Mac Productivity

Reduce Finder Clutter and Mac Junk With Aliases, Tags, and More

Akshata Shanbhag 13-12-2017

From media and documents to applications and system preferences, your Mac Finder eats every kind of data you throw at it. Even when you’re using other apps, Finder is the final destination for data and preferences. No wonder it gets cluttered up so often!


A thorough Finder cleanup every now and then is necessary, but it can only take you so far. You need a good strategy for dodging clutter as well as clearing it. Lost files, distracting data, and space-hogging duplicates can really suck up valuable space.

Let’s look at five strategies you can adopt to reduce clutter in Finder.

1. Use Tags to Group Files Based on Context

What I like about tags is that they help you make sense of a random bunch of files and folders that may or may not live at the same location in Finder. We have already covered the basics of using tags in Finder Find Files Faster and Organize Your Mac With Finder Tags Finder tags are a great way to organize data -- here's how to make the most of this handy organization tool on your Mac today. Read More , so I’m going to focus on a few smart ways in which you can adopt them to organize your data in Finder.

Highlight Temporary Data

Temporary files such as app downloads, receipts, and screenshots have a way of multiplying in number super fast. Yes, you need to keep them for a while, but they often get in the way. Mark such future junk files with a temp (“temporary”) tag.

You can then perform a quick sweep every few days: select the tag in the Finder sidebar, and there they are! This makes it easy to find and delete outdated files in a shot. Thanks to the tag’s visual cue, you’ll also find it easy to ignore those files wherever they appear in Finder.



Highlight Sensitive Data

Mark extra important files with a backup tag. Every time you need to back them up to, say, a USB drive, you can select the tag in the sidebar and grab all the right files in one go. You won’t have to worry about missing any if they’re scattered across Finder or if you add more files to the mix in future.

Highlight Task-Related Data

If there’s any data you need to take action on, mark it with a separate tag for quick identification. Remember those photos you have to share with your best friend, that app you have to uninstall, and those files you need to rename? Group them all under an action tag and deal with them in batches when you’re listening to music.


Tags are also useful for drawing a line between personal and work-related files and apps. You could use separate user accounts or Spaces to keep digital work and play separate, but tags are the simpler solution.

Yes, all those colorful tags create visual confusion, but you can clear that right up if you sort Finder contents by tag.


2. Create Aliases to Prevent Duplicates

If you’re in the habit of creating extra instances of files in every folder they seem relevant, you’re losing a lot of valuable disk space. Delete those duplicates and create aliases for the original file (or folder) instead.


An alias is “a shortcut without being a shortcut.” What Is a Symbolic Link (Symlink)? How to Create One in Linux File shortcuts are useful, but symbolic links (symlinks) can change how you use files and folders on Linux, macOS, and Windows. Read More While a shortcut as we know it points to the original file, an alias simulates the file’s existence. Now let’s say you move or rename the original file. Clicking on the alias will still bring up the file, whereas clicking on the pointer-type shortcut would have proved to be a dead end.

To create an alias for a file (or folder) in Finder, click on the Make Alias right-click menu option when you have the file selected. You can then move the alias to any location. It will always point to the original file and doesn’t take up more than a few measly bytes of space.

If you want to locate the original file in Finder, select any of its aliases and click on File > Show Original. Hitting Command + R also works.



You can see how useful aliases can be, right? Now if you need to keep that humongous ebook or that media folder accessible from five different folders, you can. You won’t have to do any digital acrobatics to save space either Startup Disk Nearly Full? 6 Space-Saving Tips For Critically Encumbered Macs Whether you're wondering if your full drive is affecting performance or just want some extra room, a few simple steps can free up a lot of space. It's a good idea to leave between five... Read More .

3. Customize Toolbar/Sidebar to Find Options Faster

If you don’t ever look at the messy contents of the Recents section in your Mac Finder, why display its link in the sidebar? Get rid of it from Finder > Preferences > Sidebar (uncheck the box for Recents).


Which other unused sidebar links do you have to scan all the time to click on the ones you need? Zap them, and in their place, line up links to folders you use often. It’s as simple as dragging and dropping a folder onto the Favorites section of the sidebar.

While you’re at it, set new Finder windows to show your most used folder. For this tweak, you’ll have to visit Finder > Preferences > General and select a folder of your choice from the New Finder windows show dropdown menu. If the folder isn’t listed, click on the Other… option to be able to select it.


Here’s what I have in the sidebar: Downloads, Applications, my favorite tags, and a folder for screenshots. For accessing other Mac Finder content, I use Finder search or Spotlight.

To browse folders within a Finder folder, I use one of Spotlight’s less-obvious options: hitting the Tab key with a folder selected. Hitting Enter on one of the child folders displays its contents in Finder. It’s a pity this feature works only for one level in the hierarchy.


When I’m viewing a folder in Finder, if I want to move up in its hierarchy, I Control + Click the folder name in the window title to select the right parent folder.


