How to Create Folders to Organize Mail in Outlook

Stay organized with Outlook folders, subfolders, and categories

An illustration of a laptop computer with file folders coming through the screen.

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If you receive a large amount of email, you'll benefit from creating folders in Outlook.com, Outlook 2019, and Outlook 2016. Whether you choose to label them Clients, Family, Bills, or any number of other choices, they simplify your Inbox and help organize your mail. You can also to create subfolders — for example, one for each member of your family — inside a folder. Outlook also provides categories you can assign to individual emails. Use custom email folders, subfolders, and categories to organize your Outlook Mail account.

Move Messages in Outlook Out of the Inbox

When you want to store mail in a place other than the main Inbox, learn how to create folders in Outlook. Adding folders is easy. Name them as you choose and organize the folders in hierarchies using subfolders. To organize messages, you can also use categories.

Create a New Folder in Outlook.com

To add a new top-level folder to Outlook.com, log in to your account on the web and then:

  1. Select New folder. The New folder link is located at the bottom of your folder list. A blank text box appears at the end of the folders list.
  2. Type a name for the folder. 
  3. Press Enter. Your new folder appears at the bottom of the list.

Create a Subfolder in Outlook.com 

To create a new folder as a subfolder of an existing Outlook.com folder:

  1. Right-click on the folder under which you want to create the new subfolder. Be careful to choose items from the Folders list and not the Favorites list. If you right-click on an item from the Favorites list, you won't be able to create a new folder.
  2. Select Create new subfolder from the context menu that appears. A text box appears beneath the folder you right-clicked on.
  3. Type a name for the new folder.
  4. Press Enter to save the subfolder.

The same steps work for creating deeper subfolders under any new subfolders. Simply repeat steps 1-4 for each subfolder you want to create.

You can also drag a folder in the list and drop it on top of a different folder to make it a subfolder.

After you've created several new folders, you can select an email message and use the Move to option at the top of the Mail screen to move the message to one of the new folders. In Outlook 2019 and 2016, select Home > Move to move a message to a different folder.

Add a New Folder in Outlook

Adding a new folder to the folder pane in Outlook 2019 and 2016 is similar to the web process: 

  1. In the left navigation pane of Outlook Mail, select your Inbox folder.
  2. Select Folder > New Folder. The Create New Folder dialog box appears.
  3. In the Name text box, type a name for the folder.
  4. Select OK.

To create a subfolder, select the folder that will contain the subfolder and select Folder > New Folder.

Drag individual messages from your Inbox (or any other folder) to the new folders you make to organize your email.

You can also set up rules in Outlook to filter emails from specific senders to a folder so you don't have to do it manually.

Use Categories to Color Code Messages

You can use the default color codes or personalize them by setting up your category preferences. To do this in Outlook.com, select a message and select Categorize > Manage categories. In the Categories dialog, you can add or delete categories and indicate whether you want them to appear in the Favorites list.

To set up category preferences in Outlook 2019 and 2016, select Home > Categorize > All Categories. You'll have the option to add categories, delete categories, rename categories, and assign a shortcut key to categories.

To apply a category color to an email:

  1. Open the email in the message list.
  2. Select Categorize. In Outlook 2019 and 2016, select Home > Categorize.
  3. Choose the category you want to apply to the email. A color indicator appears next to the email in the message list and the header of the opened email.

Alternatively:

  1. In your message list, right-click the email you want to categorize.
  2. Select Categorize in the menu that appears.
  3. Choose the category you want to apply to the email. A color indicator appears next to the mail in the message list and the header of the opened email.

Does an email message fit into more than one category? Apply multiple color codes to that email message.