Sarah writes: I keep getting a message that says I don’t have enough available storage to back up my iPhone 4S. I have the free 5 GB account and only 1.5 GB available.

I am truly not a geek who saves everything. Any suggestions as to where I might look what is consuming GB?

Hi Sarah! You’d be surprised how easy it is to bust over your free 5 GB iCloud storage limit, even when you’re not backing up reams of documents, podcasts, or other app data on your iPhone (or iPad).

What’s the culprit? Well, I have my suspicions.

First, though, let me show you how to check exactly what’s hogging all the storage space in your iCloud account.

iCloud Backup options

You can check how much iCloud space your various apps are using, or even turn off iCloud Backup for a given app by flipping the “On/Off” switch.

Here’s what you do…

  • Tap Settings, iCloud, then scroll down the page and tap the Storage and Backup button.
  • Next, under the Storage heading, tap Manage Storage, then tap the entry for your iPhone (“Sarah’s iPhone,” for example) in the Backups section.
  • The next screen should detail everything you need to know about your latest iCloud backup, including when it was performed, the total amount of space it’s using, and how much iCloud storage each of your individual apps is taking—or hogging, as the case may be. The list of apps should start with your Camera Roll, then proceed according to iCloud storage size.

So, what’s most likely to be hogging all your iCloud backup space? My guess: snapshots and videos.

Unless you regularly (and manually) delete images from your iPhone’s Camera Roll, the photos and videos you take will gradually pile up until they’re taking up several gigabytes of storage space—both on your iPhone itself and in your iCloud backup.

Videos, in particular, can take up a gargantuan amount of storage space.

(Note: Keep in mind that your Photo Stream images don’t count against your 5 GB of free iCloud storage.)

Another likely suspect: podcasts, which (on my iPhone, anyway) can hog several hundred megabytes of storage—or even more, if you’re a video podcast fan.

Buying more iCloud storage space

Running out of iCloud Backup space? One option: buy more storage.

Running out of iCloud Backup space? One option: buy more storage.

Once you’ve ID’d your iCloud backup hogs, you’ve got a few options for reclaiming (or getting more) storage space:

  • Buy more iCloud storage: The first 5 GB of iCloud storage is free; after that, you’ll have to pony up. You can get a total of 10 GB of iCloud storage for $20 a year, 20 GB of storage for $40 a year, or 50 GB for $100/year. To buy more storage straight from your iPhone, tap Settings, iCloud, Storage & Backup, then tap the Change Storage Plan button.
  • Trim data from your apps: So, did you discover that your Camera Roll has ballooned to a few gigabytes in size? You can always start deleting photos and videos manually, or you could sync your iPhone images with iPhoto or your Windows PC and then delete everything off your camera roll at once (Settings, General, Usage, Photos & Camera, then swipe the Camera Roll entry and tap the red Delete button). Or, got too many podcasts? Try deleting old episodes from your Podcasts app.
  • Deactivate iCloud Backup for specific apps: You can always exclude a particular app from iCloud Backup if you don’t feel the need to keep a secure copy of its data. Go back to the screen that details how much space each app is using in iCloud, then flip the switch for any app you wish (including Camera Roll) from “On” to “Off.” Don’t forget, though, that if you switch off iCloud Backup for a given app, its data may be lost forever if something bad happens to your iPhone.

Hope that helps, Sarah. Still have questions? Let me know!

Bonus tip

Is iCloud still refusing to back up your iPhone even after you’ve trimmed your Camera Roll and/or app data?

Try this: delete your latest (and massive, most likely) iCloud Backup file to clear enough space in your iCloud account.

Go back to the screen with all your iCloud Backup details, scroll down to the bottom, then tap the Delete Backup button.

Now, return to the first Storage & Backup screen, scroll down, and tap the Back Up Now button.