Clean up the toolbar to score some more white space in Finder. That’s one way to make your macOS experience more minimalistic and efficient 9 Tips For a Minimalist & More Efficient Mac Experience Your Mac's interface is clean and beautiful as it is, but with a few tweaks here and there, you can polish it up some more for a more pleasant desktop experience. Read More .

Right-click on any empty space in the toolbar to reveal the Customize Toolbar… option. Click on that option to get access to Mac Finder’s complete set of toolbar icons.


Drag useful icons onto the toolbar to display them and unused icons off the toolbar to remove them from view. Click on the Done button once you’re happy with the visual results.


4. Install Quick Look Plugins

Of all macOS features, Quick Look is my favorite. It ensures that you don’t waste time or effort opening files to see what’s inside 5 Essential Quick Look Tips for Previewing Mac Files Quick Look is a subtle but handy macOS feature. You can get more out of it with these top tips. Read More , which comes in handy when you want to clear out junk files.

Not sure how to use Quick Look? Select a file in Finder and tap the Space to get an instant pop-up preview of the file. Hit Space again to hide the preview.

If there’s one drawback to Quick Look: it only supports certain file types, such as PDFs, media files, and iWork documents How iWork Works: The Basics of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote Have you always dismissed Apple's productivity apps as unsuitable for your office needs? It's time to reconsider! Read More . If you want to preview, say, archives, ePUBs, or Markdown files, you’re out of luck. But if you install some relevant Quick Look plugins, you’re good to go. Some of our favorites include:

  • QLStephen: To preview plain text files that come without an extension.
  • QLVideo: To add thumbnail previews for video files that Quick Look doesn’t support.
  • QLMarkdown: To preview Markdown files.


How do you install these smart plugins? Where can you find more of them? We have the answers for you in our Quick Look plugins mini-guide 5 Essential Quick Look Tips for Previewing Mac Files Quick Look is a subtle but handy macOS feature. You can get more out of it with these top tips. Read More .

With Quick Look and its plugins in place, you can preview unneeded files and delete them by the bunch in Finder. All without having to open any other app.

5. Use iBooks to Handle PDFs

When you have the iBooks app open, any PDFs you drag and drop into it get stored within the app along with the native EPUB files. Reopen iBooks and those PDFs will still be there, which means you’re free to delete them from Finder. Keep backup copies of your documents until you’re satisfied with this new workflow and understand for sure how it works.

The advantage of having PDFs in iBooks is that it frees up some visual space in Finder. Your documents are still on your Mac, but in a different, low-key location.


Besides, you can organize PDFs well using the Collections feature in iBooks. By default they show up under the PDFs collection.

There’s one major caveat: you can’t be selective about backing up your PDFs to iCloud. If you have set iBooks to sync with the cloud under System Preferences > iCloud > iCloud Drive > Options…, then every PDF in iBooks gets backed up.


If you want to skip cloud sync for any specific document, leave it in Finder instead of importing it into iBooks. If you have disabled iCloud sync for iBooks, go the opposite route. That is, keep the folders you want to back up to iCloud in the iCloud Drive folder of Finder and import the rest into iBooks.

Keep in mind that iBooks works only as a repository for PDFs. You can open them through the app, but not in the app. They still open with Preview. If you want any PDF back in Finder, drag and drop it into the correct Mac Finder folder.

No More Junk Files and Finder Clutter

A place for everything and everything in its place is not just a mantra to live your offline life by. It’s a smart tactic for handling your digital data as well. In the long run it could save you hours of searches, keystrokes, and worry. If you’re ready for some spring cleaning on your Mac, Finder is the place to begin.

Which tricks do you use to find files and folders with minimal effort in Finder every single time? Tell us about them in the comments!

Related topics: Mac Tricks, OS X Finder, Productivity, Storage.

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  1. cydne
    June 29, 2019 at 3:29 am

    MAC Word used to color code the entire title of a document in Finder
    With one of the upgrades, this wonderful tool, especially for older or ADHD eyes was replaces with those ridiculous color dots at the end of the document title.

    there is a program out there that can put this feature back in. Can you help me find it! I would thank you forever!
    My Finder window with all my folders and files are such a mess now with no color to help me keep it all straight.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 29, 2019 at 3:47 am

      Cydne, you can get those color-coded labels back with a Finder enhancement app like XtraFinder. The app costs $5 and has an unlimited free trial.

  2. Christopher Milligan
    February 9, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    I tried adding a file to the Finder side menu. Does it matter if the file is in iCloud? Do I drag the file to the Finder side menu? When I tried that, it asks if I want to move the file. I tried making an alias of the file and moving that, but when I move the alias to the Finder side menu, the file is gone, poof.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      February 18, 2019 at 4:40 am

      Christopher, to add files to the Finder sidebar, you need to hold down the Command key while dragging and dropping them.