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The Checklist Podcast

SecureMac presents The Checklist. Each week, Nicholas Raba, Nicholas Ptacek, and Ken Ray hit security topics for your Mac and iOS devices. From getting an old iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac, and other Apple gear ready to sell to the first steps to take to secure new hardware, each show contains a set of easy to follow steps meant to keep you safe from identity thieves, hackers, malware, and other digital downfalls. Check in each Thursday for a new Checklist!

Checklist 31: Spring Cleaning For Your Mac

Posted on April 6, 2017
  • Clean out old software.
  • Investigate system cleaning apps.
  • Organize your files.
  • Organizing your music.
  • Updating backups and transferring large files.

Spring is finally here, and that means more than just nicer weather and longer daylight hours. It’s also a time for fresh starts and for putting things in order. “Spring cleaning” is the term we all like to use — a chance to clear out the house, removing junk and unnecessary clutter. Why shouldn’t you apply this to your Mac also? Over time and with continuous use, your hard drive can end up just as messy and disorganized as your home after a long winter.

In today’s episode of The Checklist, we’ll take a close look at strategies for bringing the “spring clean” to your Mac. From helpful software to backup strategies and organizational ideas, there’s always at least one thing users can do to clean up their machines. So where is the best place for you to begin? Let’s start by taking a broad look at the state of your system first, then we’ll zero in on specific issues and the solutions you can use to remedy them.

Important note: Before following any of these Spring Cleaning steps on your Mac, make sure you have an up-to-date backup of your files. The last thing you want is to find out that you were a bit overzealous with your cleaning and deleted important documents or data that you didn’t have backed up elsewhere. We’ll talk a bit about backups later in the episode, but be sure to keep them in mind before you start tossing those old apps and files!

Clean out old software. If your goals are to reclaim hard disk space, speed up your Mac, and organize your digital life a little more efficiently, we should start by looking at the software on your machine. How long have you been using the same Mac? Over time, it’s all too easy to accumulate a ton of software that you don’t need or hardly ever use. While just having them installed likely won’t slow your machine down, it can leave you feeling crowded. Even if you’ve cleaned out your dock of unnecessary icons, those programs are still sitting on your hard drive.

As part of your spring cleaning, take a minute to evaluate all the software installed on your Mac. Think about when you last used it and whether you’ll use it again in the future. Consider whether there are other, better options available as well. For example, some individuals might prefer to switch to cloud-based document software versus running a suite of office software locally. While it’s not a perfect option for everyone, some might benefit — so you could remove those programs without losing much or any functionality. You might even discover software you’d forgotten about or only used once. These you can delete, too; if you haven’t needed it since installation, do you really need it now?

One thing to be aware of — while many apps (especially those downloaded from the Mac App Store) can be safely removed by simply dragging them to the Trash, sometimes the uninstall process is a bit more complex than that. Check if your apps come with an uninstaller, and run the company-made uninstaller whenever possible. This ensures that any extra files or background helper apps are correctly uninstalled along with the main app itself.

What about your downloads folder? When was the last time you emptied it out? It’s easy to forget about, especially if you frequently download files, like documents, from the web. Check in there to see whether it needs cleaning and sorting — if you’re missing a chunk of space and you aren’t sure where it’s gone, it might be here.

There are some great options available for tracking down files taking up a ton of space on your Mac — we highly recommend DaisyDisk, which is available in the Mac App Store. If you’re using a utility like DaisyDisk to track down large files and folders, just be sure you have an up-to-date backup before you start deleting stuff — just in case you accidentally get rid of something important!

Investigate system cleaning apps. Once you’ve removed unnecessary software we can focus on other space-saving measures. Here’s your chance not just to clear out junk, but to protect your privacy, too. There are a variety of “cleaning” apps available for the Mac out there. These all claim to do various things — from cleaning up files left over by uninstalled programs to identifying the largest files on your hard drive. These products all offer various levels of utility but watch out for fakes when you research them. As we know, malware authors love to create fake utilities that look legitimate but deploy malicious software onto your Mac.

So, we just mentioned protecting your privacy by doing your spring cleaning — what do we mean by that? Consider what you can do with our PrivacyScan software. With the amount of web browsing we all do daily, we leave a considerable amount of data behind in our digital wake. That includes browsing histories, website cookies, your recent search history, and of course, the cache file. All these objects contain personal data to some degree, but it’s the cache that can take up the most space. Filled with archived web pages, thumbnail images, and more, it could be as revealing as your browser history itself.

Another benefit of cleaning out some of that data left behind after browsing the web is that you’ll likely see a bit of a boost, performance-wise, from your web browser. As it stands, most modern browsers do have some form of self-maintenance to clear up older files after a set amount of time. However, if you’ve been on the same machine and using the same browser for a while, there’s a good chance that you’ve accumulated a rather large amount of leftover browsing data. While your browser uses things like cache files to increase performance and page-loading times, when you accumulate tons of web page icons, cookies, and other such data from thousands of different sites, it can significantly slow down your online browsing. Clearing that data out every once-in-awhile can bring your browser performance back to that brand-new, freshly installed level.

