Taking Out the Garbage: Tips for Working with the Trash on the Mac

Posted by Laurie Berg on

One of the great innovations of the Mac, way back when, was the concept of the Trash. Instead of deleting files immediately, you’d put them in the Trash, where they’d sit until you either took them out or removed them for good by emptying the Trash. You undoubtedly know the basics of working with the Trash: drag files in, drag mistakenly trashed files out, and choose Finder > Empty Trash to delete the files and recover the disk space.

But instead of just dragging files to and from the Trash, you can take advantage of a few special techniques that make working with the Trash faster and easier.

Move Files to the Trash
The most obvious method of trashing a file is to drop it on the Trash icon in the Dock, but on a large screen that can be fussy. Once you’ve selected one or more files in the Finder, try one of these alternatives:

Press Command-Delete. This is our favorite!
Control- or right-click on one of them, and choose Move to Trash.
Choose File > Move to Trash.

What if you want to live dangerously and delete a file immediately, perhaps because you need to recover the disk space right away? Hold down Option and choose File > Delete Immediately, or press Command-Option-Delete. The Finder always asks whether you want to do this.

Remove Files from the Trash
We all make mistakes and trash files by accident, or sometimes realize later that a file we put in the Trash is still needed. Taking something out is easy: click the Trash icon on the Dock to open its window, and then drag the file out of the window. But, there is more to know about the best ways to remove files from the Trash.

First, if you trash a file and immediately realize it was the wrong thing to do, press Command-Z or choose Edit > Undo Move to Trash to put it back where it started

We like viewing the Trash window in Cover Flow view (open it, and then choose View > as Cover Flow) because of the document preview at the top of the window. We also like to sort by Date Added so that we can see the items we’ve trashed most recently (if the Date Added column isn’t showing, choose View > Show View Options and select the Date Added checkbox).

In the Trash window, you can select an item and use the Put Back command to return it to its original location. Try one of these techniques:

Press Command-Delete. It’s the same shortcut as for Move to Trash, but does the reverse when the selection is in the Trash window.
Control- or right-click on one of them, and choose Put Back.
Choose File > Put Back.

Empty the Trash
The main reason to empty the Trash is if you need to reclaim the disk space its contents occupy. You can do that at any time, as we’ll explain momentarily, but in macOS 10.12 Sierra and later, you can have the Mac automatically remove items from the Trash after they’ve been in there for 30 days. Just choose Finder > Preferences > Advanced, and select the “Remove items from the Trash after 30 days” checkbox.

To empty the Trash manually, choose Finder > Empty Trash. If “Show warning before emptying the Trash” is selected in the window shown above, you’ll be prompted to confirm the deletion. If you don’t like the prompt, deselect that checkbox. Other shortcuts include:

Click and hold the Trash icon on the Dock, and choose Empty Trash.
Press Command-Shift-Delete.
To avoid the warning even when it’s enabled, press Command-Shift-Option-Delete.

Emptying the Trash doesn’t have to be an all or nothing action. Imagine that you’ve just trashed a few huge files and want to recover their disk space without tossing every other file in the Trash. Just select them, Control- or right-click one, and choose Delete Immediately. You can also press Command-Option-Delete.

Files in your Mac’s Trash smell better than the inside of a typical garbage can, but that doesn’t mean you want to spend a lot of time fussing with them. With these tips, you can trash files, recover from mistakes, and clear disk space quickly and confidently.

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