How To Quickly Free Up Space On Your Windows PC

Screenshot: David Murphy

The concept of cleaning fills me with dread. Organising your archives of stuff — physical or digital — is a lot easier to do as a year-round activity, but invariably the tasks build up. Thankfully, it’s incredibly easy to see if you’re wasting precious space on your computer, a practice that sounds incredibly dorky to do but is worth every gigabyte saved if you don’t have that much spare room on your desktop or laptop’s drive to begin with.

I don’t set an annual reminder for myself to do this; I just get that feeling that it’s been a while since I took a detailed look at my drives’ contents. And I’m always surprised by the results; an errant file here or a weird folder there can add up to multiple gigabytes’ worth of savings. And even if that’s not a huge per cent of the 500GB SSD I use as a primary drive, it makes me feel like I accomplished something for the day—which is priceless.

There are plenty of techniques you can use to clear out the digital crap on laptop or desktop, but there are two I tend to focus on: the “automatic” method and the “manual” method.

Let Windows do the work for you

Hit the Start button and type in “Disk Cleanup.” Load the utility, and your operating system will immediately ask you which drive you’d like to scan. Pick one and click “OK.”

Screenshot: David Murphy

In a very short amount of time, Windows will report back with a few different measurements, including:

  • How much space your temporary internet files take up

  • How much stuff is in your Downloads folder

  • How much data your recycle bin contains

  • How full your Windows “Temp” folder is getting

If you click on “Clean up system files” and re-scan the drive, you’ll get a few extra measurements. These include updates for Windows that the operating system automatically keeps on your drive “just in case,” as well as temporary files left over from any Windows installation you might have done.

In other words, click that button, take a peek at the overall results, and see how much space you can save by having your operating system removing files you no longer need. It’s a quick and easy way to save a few gigabytes—or many more.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Use an app that shows you the largest space-suckers on your drive

I’ve talked about this utility before, but I think WizTree is a must-have for any Windows PC. You don’t even have to install anything to use it. Grab the portable version, launch the 32- or 64-bit executable, pick a drive, and click on the “Scan” button. Within seconds—three for my SSD and four for my HDD—you’ll get a list of all of your PC’s parent folders, sorted by how much space on your hard drive they’re taking up.

Screenshot: David Murphy

As you dig in deeper, you’ll get the same treatment for any folders within folders you’re viewing. This allows you to quickly dig down and find the most data-packed folders on your computer. You might not be able to do anything with this information (if you know your Videos folder is packed full of content, for example), but WizTree might also help you find peculiar folders that are full of things you’ve forgotten about—in my case, 9GB of Skyrim mods that I didn’t realise were still buried on my primary drive, rather than my drive dedicated to gaming.

I also like that WizTree can show you what kinds of files are eating up the most space within any folder, which can help you determine if something shouldn’t be somewhere—a ton of .TMP files in a folder, for example, or an .MKV you accidentally copied to your Pictures folder in addition to your Videos folder. You can even use the File View tab to see the worst offenders for space in any folder.

WizTree is free to use and one of the fastest drive-analysing tools around. I’ve loved it since I heard about it last year, and it has helped me save gigabytes’ worth of space ever since. This, and Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup tool, take almost no time to run, and will have you computer feeling fresh and free in as much time as it takes you to eat your lunch.