How to Organize Files on Your Mac Featured Image

How to Organize Files on Your Mac: Top 10 Best Ways

Streamline file management with these Mac organization methods.

Written by

Reviewed by

Last updated: December 19, 2023

Expert verified

SVG Image


To organize files on your Mac, try the following steps:

  1. Declutter your desktop, delete duplicate files, and merge similar folders.
  2. Use Stacks to organize desktop files by right-clicking the desktop and selecting Use Stacks.
  3. Right-click a folder, select Tags, and assign a tag color to a group.
  4. Create a Smart Folder by opening Finder, clicking Finder in the menu bar, and selecting New Smart Folder. Add rules and criteria and Save.
  5. Add folders to the Finder bar by going to Finder > Settings > Sidebar and checking the folders you want to add.

Lost documents, duplicated content, and the constant struggle to free up space, I’ve faced it all just because I wasn’t organized enough. So, I explored and found some effective ways to organize files on your Mac. In this guide, I’ll share my top tips for keeping your Mac files in order and finding what you need without the hassle.

Before We Begin

Duplicate files consume a significant amount of storage space and make your Mac disorganized. Manually finding and removing these files can be tedious and time-consuming. Download MacKeeper to delete duplicate files in just a few clicks and keep your Mac organized.

10 Ways to Organize Files on Your Mac

Why You Can Trust MacBook Journal verify badge We always conduct first-hand research and verify every method or solution we present, ensuring you receive reliable and effective advice. Learn more about our process.

Whether it’s photos, music, or work-related documents, a well-structured system is essential to easily find what you need when you need it. In this section, I’ll share different methods to organize files on your Mac, from basic file management to third-party apps. So, let’s get started.

1. Declutter Your Desktop Manually

Decluttering your Mac desktop makes it tidy. I’ve found it makes a huge difference in staying focused and productive. Here are some hands-on tips I’ve personally used to declutter my Mac desktop:

  • 🔍 Evaluate Your Files: Take a good look at your desktop. Are there files you haven’t opened in months? If a file isn’t used often, it probably doesn’t need to be on your desktop. Think about how frequently you use each item.
  • 📂 Create Folders: This is a game-changer. I like to have folders for different categories, like ‘Work,’ ‘Personal,’ and ‘Projects.’ It’s much easier to find what you need when it’s sorted into clearly labeled folders.
  • 🖱️ Organize with Drag and Drop: Drag each file into its new home in the folders you’ve created. You can also right-click the desktop and select New Folder to create additional folders.
right click the desktop and select new folder
  • 🗑️ Delete Unneeded Files: If you haven’t used a file in a long time and it’s not important, it’s just clutter. Select it and hit Delete, or drag it to the Bin on your Dock.
  • 🗃️ Arrange What’s Left: Now that you’ve cleared the unnecessary stuff, arrange the remaining files and folders in a way that makes sense to you—maybe by project, date, or file type.
  • 🚀 Use the Dock for Quick Access: If there are folders or files you use daily, drag them to your Dock. This creates a shortcut, so they’re always just a click away.

2. Use Stacks

Using Stacks on your Mac is another great method for keeping your desktop neat and organized. Here’s how I’ve incorporated Stacks into my routine to manage desktop clutter effectively:

  1. Right-click your desktop and select Use Stacks from the drop-down menu.
right click the desktop and select use stacks
  1. Your desktop icons will now be automatically organized into groups based on file type. For example, all image files will be placed in one stack, all PDFs in another, etc.
stack of screenshots on mac desktop
  1. To open a stack, simply click it, and it will display the files within the stack in a neat, organized list.
click a stack and view all files
  1. You can customize how Stacks organizes your desktop icons by right-clicking the desktop and hovering your mouse over Group Stacks By. From here, you can group stacks by file type, date modified, date added, and more.
right click the desktop and hover your mouse over group stacks by

3. Use Tags to Organize Files

Using tags to organize files on your Mac is an incredibly efficient way to keep track of your documents. This is really helpful when you’re dealing with a large number of files spread across various folders.

macOS has a built-in tagging system that color codes folders and files and categorizes them according to their tag, regardless of location. You can use pre-made tags or create custom ones.

