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Here's Why You May Never Need to Empty Trash in macOS Sierra

Posted by Jim Tanous on September 18, 2016
sierra empty trash

With new and improved features like iCloud Drive and Optimized Storage, Apple is aiming to help Mac owners make the most of their storage space in macOS Sierra. One of the more minor changes in the pursuit of this effort is a new setting to auto-empty Trash. Here’s how it works.
In macOS past and present, when a user deletes a file or folder it is moved to the Trash. The file appears to be gone, but the actual data comprising it still takes up space on the drive. If the user realizes they deleted something by mistake, they can go into Trash and restore it like nothing happened. It’s only when the user selects the Empty Trash command that the data is removed from the drive and the files become unrecoverable via normal methods.

A Digital Sanitation Strike

The Mac’s Trash system, on its own, works well. But the simple fact is that many users forget to empty their Trash. This results in hundreds or thousands of unneeded files building up over time. Even if the files are all relatively small, they can cumulatively add up to many gigabytes of wasted space.

paper trash waste basket

Warakorn / Adobe Stock


So what’s the solution? Although it is possible to do so, turning off the Trash on your primary Mac drive isn’t ideal. The presence of the Trash feature acts as an important safeguard for the accidental deletion of files. Some third party solutions have appeared which will monitor and manage Trash for the user, but these are often “all or nothing approaches” that don’t offer the the granular control that an integrated solution can provide.

How to Auto-Empty Trash in Sierra

Thankfully, the best solution is the one that Apple has just introduced in macOS Sierra: a built-in option to automatically remove items from the Trash after 30 days.
To enable it, first make sure you’re fully upgraded to macOS Sierra. Then, launch Finder and go to Finder > Preferences in the menu bar at the top of the screen. The Finder Preferences window will appear and longtime Mac users will notice a few new options.
macos sierra auto empty trash
Find and check the box labeled Remove items from the Trash after 30 days. Once checked, any file you move to the Trash will be permanently deleted after 30 days of inactivity. In other words, if you delete a file from your Documents folder and then don’t touch the Trash for a month, that file will be permanently deleted and the space it was occupying will be freed up.

Never Empty Your Trash Again

Apple’s approach here offers an excellent compromise between freeing up wasted space and safeguarding the accidental deletion of your data. Some third party utilities will Empty the Trash for you, but only on a set schedule. For example, every Wednesday at midnight. But such an approach deletes everything in the Trash, from the week-old file you don’t need to the file you accidentally deleted at 11:59 PM.
With Apple’s method, files are tracked on an individual basis. This means that no file placed in the Trash fewer than 30 days ago should be automatically deleted. But as soon as each individual file rolls over that 30-day mark, poof, it’s gone and your Mac gains a bit more free space.
For most users, this means that you may never have to manually Empty the Trash again. Just work as you normally would and let macOS take care of the Trash management in the background. If you make a mistake in deleting a file, you’ve got a whole month to realize it and restore the data.
Of course, if you prefer to manually manage your Mac’s Trash, simply leave the aforementioned option unchecked in the Finder Preferences and things will work just like they always have.

3 thoughts on “Here's Why You May Never Need to Empty Trash in macOS Sierra”

Cees Timmerman says:
Since even novices don’t appear to use it much, why not stop wasting space on the dock without forcing the user to do arcane configuration tweaks?
Reply
Ted Wood says:
I can’t stand my Trash having *anything* in it! I’m constantly, religiously emptying it.
Reply
The Pool Man says:
Yeah. It really gets on my nerves how computer users are pampered because they can’t remember to empty their trash. This is like Chevron driving a gas truck behind you because you can’t be expected to remember you car runs on gas.
:eyeroll:
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TekRevue says:
Fair enough, but try performing IT support for novice users for a week and then get back to me. During my support days, seeing huge Trash/Recycle Bins that hadn’t been emptied in months (or ever) was a daily occurrence. This new feature will be helpful for users and IT departments alike. 🙂
Reply
Kevin Woodard says:
I manage over 110 Mac’s in a lab environment, including faculty computers. I had this issue crop up just yesterday. User called saying that they had run out of space on their MB Air. I checked their Trash, 44GB of data, just sitting there, waiting to be emptied…

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