Hazel – The Personal Housekeeper on Your Mac

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If you run OS X, there is one application you absolutely must have: Hazel. It is one of my favorite apps on the Mac. While we have covered a list essential Mac apps before, in this article I want to delve deeper into how Hazel can help you free up time and make the Mac experience even better.

If you are unfamiliar with Hazel, think of it like a maid or housekeeper for your Mac. Its main duty is to keep your files organized and to automate that process (you will also love Default Folder X). The program can help you automatically move files into the right folders, delete old files in your trash and a lot more.

To maximize the use of Hazel, you really need to have used the Mac for a while to figure out how you organize it. If you just switched to the Mac, Hazel won’t be of much use yet. However, if you’ve been on the Mac for a while you will like this app a lot. To use the app correctly, you just have to understand very basic if-then logic. The way Hazel works is that it performs if-then logic to each file and if there is a match then it will take action. In other words:

If X-condition(s) are true, then do Y-action(s).

For example, you can setup rules (as Hazel calls them) like the following:

  • If file size is bigger than 1GB, then move it to the trash folder.
  • If the folder color is green, then move it to the Documents folder.
  • If the file name contains “invoice”, then color it green and make a copy in the Finance folder.
  • If the file hasn’t been opened in the last 24 hours and is smaller than 10 MB, then delete it.

There are so many ways you setup rules. You can have multiple conditions and multiple actions so you can really make it as complex as you want it to be. I will show you how this little app can you make your life a lot easier and make automation seem like child’s play.

Basic Setup

Before I get into the nifty stuff of Hazel, let’s first set it up properly. The program already comes standard with a couple default rules:

  • It will color newly downloaded files blue in the Downloads folder and remove the color after one day.
  • It will color files older than a certain number of days red in the Downloads folder.

The coloring of files is great because it allows you to quickly scan for the file you’re looking for. I’ve seen a lot of people sort within Finder the files by the “date modified” column so that the newest files are on top of the list, but with the coloring it can be easy too. So keep those default rules, enable them and change the parameters if you like.

Next thing is the trash settings. Go to the Trash tab and make sure Hazel will delete files in your Trash folder that are older than two weeks.

hazel trash setup

Here's the setup for Hazel. It's really simple.

With the basics out of the way, let’s get into some cool stuff!

Desktop maintenance

If you’re like me, your desktop can be a place of disaster. Screenshots and other temporary files can clutter your desktop. After a couple weeks it can look like chaos where you can’t see your wallpaper anymore.

The desktop is a great storage place for temporary files, but you have to make sure they are there temporary. Luckily, with Hazel we can manage this.

Move one-day old files

The rule below is great for this. All files that weren’t opened in the last 24 hours on your desktop are moved to a folder called “tmp” on your desktop (so make sure you create that folder on your desktop). This will keep your desktop nice and tidy.

hazel desktop rule

This rule will move all files not opened in the last day to the tmp folder.

So if you have files on your desktop that you use every day, this rule will not put those files in the tmp folder. But if you use files on the desktop like that every day, you might want to consider storing those files elsewhere.

Move screenshots

Whenever you make screenshots they get stored on your desktop. Most of the time you will delete them and Hazel can do this for you too. You can setup a rule that will delete all screenshots made in the last X hours/days/weeks. However, I prefer to store them in a separate folder, /Pictures/Screenshots/, in case I need to go back to them. This is really useful for people who make a lot of screenshots for articles and manuals.

This rule can work together with the one above, because in my rule all screenshots get moved after an hour.

hazel desktop screenshot

Move all screenshots made after an hour to a separate folder.

Now, it’s key that you also make a second rule for Hazel to delete very old screenshots. If you collect all screenshots in a separate folder but never empty it, you’re wasting a lot of space. So make sure you make a new rule for your screenshot folder that deletes files older than 4 weeks (like in my case).

Here’s how you set it up. Add the screenshots folder to Hazel by pressing on the plus sign on the bottom left. Then add this rule.

hazel new folder

Add a folder to Hazel so it can run its rules by pressing on the plus sign on the bottom left.

Then add this rule.

hazel delete screenshots

Get Hazel to delete screenshots older than 4 weeks.

Downloads folder

Now we are going to tackle a monster: the Downloads folder. This is the folder you have to watch and maintain the most but luckily Hazel can help us here. Like I said earlier, by default Hazel will color new files but we’re going to add some extra rules to this folder.

Remove torrent files

If you download a lot of torrents, this rule will delete any torrent file after two minutes. Torrent files clutter up your Downloads folder so you want to delete them as soon as possible. Here’s the rule to set it up:

hazel torrents

Delete torrent files within two minutes.

