How to avoid paying Apple for extra iCloud storage

Apple offers just 5GB of free storage to iCloud users, far less than many need. Here's a rundown on what you can do to put your iCloud storage needs on a diet and what other options are available.

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How to manage iCloud Mail

Deleting unwanted emails is a good way to reduce iCloud Mail storage needs. An even better way is to delete unwanted attachments.

Managing Mail attachments

Mail usually takes up a sizeable chunk of iCloud space. To free up room, Apple suggests deleting what's inside the Junk and Trash folders. But you can regain even more space by deleting attachments from your received and sent mail.

To find Mail with attachments on a Mac

The easiest way to keep track of attachments on your Mac is to create a Smart Mailbox to automate the task. In Mail, open Mailbox>New Smart Mailbox.

Call the box "Attachments" and set the condition to "Contains Attachments.”

Also add the condition "Include Messages from Sent,” and deselect the "Include Messages from Trash" option.

Mail attachments in iOS Apple

If you don't see a Mailbox showing attachments, you'll  need to turn on that mailbox in Mail's preferences.

To find Mail with attachments on iOS

Launch Mail, then open the Mailboxes page. Scroll down the page – if you see a choice called Attachments, you can just tap this to go directly to all the emails you have received that contain attachments.

If you don’t see the Attachments option, here’s how you enable it:

  • Tap Edit in the top right corner of Mailboxes
  • A new page will appear listing all your available Mailboxes. The checked boxes are the ones you ordinarily see in Mail.
  • Move down the list and select the pre-made Smart Mailbox called "Attachments.”

Once you keep track of Mail messages containing attachments you can save space by deleting messages you no longer need, though be certain to save any attachments you might need.

Use an alternative email service

Another way to cut the amount of iCloud storage space used by Mail is to use another free email account. These non-Apple mail services don’t use iCloud storage, which means that what you lose in sync capabilities you get back in the form of reduced need for Apple storage space in future. There are a variety of free email services, including the obvious (near-unlimited) storage offered by Google Gmail, those offered by some ISPs and your own self-hosted email addresses.

How to manage iCloud Photos

Am I alone in finding Apple's separation between images held in Photostream (which do not count against iCloud storage limitations) and those held in Camera Roll (which are backed up to iCloud and do count) confusing? Perhaps, but that's the difference between the two.

icloud photos Apple

This is how Apple illustrated iCloud Photos when it announced the service in June 2011.

When it comes to managing iCloud storage, it makes sense to import your personal photos and images from your iOS devices to your computer. You can then choose which images to make available via your Photostream. Be sure to delete photos from your device once you have imported the images to your computer. Clear instructions on how to do this (for both macOS and Windows) are available online.

Don’t use iCloud Photo Library

How to disable iCloud Photo Library:

On macOS: Open System Preferences>iCloud>Manage Storage. Then tap Photo Library and you will see how much storage space your images and videos require.  You will also see a button called Disable and Delete. Tap this to disable and delete iCloud Photo Library on that device.

iCloud Photo Library Apple

In iOS, iCloud Photo Library can easily be toggled on and off.

On iOS: Choose Settings>your name>iCloud>Photos and toggle iCloud Photo Library to off.

When you disable iCloud Photo Library on all your devices, you then have 30 days to download all your photos and videos from iCloud to an alternative storage location before Apple deletes them all. Be warned, switching the feature off can apparently cause problems if you later change your mind.

Now you’ll need to put all your images and video elsewhere. You can store them on an external drive, but if you still want to be able to access them from your iOS device, you can use third party services like Google Photos, OneDrive or Dropbox. They provide more fee-free image storage space than iCloud.

Use your own private storage

If you create your very own private storage system, you don’t need to turn to third-party online storage services. One product that provides this is the PROMISE Apollo Personal Cloud Storage device. The system plugs into your home router and allows you and up to 10 trusted friends to save and access items saved to the system, which also supports Time Machine. If you need to support a larger group (such as if you are running a small business), the same company offers the Apollo Cloud 2 DUO solution, which is capable of supporting up to 40 users.

This is available at both Amazon and the Apple Store, and starts at $309 for 2TB of storage. Macworld has a review of it here.

How to increase or decrease iCloud storage

At this point, you may have decided to downgrade your existing iCloud account storage deal, or chosen to opt for convenience and subscribe to more storage instead. Here is how to do either one on Macs and iOS devices:

Increase iCloud storage on Mac

Open System Preferences>iCloud, Tap ‘Manage’in the bottom right of the pane and then in the new pane, tap  ‘Change Storage Plan’at top right.

In the next pane you’ll be offered upgrade options. Choose the appropriate item. You’ll be asked for your Apple ID and the bill will begin immediately.

icloud storage on macos Apple

In macOS, you can increase or decrease your paid storage allotment.

Increase iCloud storage on iOS:

Open Settings>iCloud, tap “Manage Storage”and in the new pane, tap  “Change Storage Plan.” In the next pane, you’ll be offered your upgrade options. Choose the one you want.

Decrease iCloud storage on Mac:

If you want to downgrade your service, tap through to the Change Storage Planpane, where you will find a Downgrade Optionsitem at the lower left. Tap Downgrade Optionsand you’ll be asked to login to your Apple ID.

In the next pane, you will be shown the downgrade options available for  your account. If you see yellow triangle warning boxesit means you already have more data stored in iCloud than will fit those new storage allocations. You’ll need to back that data up, or delete it, first.

Decrease iCloud storage on iOS:

Navigate through to the‘Change Storage Plan’item as described above. Scroll down in this pane and tap the Downgrade Options item. You will be asked for your Apple ID. In the next pane, you’ll be offered your downgrade options.

Final thoughts

Apple has worked to make iCloud an incredibly convenient companion for all its devices. The integration between Apple’s hardware and software platforms and the capacity to sync data quickly between all your logged-in devices will usually enhance the user experience. However, if you want to keep your data outside of Apple’s walled garden, or simply can’t afford to pay so much just to keep hold of the information that already belongs to you in the first place, you now know what to do.

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