How to organize files and folders on Mac

We are gathered here today to offer a safe space to talk about personal file organization, or the lack thereof. You've probably seen other people navigate through their Mac file structure with ease; everything is where it should be as if the Mac is an extension of their mind. For others, their file system is so messy that if their Mac truly represented their thoughts, they’d probably be in a straight jacket.

However, most people probably fall somewhere in the middle. Whether you’re in the midst of an organizational emergency or you just want to be a bit more organized and efficient, we’ve got some quick and easy tips to help you achieve your goals. Keep reading, and you’ll learn how to organize files on Mac.

Best ways to organize files on Mac

When you think about how to organize folders on Mac, you’re probably thinking it’s just moving files around on your desktop. Or maybe you’re looking up how to create folders on a Mac. But there are a couple things you can do that are quite as tedious as shuffling files around your desktop. And there are definitely some things you can do to speed up your process.

Find and remove duplicate files

The first thing you should when you start organizing your files is clean the duplicate ones. The last thing you want to waste any time doing is organizing duplicate files. How many copies do you really need of that pitch deck you made last month or the picture of yesterday’s avocado toast?

Thankfully, you can use a duplicate finder like Gemini 2 to scan your hard drive and quickly help you get rid of all your duplicates. Once you download Gemini 2 on your Mac, just follow these steps to start cleaning up your files:

  1. Download and open Gemini 2.
  2. Click + > Home folder.
  3. Click Smart Cleanup to let it automatically delete your duplicate files. Or click Review Results to sift through the copies yourself and decide which versions you want to keep.
Gemini 2 app

Merge similar folders

Merging folders (copying a folder to a location that has a folder with the same name) sounds like a fairly simple task. But in OS X is a lot trickier than it should be. If you aren’t acutely aware of what you’re doing, it’s straightforward to end up overwriting files and losing content. But don’t worry, we’re going to show you two ways to merge folders on a Mac safely.

Merge folders using Finder

When dropping a folder into a location with the same folder name, you will be met by a message asking if you want to replace the folder in the location or stop the process. Assuming you have different files with the same name, you’re going to want to choose “Stop” to prevent files from being copied over.

To reveal the hidden merge option, follow these easy steps:

  1. Drag the folder again, only this time hold down the Option key before releasing.
  2. You should now have a new option called “Merge” – click it.

Any files with the same name will automatically have a “2” added to the filename, so both the original and the new file will remain, and nothing will be lost.

Merge folders using Terminal

An alternative method is to use Terminal and a command called “ditto”. This will merge the contents of two folders, including any subfolders within.

  1. Open Terminal.
  2. Type: ditto ~/source_folder ~/target_folder

Note - Use the folders’ actual name in place of “source_folder” and “target_folder”. You can just drag and drop the folders into your Terminal window instead of typing the folder path.

Use tags

Another way to step up your organization is to use the native Mac tags. It allows you to assign to your file(s) a specific tag/color, which makes finding those files later so much faster.

Admittedly, setting up tags can be a lot of work upfront. But once you have your files set up with tags finding them will be so much easier. First, you have to add tags to your files, and here’s how you can do that with just a couple of clicks.

  1. Open a new Finder window.
  2. Go to the files or folders you want to add tags to. Right-click or hold down the Control key on the file.
  3. You can either choose one of the preconfigured tags or click Tags to create your own.
How to use tags on Mac

After you’ve tagged your files, you can keep track of them by clicking on tags in the left sidebar within the Finder window.

Organize your desktop

If you’re anything like me, then you save everything onto your Desktop and promise yourself that you’ll come back to tidy things up. But you never do. Well, you’re in luck because there’s a macOS feature called Stacks that can really help.

Stacks are similar to Smart folders but for your desktop. By default, Stacks will group all of your files together by kind. Just make sure you’re on your Desktop and then click View > Use Stacks.

Of course, your files don’t necessarily have to be grouped by what kind of file they are. You can choose to have them grouped by Date Last Modified, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, and Tags. To change how Stacks are grouped:

  1. Right-click or Control + click on your Desktop.
  2. Hover over Group Stacks by.
  3. Click on one of the options.
How to sort desktop items

To view, open, or close a Stack, all you have to do is click on it, and then the files will expand onto your Desktop. But if you want to view the files without opening the Stack, all you have to do:

  1. Move your mouse over a Stack.
  2. Scrub left or right with your trackpad or mouse, the Stack’s icon, and name changes to match each file in the Stack.
  3. When you find the file you want, double-click to open it.

If there is one thing to take away from this article, it’s to realize that people with organized Mac’s are not special. Thanks to macOS and Gemini 2, anyone can quickly and easily organize their Mac files and their digital lives.

Now, if only we had similar tools for our personal lives…

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Gemini 2
Gemini 2

Your know-how to fight duplicates