How do I see what’s in my iCloud storage?

A picture of one of Apple's massive solar panels

It is good that all that iCloud storage is now powered by renewable energy

iCloud storage is full, or almost full, and you want to see what’s eating up all that space?

This is how to find out what’s using up your iCloud storage space, and how to quickly get some space back again.

When you need to know what’s inside iCloud

When you get close to using up all your iCloud storage space you’ll start receiving warning messages on your iPad, iPhone and other Apple devices warning that you are about to run out of space.

No matter how many times you ignore them, these messages will keep on appearing until you either:

  1. Purchase more iCloud space from Apple
  2. Delete some of the items you have stashed in the iCloud/

How do I see what’s in my iCloud storage?

Apple makes it pretty easy to get some information about what you have stored in iCloud.

This is an image of the iCloud system preferences on a Mac

On a Mac

Open System Preferences>iCloud and you will see all the services you have enabled on your iCloud account. At the bottom of this window you’ll see a multi-coloured horizontal bar that depicts your storage and shows how much of each kind of item there is stored in iCloud according to the following categories:

  • Photos and Videos (Yellow)
  • Documents (Orange)
  • Backups (Purple)
  • Mail (Blue)
  • Messages (Green)

Beside the read out there’s a Manage… button. Tap this button and you’ll get to a more detailed way of looking at your storage. This consists of a menu of usage and apps. You can delete documents and data in any of these categories, but I recommend against doing so if you don’t have a second line backup.

This is an image of iCloud storage on iOS

On an iOS device

Open Settings>Apple ID>iCloud and you can access the same information on an iPhone or iPad. You will see the same familiar horizontal color-coded storage bar, and the same More.. button where you will be able to identify which applications are using the most storage.

On both Mac and iOS devices you’ll also be provided with a button that makes it pretty simple to upgrade your storage (up to 2TB) by giving more money to Apple every month, boosting its Services income, and getting the company’s executive team a raise. If you don’t want to do that, then you’ll probably want to try to delete some stuff.

How to reclaim some iCloud storage space

There are a few obvious places to look when you want to reclaim iCloud storage space.

Backup

Tap the Backup item in Manage Storage and you’ll see all the device backups you’ve stored in iCloud. These tend to mount up over time, so it is worth taking a moment to make sure you don’t still keep any backups for devices you no longer use – just select any old legacy backups and tap Delete. Some of these backups use multiple GB of space, so deleting the old ones makes a lot of sense.

Photos and videos

iCloud Photos is always – nearly always – the biggest consumer of iCloud space. That’s why you should always take time to go through any newly-captured video or still images in order to delete items you don’t really want to keep.

That’s the sensible approach, but no one really takes it (which is good news for Apple’s iCloud revenue). If you think about video and images, it is video which takes up the most space, so open Photos, open the videos album and delete all those accidentally-captured fat finger videos and any other video you really don’t want to keep around (the longer the video the more space it uses up, of course).

All these lovely photos are iCloud storage fees for Apple

Apple continues to enhance its Photos app

While you’re at it you may want to delete items from all the other albums Apple lets you navigate, too.

Once you’ve deleted everything you should head into the Recently Deleted section of your Photos library, select all the trash you’ve put in there, and delete it again. Apple keeps Photos items for 30-days after you’ve deleted it in order to give you a chance to recover it once you realise that may be a precious picture of your Aunt Mabel’s parakeet, or whatever.

Many users also choose to backup their photos to other services, but I really like the integration (not least Siri search) when you keep your images on Apple’s service. That’s also good news for Apple.

Mail and Messages

Do you delete unwanted emails? Then you should. Have you ever thought about which emails take up the most space? Usually the ones with attachments. Fortunately, there’s an Attachments view available on iOS Mail and you can use the Sort by Attachments view in Mail on a Mac. It’s laborious, of course, but go through these to delete any mail/attachments you don’t need to keep and you will recover plenty of space.

In Messages, unless you’re really addicted to keeping other people’s selfies, then set the app to keep messages for 30-days.

(On a Mac, you do this in Messages application preferences>General, set to 30-days. On iOS you achieve this in Settings>Messages>Message History).

Delete Apps

Remember when you looked inside Manage Storage and saw all those apps? Are there any apps you no longer use? If there are, the chances are you won’t need to keep their data around anymore, so select that apps’s data and tap delete.

Pruning Mail, Messages, Photos, Backup and unused apps will usually save you a great deal of iCloud storage space — just try not to delete anything you may regret deleting!

Jonny Evans

Watching Apple since 1999. I don't say what they should do. I say what they might do. They sometimes do.

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