How do you organize your personal folders and files on your Mac

I was wondering how other people organize folders for their personal documents. I am not one of those people throws files into a couple of folders and hope I can find it later but I feel like my current structure is not effective. The way I have it set up now there is overlap and if I am looking for a file, I sometimes have to look in more than one place to find where it is. For instance, if I have a receipt for a microwave I could have it in my Home folder or it could be in my Receipts and Confirmations folder or in my Financial folder. Do you have a good folder structure strategy that you find works well for you?

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I’m not always completely diligent about placing items correctly into sub-subfolders, since a Spotlight search (or, more accurately a Spotlight-based search in HoudahSpot) will find what I need. So if I want to save an article in Science/Machines and I’m not sure if it goes in Ecology or Natural History I don’t sweat it. You shouldn’t either. :grinning: The important thing with receipts is (1) being able to find items when needed and (2) having items sufficiently organized in event of an audit.

I continue with a folder system I initiated in the late 80s, and I now have 50,000+ articles and other files based on topics inside Documents. Folders in Documents include Art/Photography, Business/Economics, Computer/Internet/Tech, Films/TV/Anim/Cartoons, General, Health/Med, Music-Making, Music/Radio, Politics/History/Law, Science/Machines, Documentation/Manuals, Religion/Lifehack, Writing/Lit/Poetry, Kitchen/Recipes, and more.

There are many subfolders within these folders. For example, in Kitchen/Recipes I have one set of subfolders based on techniques and info, and other folders just containing recipes based on the food (eg Poultry, Pasta, Soup/Stew/Chili, Desserts, Drinks). And I’ll also create Smart Folder searches and put them in the main folder - (eg anything with a title containing ‘pressure cooker’ or ‘Instant Pot’).

I have a Business folder with yearly subfolders like Banking, Receipts, Insurance, plus more based on date & client.

I have a Personal folder with subfolders including HighSchoolPeople, CollegePeople, correspondence, etc.

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If a file seems to belong different places, it’s a sign to me that it needs tags. So you could have a folder for Receipts, name the file microwave 2018.pdf, and tag it home, insurance, and, warranty.

My thinking is along these lines: the file is a receipt, so it goes in the folder that holds those things. It’s for the microwave you bought in 2018. The microwave is in your home, and the receipt is for insurance and warranty purposes.

Now if you want a list of everything that applies to your home, you can search for or create a smart folder for the home tag.

For an insurance claim, to print a list, etc. do the same for the insurance tag.

You could also have a manuals folder, with a file LG microwave.pdf, with tag manual, appliance, home

You get the idea.

Of course the way you arrange things is the way that makes sense to you. You might instead have a home folder with these files in them, and tagged appropriately.

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I have a series of level one folders but try not to create too many sub-folders under them - mostly because the spotlight search is powerful enough to find whatever I need. I used to have a complicated set of folders 3-5 deep but ran into a similar problem with not being able to find things. Now, I tend to store bills etc by financial year.

The one exception I have is scrapbooking supplies, which are in a comparatively deep hierarchy so I can keep track of designers and kits.

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I tag every file and dump them all in a single “Archive” folder.

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Very flat structure with at most 2 levels of folders. Consistent naming structure. I file things in the folder where I think I will look for it first. Never use tags and spend very little time filing or searching, stuff is where I expect it to be nearly all the time. Those few times I can’t find it that way I use search.

For the specific example given I have a set of both physical and electronic folders named Equip- so I’d have an electronic folder named Equip-Microwave and the receipt would be in it.

Tax deductable receipts are collected in a folder called Tax_Returns_and_Papers and within that I have a folder called 2018_Tax_Return_Papers This is one of my 2 level structures. This means it’s easy to send to my acountant all at once and when teh IRS calls its also easy to locate.

Total space is something like 400GB and several hundred thousand individual files.

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How many tags do you have and how do you manage them? It would seem that if tags are the only way one organizes documents, the number could get unwieldy. Thanks.

