How to Take Out the Trash in OS X Yosemite

By Bob LeVitus

The Trash is a special container where you put the icons you no longer want to hang around on your hard drive(s). Got four copies of a document named Letter to the Editor re: Bird Waste Issue on your hard drive? Drag three of them to the Trash. Tired of tripping over old PDF and DMG files you’ve downloaded but no longer need? Drag them to the Trash, too.

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To put something in the Trash, just drag its icon onto the Trash icon in the Dock and it will move into the Trash. As with other icons, you know that you’ve connected with the Trash while dragging when the Trash icon is highlighted. And as with other Dock icons, the Trash icon’s name appears when you move the cursor over the icon.

Two other ways to put items into the Trash are to select the items you want to dispose of and then choose File→Move to Trash or press Command+Delete (Command+Backspace on some keyboards).

If you accidentally move something to the Trash and want it back right now, you can magically put it back where it came from — but only if the next thing you do is choose Edit→Undo or press Command+Z.

For the first time in Yosemite, the Finder remembers more than one action for Undo and can usually undo the last few things you did in the Finder. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it redoes things in reverse order, so don’t wait too long. If you perform several other file-related activities in the Finder, you’ll have to Undo all those actions before you can Undo your accidental Move to Trash.

In other words, as soon as you create or rename a folder, move a file from one place to another, drag a different file to the Trash, create an alias, or almost anything that affects a file or folder, choosing Edit→Undo or pressing Command+Z will undo that action first.

You’ll find that some Finder actions — most of the items in the View menu, for example — don’t affect Undo. So if you drag a file to the Trash and then switch views, Undo will still un-trash the file.

Even if you do something and can’t use Undo, files you drag to the Trash aren’t deleted immediately. You know how the garbage in the can on the street curb sits there until the sanitation engineers come by and pick it up each Thursday? Yosemite’s Trash works the same way, but without the smell. Items sit in the Trash, waiting for a sanitation engineer (you) to come along and empty it.

So, if you miss the window of opportunity to use the Undo command, don’t worry; you can still retrieve the file from the Trash:

  • To open the Trash and see what’s in there, just click its icon on the Dock. A Finder window called Trash opens, showing you the files it contains (namely, files and folders put in the Trash since the last time it was emptied).

  • To retrieve an item that’s already in the Trash, drag it back out, either onto the Desktop or back into the folder where it belongs.

    Or use the secret keyboard shortcut: Select the item(s) in the Trash that you want to retrieve and press Command+Delete. This technique has the added benefit of magically transporting the files or folders you select from the Trash back into the folder from which they came.

    And, unlike Undo, the secret keyboard shortcut will work on a file or folder at any time, or at least until the next time you empty the Trash. Try it — it’s sweet. And if that doesn’t work, you can right-click or Control-click a file and choose Put Back from the contextual menu.

  • To empty the Trash, choose Finder→Empty Trash or press Shift+Command+Delete. If the Trash window is open, you see an Empty button just below its toolbar on the right. Clicking the button, of course, also empties the Trash.

You can also empty the Trash from the Dock by pressing the mouse button and holding it down on the Trash icon for a second or two, or right-clicking or Control-clicking the Trash icon. The Empty Trash menu item pops up like magic. Move the pointer over Empty Trash to select it and then release the mouse button.

Think twice before you invoke the Empty Trash command. After you empty the Trash, the files that it contained are pretty much gone forever, or at least gone from your hard disk. There is no Undo for Empty Trash. Before you get too bold, back up your hard drive at least once (several times is better).

After you get proficient at backups, chances improve greatly that even though the files are technically gone forever from your hard drive, you can get them back if you really want to (from your backups).

The Trash icon shows you when it has files waiting for you there; as in real life, Trash that contains files or folders looks like it’s full of crumpled paper. Conversely, when your Trash is empty, the Trash icon looks, well, empty.

Finally, although you can’t open a file that’s in the Trash, you can select it and use Quick Look (shortcut: Command+Y) to see its contents before you decide to use Empty Trash and permanently delete it.

And that’s pretty much all there is to know about the Trash.