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I'm trying to free up space on an external drive, and after deleting a bunch of stuff, it's still showing very little actual free space. I went to the trash can, but can't seem to delete the files there other than by emptying the entire trash.

Am I missing something? What's the point of having a "staging area" for stuff you (probably) want to delete, if you can't get rid of the files in it individually? The drive will be used on an embedded system, so just "putting files in the trash" doesn't actually make space on the drive, as far as the consuming device is concerned.

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You can use the rm command to remove things one by one. You could also use a second folder to hold your "I may trash" these files, but you lose the ability to restore a file from the trash to it's original place in the filesystem. – bmike Sep 3 '11 at 23:59

5 Answers 5

up vote 33 down vote accepted

The Trash isn't intended for files you may want to delete later but rather as a safety net if you delete the wrong files. If you want to mark files for later deletion, either use a dedicated folder (as already mentioned in another comment) or mark them with a specific label/color.

To delete individual files from the Trash

  1. Open the trash in the Finder
  2. Open
  3. Type rm -rf and then one space character at the end
  4. Drag one or more files to be deleted into the Terminal window ('til you see the green + sign)
  5. Press Enter in
  6. Puff, files are gone!

If you need this very often, I would recommend writing a service using Automator or getting more familiar with

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I wish I could upvote you, and downvote Apple because this is amazingly stupid. – James B Sep 27 '11 at 22:19
To be honest, I think your use case (trash as staging area for files which may get deleted in the future) isn't exactly the use Apple had in mind when they added this functionality. As already mentioned above, you would be better of with either a specific pre-trash folder or an appropriate label/flag. – patrix Sep 28 '11 at 13:02
Whether or not the Trash is intended as a "staging area" for files, I've never understood why you can't just select a file in the Trash and hit command-Delete to delete it. Seems like an oversight. – daGUY Jun 14 '14 at 1:24
Thank you...i'm not an apple user but I use mac ib tge office... And I already used ur way of deleting! Thanks! Amazingly brilliant – user90109 Sep 9 '14 at 7:12
Came back to look at a new answer and realized I'd never really addressed the comments about my use case. The reason I like the "recycle bin" analogy in Windows is that you get the benefits of Trash (one-click restore) plus the ability to quickly make space on a drive by deleting a few big files on-demand, without having to carefully sift through the rest of the folder to make sure that yes, you really don't need everything. – James B Dec 7 '14 at 10:27

You could create an Automator service like this one

for f in "$@" 
    rm -rf "$f"


to then be able to delete individual selected files with a command from the services menu.

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Automated rm -rf in a for each file loop can be dangerous when using it wrong. – CousinCocaine Nov 19 at 22:49

the way i do is right click (secondary click) on the items that i don't wanna delete and then from the menu I get I tick the checkbox says "Locked" under "General" it locks the item that u don't wanna delete.

tick the checkbox says "Locked"!

After doing it for all the items that I don't wanna delete then I click "Empty trash" after so it asks whether to delete all or to delete only the unlocked items(which the items u didn't lock and u want to be deleted) so choose "Remove Unlocked Items"

choose "Remove Unlocked Items"!

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This seems to work on El Capitan. Control-select the file, then Delete Immediately from pop-up menu and confirm.

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If you restart your Mac, you can delete it from Trash.

When I move an app to Trash, some plist file the app used will be moved to Trash too, if you empty the Trash now, you will get a warning like "xxx.plist is using , you can not delete it", but if you restart your mac, you can delete it, restart system may unlock some plist from system, so you can delete it, also, you can delete it in Terminal described before.

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