Get more out of the Finder: 4 ways to customise the sidebar

Whether you’re launching an app, searching for a file, or bringing some order to your messy “Downloads” folder, the Finder is one of the most important macOS apps.

But, are you really getting the most from your Finder?

In this article, I cover all the essential ways that you can customise the Finder, so all of your favourite apps, files and folders are only ever a click away.

1. Add and remove sidebar items

For the best results, the sidebar should provide easy access to all of your most frequently-visited destinations – whether that’s Applications, Downloads, Music, Movies, or whatever folders you’re always opening on your Mac!

If the sidebar’s selection isn’t quite right, then you can add and remove destinations:

  • Launch the Finder application.
  • Select “Finder > Preferences…” from the Finder menu bar.
  • In the subsequent menu, select the “Sidebar” tab. This displays a list of all the destinations that you can add, and remove from the sidebar.

  • To add a destination, select its accompanying checkbox.
  • To remove a destination, deselect its accompanying checkbox.
  • Once you’re happy with your selection, close the “Preferences” window. The Finder sidebar will now update to reflect your selection.

Alternatively, you can remove any destination from any category – apart from the “Shared” category – by dragging that item away from the sidebar. When a little “X” icon appears, drop that destination to remove it from the sidebar.

2. Create custom sidebar shortcuts

By default, the Finder’s sidebar displays your Mac’s most frequently-visited destinations, but you can add any file, folder or application to the Finder sidebar.

Once you’ve added an item to the sidebar, you can launch it simply by giving it a click, making this a handy time-saver for launching all of your most frequently-used applications, or for opening files that you use on a daily basis.

To add a file, folder or application to the sidebar:

  • Find the item in question, and then drag it onto the Finder sidebar. Don’t release the mouse just yet.
  • If you’re running Yosemite, Capitan, Sierra or High Sierra, then at this point you need to press and hold the “Command” key on your keyboard.
  • Position this item where you want it to appear in the sidebar. A blue horizontal line will indicate where it’ll be added once dropped.

  • When you’re happy with the file, folder or app’s position, release it. This item will now be added to the Finder sidebar.

If you want to remove a file, folder or app at any point, then drag it away from the sidebar until a little “X” icon appears, and then release it. Alternatively, you can remove an item from the sidebar by Control-clicking it and then selecting “Remove from sidebar.” And don’t worry – neither of these methods will actually delete the item; you’re just removing it from the sidebar.

3. Hide categories

The contents of the sidebar are divided into categories, such as “Favourites,” “iCloud” and “Devices.” If you don’t use a particular category on a regular basis, but don’t want to delete it entirely, then you can hide a category, which frees up some space in the regular Finder view:

  • Hover over the heading of the category that you want to hide.
  • When “Hide” appears, give it a click. The contents of that category should now vanish.

If you change your mind at any point, then you can reveal a category’s contents by hovering over that category’s heading, and then selecting “Show” when it appears.

4. Hide the entire sidebar

While the sidebar can provide easy access to all of your most important destinations, files, folders and applications, it is possible to remove it. Perhaps you find the sidebar distracting, or prefer to navigate using “Go > Go to Folder…” or the “Search” field instead?

Whatever the reason, if you feel like the sidebar is taking up unnecessary space, then you can hide it:

  • Launch the Finder, if you haven’t already.
  • In the Finder menu bar, select “View > Hide Sidebar.” Alternatively, you can hide the sidebar using the “Option+Command+S” keyboard shortcut.

The “main” section of the Finder window should now expand to fill the space that was previously occupied by the sidebar.

If you change your mind and want the sidebar back, then either select “View > Show Sidebar” from the Finder menu bar, or use the “Option+Command+S” keyboard shortcut.

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About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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