OS X Lion: Using Finder’s “All My Files” Feature

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The “All My Files” Smart Folder in Lion’s Finder is a unique way to check out your data. Using its options, you can figure out where your largest files are, what programs have the most documents associated with them, and all sort of other interesting tidbits. Read on to see my breakdown of this neat new Finder feature, and I promise to even tell you how to turn “All My Files” off if you still hate it after we have our little discussion.

To see what “All My Files” can do for you, open a new Finder window by clicking on the familiar blue smiley face icon in your Dock or by using the keyboard shortcut for a new window (it’s Command-N). After you’ve done so, choose “All My Files” from the Sidebar. Just like any other Finder window, you can change how its items appear by selecting the different view icons in the toolbar. I’m going to be mostly referring to Icon View within this tip.

To reorganize the way that “All My Files” shows you your stuff, click on the weird…boxes icon. OK, just check out the screenshot below to see what the “Arrange By” button looks like. 

This will change the order of all your items at once, so if you select “Name,” they’ll be alphabetized regardless of file type or any other criteria. If you select “Application,” though, things start to get interesting. 

As you can see, Finder will then break down your documents by their default programs, with a pretty new Cover Flow–like design. Nifty! Within Icon View, you can even use trackpad gestures to move back and forth to see files to the right or the left, or you can click on the “Show All” option in the upper-right of each category to see everything at once.

Another very helpful choice is to organize by size. When you do that, your files will be divided into easy-to-understand size ranges, so you can quickly tell how much hard drive space your My Little Pony videos take up.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of organizing your files this way, you can decide how you want them to be further ordered underneath the category you’ve just chosen. To do so, hold down Option and click the gear icon on your toolbar. As you do, “Arrange By” will change to “Sort By,” and you’re off to the races. 

You can also hold down Option and click on the “Arrange By” boxes icon mentioned above to access the same choices.

So for example, in the screenshot below, I’ve told Finder to arrange my files by application but then sort by size underneath that category, so I can easily discover what my largest Numbers or Pages file is. This is within List View instead of Icon View; you can still sort by size within Icon View, of course, but it’s handy to be able to see your columns to glean as much information as possible. 

Of course, these options for arranging and sorting aren’t only available for the “All My Files” window. You can take advantage of their awesomeness from any Finder view of any folder. But it is awfully nice to be able to see everything you own, sorted and categorized any way you’d like, from within one window. I’d insert a “hooray Apple” sentence here, but I don’t want you to think I’m TOO much of a fangirl.

Finally, you can customize the way you’d like your Sidebar to look (and even take “All My Files” completely out, as I promised you could). To do so, choose Finder > Preferences and then click on the “Sidebar” tab. From there, you can toggle anything on or off, and your wish will be Finder’s command.


If you don’t like this method, you can also Command-drag items out of the Sidebar itself (you rebel, you). 


After you’ve done that, spend some time poking around in the rest of the Finder preferences if you never have—there’s a ton of useful stuff in there!

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Lee Dronick

Thanks Melissa!

One problem, that has not reoccured, is that when I tried this for the first time a few minutes ago it froze my MacBook Pro. I could move the cursor, but nothing else, couldn’t access other apps or even go to Activity Monitor to kill the process. I let it sit a good while, but eventually I had to force a restart.

How do you arrange columns when in All My Files? I can’t seem to get the option-drag to work as it does when simply viewing a directory.

Melissa Holt

Hey Sir Harry!

There are a few threads on the Apple Support Communities forums about Finder crashes in Lion?I think it’s a pretty common bug (and not limited to “All My Files”). If it happens again, I’d check out this thread and try some of the suggestions mentioned there.

And from what I can figure out, there isn’t a way to resize or arrange the columns if you have “Arrange By” turned on within a Finder view. If you set “Arrange By” to “None,” it goes back to the default Snow Leopard?type view, and you can do it from there. You can also still hit Command-J and choose which columns show up, but I guess Apple’s decided that they like sizing our arranged columns for us!

Hope that helps.

Lee Dronick

That was a rare Finder crash for me under Lion, but it true enough I haven’t been using Lion all that long. I wonder seeing as it was the first time I used the All My File feature that there was some sort cataloging going on. It hasn’t reoccured yet and hopefully it won’t.

Have a great weekend


once again, you have given us a very useful lesson.  i just used this to help clean up my hard drive.  excellent tool.  Thanks.

Melissa Holt

You have a nice weekend, too, Sir Harry!

And thanks for the kind words, Chris. I really appreciate that. smile


All my Files, is not what it appears. Apparently, there are only certain files types that are shown. If you don’t use one of the applications that is part of the embedded search logic, you won’t see the files at all.

Less than useless, “All My Files” does not do as advertised, and is a great source of confusion and consternation.

I thought I lost a file I had been working on for hours. But, in the finder, it showed up just fine. However, in All My Files, it was nonexistent.

Combined with arbitrary closing of apps, missing color from sidebar icons, Mail.app not showing mail with attachments that were drag & drop, mail search that does not find email content, when the desired email is open right on the screen so I know it exists, and a hundred other pretty radical changes in operation, LION, for long time Mac users, is a disaster!

.... and mostly for what it doesn’t show. When you do a search, file view, etc. for a given set of conditions, the integrity of the output is essential. LION has lost all credibility.

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