Here’s how to use tags to organize files on your Mac:

  1. Select the file or folder you want to tag and click the Tags icon in the Finder toolbar. You can assign a tag to the folder from the drop-down menu.
select a file to tag and click the tags icon in the finder toolbar
  1. Alternatively, right-click the file/folder and select a color from the drop-down menu.
right click a file and select a tag color from the drop down menu
  1. You can also create a new tag. To do this, right-click the file and tap Tags in the drop-down menu.
right click the file and tap tags in the drop down menu
  1. Now, type in its name, choose a color, and press Enter to create the tag.
type the tags name choose a color and press enter
  1. Repeat this process for any other files/folders you want to tag.
  2. To find tagged files/folders, expand the Tags list in the Finder sidebar and click your desired color to see all tagged items in one place.
expand the tags list in the finder sidebar

4. Create Smart Folders

Creating Smart Folders on your Mac is a dynamic way to organize files based on specific criteria without moving them from their original location. Once you create a Smart Folder, it will automatically update with any new content that meets the criteria set in the folder.

Here’s how to create a Smart Folder to organize files on your Mac:

  1. Open the Finder, click File in the menu bar, and select New Smart Folder.
click file and select new smart folder
  1. Click the small plus + button in the top right corner to add rules.
click the small plus button in the top right corner
  1. Set the criteria for the folder, such as file type, date created, or keyword. Click Save.
set the criteria such as file type date created or keyword click save
  1. A pop-up window will appear. Rename your Smart Folder and choose a location to save it. Then, click Save. It will automatically save all files that meet your set of rules.
click save on the pop up window

5. Remove Duplicate Files Using MacKeeper

Having duplicate files on Mac is common, but identifying and deleting these duplicates manually can be a hassle. That’s why I use MacKeeper. Its Duplicates Finder tool helps easily find and delete duplicate photos, contacts, and other files on Mac.

Here’s how to find and delete duplicate files on your Mac via MacKeeper:

  1. Download and install MacKeeper on your Mac.
  2. Open MacKeeper and click the Duplicates Finder tool in the sidebar.
click duplicates finder in mackeeper under cleaning
  1. Click Start Scan to start the scanning process.
click start scan in duplicates finder
  1. Once the scan is complete, MacKeeper will display a list of duplicate files on your Mac. Select an item from the list to review duplicates manually.
click a folder in duplicates finder
  1. Alternatively, click Check All and tap Remove Selected.
click check all and tap remove selected
  1. Click Remove on the dialog box to confirm the deletion.
click remove on the pop up window in duplicates finder
  1. It will remove duplicate files, and you’ll see a completion notification on your screen. Click Finish to complete the process.
click finish in duplicates finder to complete the process

What Else Can MacKeeper Do?

Besides deleting duplicates, MacKeeper provides a wide range of features to optimize your Mac. You can use it to remove junk files from your Mac, check your Mac for malware, and manage startup programs. If you want to learn about its features in detail, read my full MacKeeper review.

6. Use Mac Storage Management

Storage Management is a built-in tool on macOS that identifies and manages the space on your Mac’s hard drive. It can remove unnecessary files, free up space on your Mac’s hard drive, and keep it running smoothly.

Here’s how to use Storage Management to declutter and organize files on your Mac:

  1. Click the Apple menu on the top left corner of your screen and select About This Mac.
click apple icon and select about this mac
  1. Click General and select Storage.
click general and select storage
  1. Wait for Storage Management to analyze your Mac’s storage. Once the analysis is complete, you’ll see different recommendations for freeing up space on your Mac.
storage optimization recommendtaions in system settings
  1. Review the different file categories, like Documents, Apps, and Photos, to identify where most of your space is being used.
  2. For each category, click the item to see a preview and choose whether to delete, move to iCloud, or optimize.
  3. You can also review and delete large files. If you don’t want to delete them, you can move them to an external drive and free up storage.

7. Merge Similar Folders

Merging similar folders is a practical approach to streamline your file organization on Mac, especially when you have multiple folders containing related content. This strategy has helped me keep my files more organized and easily accessible.

Here’s how to merge similar folders to organize files on your Mac:

  1. Open Finder and find the two folders you want to merge.
  2. Select one of the folders, press the Option ⌥ key, and drag it onto the other folder.
  3. A dialog box will appear, asking if you want to replace the existing folder with the one you’re moving.
  4. Click Merge to combine the two folders.
  5. If there are any conflicts, such as files with the same name, you will be prompted to choose which version to keep.
  6. After you’ve resolved any conflicts, the two folders will be merged into a single folder.

It’s always a good idea to create a backup of your files before merging folders to ensure you don’t accidentally delete any important files.

8. Sync Files With iCloud Drive

Syncing your Mac files with iCloud Drive is a great way to organize files on your Mac and keep them accessible across all your devices. This is useful if you work on multiple devices or need to access your files while on the go.