Remove DMG files

DMG files can take up a lot of space and I prefer to delete them after a day. If you like to store your DMG files, you can setup a Hazel rule to move them to a separate folder, e.g. Apps, and then with another rule empty that folder if you like.

But the rule below will show you how to remove DMG files after a day.

hazel dmg

Remove DMG files after a day.

NOTE: The rule does not apply to DMG files in subfolders, which is great if you want to save your DMG files.

Color actions

This is one cool trick you can do with Hazel: actions based on color labels on files or folders. Within Finder you can give files and folders a color (right click and then assign a color). You can use this in conjunction with Hazel rules and you can create some really simple and effective rules.

Some ideas you can use for color based actions:

  • Give financial reports, invoices and receipts a green color and let Hazel move them to a specific folder.
  • Give video courses a yellow color and let Hazel move them the Movies folder (that’s where I store all my video courses and movies).

You can get creative with this and I highly recommend you play around with this. It makes your life so much easier in so many ways. It’s not just limited to the Downloads folder, you can apply this to any other folder. Below is an example I use. For specific reports I always assign them a purple color and then I let Hazel move them to my Reports folder where I can find all my reports.

hazel color actions

If a file is purple, it's a report so move it to the appropriate folder.

PDF files and ebooks

If you are an information junkie and like to read a lot of PDF documents on your iPad, like yours truly, you will love this one. The basic idea is that you have a folder in Dropbox where you store all your PDF documents and/or ebooks, and you point all your digital readers to sync with that folder. On your iPad and/or iPhone, you need a PDF reader that can sync with a Dropbox folder. I use PDF Expert (although I hear GoodReader is pretty good too).

Where Hazel can help is by automatically moving PDF files and ebooks to this folder. I actually wouldn’t recommend you automatically move every PDF file because not all of them will be ebooks or documents you want to read. So what I do is I make a folder “ebooks” within the Downloads folder and then have a Hazel rule that will move all files from the ebooks folder to the ebooks folder on Dropbox.

hazel dropbox ebooks

Sync your ebooks with ease by having Hazel move the files for you automatically.

Whenever I have downloaded an ebook, all I need to do is drop it into the ebooks folder and Hazel will automatically move it to the right (sync) folder. Then whenever I need to access the ebook on my iPad or iPhone, I can access it without any problems.

Here’s the rule for Hazel:

  1. First, make a folder “ebooks” in your Downloads folder.
  2. Add a new folder inside Hazel by pressing the + button on the bottom left.

Here is the Hazel rule for moving the files inside the “ebooks” folder:

hazel ebooks

Move any file inside the ebooks folder to the correct (synced) ebooks folder.

Omnifocus backups

If you are an Omnifocus user, you need to have this rule for Hazel. Omnifocus makes a lot of backups on your hard drive and if you don’t delete the old ones you’ll waste a lot of space. Luckily Hazel can help us here.

First, find out where you store your Omnifocus backups. Here’s how you find the storage location:

  1. Go to Preferences (or press CMD and ,)
  2. In the General tab, it will show you where your backups are stored.

Now let’s create a Hazel rule that will delete all backups older than two weeks:

hazel omnifocus

Automatically delete Omnifocus backups that are older than four weeks.

So that wraps up Hazel in a nutshell. I hope some of my own examples of how I use Hazel inspires you to come up with your own custom rules. If you have some awesome rules to share, post them in the comments below!

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About

I grew up in The Netherlands, went to university in Los Angeles and now I'm living in different places every couple months. When I'm not writing about personal productivity or time management, I'm probably trying out a new restaurant in the city I'm in (I love food!). One of my specialties is time management for organizations, executives and employees. The reason I started this blog with Aaron is that I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them become a better person. This blog is a footprint I want to leave behind and I hope you get a lot of value out of my articles. Feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

14 Comments

Posted by Gerard  | August 12, 2012 at 9:42AM | Reply

Thank you so much for this! I was about to buy “Desktop Tidy” but thanks to you I realized that Hazel does it all already (And I already have it).

Great blog!

Posted by William Axtell  | December 30, 2012 at 9:21AM | Reply

Here is a slightly better Hazel rule for Omnifocus (especially if you are going on a long vacation!). http://tantramarinteractive.com/blog/2012/05/hazel-rule-for-trimming-omnifocus-backups/

Posted by dylan  | February 4, 2013 at 6:12AM | Reply

I’ve been trying Hazel for the past few days with the trial, and I just don’t get it. It seems that it’s for people who don’t know what’s going on with their file system. I don’t need something to monitor my download folder and move things to other folders automatically – I move things to where they should go myself. Sorry, I just don’t get it – Hazel causes more problems than it solves IMO…

Posted by Chris Higgins  | February 5, 2013 at 7:43PM

There are two types of people in the world – the ones who carefully manage their files into the correct folders/labels/colours etc and the ones who leave everything wherever it downloads. :-) Hazel is great for the second group of people.

