What if you outsource too much

iCloud storage is full? How to clean up!

Patrick Woods, Florian Kurzmaier, Kris Wallburg

If you don't pay anything for the additional storage space in iCloud, you will soon realize that five gigabytes are very little. So you can get along with it without any problems.

EnlargeiCloud: Free up storage
© Shutterstock.com/nikkimeel

Nothing has changed since iCloud was launched in October 2011: Apple adds five gigabytes of free storage to every account. That's enough for the beginning, but the cloud barrel will soon overflow. Especially if you have switched on the iCloud photo library in Photos - five GB of pictures and videos are quickly together. The iCloud desktop also takes up a lot of storage space very quickly. Since the launch of iCloud, Apple has reduced the price of additional offers that are subject to a charge or increased the volumes for given prices, but not the free entry.

Understand "other" in iCloud storage

If you want to clean up your iCloud storage, you first need to know where to start. But what to do if an ominous data type "other" takes up a lot of memory in iCloud? Apple explains what it means by "Other". The two largest types of data or applications where the types of data come from are indicated directly on the iPhone and on the Mac, for example "Backups" and "Mail". For reasons of space, iOS and macOS summarize all remaining data in the menu window and titled them "Other". The data is broken down a little more precisely in the "Manage storage" screen. There is not only a bar graph showing the memory usage, but also a list of all data and apps that end up in iCloud and their size. A good tip is always to start with the apps and data at the top of the list, so you can quickly delete large amounts of data and thus tidy up the iCloud storage.

You can find more details on what is hidden behind the "Miscellaneous" storage category on your iPhone and how you can get rid of this data in our own guide.

Remove duplicates with Gemini 2

Since macOS Sierra, the Mac operating system has been shifting more and more to the cloud, the iCloud desktop allows all of your (important) data to be available anywhere. With the rather measly 5 GB you won't get very far and you won't be able to use either iCloud Photo Library or iCloud Desktop. After all, since iOS 11 and High Sierra, Apple has allowed iCloud storage to be shared in the family. Instead of renting four or five times 200 GB, you buy 2 TB of storage and divide it up. We have linked the detailed guide on this above.

EnlargeWith 200 GB of memory you have enough space.

Apple wants to attract customers with its services and sells memory upgrades for intensive users. The prices (as of February 2021): 50 GB costs 0.99 euros, 200 GB costs 2.99 euros and 2 TB costs 9.99 euros, each month. However, sharing with the family is only possible from 200 GB.

In addition, there is Apple's latest offer, Apple One: The service bundle offers individuals or families a combination of the most popular Apple services: Apple Music, Apple TV +, Apple Arcade and an iCloud storage upgrade. The costs are 14.95 euros (50 GB iCloud) for individuals and 19.95 euros (200 GB iCloud) for families.

Local backup with Time Machine

Storing data in Apple's cloud has advantages, especially when it comes to precious memories like photos and videos. The originals are stored on Apple's servers, on end devices you only see thumbnails until you download the images in full resolution. If you forego this convenience, you have to think more carefully about backups again. Because when the hard drive of the computer fails and photos from several years and decades can no longer be restored, the suffering is great. After all, macOS has integrated a reliable and simple backup function directly into the system with Time Machine. With valuable data, however, it is essential to make more than one backup and, ideally, to store the disks in different locations. Also, no hard drive lasts forever, so you should also renew the backup volumes from time to time. At the latest when you buy a new Mac.

EnlargeAdditional storage is not expensive, but the free 5 GB seems increasingly measly.

iCloud storage full? Tidying up helps!

But if we do not save our photos and documents in the cloud and take care of the backup of our data locally, we can get by with the free five GB. But for that we have to do something ourselves.

Because with a little tidying up, we quickly shrink our space requirements below the free limit and thankfully forego a paid upgrade. iCloud stores a lot of data such as our contacts, iWork documents, appointments, tasks and scores from iOS apps, but only two types of data really take up a lot of space: email inboxes and iOS backups. Apart from the special case of the iCloud photo library.

iCloud: what matters, what doesn't?

The iCloud storage is filled with emails, iCloud documents and iOS backups.

Photostream , the automatic comparison of up to 1000 images, Apple does not remove us from the storage space. So it's not worth turning off Photo Stream to take the load off iCloud. However, Photo Stream may take up several gigabytes of memory on the iPhone or iPad, as these save the images locally. The iCloud Photo Library, on the other hand, works the other way round: Originals are stored in the cloud, while lower resolutions end up on the connected devices.

Calendar entries , Apple also stores the address book and reminders on the iCloud servers. However, these take up so little space that Apple does not even display their space requirements.

