Smart Folders in macOS are a tool to help you organize and find your files. They’re not folders, as they don’t contain anything. They’re saved searches, and can save you a lot of time for searches you perform often.

For example, if you often open your downloads folder and sort by Date Added to find your recent downloads, you could instead make a Smart Folder called “Recent Downloads” which only contains files in your Downloads folder added there today, saving you a couple clicks each time.

You make them by defining the search criteria (i.e., all audio files on your drive) and them saving them as a smart folder you can put on your desktop or in Finder’s sidebar. They make use of Finder’s powerful search features that often go overlooked in favor of typing the name into Spotlight.

Making a Smart Folder

You’ll find the option for making Smart Folders under the “File” menu in Finder. You can get Finder to appear in the top menu bar by quickly clicking on your desktop.

This will bring up a familiar search dialog. You can click the + button on the right to add new search criteria.

You can add as many Smart Folders as you want, and by default, Finder will only pull out files that match all of the options you defined. If you want to change this behavior, you can hold down Option and click on the + button, which will change to three dots. This will group together a list of criteria, and you can choose from Any, All, and None.

You’re also not just limited to the default search options, if you select “Other” from the dropdown, it will bring up a full list of all the hidden options.

Many of these are hidden for a reason, as you’re likely to never search for a picture based on it’s geotag’s latitude, but you can find some interesting options in here.

If you’re happy with your folder, you can press “Save” next to the + button.

By default it will save to a special “Saved Searches” folder, and add itself to the sidebar. If you’d prefer it on your desktop, you can change it here.

A Few Useful Smart Folders

If you’re having trouble thinking of ways you might use Smart Folders, here are a few of our favorites to get you started.

Finding Big Files

A useful search is “File Size greater than 1GB”, or whatever you deem too big. Save this search as a Smart Folder and you can quickly locate large files you might want to delete.

Deleting Duplicate Files

Since macOS appends “(1)” to duplicate file names automatically, searching for this (along with a few higher numbers) shows you all the duplicate files on your drive.

DMGs You Need to Delete

When you download a macOS app from the internet, it usually comes in a .dmg file. These files take up space and often clutter up your downloads folder. You can find all of them by searching for the .dmg extension. It’s probably safe to delete all of them, assuming you have already installed the apps inside.

Recently Downloaded

The example from before is a bit unintuitive to set up; you have to click “New Smart Folder” from within the Downloads folder, which will give you the option to search “Downloads.” From there, you can filter by items created in the last few days.

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Anthony Heddings is the resident cloud engineer for LifeSavvy Media, a technical writer, programmer, and an expert at Amazon's AWS platform. He's written hundreds of articles for How-To Geek and CloudSavvy IT that have been read millions of times.
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