Posted by Scott Lowe  | May 28, 2013 at 11:27PM

Dylan, I understand your position. I, too, am very aware of what files are placed where by which application. There is sitll value in Hazel for users like us though: automation. Look for areas in your workflow where you find yourself doing repetitive tasks with files, then see if there is a way to have Hazel help automate that for you so that you can get on with bigger and greater things. It’s not just about maintaining your file system, but also about automating tasks to free up your time and attention.

Posted by Matt Warner  | February 9, 2014 at 12:32PM

Im the type to manage where my files go and I tag them etc. I think it may be a matter of the value of time and the volume of files you deal with. I don’t have a lot of time and any time saves is worth the cost of the program to me. I deal with a lot of scans and files of different type. now that I have created some Hazel rules Im not spending any time really managing my files. So if you don’t feel your losing time managing your own files then I don’t think you need an automation tool. By the way I tried automator first and it just was not working for me, or I guess I could not figure it out. Hazel seems easier to me. And I usually don’t buy a lot of programs like this.

Posted by Nigel  | February 9, 2013 at 3:03PM | Reply

Thanks for these – the move one day old files from the desktop is helpful but I want to be able to save a file there without it being moved immediately. As the rule stands if I start Writeroom and save my file temporarily on the desktop is is moved into the tmp folder immediately. How should I modify the rule?

Posted by OmarKN  | February 22, 2014 at 1:28AM

@Nigel
Just add the condition that the date added is not in the last 1 or more hour(s). That will give you an hour to move your file from the monitored folder before Hazel acts:

date added — is not in the last — 1 hour

/
okn

Posted by Adam  | February 18, 2013 at 11:05AM | Reply

Great article. I just got Hazel to organize my photos. It worked great except that it skipped a bunch of images. I reached out to Noodlesoft but havent heard back. Any thoughts? Thanks

Posted by Alex  | October 26, 2013 at 4:33PM | Reply

Thanks a lot !!
Hazel is very very helpful.

Posted by Kevin  | November 24, 2013 at 8:21AM | Reply

I’m looking to do the following, either with Hazel or a combination of Hazel and Keyboard Maestro. Any tips?

1. Plug my iPhone in
2. A folder be created in Pictures with todays date.
3. Those photos imported into iPhoto

Thanks!

Posted by Jonas  | July 14, 2014 at 4:11PM | Reply

Hi guys,

Thanks a lot for your tutorial article. I have implemented the rule “Move one-day old files”, but I am not quite sure how it should work. If I store a link file on my desktop, it will automatically moved to the folder tmp — also by an pdf file. If I save an .txt file on my desktop, it won’t be moved.

It would be great, if you can explain the rule to me. Thanks in advance.

Cheers,
Jonas

Posted by Jitendra Vyas  | August 5, 2014 at 12:41PM | Reply

Thanks for this article. I recently got mac and installed Hazel trial and didn’t get what was the use of that. Now I know.

Posted by MacOCD  | October 25, 2014 at 7:25AM | Reply

I think a lot of people who don’t see the point of Hazel haven’t realised just how powerful it is.

Some examples:-

All correspondence from my bank arrives with an arbitrary file name that (quite properly) doesn’t give away any details about which account number, date etc.

eg. MYBANK16gdfgf876gfdgcw83cjkcc2.pdf

This document could be from any of my accounts, it could be a statement, a transaction notification, an annual summary or something else.

With Hazel monitoring the downloads folder each time a PDF beginning MYBANK is downloaded it sets to work and renames the file based on the contents of the document.

I have multiple accounts, I get a LOT of these confirmations each month. Hazel searched for the account number within the document, together with the date and certain phrases always present in each type . I choose to have these documents renamed and filed with the format

“YYYY-MM-DD AccountName Statement.pdf” etc.

What REALLY clever though is that the date format printed on my statements is “DDxx MMM YYYY” (eg. 25th OCT 2014). Hazel can convert that date to 2014-10-25 for that file naming with ease once you’ve configured the appropriate rule.

Every time I import a CD to Flac on my Mac Hazel makes an MP3 version and adds it to iTunes.

I need to scan Bills & Documents into my Mac for work. I’ve got Hazel trained to auto-rename and file them with rules based on content, and it works perfectly.

I *could* do all this myself, but I love the fact I don’t have to.

Hazel does take a few days to work out quite how powerfully it can be used, but it’s worth the perseverance. Even typing this I’ve just though of another time saving use I’m going to set up in the next 5 minutes.

Hazel is one of the absolute essential apps on every Mac I use, along with Alfred, TextExpander, 1Password & MSecure.

Hazel & Alfred (with ProPack) are the most underrated apps for the Mac in my opinion.

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