I have no doubt that some readers are now concluding I'm out of my mind. Empty my Trash once a month?! What could he be thinking? The thing is, of those people, some of them are thinking that once a month is far too seldom, and others are thinking it's far too often!
Your Trash, as you probably know, is simply another folder. As a result, moving files or folders to the Trash does not delete them, just as tossing a crumpled paper in a physical trash can doesn't automatically turn it into landfill. On your Mac, as in your home, the contents of the Trash continue to take up space until you empty the Trash (in the Finder, choose File > Empty Trash). When you empty the Trash, you free up that now-unused space for other files.
How often should you do this? It depends on how you think about the Trash.
Let me put my cards on the table: I am a compulsive Trash emptier. I picked up this habit many years ago when I was struggling to make do with a 20 MB hard disk and every kilobyte counted. If I left items in the Trash without emptying it for more than a few hours, I'd run out of spacesimple as that. Today, even though I have a large hard drive with plenty of free space, I still haven't kicked that habit. On the other hand, because I know I'll be emptying the Trash shortly after putting a file there, I tend to think of moving files to the Trash as a final deletion from which recovery is impossible, so I don't take that step unless I'm entirely sure I can do without that file.
On the other end of the spectrum are what I'll call pack rats. They cringe at the idea of getting rid of anything for good. For them, the Trash is just another folder, and unlike a physical trash can, it never gets full. You can keep putting stuff in there for as long as you want. So they freely move files and folders to the Trash that don't seem especially important at the momentjust to get them out of the waybecause they realize they can open up that folder at any time and get the files back.
In between, of course, are most of the rest of us. Each person's Trash philosophy is a bit different from the next person's. If you're that hypothetical person right in the middle of the Trash emptying spectrumneither a pack rat nor a compulsive emptierlet's just say that today is a good day to empty the Trash.
For everyone else, here are some reasons why you might want to move toward the center, toward what I'm proposing as the happy medium of monthly Trash emptying.
For those on the compulsive side, consider this:
Everyone makes mistakes. You can probably recall at least one occasion when you had to fish a file out of the Trash. Remember that once you've emptied the Trash, the only way to recover deleted files is to try expensive (and often unsuccessful) undelete utilities or to send your drive to a much more expensive data recovery service. Giving yourself a bit of a safety net might save you grief later.
Modern hard drives are large enough that you probably won't run out of space if you wait a few weeks before emptying the Trash.
You'll be able to focus on your work and be more productive if you don't keep glancing down to see if the Trash can is full.
For those who lean more toward being pack rats, think about this:
How many times have you had to recover a file from the Trash that was more than a month old? Ever? If that's a common occurrence, you should seriously consider revising your filing habits.
Hard drives are large, but not infinite. You will eventually run out of space. In the meantime, all those extra files can contribute to increased file fragmentation, potentially decreasing your Mac's performance.
All those extra files, merely by sitting in the Trash, could result in productivity losses due to misleading Spotlight searches and longer waits for backups and diagnostic utilities to run.
A Conversation about Emptying the Trash
How often should you empty your Trash? Let's ask the experts:
Sharon Zardetto Aker: I've always recommended, especially to the pack rats, that they create a folder called "To the Trash" and put stuff in there. At intervals, sort by modified date and anything older than [choose the age] goes to the Trash and gets emptied. You lose the convenience of having Command-Delete send to the Trash this way, but you don't have to review the Trash contents.
Kirk McElhearn: One problem with that approach is like-named files that overwrite existing files in the "To the Trash" folder. This doesn't happen with the Trash, which renames files if necessary.
Peter N Lewis: I'm not a pack rat, but I've trained myself to never empty the Trash unless absolutely needed. I find it hard to believe that issues of fragmentation and what-have-you are going to slow the computer down noticeably if you have a large hard drive that never comes near being full. Backups can be configured to avoid backing up the Trash folder if necessary.
Adam Engst: I'm with Peter on this; I empty the Trash only when I need the disk space or when there's some other reason to eliminate a particular file entirely (and when I'm too lazy to get rid of it individually via Terminal).
Joe Kissell: One big advantage to frequent Trash emptying is that Spotlight searches don't produce long lists of deleted (and therefore, in my way of working at least, irrelevant) files.
Tonya Engst: So many of the files in my Trash begin with "TCo" (for Take Control of) that I like to clear it out periodically so that I can easily find stuff if I put it in there accidentally. Otherwise, I'm scrolling through hundreds of versions of old manuscripts.
And for everyone, regardless of how frequently you decide to empty the Trash, here's one huge piece of advice: look before you leap. Get into the habit of opening the Trash folder (by clicking the Trash icon in your Dock) and scanning its contents before you empty it. It may take you a few minutes, but you're far less likely to delete a file by mistake that way.