All computers start to run slowly as they age. This isn’t because they age (not like we do!) but typically because they fill up with junk that puts pressure on system resources. As new computers become faster and more resource intensive, our older machines start to struggle. Instead of rushing to the nearest computer shop for the latest and greatest, keeping on top of the clutter will help squeeze more life out of your old machine.
First Steps – Back everything up
Before doing anything like this is it’s important to have a full backup. If you’re using iCloud (or another Cloud service) to backup your files and photos, check that this is fully sync’d.
Then make a backup using Time Machine or another backup tool that will work with your Mac.
With the backup step completed, you can start to delete things and clean up unwanted files but first… restart your Mac. This is something Mac users rarely do – it’s not strictly needed in day-to-day usage – but when you do a full restart, which shuts the system down fully, the logs are cleared and updated and system apps are refreshed: it’s a simple step that can make things run more smoothly.
Once your Mac has started up again, you’re ready to clean things up.
Check and Update the Disk Space Settings
Another first step is check the disk space you have available. This will give you a useful “before” to compare to your efforts “after” you’ve cleaned things up.
- First click on the Apple icon (top left of the screen) and then select About This Mac.
- Select Storage, then make a note of the available space.
- Click Manage to check/change the settings for this Mac. This may take a few seconds while the tool runs through the setup on your machine.
Here you can select four options:
- Store in iCloud – to determine how the iCloud connection is managed. For slow systems it’s best to set things up so that only the most recent files are on your computer and the rest are stored in iCloud.
- Optimize Storage – definitely set this so that old TV shows etc. are deleted. Any you’ve paid for will still be accessible via iTunes and keeping on your system will take up a considerable amount of space. Unless you send a lot of emails with attachments you can leave that option alone.
- Empty Trash Automatically – definitely enable this.
- Reduce Clutter – we’ll leave that one as we’re going to look at other ways to clean up all the old junk files.
With that out of the way, you’re ready to do some cleanup.
Reduce the Applications that Launch on Startup
When an application installs, quite often they default to opening in the background on startup so it’s ready and waiting, just in case you need it. However, some of these tools are both resource intensive AND rarely used, in reality. You can reduce the load on your machine by disabling automatic startup. To do this:
- Open System Preferences, then select Users & Groups, and then click on your username.
- Select Login Items and check through the list of programs that are set to start when you login.
- If there are any you don’t need (or rarely use) just click the “–” symbol below the list. This will remove them.
Clean Up your Desktop
Just like in the real world, a clutter desk can make things hard work! If you’re using your desktop to store your files and folders, you need to stop right away! Each file stored there uses RAM, which the processor needs to use to work effectively: the more RAM taken up by your desktop files, the less there is for your applications. Files, documents, photos, etc. should all be stored in the Documents section (in Finder). The desktop should only really be used for shortcuts to files and folders that are stored on another part of the Mac. Likewise, you may find you have redundant files here that you can delete: installation packages that can be cleaned up and other files that you dropped there temporarily and forgot to clean up.
Go through the Desktop and delete any used files.
Open Finder and start to move files, photos, folders, etc from the Desktop to your Documents folder. If you need to access them quickly from the desktop, just create a shortcut.
Remove Old Downloads
The Downloads folder typically stores a lot of files that we use once or twice then forget about. You can free up a considerably amount of space by going through this folder and deleting old and unused files. If you sort by date you can go as far back as your first undeleted download and start there.
Run Clean My Mac
Many of these steps can be done manually, or you can use a tool like Clean My Mac to make things easier. The steps in this article are based around the use of Clean My Mac, which can be bought (by subscription) here for 39.95 euros.
Run a Full Scan
The best place to start is with a full scan.
- Launch Clean My Mac and press Scan.
- When the scan is completed, click Review Details to see what exactly CleanMyMac has found.
Most of the sections below will be covered in this scan. You can just work through each item one-by-one or go straight to the instructions below to cleanup specific areas of the system.
Clear your Cache and other Junk Files
The cache is a repository for temporary files that are needed in the background to complete certain tasks while you work. An example is files that are downloaded from your browser to speed it up while you are viewing the internet. The cache serves a very useful purpose BUT it does need to be cleared, or just like any other place you regular dump stuff, it can clog things up.
- Open Clean My Mac.
- Select System Junk.
- Click Scan and let the application run. When it’s finished, you’ll see how much space can be cleaned up.
- Click Clean to remove all the junk from your machine.
Run the Maintenance and Optimisation Tools
Two great features in Clean My Mac are the Optimisation and Maintenance sections.
In the Maintenance section, select (as a minimum) Free Up RAM, Free Up Purgeable Space, and Run Maintenance Scripts. Just these three options alone should improve performance, especially if you’ve never run this tool before. To run the tools, just select them (tick the box) and then click Run. That’s it!
Now we’ve cleaned it up we can look at Speed Optimisation.
This tool looks at Login Items, Launch Agents, Hung Applications, and Heavy Consumers. Click the button to open the list of recommendations and decide, based on how often you use them, whether you need them at all, to clean things up.
If you followed the steps in this article you will already have cleaned up many of the startup items, but you may find other application here that you missed or that you had forgotten about.
Once you’ve been through all these steps you’ll have done the best you can to keep things running smoothly. Don’t wait 5 years to do it again! Make it part of your “spring cleaning routine” and do it whenever you feel things are slowing down.