How to clean your Mac

| February 18, 2013

On the coldest days of winter, I often dream it’s actually spring. And if it were spring, I would certainly be spring cleaning!  This winter, I’ve started my annual spring cleaning process early by thinking up ways to spruce up my 4 year old MacBook. It takes longer to load videos than it once did, I’ve noticed, and it now has trouble running multiple programs simultaneously. Some might say that as my computer approaches five years, I should consider buying a new one. But it’s a hefty and beautiful object made of sleek aluminum; I’m convinced by how solid it looks and feels. My computer may have some grey hair, but I’m not ready to give up on her yet.

So: the first and most obvious thing I did was buy more memory. CNET’s Matt Elliott offers a helpful guide on how to locate which memory you should buy for your particular model (how many iterations of Macs Apple has produced since you bought yours might surprise you as much as it surprised me). First of all, figure out which model you have by serial number, and then search for that number in Apple’s tech specs page. After you’ve accomplished this, visit their support page to identify which type of RAM to buy and how to install it. Memory definitely increases speed more than anything else you can do for your Mac.

Over time, you invariably add files and data to your Mac without meaning to, and a lot of these files (or even applications) are ones you no longer use. Cleaning your Mac of old files and applications increases hard drive space; it also limits the amount of time your processor scrolls through data looking for what you want. Matt Elliott suggests monitoring your computer’s activity to figure out which of your apps are using up the most resources. Run Activity Monitor, which can grant you an illuminating glimpse into how you use your computer.  You can also download a free app called System Inventory X, which scans your disc and gives you a color-coded chart of your computer’s performance.

There are a number of apps that can help you clear out duplicate files, including the following, listed by Mac Rumour’s wiki on cleaning your Mac’s hard drive. They suggest a series of apps like the free Onyx, which does an overall system clean, and Monolingual, which ferrets out and deletes all language scripts for languages you don’t speak (which I ran on my Mac and cleared up 2.8 GB of space). There’s also AppZapper, which fully deletes the entire app, leaving no lingering traces on your hard drive. Remember to BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER completely before performing any of these cleaning apps; it’s entirely possible they might strip away something you intended to keep.

I learned other handy tips in my googling Mac cleaning tips, including one that may sound obvious: when you delete photos in iPhoto they don’t actually move to the computer’s trash, they stay instead in iPhoto trash, I guess in case you change your mind. Delete your iPhoto trash from within iPhoto to entirely remove these old files. That alone can save you a lot of space, especially if you’ve never done it before.

As Kirk McElhearn explains in this Mac World article, your Mac also stores log files, which you may never care to see. If you use iChat, it also saves old chats you can probably let go of, along with Mail downloads and system backups. Some of these issues are ones a program like Onyx will help you clear out, but if you want more control you can ferret these out manually; many applications store system backups in Documents. It’s also possible you have duplicate iTunes libraries living on your hard drive, if you still have a library from a previous version of the program (it’s also possible you have a previous operating system on your Mac, like OS9, which you can likely let go of). File–> Display Duplicates will help you locate these errant songs in iTunes.

Finally, you can manually adjust which of your programs open on start-up, which will save you time every time you restart your computer. Go to System Preferences–>Accounts–>Login Items to manage this.

Happy winter cleaning!