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How to reclaim hard drive storage space using Windows 11 tools

Originally posted on techrepublic.

Diving deep into the Settings menus, we can find tools that could reclaim gigabytes of lost hard drive storage space which should be used for more productive activities.

During the normal course of operation, a Windows 11 personal computer will accumulate files on the system hard drive that are no longer necessary, relevant nor useful. The only thing these supposedly temporary files do is take up valuable hard drive storage space which your applications could use to greater benefit if that storage space was available.

We can use some simple Windows 11 tools to free that wasted storage and reclaim it for ourselves. However, while the tools built into Windows 11 are simple to use, they are not so simple to find in the labyrinth of System menus and submenus. If you have not performed this bit of system maintenance recently, you may be surprised by how much lost storage space you can reclaim.

Reclaim hard drive storage space using Windows 11 tools

To reach the tools that will reclaim wasted hard drive storage space, we will have to work our way through the Windows 11 System menus. Click the Start button and select Settings from the list of apps. You should reach a Windows 11 Settings screen that looks like Figure A.

Figure A

Scroll down the left-hand side of the Settings screen and select the entry labeled Storage. Windows 11 will survey your attached hard drives and display a breakdown of their current conditions, as shown in Figure B. This could take a few seconds.

Figure B

Again, scroll down the left-hand side of the screen to reveal the Storage management section in the list. The first entry in this section is labeled Storage Sense. For most users, this feature should be switched to the On position. When on, Storage Sense will automatically delete certain temporary files from your system when they become unnecessary, performing much of our storage maintenance for us automatically.

The next entry in the Storage management section is Cleanup Recommendations, which indicates how much hard drive storage space we can reclaim if we follow the Windows 11 recommendations. Click Cleanup Recommendations to reveal the details, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

In our example’s case, the recommendations suggest there’s only 835MB of storage to reclaim, but that is not the whole story. Under the list of recommendations, you will see the See Advanced Options link. Click it to get a more complete picture of what storage space could be reclaimed, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Looking through the list of potential files which can be safely removed, you can see items like Windows Update Cleanup, Downloads, Delivery Optimization Files, Thumbnails, Temporary Files and several more. All this hard drive storage space is currently wasted and in our example’s case it totals a significant 23.5GB.

Once you have selected which files you would like to delete, click the Remove Files button. Depending on how much hard drive storage space you are reclaiming, the process could take a minute or two. When the process is complete you will get a new report showing no temporary storage space is currently in use, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

Note that if we turn on Storage Sense, many of these items would be automatically deleted and the storage would be reclaimed periodically and systematically. So unless you have a specific reason not to, Storage Sense should be kept in the On position for most users. Storage Sense is a quality of life Windows 11 time saving feature that all users should take advantage of to simplify their already chaotic lives.

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