These are magic words to live by when it comes to cleaning up your computer’s hard drive. As things tend to come in waves, the past week has brought me a slew of clients who began getting the dreaded “Your startup disk is almost full” error and so they started chucking files and folders that they thought they didn’t need anymore. The problem arose when the files they deleted were files that the system relied on for basic functions. Two of them were left with machines that didn’t fully boot anymore and others had varying degrees of software corruption.

Apple suggests leaving 10-20% of the hard drive free for maximum disk operation. When a disk starts to get too full it will begin to overwrite files which causes software corruption. The key to a healthy drive is simple; keep it clean and organized. With the introduction of OSX, we were gifted with User folders. Each user on the computer has his or her own folder within the Users folder of the main hard drive. Within the User folder one will find a series of folders: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Library, Movies, Music, Pictures, Public and Sites. Ideally, one would only put personal files within one of the folders in his/her user account. This makes clean-up a breeze!

If you’re running out of space, check out your Desktop, Documents, Movies, Music and Pictures folders and see if there are old files that you could either delete or move to an external hard drive or disk. If you happen to regularly have an external hard drive plugged into your computer you might even consider hosting your iTunes library on the external drive to free up some space.

Here’s what you don’t want to do. Never delete files from System or Library folders unless you’re 100% sure what they are. It’s also important to be careful when deleting applications. For example, I’ve had quite a few clients over the years who have deleted their entire Utilities folder from within Applications because they “never use it”. Then when they ran into issues they didn’t have the tools to identify their problems or even identify the specs of their computer (thanks to deleting System Profiler) so others could help them with their problems. This brings me back to the title of the article: if you don’t know what it is, don’t delete it!

Are you still itching to delete a few things that you don’t know what they are, but you kind-of-sort-of remember that a friend-of-a-friend installed it years ago? Stop and ask for help. While this may sound like a plea from a suicide-hotline, I’m quite serious. Apple Discussions is your friend!

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