Organize Your Mac's Mail With Mailboxes

Create Mailboxes for Individuals or for Categories of Email

Adding a new Mailbox to the Mac's Mail app.
You can create folders within mailboxes to organize your email. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.
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It seems embarrassingly obvious, but one of the easiest ways to keep your email under control is to organize it in folders, or as the Mail app in the Mac OS calls them, mailboxes. Instead of keeping everything in your Inbox, or piled into one or two mailboxes, you can organize your email the same way you organize documents in a file cabinet.

Mail's Sidebar

Mailboxes are listed in the Mail sidebar, which makes them easily accessible with just a click.

Depending on the version of Mail that you're using, the sidebar and its Mailboxes may not be visible. If you're not seeing the sidebar, you can easily enable this helpful feature:

  1. From Mail's View menu, select Show Mailbox List.
  2. You can also toggle the sidebar on or off using the Mailboxes button in the Favorites bar (the Favorites bar is the small button bar just below Mail's toolbar).
  3. By the way, if you're not seeing the toolbar or the Favorites bar, you'll find the View menu contains options for turning them on or off.

MailBoxes

You can create as many mailboxes as it takes; the number and categories are up to you. You can create mailboxes for individuals, groups, companies, or categories; anything that makes sense for you. You can also create mailboxes within mailboxes, to further organize your email.

For example, if you get a lot of email newsletters, you might create a mailbox called Newsletters.

Within the Newsletters mailbox, you can create individual mailboxes for each newsletter or newsletter category, such as Macs, Gardening, and Home Theater. In this tip, we'll create a Mac Tips mailbox within a Newsletters mailbox.

Create a New Mailbox

  1. To create a mailbox, select New Mailbox from the Mailbox menu, or depending on the version of Mail you are using you click the plus (+) sign at the bottom left of the Mail window and select New Mailbox from the pop-up menu.  You can also right-click on a mailbox name already present in the sidebar.
  1. In both cases, the New Mailbox sheet will appear. In the Name field, type Newsletters. You may also see a Location pop-up menu, which you can use to specify where to create the Mailbox; in iCloud or On my Mac. On my Mac is local, storing the mailbox and its contents on your Mac. For this example, select On my Mac. Once the Location and Mailbox name are filled in, click OK.
  2. To create a sub-folder for Mac Tips newsletters, click once on the Newsletters mailbox. Select New Mailbox from the Mailbox menu, or depending on the version of Mail you are using, click the plus (+) sign at the bottom left of the Mail window, or right-click on the Newsletter Mailbox and select New Mailbox from the pop-up menu. In the Name field, type Mac Tips. Make sure the Location is set to the same as the Newsletter mailbox, then click OK.
  3. Your new Mac Tips mailbox will appear. Depending on the version of Mail you're using, it will either already be placed inside the Newsletter mailbox, or listed in the sidebar under On my Mac.
  4. If it's listed in the sidebar, you can drag the Mac Tips mailbox onto the Newsletter mailbox to have it become a sub-folder of the Newsletter mailbox.

When you create mailboxes within a mailbox, you'll notice that the icon for the top-level mailbox changes from a folder to a folder with a right-facing triangle.

This is the standard way the Mac OS indicates that a folder or menu contains additional content.

Once you create mailboxes, you can use rules to automatically file the incoming email in the appropriate mailboxes, to save time as well as stay organized.

Use Rules in Apple Mail to Keep Your Email Under Control

You can also create Smart Mailboxes to make it easier to find messages.

Find Messages Faster in Apple Mail With Smart Mailboxes

Move Existing Messages to New Mailboxes

  1. To move existing messages to new mailboxes, just click and drag the messages to the target mailbox. You can also move messages by right-clicking on a message or group of messages and selecting Move To from the pop-up menu. Select the appropriate mailbox from the pop-up menu and release the mouse button.
  1. You can also move existing messages to new mailboxes by creating and applying rules.

Use Rules in Apple Mail to Keep Your Email Under Control

If you want to put a copy of a message in a new mailbox while leaving the original in place, hold down the option key as you drag the message or group of messages to the target mailbox.

Apple Mail Keyboard Shortcuts