MacMost Now 366: Proper Use of the Trash

The Trash in Mac OS X is a failsafe device to prevent you from accidentally deleting items. But many people use it as a holding place for files that they aren't sure about. Learn how to use the Trash properly so you keep files around that you may need, and delete only the ones you are sure you want to get rid of forever.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 366: Proper Use of the Trash.

Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now, on today's episode let's look at proper use of the trash in Mac OS X. So this is a special week for MacMost. It's about three years since MacMost started, I've been getting a lot of emails from people asking how they can help MacMost out. And that's very important because I rely on word of mouth to help grow. So, I've listed some ways that you can help out MacMost, at There are ideas like blogging about MacMost, becoming a fan of MacMost to facebook, buying the book, things like that. So, check that out, if there's anything you can do I greatly appreciate it. In return, this week instead of doing just three episodes of MacMost Now, I'm going to do five. So let's talk about the trash in Mac OS X. We had a lot of emails that have asked me questions about the trash, so I thought it would be useful to explain how most people would use it. It's different than how you would do it in Windows. One of the big differences between the Window's recycling bin, at least the one in Windows XP, and the Mac trash is that things are not automatically deleted from the trash. This is good and bad, it means that the machine won't automatically get rid of files, but it's also bad because people have learned to rely on the trash as a place to actually store files that they're not sure they want to delete. So using the trash is pretty easy, of course you just drag files into it. Puts them in there, and then you can control click or right click on it, empty the trash, or empty the trash from the file menu in the finder. You can also open it and take a look at the files that are in the trash, and the folder there, hit the empty button. But what I find people are doing, is they're taking files that they don't think they need anymore, but they're not sure, and putting them in the trash. This is dangerous for a couple reasons. First of all, items in the trash are not backed up in Time Machine. So if it's a critical file, you can't recover it. Another reason of course is that it's hard to remember what's in there, and if you suddenly find yourself in need of disk-space, well, you're going to go and empty the trash and maybe not realize you deleted a file you really weren't ready to get rid of. So how should you deal with files that you're not sure that you need or don't need, again? Well the way I do it is I create another folder, maybe put it on the desktop. So you can create your own trash folder called something like, not needed, or future trash, you can even put it on the desktop right near the trashcan, or put it in your documents folder. And things in here will be backed up, and you can even label them. For instance, you can create a folder maybe with documents that you know you're not going to need when a project is done, so you know you can delete them after a certain date. You just don't want to delete them until say the project is complete. You can put this folder anywhere you want, in your documents folder might be a better place for it. The advantage of this of course is these files are backed up, so you have a record of them and of course if you need to delete your trash, these aren't going to go with it. When you're sure you want to delete it, put it in the trash. So that's the bottom line, only put something in the trash when you're sure you want to delete it. In other words you'd have no problem with actually emptying the trash, right now. So the trash is really an emergency failsafe mechanism. It creates two steps for you to delete a file. You have to put it in the trash, and you have to empty the trash. This will prevent you from accidentally deleting a file, maybe the wrong file. Say you wanted to drag file A to the trash but you drag file B to the trash instead, it's still in the trash you can drag it back out. If it was one step, may realize your mistake too late. So just don't use trash as your regular part of your work flow. The rule of thumb is unless you're sure you want to delete it, right now, don't put it in the trash at all. If you think you may want to delete it in the future, put it in a temporary holding place instead. Until next time, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: One Response to “MacMost Now 366: Proper Use of the Trash”

    9 years ago

    Great tip!

    I’ve come to rely on Hazel to maintain my trash (among other files/folders, removing apps, tasks, etc., etc..)

    I’ve set Hazel to watch the trash, deleting items that remain there longer than 1 week. After that, Hazel securely deletes them. Still, for those deciding to use an app like Hazel or some automated task, test it first!

    But yeah. Don’t use the trash as a temp holding folder. If in doubt, I like Gary’s idea of a ‘temp trash’ folder.

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