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I keep most things on a server computer. There is one share for statements, one for documents, and one for archival storage of projects (active projects are kept local, and typically synced between my iMac and MacBookPro using Resilio Sync).

In the Statements share there are 42 folders mostly named for creditors or bank/investment accounts, and within those all files have date stamps in their names but for very active accounts there are further subdirectories for each year. These folders get populated automatically through Hazel.

In the Documents share there are folders for recipes, user manuals (I aways download PDFs from manufactures websites and place them here, so I never lose a manual), various subjects of interest. With only a couple of exceptions, I manually file into there.

Archival storage used to be offline, but hard drives have become so large and cheap I keep everything online, but with backups, of course!

I’ve got still more shares for media (music, videos, photos).

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I talk a little about my tagging system in another thread here: Tagging help... how best to build a list of tags... looking for precedents

Basically, I don’t really try to manage my tags anymore, if something seems like it should have a particular tag, I assign it. Normally Hazel takes care of tagging everything for me.

I abandoned complicated nested folders in the file system and Mail several years ago. As search improved, I was spending more time filing/fiddling than it was worth.

Now, I rely on file names and search, dumping almost everything into an archive folder. I use Hazel to auto-name lots of stuff, and I use Text Expander to help with naming. I do use a limited set of tags (personal, business, pending…) and a few specific folders. But the majority of my receipts and documents go into my archive bucket.

FWIW, my naming convention is: date <receipt, bill, statement…> <personal,business> category vendor.pdf - where category could be “travel”, “office supplies”, “auto”, or something more specific like a project name, such as “travel hollywood oscars” - for example: 20180813 receipt personal travel Hilton.pdf

This system works great for me, but I have found that no matter the system, I have to “file” routinely or it becomes another project itself.

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The only thing I would add to the above discussion is that however you do this, consider whether you want your method to “find anything quickly, and lose absolutely nothing” to be dependent upon any specific software, file system, or even operating system.

As with many of you, I have been doing this in both a professional/business and personal setting for around three decades now. The folders/files that I organized using the old “8.3” naming system of DOS in the late 1980s, which then went into Windows and are now in Mac OS, are still understandable to me today. I regard Spotlight and other similar capabilities as excellent tools (especially as a last resort), but have seen enough changes over the years to try preserve as much flexibility as possible.

As an example, consider how to organize your family photographs. We love having them on all of the various Macs, iPad pros, iPad minis, phones, etc. that occupy our home. In the mid-2000s I digitized 36 traditional paper photo albums containing about 6,000 pictures. Since then, using various digital cameras, iPhones, etc., over time, my family photo collection has grown to around around 12,000 photographs. I suspect this is about typical for folks my age.

Now, although the native Mac/IOS Photos apps are very useful in countless respects, the organizational concepts embodied within them of “Moments,” “Memories,” “Locations,” “Years,” etc. for a picture I digitalized on a scanner in Windows in 2005 of my paternal grandfather taken in 1938 are less so. To be sure I can do a face recognition search and find some pictures, but that is limited in countless ways - like finding out “What did grandma’s house look like after the 1952 flood”. I suspect I could go through each of those those 12,000 files adding tags and modifying metadata to get them to sort right within the Apple ecosystem…but being retired I’m pretty lazy and so I think not.

So my “real” photographs are actually separate, and organized very simply as follows:

(i) JPEGS (no matter what format Apple now converts them into when imported into the Photos app);

(2) stored in “albums” (folders) that make sense to me - for my immediate family, by year taken (“2005”), for my extended family, by person or couple (“John and Linda Doe”); and

(3) within those albums by names that sort chronologically, are understandable in other file systems, and are searchable (“2001-05-01 Trip to Disneyland - Johnnie Doe”);

Now, although those “real” photos are also imported into the Mac/IOS Photos apps for the purpose of display (and organized there in the same fashion), those are not the actual collection - it stands apart.

