You never want to see the dreaded “storage almost full” message pop up on your phone. That means you’ve filled up your phone with so much stuff—apps, docs, photos, videos, secret files—that you can’t cram anything else on it, leading to questions like these: Which apps should you delete first? Do you really need every photo from the last five years? Why even bother downloading music in the streaming era, anyway?
But here’s the good news: Just as it’s shockingly easy to accumulate all that crap very quickly, it’s actually pretty simple to get rid of it without having a breakdown. So here are the most straightforward (and surprising) ways to free up a ton of space on your phone.
If You Have an iPhone:
First thing’s first: What’s the level of urgency here? If your iPhone hasn’t given you a warning message about your storage almost being full, or being full, you could have some time on your hands. But it’s probably smart to do a check anyway, in case you suddenly run out of space while trying to capture a once-in-a-lifetime photo.
1. Set up iCloud Photos, stat.
iCloud keeps all your photos and videos in their original high-res format, and when you sign up, Apple automatically gives you 5 GB of free storage space. You’ll have to pay up for additional space, but the cost is easy to stomach: Plans start at 99 cents for 50 GB per month. Small price to pay for all that space and some peace of mind.
But a word of caution: iCloud does not automatically back up your photos in the sense you’d normally think, because any changes you make on one device will be mirrored across others, like your iPad or Mac. So deleting a photo from your phone will delete it elsewhere. To prevent that, make sure you keep backup copies of everything important.
📲 On your device, with iOS 10.3 or later installed, go to Settings > (your name) > iCloud > Photos. Select “Download” and “Keep Originals” and import them to your computer.
Another way to save space is to compress the size of your files. Since photos and videos are already saved in their original hi-res version in iCloud, you can save space on your iPhone with the “Optimize Storage” setting.
📲 Tap Settings > (your name) > iCloud. Then, tap Photos > Choose Optimize iPhone Storage.
If you don’t want to pay for anything beyond 5 GB of storage, you can make like an Android user and download Google Photos, which gives users unlimited space for high quality photos and videos and has an option to delete everything on your phone that’s already backed up. But if you want the original, the highest resolution of the photos, you’ll have to pay once you get up to 100 GB. That’ll cost you $1.99 per month.
2. Buy a MicroSD reader for Lightning.
This method might bring back memories of floppy disks and flash drives, but you should consider buying a MicroSD Reader with a lightning connection to plug into newer iPhones. Basically, the deal is exactly the same as with a USB drive: plug it in, move files to the external memory card, and now you can take them anywhere and remove them from the actual device, freeing up space and avoiding cloud fees. You’ll have to buy both the reader and a MicroSD card of your choosing. It’s basically a hack to mimic the SD card slots that many Android phones have.
3. Delete your apps without mercy.
Start dumping the pre-installed ones that you never use, like the compass (come on), stocks (if you’re not into investing) or voice memos (if you’re not a songwriter). After that, you’ll have some tough decisions, but there’s some quantitative data you can unlock to make it a bit easier.
📲 Go to Settings > General > Storage & iCloud Usage > tap “Manage Storage” and you’ll get a full report on which apps are taking up the most space.
4. Delete conversations from years ago.
For some truly awful reason, Apple’s software keeps the logs of all your texts stored on your phone by default. So if you’ve had the same phone for three years, you can imagine the world’s longest grocery store receipt of your full conversations with your ex from two years ago, or every time your mom asked you what you were up to.
📲 Go to Settings > Messages > Message History > Keep Messages > then select a time frame of 30 days, one year, or forever.
Magically, the old messages disappear and free up space you should have had all along.
5. Subscribe to Apple Music if you haven’t already.
It’s worth the money. For students, it’s $4.99 per month; individuals, it’s $9.99; for a family plan with access for up to six users, it’s $14.99. Pro-tip: If you’re an adult without your own family (or your family members use flip phones), just round up some friends and split the cost.
You can stream up to 50 million songs ad-free, so you’ll never need to download music unless you have an extremely limited data plan or you’re taking a long flight. (But even then, lots of airlines have Wi-Fi now.) You can add your favourite songs to a library in the cloud, and if you choose to, you can download select songs and albums to your device.
Plus, Apple Music is also now available to Android users. Speaking of …
If You Have an Android Device:
Depending on the type of Android phone you have, these instructions may slightly vary. For reference, I tested these tips out on a maxed-out, 64-GB Samsung Galaxy Note 8 in desperate need of a cleanse.
6. Use a cloud-based photo app.
It’s pretty likely that you’ll have Google Photos and Google Drive installed on your device by default, considering Google’s dominance over Android software, so you really just need to create an account. (Scroll up to the first tip in the Apple section of this article for more on cloud services).
7. Clear your cache.
Android phones often store cached versions of websites—a version of a webpage or app at a certain point in time that serves as a backup if a link is broken. That way, you can still see the most recent version. On phones, that also means faster load times, as websites are already partially stored.
The downer, of course, is that cached pages take up tons of space—and you don’t really need them. If there are some sites or apps that you know take particularly long to load, you can leave ’em alone and cleanse your cache on an app-by-app basis.
📲 If you’re looking for a quick fix, go to Settings > Storage (or Device Maintenance > Storage) and select “Optimize Now.” Watch as your phone cleans up advertisement files, cached data and more.
That freed up another 2.3 GB on my Samsung.
8. Purge your Downloads folder.
Most Android phones now come with a built-in file management system. To find the Downloads folder, in particular, check under Settings or try searching on the Apps page.
Once inside your settings look for the Downloads folder. Just know it’s going to look a bit nightmarish in there, full of tons of unnecessary, potentially embarrassing files. You’ve been warned.
There’s always the option to delete files one by one, but if you’ve already set up a backup process hosted on a cloud-based service (see tip #1), you’re safe to Select All and press Delete. It feels scary at first, but it’s worth the leap. I had 144 files to delete, so I’m definitely happy I had the option to wipe ’em all. That freed up just about 1 GB of space.
9. Move your apps to an SD card.
Just because you have an SD card, that doesn’t mean you’re using it correctly. If there’s one thing to take away from this article, let it be that all Android users with an SD card should scoot those storage-hungry apps from internal memory to the memory card.
📲 Move those suckers to the SD card by going to Settings > Applications > Application Manager > then tap the app you want to move > select “Move to SD card.”
If the app can’t be moved from the device, the button that says “Move to SD card” will be grayed out.
And if none of these tips help, maybe it’s truly just time for an upgrade.