Five Essential Smart Mailboxes For Apple Mail [Mac]

Bakari Chavanu 16-12-2009

mailboxNext to haggling with dozens of web browsing pages scattered all over my desktops, managing several dozen emails per day used to be the bane of my computer-using life. But not much anymore after I started using Smart Mailboxes in Apple’s Mail.


Smart Mailboxes work like smart albums in iTunes. They manage files according to specified rules you set for them. These boxes or folders save you both time and frustration when dealing with the constant flow of email messages. They work even better than filters in Google Mail.

To create a Smart Mailbox, open Mail and go to Mailbox>New Smart Mailbox in Mail’s menu bar. Upon clicking this menu item, you’ll get a drop down menu for setting rules for the particular Mailbox you’re creating.

smart mailboxes apple mail

The following are a handful of Smart Mailboxes I use regularly.


Unread Messages

For me, the most essential Smart Mailbox is what I call Unread Messages. Because emails can pile up in the Inbox, I want to only see emails that I haven’t read or clicked on. That way I’m not annoyed by previously read messages.

The rules for this Smart Mailbox are:

  • Select “Message is Unread”.
  • Click the + button and add a second rule, “Date Received”> “is today.”
  • Make sure the top parameter says “Contains messages that match ALL the follow conditions.” Now click OK and you should get your box of today’s unread emails, if there are any.

smart mailboxes apple mail

After you click to another mailbox and then re-click the unread Smart Mailbox, the messages will be gone from the box; the messages however are not deleted. You can find them in the Inbox of your email account(s) in Mail. All the Smart Mailbox does is collect and manage emails according to the rules you give it.


Smart Mailboxes For VIP’s

Okay, let’s move on to some other useful smart mailboxes. I have several boxes for individuals whom I want make sure their emails and the messages I exchange with them are automatically gathered into one box.

You can create the rules for this mailbox the same way as described above, or you can do it a faster way by first selecting an email from the person you want to create a Smart Mailbox for. Select the person’s name/email address  next to From, and then Control or right-clicking on that address. A drop-down box will appear. Select Create Smart Mailbox and set your rule as shown in the screen shot below.

smart mailboxes apple mail

Last Year’s Mail

One way of getting rid of old messages is to create a Smart Mailbox that collects last year’s emails that you didn’t get around to trashing. The rules are shown below.


When I select this smart mailbox, I typically select the From column (second screenshot below) so that emails in the box are grouped by sender. That way I can go through and decide which groups of email to trash. Or if I’m really frustrated and in a bad mood, I select them all and delete.

smart mailboxes mac


Flagged Messages

This one works great for flagged messages. Often I need to review or respond to various emails, so I flag them and then open this Smart Mailbox which collects all my flagged messages.


smart mailboxes mac


This last Smart Mailbox simply deals with collecting email with attachments. Most of us get those emails from family and friends with say three or four large images attached to them. Then there are countless ad emails which, though they’re not spam, they do have attachments that can build up and weight down your Mail application.

My cure for this problem is using a Smart Mailbox for attachments that I can later go through and delete, using the same method  described above.

smart mailboxes mac

Once you get the hang of creating Smart Mailboxes, you will no doubt create ones that fit your own individual needs. The ones described above are some of my favorites. If you have a few Smart Mailbox rules that I should have included, leave a comment and describe them.

Image Credit : Zizzybaloobah

Related topics: Apple Mail, Desktop Email Client, Email Tips.

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  1. Tony
    March 8, 2019 at 2:10 am

    I have smart mailboxes set up on my High Sierra (Mac Mini) and my Mojave (MacBook). The same criteria work on my Mac Mini but not on my Macbook. There is nothing in the smart mailboxes, even though there are a lot of messages that meet the criteria. Any ideas why this might be happening would be appreciated.

  2. Jenny S
    April 25, 2018 at 9:21 pm

    Thank you for providing the simple instructions for your favorite smart mailboxes. I set up all five of them! My email has been a mess for many years, and I'm looking forward to the new structuring for easy clean-up!

  3. Vincent Rios
    March 17, 2016 at 2:53 am

    how do you make a smart mailbox that mimics "social" and "promotions" like web interface?