Here are the steps to sync your Mac files with iCloud Drive:

  1. Go to the Apple menu on the top left corner of your screen and click System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click Apple ID and sign in with your Apple ID if you haven’t already. If you have, click iCloud.
click your apple id and select icloud
  1. Click iCloud Drive.
click icloud drive in icloud
  1. A new pop-up window will appear. If the iCloud Drive is not enabled, tap the Turn On button and click Done.
tap the turn on button and click done
  1. You can also click Options to select the folders you want to sync with iCloud Drive by checking the box next to each folder. Click Done when finished.
check the box next to each folder and click done
  1. Any files you save to the synced folders will automatically be uploaded to iCloud and can be accessed from other devices signed in to the same Apple ID.
  2. To access your iCloud Drive files, go to Finder and click iCloud Drive in the left-hand menu.
go to finder and click icloud drive in the left hand menu

9. Create a Folder Structure

Creating a well-organized folder structure is crucial for maintaining an efficient workspace on your Mac. I’ve learned that a little time spent planning and setting up a coherent folder system can save hours of searching and frustration later.

Here’s a step-by-step approach to creating a folder structure:

  1. 📁 Define Main Categories: Identify the main categories relevant to your work or personal life. These could be broad like ‘Work,’ ‘Personal,’ ‘Finances,’ or ‘Projects.’ Then, create top-level folders for these major categories.
  2. 🗂️ Create Subfolders for Detailed Organization: Within each main category, create subfolders to further organize your files. For example, under ‘Work,’ you might have subfolders for different clients or projects.
  3. 🏷️ Be Consistent with Naming Conventions: Use clear and consistent naming for your folders. This might mean using dates, project names, or specific types of documents.
  4. 📈 Plan for Future Growth: Your folder structure should be scalable. Anticipate future categories or projects and leave room for them in your organization scheme.
  5. 🔍 Utilize Hierarchical Organization: Organize your folders hierarchically, from the most general to the most specific. This helps in narrowing down to the exact file while searching.

10. Add Frequently Accessed Folders to the Finder Sidebar

Adding frequently used folders in the Finder sidebar can provide quick access. This way, you can easily access them without searching for them in Finder.

Here’s how to add frequently used folders to the Finder sidebar:

  1. Open Finder on your Mac, click Finder in the menu bar, and select Settings from the drop-down menu.
click finder in the menu bar and select settings
  1. Click the Sidebar tab in the Settings window.
select sidebar and check the applications box
  1. You will see a list of items that can be added to the sidebar. To add an item, check the little box next to its name.
  2. The folder will now appear in the sidebar.

You can also drag and drop folders directly into the sidebar to add them. To remove a folder from the sidebar, right-click it and select Remove from Sidebar or drag it out of the sidebar.

Keyboard Shortcuts to Manage Files on Mac

Using Mac keyboard shortcuts is an efficient way to navigate and organize your files quickly. Here are some useful keyboard shortcuts for Mac users:

Keyboard ShortcutFunction
Command ⌘ + NCreate a new folder
Command ⌘ + Shift ⇧ + NCreate a new folder without opening the Finder
Command ⌘ + DeleteMove the selected File or folder to the Trash
Command ⌘ + Shift ⇧ + DeleteEmpty the Trash
Command ⌘ + IGet information on the chosen File or folder
Command ⌘ + Option ⌥ + IShow the inspector window
Command ⌘ + TabSwitch between open applications

Improve Your File Organization on Mac

Organizing your Mac files is essential for efficiency, storage space, security, and backup. Here are three more tips to help you manage your Mac files:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How can I start organizing my Mac files?

    You can start organizing your Mac files by decluttering your desktop and creating folders to categorize your files. Use descriptive names for your folders and files to make them easier to locate later. You may also want to use tags or color coding to organize your files further.

  2. How do I find and delete duplicate files on my Mac?

    You can find and delete duplicate files on your Mac using a tool like MacKeeper’s Duplicates Finder. This feature is designed to identify and remove duplicate files from your Mac. To use it, simply launch the app and scan for duplicates. It will give you a list of duplicates, and you can select the ones you want to delete.

  3. How can I make sure my Mac files are secure?

    You can make sure your Mac files are secure by keeping your Mac up to date with the latest security software, patches, and updates. Use strong passwords for all your Mac accounts and regularly back up important data with an external drive or cloud storage. Use encryption for sensitive files and password-protected zip files for additional protection.

Hashir Ibrahim


I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.



Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

You May Also Like