Tips for a tidier Mac

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Spring may be in the air, but if you’ve spent a long winter packing your Mac with applications, files, and folders, there’s a good chance it could use a stern cleaning. These tips will help you do just that. (Need more spring cleaning tips? Check out our recent story “Unclutter your hard drive”.)

Tackle cable and peripheral clutter

If you haven’t taken a peek at the back of your iMac or Mac Pro lately, now’s the time. Trace the many cables you find back there and see where they lead. You may discover USB cables connected to nothing whatsoever or to a spare photo printer that you haven’t used all year or to that hard drive that contains nothing more than a copy of your files from the OS 9 days. While you’re in rummaging mode, check any power strips to see if they’re connected to power supplies that aren’t serving a useful purpose. And before you leave the scene of the crime, untangle the cables you find and make sure you haven’t created a conga-line of power strips—one connected to the other—which may be a fire hazard.

Really take out the trash

Just about every Mac user is aware that the items tossed into the Trash remain there until you choose Empty Trash from the Finder menu (or click and hold on the Dock’s Trash icon and select Empty Trash from the menu that appears). Fewer, however, know that some applications maintain a trash of their own that, left unemptied, can also add unwanted bloat to a Mac. iPhoto is the first place to look. When you delete pictures and movies, they go into iPhoto’s Trash—located in iPhoto’s sidebar—where they remain until you Control (right) click on Trash and choose Empty Trash.

Mail has a Trash too, though, by default, Mail is configured to dispose of messages after a month. You can get rid of them sooner by opening Mail’s preferences, selecting the Accounts tab, selecting an account, clicking on the Mailbox Behaviors tab, and choosing a different option in the Trash area of the window. Your choices are Never, One Day Old, One Week Old, One Month Old, and Quitting Mail. To delete all trashed message immediately, Control (right) click on the Trash icon in Mail’s sidebar and select Erase Deleted Items.

Deal with duplicate data

If you’ve been using the same Mac and account for awhile, it’s likely that you have duplicate items cluttering up your computer. Fortunately some applications have built-in tools for dealing with those duplicates.

Address book duplicates
Clean out a cluttered Address Book by dealing with all the duplicate entries you've got for contacts.

For example, open Address Book and choose Card -> Look for Duplicates. Address Book will do exactly that and eventually produce a sheet that details the number of duplicate cards and duplicated entries. Click Merge and the information from cards deemed duplicates will be merged into a single card.

You can also identify duplicates in iTunes. Launch iTunes, hold down the Option key, and choose File -> Show Exact Duplicates. iTunes will create a list of tracks that have the same track title, artist, and album. You’re welcome to identify those you don’t need and toss them out.

Archive old messages

If you’re an e-mail packrat, you probably have years of old messages that you’ll never read again. You can honor your inner packrat by holding on to these communications while, at the same time, trimming down your Inbox. One way to do that is to create a new mailbox by clicking on the Plus (+) icon in the bottom left corner of the Mail window, dragging your old messages to the resulting mailbox, and then Control (right) clicking on that mailbox and choosing Archive Mailbox from the contextual menu. A sheet will appear, asking where you’d like to store your archive. Once you’ve successfully created the archive you can safely delete the messages from Mail.

Clear the decks

Many Mac users believe the Desktop is the perfect place to store files. After all, it puts the files you use most often front and center. The problem is that the Finder treats any folder or file on the Desktop as a window. That window designation is benign if you don’t have many items on the Desktop, but clutter it with files and folders and the Finder will slow significantly. If you’ve noticed that the Finder has become pokey and you have a lot of items on the Desktop, there’s your answer—too much clutter. It’s time to pick up your junk and put it in its proper place. Speaking of which….

Organize your stuff

Apple provides a simple and intuitive file structure for storing your stuff—your user folder and folders within it for documents, downloads, movies, music, and pictures. If you’re constantly dashing to Spotlight to find your files, your Mac’s probably not as organized as it could be. To make finding files easier, you don't have to spend time coming up with your own elaborate filing scheme, first just try placing items in the folders designed for them.

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