PrivacyScan works to eliminate all this sensitive information with the push of a button. We built the software to exceed Department of Defense standards for data erasure — because your private data should always stay that way. Users can configure PrivacyScan to seek out and delete this data, keeping your hard drive tidy and keeping your personal web data away from third parties. As a bonus, this prevents advertisers from tracking you across the web. If that sounds interesting and you’d like to check it out, click on over to the PrivacyScan page on our website for more info and a free trial.

Organize your files. With your space-hogging cache file cleared and your cookies deleted, let’s now shift back to working on your personal files.

Now is also a good time to assess the general organization of your personal files. Think about potential ways to better arrange personal documents, photos, and so forth. Most of us don’t need to use a highly technical system, but do try to group things logically. If your files are messy and unorganized, now is the best time to consider how to bring some order to the chaos. It will make all your other spring cleaning efforts much easier.

With your personal files organized, it should be easier to sort through them. However, there is one issue every computer user finds frustrating to deal with: duplicate files. Dupes most commonly come in the form of extra music or image files. You may have imported several albums containing the same track, for example. In other cases, maybe you saved pictures from your iPhone camera roll multiple times. Regardless of what type of duplicates you’re dealing with, finding and deleting them can be tiresome. However, it’s worthwhile for its disk-saving and organizational benefits.

So how should you go about finding dupes? It depends on your focus. First, let’s consider duplicate music files — a very common problem. Taking advantage of the duplicates feature in iTunes should be your first step. To access this, click “Show Duplicate Items” in the Library pane of the File menu within iTunes. iTunes will present you with an list of all the dupes it can identify in your music files. For additional clarity, hold the option key to reveal the “Show Exact Duplicate Items” menu item, making it simpler to find dupes from the same album. For lovers of live music, this feature makes deleting your real duplicate music much easier.

Okay — so what about the rest of your files? Users have a few options here. The most popular choice, often touted by Apple itself, is Gemini. This utility does come with a price tag attached, but provides a robust ability to uncover duplicates in many kinds of files, including images. There is free software available, too, such as dupeGuru; it delivers similar functionality but with fewer custom options.

Organizing your music. Before we leave the topic of music behind, let’s consider one other “spring cleaning” possibility — removing your music from your hard drive altogether. With the Apple Music service, many users have transferred their musical collections to the cloud. This way, they have access to their music across their Apple devices anywhere with a wi-fi or cellular Internet connection. Over the past several years, Apple has streamlined the service and debuted features that made it easier to use. It can be a very nice service, in fact — but should you make the switch?

Transferring your music to the cloud could free up an immense amount of space, especially for those whose collections have grown over many years. If you’re rarely out of range of friendly, secure Wi-Fi, it’s not a bad idea. It’s hard to deny the convenience of having your entire library available without worries about space, either on your Mac or your iOS device.

However, if you travel frequently, it’s not quite so convenient. Yes, some planes have wi-fi these days, but not all do — and if you find yourself overseas, you might not have a reliable way to access your music at all. Assess whether it’s right for you; there’s nothing wrong with holding on to the data if it’s the method you prefer. It might be worth exploring other storage options, though, to save space on your main drive and prevent the loss of your library. You might want to leave the majority of your music collection in the cloud, but keep a few of your favorite albums as local files — that way you’ll be able to listen to your favorite tunes even when you don’t have an internet connection!

Update your backups and transfer large files. That leads us to the last two major spring cleaning efforts we’d like to discuss. First, ask yourself this crucial question: how recent are my backups? If you don’t know the answer — or if you know it, and it isn’t recent — then it’s time to update them. Whether you use Apple’s Time Machine or another backup solution, it’s important always to ensure your backups are current and receive regular updates. There’s no telling when a digital disaster could strike, and hard drives seldom give much warning before they suffer a failure. You should not only bring your backup copies up to date but consider setting up a regular synchronization schedule to provide some real peace of mind.

After you’ve taken care of these steps, you should look at removing any other large files from your hard drive. Most commonly, these files are going to be movies, TV shows, and other media you’ve accumulated. Do you use a network-attached storage (NAS) device? Transferring big movies over to NAS not only keeps space free for other things on your Mac, but makes those files available to other machines on your network, too. In fact, with the right tinkering, you can even stream media from network storage to your devices.

For hobbyists who use their Macs for video, photo, or sound editing, this is also an opportunity to move old project files and other associated data into an archival folder on network storage. With a copy stored there and in your backup, your old work will be safe and sound. Meanwhile, it won’t continue to clutter up your drive — and now you can work on new projects with a clear idea of where the files exist.

Overall, armed with the right software tools and a good plan of attack, spring cleaning your Mac doesn’t have to take too long. Once you’ve removed unnecessary programs and set up a proper backup (or NAS) solution, you shouldn’t need to worry about low space anymore, either.

Why take the time to do all this? Besides all that extra space and performance improvements you’ll see while using your Mac, it also makes it easier to keep things in order. The idea is to do all this work one time — and then stay on top of your organizing for the rest of the year. Challenging? Maybe — but not if you approach it the right way as we’ve outlined today.

That wraps up another episode of The Checklist! If you’d like more information on this topic, or if there’s a specific one you’d like to see us cover on a future episode, send us an e-mail at!

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