The point to this is not the specifics but the underlying principle of how to organize personal files of any kind. As much as I love them, my photographic collection is not dependent upon anything Apple did yesterday, does today, or decides to do tomorrow. It is not dependent upon any proprietary software. It works on a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian/Linux, and (I hope) will “work” with whatever comes next in this ever-changing world.

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I must add that I’m particularly adverse to using tags for indexing. My issue with them is that they are proprietary to Apple – what if I want to switch to Windows or Linux? Do all of my backups (particularly in the cloud) maintain the tags. Embedding information into the file names and folder structure is cross-platform for any system or storage of the past couple decades.

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It’s like you are in my head! I do insert/correct date and location in these cases, but even for photos only 15 years old it’s not feasible.

Along with all my quoting below, I’m torn on this. I use Devonthink to organize my current files I’m working on. Have gotten into tagging too which is nice. Hesitant to just index stuff but also would it be bad to import too? Would I just have automation to auto place and tag this in the right place? I can post this elsewhere in a DevonThink thread as well as maybe that’s be more appropriate to answer my question.

I’d think over the course of 30 years this could be cleaned out right? Seems like a lot saved and I’d imagine some of it might not be relevant anymore.I do admire your organization though of things being compartmentalized.

I completely agree!

That’s a cool system! Are you running a bunch of VM’s or using a UnRaid/Freenas system? Really curious!

I love DEVONTHink but am not sure where it quite fits in my life. I’m using it for new things but part of me wants to through old things in too so it’s easier to find. Thoughts? It would be great for me to have everything in one system but I’m hesitant to just index everything though maybe I could separate into several databases and then merge them when done tagging and organizing.

This is a really good point to bring up. Additionally I’ve been meaning to do something similar but am not quite sure given Lightroom or Apple Photos could fall by the wayside in years from now. Then is all the time and work tagged faces and such wasted?

True, though I intend to use Mac for some time.

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I’d like to speak to the photo metadata issue.

I’ve got a huge photo collection both in the process of being digitized and many existing digital files from various digital cameras. (currently 20,000 digital files, about another 20,000 film images to scan) I am using LightRoom to collect and annotate all the metadata. Because it’s an SQLite Database if you are willing to you can always recover all the info from it. I’ve poked at the database structure, it’s complex but not that bad. My LambTracker program has a much more complex database schema. So I’m confident that even if LightRoom goes away I can still recover the metadata info I put into it.

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Not really. But thanks anyway.

Also, Dr. Bunsen has a series of posts where he goes into great detail about his file naming scheme. I’ve taken a bit from those posts, a bit from MacSparky, and a bit from my own experience to come up with a system that works for me. But, if you are serious about the longevity of your system, his posts are worth a read:

He uses a strict file naming scheme and one big archive folder to organize his files.

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I’d recommend you check whether you can restore a tagged file from backup and actually get the tags back. Only iCloud among the major cloud services maintains tags on iOS ( see Finder tags on iOS ) - Dropbox will transfer them from one Mac to another but not to other systems. Checking Backblaze now…

Update: the ZIP file from Backblaze when unzipped does not have the tags that were on the file I backed up. Interestingly zipping and unzipping on the Mac itself does preserve tags.

Another thing to test which I can’t do at the moment is whether external HD that are not formatted in AFS or HFS retain tags. I doubt it. If you haven’t been reformatting external drives before using for backup, they may be in NTFS or even FAT32 & hence not preserving tags.

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I store XMPs with the raw files. So, every XMP-capable photo manager is able to read the metadata.

Neither. It’s a Mac mini running Server.app. Some shares are set to be only accessible by my wife and myself. Some are publicly accessible for reading by anyone/anything on the LAN, such as the media files. Project archives are accessible only by myself. By using shares instead of just making the entire drive public I can move the share’s files around without having to change anything outside the server.

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