Virtual De-Cluttering: Google Storage

The new year is upon us. Annual household chores aside, there’s good reason to declutter and clear up storage in your Google account.

  1. Google One: Storage Manager (Quick Fix)
  2. Gmail
  3. Google Photos
  4. Google Drive
Upcoming Changes to Google Cloud Storage

In November 2020, Google announced upcoming changes to Google cloud storage. Many users were unhappy with the news of Google Photos abandoning its unlimited high-quality storage after five years.

From June 1, 2021 onward, high quality photos and videos uploaded to Google Photos will be counted toward your 15GB storage. Thankfully, high quality photos or videos uploaded prior to this date will not.

The same applies to content created via Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms and Jamboard. Previously created content will not count against your 15GB, but newly created/uploaded content will.

Note: If you upload a document before June 1st 2021 but edit or make changes to it after this date, it will take up storage space.

A Quick Fix: Google One

Google One is a very fast and easy solution for getting on top of your storage.

It gives a good overview of your storage, along with helpful pointers and minimal UI that simplifies the process.

On the main Google One page, click on this option to link to the screen depicted below.

If you want to clear the most storage space in the least amount of time, this is by far your best option.

It presents your largest files across Gmail and Google Drive (the usual suspects) on the same screen, saving time and effort.

Storage Overview

Under the storage section of Google One, you’ll find a breakdown of your allotted 15GB:

This helps determine where to begin your decluttering: prioritise what needs to be deleted, then proceed with how.

I cut down my Gmail from 14GB+ to 10GB.

Decluttering Gmail

Nearing storage limit

I was an early adopter of Gmail, so it came as no surprise last month when I received the notification that I was nearing the storage limit.

“Oh my god your inbox…” – every friend ever
1. Targeting largest emails

My inbox has been in use since 2005 – clearly, I had a lot of cleaning to do.

I began with filtering emails over 10MB in size, but you can start with any size you prefer. I did this by running queries in Gmail’s search bar. Paste the following queries and try it out yourself (excluding bracketed text) :

  • size:10mb (emails over 10MB)
  • size:10mb has:attachment (emails over 10MB with attachments)
  • size:10mb has:attachment filename:pdf (emails over 10MB with PDF attachments)

The limit for attachments in Gmail (sending or receiving) is 25MB, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t specify a higher size in your query: a lot of emails with attachments end up 30-50% bigger because they’re MIME-encoded.

The biggest culprits for me were image-heavy documents and spreadsheets – particularly email threads where each new version grew in size. One such file (and the 40 versions of it) was to blame for taking almost 500MB of space.

2. Unsubscribe

Deleting large emails was the easy part. Now came time to cull the tens of thousands of promotional emails and newsletters I’d received in over a decade.

I began with unsubscribing from the newsletter of topics/companies I no longer had interest in – targeting the root of spam.

Sometimes you’ll be linked to the company site to unsubscribe.

Some companies may even require you to open a support ticket to opt-out, but it’s pretty rare.

3. Search and destroy

Once unsubscribed, open the newsletter in question. Copy paste the email address into your search bar. Click on the downward triangle in the ‘select button’, select ‘All’.

Searching via newsletter email (instead of just the company name) is to reduce the chance of accidentally deleting non-spam emails you may want to keep.

These may include purchase receipts, password resets, support tickets or account creation emails.

If there’s more than one page of emails, an option appears to ‘Select all conversations that match this search’.

The most time-saving function. Some newsletters numbered in the thousands.

Move to trash. Rinse and repeat for each source of spam.

Unlike in real life, this trash will take itself out. But the satisfying click of deleting things is very cathartic, and highly recommended.

When you’re satisfied with your efforts – open Trash, Select All, and send it all to the void for the rest of time (just kidding, Google keeps everything).

Decluttering Google Photos

While I didn’t need to declutter my Google Photos storage, this is second on the list as a lot of people sync and auto-upload photos & videos to the app.

Again, high-quality uploads to Google Photo prior to June 1, 2021 are exempt and don’t take any space in your 15GB storage.

All photos and videos uploaded to Google are “high-quality” by default: only paid cloud storage users or Google Pixel owners can upload in “original” quality.

I’ve decided to include the steps below as they will be useful after the changes are in effect.

No way to filter by size, length or upload quality

There’s currently no way to sort files by size or length in Google Photos. There’s no way to filter by high-quality or original uploads either.

Hopefully Google will add better sorting features eventually, as it’s sure to cause more headaches for users in the near future (paid or unpaid).

Back up and Delete

The simplest way to declutter in Google Photos is to back up everything, decide what to keep, and delete everything else.

This can be done using Google Takeout. Deselect all other options (top right of the page), and scroll down to select Google Photos only.

About mid-way down the page you’ll find the Google Photos option.

On the next page, you’ll be asked to specify the delivery method, frequency, and file type & size.

Delivery methods also include cloud storage options: Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or Box. Choosing Google Drive is obviously counter-productive.
Targeting Video Files

While there’s no way to filter by file size, we can still target the largest files first.

Click on the search bar and select ‘videos’ from the drop down menu (or simply search “videos”).

From there it’s a simple case of selecting all the videos you wish to back up, and downloading them to your computer (⇧Shift + D).

Decluttering Google Drive

Frustratingly, there’s no option to filter or sort files by size on Google Drive either.

It appears the function was available back in 2017, but Google has since removed it. File size is still displayed for uploaded files, but you can only sort by Name or Last modified.

There’s two workarounds this limitation:

Using Google One’s Storage Manager (recommended)

Use Google One’s Storage Manager to manage the biggest files taking up the most space. This is the easiest and fastest way to declutter your Google Drive.

It will show you all the largest files on the one page, and tells you how much space you’ll be freeing up by deleting them.

Clicking through you’ll be taken to the largest files on Google Drive for decluttering.
Search Function in Google Drive

While Google Drive doesn’t allow filtering by file size, you can sort by file type (e.g. PDF, powerpoint, mp3, mp4, .AVI, etc).

Alternatively you can use keywords to bring up specific files, though I’d recommend using Google One if you’re just trying to clear up space.

I figured this would be relevant with it being the start of the year and with Google’s upcoming changes to cloud storage.

Decluttering is a chore, but it’s necessary – I hope this article brings some clarity to the process.


Published by Tech Neck Nick

I'm a cybersecurity major postgrad student from Sydney, Australia. Support my fight against Writer's Block.

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