left-hand pane. Youâll now see all your connected apps; click on one to see what personal information they can access, and to choose whether or not each one can send you notifications. Click the âXâ next to an appâs icon to remove it from your Facebook profile. Tweeters can similarly check which apps are connected to their Twitter account: open your Twitter timeline in a desktop browser, then click your user icon in the top right, select Settings and privacy, then click Apps in the left-hand column.
6. Free up space in your Gmail account
Enormous attachments can clog up your inbox but itâs easy to find and purge them. Open up Gmail in a desktop browser, then click the down arrow at the right of the search bar. Tick âhas attachmentâ, then click Search to view all emails with attachments. Optionally, you can specify a size limit, to show only the very largest messages; annoyingly, though, to remove an attachment from your inbox you have to delete the whole message.
To make it easier to organise your inbox in future, you can create filters that automatically tag large messages for review. To do this, create a search that finds all the emails youâre interested in, then click the More button, select âCreate filterâ and click âCreate filter with this searchâ.
7. Get off unwanted mailing lists
Email services weed out a lot of spam, but you probably still get dozens of promotional messages and newsletters every day. Gmail helps by moving promotions and updates into separate views; if you donât have this feature, click the cogwheel icon and select âConfigure inboxâ.
For a quieter life, itâs best to get off those mailing lists altogether. A free service called Unroll Me can help: visit http://unroll.me and your inbox will be scanned for promotional emails. Youâll then see a breakdown of all the mailing lists youâre on, with the option to unsubscribe with a single click. To cancel more than five lists, you have to post a link to Unroll Me on Facebook or Twitter, but itâs a small price to pay (and you can always delete it afterwards).
8. Check and clear your voice assistant history
If youâve got an Amazon Echo or Google Home, you might be wondering exactly what it has been recording. Google users can find the answer at myactivity.google.com, which provides a comprehensive record of your interactions with all Google services. To browse, replay and delete audio recordings, click âFilter by date & productâ and select âVoice and audioâ.
Amazon Echo users can review their interactions within the Alexa smartphone app, or at alexa.amazon.com. Whichever route you take, the process is the same: open Settings, then scroll down and tap History to browse recognised phrases, play recordings and delete individual items. If you want to wipe your history completely, youâll need to drop by the Amazon website: go to âManage your content and devicesâ, switch to the âYour devicesâ tab and click on the Action button for your Echo.
9. Deactivate unused online accounts
Over the years, you have probably signed up with dozens of online services that you no longer use. Itâs a good idea to close these accounts; not only will this ensure that you donât get hit with unexpected fees or marketing messages, it will also reduce the risk of your personal information being leaked in the future.
Deleting dozens of old accounts individually can be a chore, however. Account Killer is a free service that can help you quit hundreds of popular services with a few clicks. Simply type in the name of a website â or browse the complete list provided â and youâll see a colour-coded button. For âwhite-listedâ services, Account Killer provides a link directly to the relevant deletion page.
âBlack-listedâ accounts donât provide an easy removal option, but Account Killer will provide an email address which you can contact to request deletion.
10. Remove optional Windows features
Removing these, along with preinstalled apps, can free up disk space, and it also makes life harder for hackers seeking vulnerabilities to exploit. Search the Start menu for âTurn Windows features on or offâ and youâll see a list of optional components. Disable as many of these as you like â you can always turn them back on if you need them. To review and remove installed language packs, open the Start menu and type âlpksetupâ.
Windows 10 also comes with numerous preinstalled Store apps. Clearing these out involves typing in a few commands but itâs easy to do: see here for instructions. For the nuclear option, search the Start menu for âReset this PCâ: this will remove all installed apps and revert your PC to a pristine state, while keeping your personal files safe.
11. Keep your photos in the cloud
Photos tend to eat up a lot of space on a smartphone â but clearing out old images can be a wrench. Who wants to lose their precious memories? The answer is to move them into the cloud. The free Google Photos app for Android and iOS automatically transfers your photos to Googleâs servers, for you to browse and download whenever you like. You get free, unlimited storage for photos of 16 megapixels or smaller; larger pictures count against your 15GB of free Google Drive storage.
Apple users can use the iCloud photo library. It works in a similar way, automatically collecting together all the photos from your iPhone, iPad and Mac. The catch is that it uses your regular iCloud storage, so you only get 5GB of free space. A 50GB upgrade costs 79p per month.
12. Prevent programs launching on startup
Lots of programs start automatically every time you boot your PC or Mac. This can eat up resources and slow down everything you do. On Windows 10, itâs easy to audit your startup items: simply press Ctrl+Shift+Escape to open the Task Manager, then click the âStart-upâ tab (if you canât see it, click âMore detailsâ). Youâll see a long list of auto-starting programs, with an estimate of each oneâs impact on performance. Click on anything extraneous and hit the âDisableâ button to stop it from launching.
Mac users can do the same thing via System Preferences > Users & Groups. Click on your user name, then click to view the âLogin Itemsâ tab on the right. You can remove any item from the list by selecting it, then clicking the minus sign button.
13. Clean up your feeds
So youâve streamlined your email â what about your Facebook feed? Next time you see a low-quality post, click the dropdown arrow at its top right and select âHide postâ; this removes the post from your timeline, and tells Facebook you donât want to see similar content in the future. You can also unfollow the friend who shared the post, so their posts wonât appear on your feed, or block the original creator of a shared post, so that â for example â you no longer see news from sources you donât consider reliable.
Itâs also possible to silence specific people on Twitter: click the dropdown arrow on any tweet, and youâll see the option to âmuteâ the poster. Muted users donât know theyâve been muted, and if youâre following them then youâll still get notified if they mention you in a tweet.