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If your Google Drive keeps inexplicably overflowing, you may be one of those users who is losing space to a deluge of hidden, “orphan” files. Files become orphaned if their parent directory is deleted, but the file itself is not. For example, if you upload a document to a folder on your friend’s Google Drive, but your friend later deletes the folder, the uploaded file will remain in your Google storage and count towards your data limit even though it is no longer directly accessible.

While this is a rare phenomenon, the recent shutdown of Google Music has dramatically increased the likelihood that users will have orphaned music and podcast files that were improperly deleted before the service was closed, as in this case users Reddit thread have discovered.

Fortunately, there are ways to find and remove at least some of these bare files.

How to Find & Delete Orphaned Files in Google Drive

These files will still show up in the Storage list in Google Drive, but unless you know the names of all of the other files in your Drive, it’s almost impossible to tell which files are actually orphaned. This trick (via Workplace tips) you can find and delete (or restore) orphan files that are cluttering your Google Cloud storage:

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Screenshot: Brendan Hesse

  1. Go to Google Drive in your browser or open the Drive mobile app
  2. Paste the following string into the search bar: is: disorganized owner: me
  3. Do the search and you should see all of the orphaned files.
  4. Right-click an orphaned file and select “Add to my drive” to restore them to your drive, or “Removed” to send them to the trash.
  5. If you delete them to reclaim space, go to your Trash, click on the files, and select “Delete irrevocably” to completely remove them from your Drive and Google Storage.

I tried the above process on my two Drive accounts and found 4.6GB worth of orphaned files. So it’s worth checking for orphaned files even if you still have enough space.

Thanks to reader Jamie White for the tip!