Also iTunes in the cloud does not run out of storage space. Apple allows purchased videos, books, apps or music to be downloaded again at any time. However, this has nothing to do with our iCloud storage.

Mail drop , a useful function for large mail attachments, is also not deducted from iCloud storage. This means that you can send data with a size of 5 GB via Mac or iOS e-mail, these attachments do not affect iCloud storage.

Shared iCloud albums is a very convenient option to share photos and videos with friends and family. Despite the name, such photos are not billed to iCloud storage.

Cleaning up the e-mails of the past few years is tedious, takes forever and is ultimately only moderately effective, but if you work with mail folders, it is worthwhile to delete them completely from time to time.

iOS backups, on the other hand, make it very easy for us to quickly free up a lot of space in the iCloud. In the iCloud settings on the iPhone, iPad and also on the Mac, we can see exactly what is using how much storage space.

Cleaning up the Mac

Under macOS, the settings are under: "System Settings> Apple ID> iCloud> Manage". There we can see which applications and data types occupy how much memory. We can only clean up e-mails directly in Mail. Especially for users who like to keep their entire mail history in an iCloud mail archive, it can be worthwhile at this point to store the archives locally instead of in the cloud: To do this, we select the appropriate mailbox from the sidebar in Mail and select Right click the command "Export mailbox" and determine where the archive is to be stored. After the storage process, we can empty the iCloud mail archive and thus reclaim storage space.

Tip from reader Dirk Volkmann

A little tip: Garageband documents and folders that quickly take up more than a GB of storage space can only be deleted if the Garageband program is also installed on the computer. If you have deleted it at some point, the delete option is deactivated.
To get rid of the data anyway, you have to download Garageband again, install it and then delete it. Then delete the Garageband again and the problem is solved.
Important: do not load any updates, instruments or the like after the installation, otherwise you can start all over again.

We clean up other programs directly in the iCloud storage menu of macOS. This also applies to documents and data, i.e. Pages documents, Keynote presentations, Numbers spreadsheets, documents from text edit or images and PDFs from preview. Caution: data from one of these apps can only be completely deleted. If you only want to get rid of part of the data, a look at the "iCloud Drive" folder will help. All documents that take up space on iCloud are visible there, sorted by program.

Tip: clean up your Mac with CleanMyMac

Under "Backups" we can also see backups of all iOS devices in the macOS settings. We can completely delete these here, for example if one of the secured devices has long been sold. Even if we have set up our iPhone in between, iCloud creates a new backup and keeps the old one. In order to clear out the backups in detail, you have to do this directly on the respective iOS device.

EnlargeIn macOS we see (and if desired: delete) all iOS backups stored in iCloud.

Tidying up on the iPhone and iPad

Since photo backups from the iPhone are the biggest data eater, this step is particularly worthwhile: The most effective point is the backup of photo and video recordings. All our recordings are saved in the standard settings in the iCloud backup - in addition to the photo stream. If we switch off the backup for recordings, this alone will quickly free up several gigabytes. The only catch: If you restore your iPhone from an iCloud backup, "Recordings" with the iPhone photos will then be empty.

The details of the iOS backup can be found as follows: First open the "Settings" app and then tap your name at the top of the list. If you now tap on "iCloud", you will see a graphic at the top under the keyword "Storage" which shows how much space is occupied with which type of data. Below that is the option you are looking for, "Manage Storage".

In the next screen, iOS lists which apps use how much backup space. If you flick one of the virtual switches, iCloud will delete the backup for this program and will not back it up again in the future. In addition to the camera app, there are a few other applications that may lots of space in iCloud backup prove: These include, for example, apps that download videos from the Internet or apps that record videos and save them in their own user folder rather than in the "recordings". In the case of videos, several gigabytes can quickly come together here.

Under the item "Backups" you can see the backups of your devices and next to them the size of the backup. Tap on it for more information, you can delete backups of old devices here.

EnlargeThis will take you to the settings of your iCloud backup and remove storage hogs from it.

IOS lists applications that eat up a lot of memory at the top of the backup overview. If we exclude one of these apps from the backup, iOS warns and asks if we really want to delete the data. This only deletes the backup of the data from the iCloud, it remains on the iPhone. But if it is lost and we want to restore the iPhone from the iCloud backup later, this data is lost. Important data should therefore always remain part of the backup.

EnlargeThe backup options on iOS. If we exclude storage hogs from the backup here, there is again a lot of space in the iCloud

If we are using several iOS devices, we have to switch off the backup for certain data such as photos on all of them individually. This is only possible from the respective device, not centrally for everyone at the same time.