Having never really used Time Machine before now I thought it was high time that I put the spare HDD I have lying about to use. Well more like I’m debating formatting my system to do a clean install of Lion and wanted a local backup for a change.  I’ve also included updated information for what folders to exclude from Mavericks and Yosemite backups.

From a combination of my own Time Machine disk space experiences and putting in some research to make your backups as lean as possible without loosing anything critical, here are my recommended area’s to exclude from Time Machine Backups.

Time Machine Exlusion What Folders To Exclude From Time Machine Backups Time Machine Exlusion Areas

Note in Lion you will need to Unhide your /Users/[user]/Library/ folder. Our guide to do that is here.

To unhide areas in mountain Lion open terminal and enter defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles YES

To Show The User Library in Mavericks : OS X Mavericks – just open up Finder, navigate to your user folder, press Command+J to bring up the folder’s view options, and select the Show Library Folder.

Remove sleep and Hibernation Files from Your Time Machine Backup

Location : /VAR/VM

[adrotate group=”2″]

sleepimage is a file located in /var/vm. To get there press shift + cmd + g, type /var/vm and you’ll see the size of your sleep file.  None to dissimilar to that of hiber.sys.  It’s safe to exclude this from your time machine backup saving you upwards of 4gb in the process


– My tactic here was to let time machine do a one time back up for this area and then select it to be excluded.  This will save you a heap of space to say the least but remember to keep the installers for those hard to find programs

Caches and downloads

Browsing the net can leave you with a whole host of crazy files that add to time machine’s duties.  There’s not real need to keep them unless you are a mad programmer so let’s exclude those as well.

/Users/[user]/Library/Caches and /Library/Caches

Between the two you can knock off a few hundred megs of constantly changing, essentially useless data (such as: all the page caches from Firefox).

/Users/[user]/Downloads – Half the time I just download and forget about it.  Excluding this will save you space and time with your backups.

/Library/Mail Downloads – Mail attachments can be a pesky one and can easily grow in size.  I tend to use IMAP on my mail server.

/Users/[user]/.Trash and /.Trashes – A tricky one this, however if you have trashed a file there’s going to be the original on a previous backup.  Trash is that, trash, so it can be excluded especially if you end up deleting movies and tv show’s etc.

Safari / Chrome / FireFox Caches – If you use anything like google synch or iCloud keychain then you won’t have to worry about backing up passwords.  These caches can go up to several GB in size so if you want to slim down your backups these should be considered.

Audio and media

Use Elgato Eye TV or the Equinux Tizi.TV, or a similar TV Tuner? then DON’T FORGET to exclude your recording directory.  It’s a little strange to see 20gb’s of backups happening all day, everyday, as you are backing up TV show’s EVERY time.  So look to where your recording directory is and, for the love of god and hard disk space, exclude that.

Some more obvious picks.

/Library/Audio – You can save from the hundreds of megs to gigs here. Keep an eye out for the GarageBand samples, they weigh a ton.

/Users/[user]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Podcasts – Aside from keeping the odd podcast, for me they are a one time listen as they can easily be re downloaded.

Time Machine un-friendly apps

The data produced by some of these apps can easily be the worst offenders when it comes to backups. Until they get their act together, they should likely be excluded categorically.

Virtual Machines.

Parallels : (/Users/[user]/Library/Parallels) VMware Fusion: (/Users/[user]/Documents/Virtual Machines)

In more recent version of Parallels and Fusion you can select a custom directory for your virtual machine to live on so you may need to adjust these path locations to suite. You might want to think about your backup strategy and dealing with 20gb files.

If left included in Time Machine backups, your system will continuously save the virtual disks each time you use Parallels or VMware as the file size or date will change on that massive virtual disk file, VMware has become a little more TM-aware though, which is good.  All this means potentially hundreds of wasted GB — not to mention tons of lost time during backup.

Entourage (/Users/[user]/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 2008 Identities)

Same deal here, Entourage uses one giant, constantly changing file to store all your mail. It sucks not to have your email backed up though, so be sure to use something other than Time Machine for keeping a copy handy in case of emergency.

/Users/[user]/Library/Mail Downloads – Whenever you open an attachment in Mail, it stores a copy of the file in your Mail.app attachments folder. If you’re a heavy Mail user, excluding this will save you some real space.

Other Ways To Save Space For Your Time Machine Backups

Do you need to Backup Your iTunes Library?

If you have a substantial iTunes library then consider investing in iTunes match instead of a local backup.  Ok so it’ll cost you £20 a year but you do get high audio copies of your audio files if they are < 192kbps and with an added bonus of your music being available anywhere.

Have you let iTunes manage your files?  If so then at least it’ll be moving them into one place.  If not then you could be double duplicating.  Things have gotten better with iTunes and the cloud so think if you need a local backup..

How To Find Big Files and Folders To Exclude.

So you followed this guide and think you got it covered but something is still causing your backups to go wild.  Use a disk sweeper program like Omnidisk.  Omnidisk will scan your entire hard drive, showing you sizes of directories.  That’ll guide you in the right direction of anything too large and doesn’t need backing up.

OS X Yosemite Time Machine What Folders To Exclude From Time Machine Backups OS X Yosemite Time Machine Backups.

If you have any hints or tips you’d like to share then please use the comment form below and share with the world.


  1. Also consider:
    “~/Google Drive”

    et al.

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