Like with Like: Organizing your Mac & your Life

One of the most common questions I get from students is how to be more organized with their files and media. I always start by looking around at their surroundings for indications of how organized they are in life. I don’t judge, I simply observe. I do this because more often than not, people organize their computers and lives in much the same way. This is great news for people who’ve decided they want to better organize themselves as the lessons you can learn for your files and folders on your Mac will subconsciously apply to your daily life.

I never point this out, but nearly all of the students I’ve taught how to organize their computers, I’ve seen a dramatic change in their surroundings over the course of my visits. The reason for this is simple. Once we understand how our minds want things organized, it latches onto this idea with an iron grip and it becomes difficult to go back to the way things were.

So while I could be talking about what folders you should be creating on your Mac, I’ll speak more to a concept as it relates to your machine AND your life.

Like with Like…

It sounds confusing but I live by these three words. (technically two words but who’s counting?) It’s a simple idea. Items of a similar type should be placed with other like items. Let’s take an average Mac desktop. Most users have anywhere from 1 to 200 files on their desktop at all times. Let’s say we had decided to clear the desktop and file things into their proper location. After we’ve removed the trash to cut down on some of the bulk, it’s time to figure out where things should be filed. Apple actually provides you with the basic building blocks to organize your files within your Home Folder. This is the folder that usually has your name and the icon of a little house. In Mac OS X Lion, the home folder seems to have been removed in exchange for the “All My Files” area. It’s just hiding and you can retrieve it by using the “Go” menu in the Finder’s Menu Bar or via several other methods.

Your Home Folder is broken down into the main folders you’ll need to stay organized: The Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Movies, & Pictures. The idea of Like with Like simply means that if you have a PDF document, it should go into the Documents folder as this is where you’ll find all of your other documents. The reason this is important is for when you realize you need to access that document. By knowing you always put documents in the Documents folder, you’ll always know where you can find that document.

Let’s apply this to life for a moment. Let’s say that in your kitchen, you have spices in different cabinets and different types of pasta in different places. In your refrigerator, you have soft drinks here while water is over there, yogurt on the top shelf and other dairy on the bottom. When things are separated, it feels chaotic. If you’ve ever seen ads for the Container Store or wondered why pictures of shelving in magazines look so amazing. It’s because of a similar color scheme as well as the items in the image being next to similar items. We naturally do this with dishes in the kitchen for some reason. You’ll rarely find different sized plates stack on each other randomly or coffee mugs with bowls as well as wine glasses.

Our brains can only handle so much of what our eyes can see and it becomes overwhelmed much easier than we might believe. By organizing files into folders of similar files, or putting all of your camping gear into the same spot in your garage so it’s not mixed with the Christmas lights, our minds find things easier to categorize at a glance. This creates that feeling of organized Zen that everyone sees in their dreams. It’s not that difficult to achieve if you just remember: Like with Like. It takes organizing decisions from minutes to seconds so that when you see a picture on your desktop, it goes in iPhoto because that’s where all of my pictures go. Later, I want to see that picture so I open iPhoto because that’s where all of my pictures are.

I believe you should be able to find anything you need on your Mac within about 30 seconds. Keeping things of similar type with each other makes that concept so much easier.

As an experiment, try looking through your refrigerator and if it’s in need of cleaning out, toss the trash and put things back in a Like with Like fashion. All drinks together, All meats together, all sauces together, and so on. You could instead try doing this with the files on your computer but the idea is to see how you feel after you see everything with other like items.

After you’ve tried this little experiment, add your comments below or on Facebook to share your thoughts on Like with Like.

I hope you find this helpful and for those of you looking for ways to get organized, I hope this answers some of those questions.


  1. Remember you must never put cooked meats with uncooked meat! And I guess that is the issue here: as soon as we create a rule there are always exceptions. So, I want to keep all my documents together, but I use dropbox for those I need to share, and not for the private ones; immediately I have two places to store them….

    • There are always exceptions but keeping like with like as a general rule can make things easier. My philosophy is to do what works best for your mind.

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