Help with mac mail?
April 4, 2019 4:07 PM   Subscribe

My MacBook air is driving me insane. I keep getting a message saying my disk is nearly full. It appears that mail is the culprit, using up lots of storage space. I keep deleting mail, but nothing changes.

Initially I just went in a deleted tons (I mean about 1,000!) old emails, which had been languishing on my computer. Then, I saw something online that said that it's the attachments that take up space, not the text, per se. So I just went and deleted about 100 old emails with large attachments -- bulky graphics and photographs. Then I checked the storage and it appears I now have even LESS storage available! I am, by the way deleting these things on the gmail server, so they're truly gone. When I tried deleting emails solely in mac mail, they would reappear. Fun!

I'm at my wit's end. Just what does a person have to do to free up storage?
posted by swheatie to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As much as I hate to recommend putting even more stuff on your obviously-full disk, I've always used an app like Disk Inventory X to visualize where all my space was going - you can also delete stuff right from in the app. Good luck!
posted by destructive cactus at 4:15 PM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

DIX is fine, but I found Space Gremlin to be a little faster & a little friendlier.

I STRONGLY SUSPECT that the actual culprit here isn't mail itself, but both Space Gremlin and Disk Inventory X will help you sort out where the real problem is.
When I tried deleting emails solely in mac mail, they would reappear. Fun!
If you're using with Gmail, my recollection is that there's something you need to configure to tell that it's a Gmail environment ie vs. a regular IMAP server, because Gmail does all sorts of weird things.

Seriously, though, I'm a GIANT packrat with an ENORMOUS amount of mail stored locally between my longstanding personal account and an ever-growing corporate address (I just checked; it's about 30GB, including attachments), and while I definitely DO have to manage the space on my 500GB drive, mail's not anywhere close to the long pole in that particular tent.
posted by uberchet at 4:25 PM on April 4, 2019

Response by poster: Just to be clear: when I click on Storage, it's showing that the bulk of my used space -- 84 of 121 GB -- is mail. But people are suggesting that this might not be accurate?
posted by swheatie at 4:31 PM on April 4, 2019

Your Trash icon in the Mail app... have you right-clicked and selected "Erase Deleted Items..."?
posted by emelenjr at 4:35 PM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

That's a MASSIVE amount of email, if accurate. Almost nobody has as much mail as I do, but 84GB is more than twice my figure, so I'm boggled.

I know this isn't for back and forth, but where exactly are you clicking "storage" and seeing a breakdown? Do you mean the Storage Management app?
posted by uberchet at 4:36 PM on April 4, 2019

Response by poster: When I go up to the apple in the upper left corner, and click About this Mac, there's a storage tab you can click on. That's where I'm seeing it.
posted by swheatie at 4:40 PM on April 4, 2019

FWIW, and somewhat bizarrely, the Storage Management app on my Mac reports I have no mail at all, so ???

I'd absolutely get Space Gremlin or DIX and let it have a look -- it might be illuminating.
posted by uberchet at 4:40 PM on April 4, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks, uberchat.
posted by swheatie at 4:42 PM on April 4, 2019

There's a menu option in mail called "Rebuild Mailbox" which fixes most of the weird problems that crop up with

Speaking as a Mac network admin, I will say that was a source of endless headaches for me. Ultimately, it was causing so many trouble tickets I had to forbid its use and move all my users to the webmail client.
posted by signsofrain at 5:18 PM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I would recommend the also-free GrandPerspective over Disk Inventory X these days—the latter uses an outdated API to access the filesystem that's extremely slow on modern Macs.
posted by panic at 5:22 PM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Assuming the issue is actually mail attachments, when you view the Storage tab that shows all that space in Mail there's a "Manage" button next to the disk. Go in there and then select Mail from the list on the left, and there's an option for "Download Only Recent Attachments" with some text that says how much space will be saved by not keeping old attachments on your HD. Does that claim a significant amount of space would be saved?
posted by russm at 5:25 PM on April 4, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I did download GrandPerspective and got rid of a few bulky things that should forestall that "disk full" message. No matter how many emails I delete, no matter how many attachments I delete, the 84 GB figure doesn't budge, so I think it must just be some bizarre glitch. When I go to gmail (which my mac mail is simply forwarding) it says I'm using 2.74 GB. So, for now, I'm just going to let it lie. Thanks, everyone.
posted by swheatie at 6:21 PM on April 4, 2019

Are you sure all your mail is archived in Gmail? I.e. if you were to lose your Mac, would you still have all your email?

If so (and if you have backups, and you're really sure!), quit Mail, and find the "Mail" folder in the "Library" folder in your home directory. Check the size of this folder (click on it then press Cmd-I, a window will pop up. It might take a few minutes to figure out the size of the folder). I bet it's 80+GB. This is where the Mac keeps a local copy of email. For some reason on your machine it has grown very large. If you have trouble finding the Mail folder, open a Finder window (the file browser) then hit Cmd-Shift-L. This will take you to the Library folder. Your "Mail" folder in here

Now: delete the Mail folder and empty the trash. This is why you need to make sure Gmail has a copy of everything. Don't delete anything else in your Library folder! In an ideal world you wouldn't be in here. Rerun whatever thing is telling you that mail is taking up 84GB. It should now say close to 0GB. If it doesn't, make sure you emptied the trash! Now relaunch the Mail app and it should download only what it needs from a fresh start, and your Mail folder should end up much closer to the few GB Gmail reports.
posted by caek at 8:36 PM on April 4, 2019

Just to be super super clear here: what you are describing is alarming to me, because of the mixed signals. I would seek out a genuinely tech-savvy person in your circle, if you have one, and ply them with beer or coffee or whatever, and see if they can sort out what's truly going on.
move all my users to the webmail client.
Yikes. Glad I don't work in your office!
posted by uberchet at 7:19 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you using Time Machine? You might have different issue and this one is a little tricker to diagnose but Grand Perspective will help.

Try the help note here to see how to scan the entire disk, not just your user directory.

Some people have found massive TM files sitting on the drive that were not necessary anymore.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:59 AM on April 5, 2019

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