Why does top show very little free memory even when I have very few programs running?

The simple answer is that free memory is wasted memory. Any memory that your programs do not actively allocate is used within the FreeBSD kernel as disk cache. The values shown by top(1) labeled as Inact, Cache, and Buf are all cached data at different aging levels. This cached data means the system does not have to access a slow disk again for data it has accessed recently, thus increasing overall performance. In general, a low value shown for Free memory in top(1) is good, provided it is not very low.

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