How to Use Gmail as If It Had Folders

Use filters to auto-sort your email into folder-like categories

Gmail doesn't have a folder feature, but it does have labels, which can be just as useful in organizing your messages. When you mark an email message with a label, it remains in the Inbox but is also accessible from the label. One way to make labels more like folders is to auto-move incoming messages into label categories.

These instructions apply to the desktop version of Gmail.

Using Labels as Folders

Person using Gmail on a laptop next to a pile of real-life folders
Lifewire / Miguel Co

When you move messages out of the Inbox and categorize them into labels, they appear separate from the rest of your messages. For example, you might have all your Amazon purchases within an Amazon label and messages from work within a Work label. When you organize messages this way, your Inbox is more uncluttered.

You can manually move messages into labels by dragging and dropping, but Gmail also supports auto-sorting messages into labels through filters.

How to Automatically Move Gmail Messages to Labels Using Filters

To automatically move messages into a label and out of the Inbox, you must set up filters, which you can do from the search box at the top of Gmail. Here's how to choose where your Gmail messages end up.

  1. Open Gmail. In the search box at the top of the screen, select the small arrow to the far right.

    Gmail inbox
  2. In the dialog box, populate any relevant fields.

    Gmail with filter dialog box displayed
  3. Select Create filter.

  4. Another dialog box appears. At the top of the box, select Skip the Inbox (Archive it). This action ensures that messages never show up in the Inbox but instead go directly to the label you choose.

    Next to Apply the label, select the down-arrow and choose a label to have messages that match your criteria move into when they arrive in your Gmail account.

    If you don't already have the label set up that you want to use, select New label.

    Gmail with the filter dialog box displayed
  5. Select Create filter.

New messages matching your rules will go straight to the label you've designated, skipping right over the Inbox. You can access them by choosing that label or All Mail from the left rail. You'll know you've received messages into that label, because the label name will display a number showing the number of unread messages.

If you use an email client to access Gmail via IMAP, the messages will move into their respective folders in that client. However, this action won't happen if you use POP Gmail; instead, the messages that fit your filter will be downloaded into the same folder as any other new message.