How to Make Your Mac Finder Search Ignore Subfolders

How to Make Your Mac Finder Search Ignore Subfolders-1
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When searching for something in Mac Finder in a folder, it can be frustrating to have Finder turn up all of the matches in all of the subfolders as well. Here’s how to make Finder only search the current folder, not subfolders, so that your Finder search will exclude and ignore subfolders.

While this how-to will be most useful if you know the name of the file you are looking for, it can also be useful if you just know what it begins with.

The Problem: How to Make Your Mac Finder Search Ignore Subfolders

In our example, we are searching our Desktop for files with the word “the” in their name. Now, of course, it may be unlikely you would be searching for a filename by the term “the”, but it makes for a good example. Let’s say that we are searching for an image that we have about the cloud, but we can’t really remember exactly what the file name is.

As you can see, our search turned up all files in our Desktop folder (i.e. the Desktop directory) with the term “the” in their filenames, including in the resulting files that are in the subfolders. The realistic results of a search for “the” in a filename could number in the 100s or even 1000s, as indeed could the results of any search that you might do, which is why you want to be able to limit the search to just the actual folder you are searching in, and not any subfolders.

How to Make Your Mac Finder Search Ignore Subfolders

This just won’t do! We want to search for our file in our folder without finder including matching results from all of the subfolders!

Here’s how to do it.

[By the way, our trick for adding emoji icons to Mac mail folder names also works for Finder folders!]

How to Make Your Mac Finder Search Ignore Subfolders

The secret to making Mac Finder exclude the subfolders in the folder in which you are searching involves both doing some things, and not doing something.

Finder offers you a choice of visualizing the contents of your folders in 4 different ways: as icons, in a flat text list, in columns, and in ‘Cover Flow’ (Cover Flow is sort of like a hybrid of text list and columns. In columns, when you click on a file, you see the iconic representation of it in the far right column. With Cover Flow, the Finder screen is split horizontally; in the bottom half is the text list of your files, and in the top half are icons representing each file, arranged horizontally, with the file which you have highlighted front and center and larger than the others.)

Anyways, to exclude subfolders from your Finder search, you want to be using list view. To do this, you can either click on the list view button from the four buttons representing the four views in the upper left of your finder window, or you can click on the View menu when in Finder, and select “as List”.

mac finder list view

finder list view option

While you are there – and this is very important, you want to make sure that you are using only ‘sort by’ (i.e. sort by name, date, etc.), and not ‘arrange by’. To check this, go to the View menu again, and select ‘Show View Options’. Then make sure that Arrange By is set to none! Sort By can be set to whatever you want, but the following will not work if Arrange By is set to anything other than ‘none’. (For a good explanation of Arrange By versus Sort By, see this short article by our good friend Glenn Fleishman.)

mac finder show view options

arrange by sort by mac finder

The reason you must have your Arrange By set to none is because that is the only way you can manually both open all subfolders and, more importantly, collapse all subfolders.

Next, you want to select all of the contents in the folder in which you want to search. You can do this either from the Edit menu in Finder, or by holding down the Command key and ‘A’ at the same time.

select all

command a

When all of your files in the folder are selected, it will look something like this:

all files in folder selected

Now, very carefully hit Command and the right arrow. We say very carefully because if you have a bunch of files selected and accidentally hit the down arrow instead of the right arrow your computer will go crazy opening every single selected file!

mac keyboard command right arrow

Keeping the Finder window in the foreground, and with everything selected, and the folders all closed, begin typing the first word of the file name. No, don’t type it in the Search box, and no, don’t do a Control-F first.

Just start typing. And the next thing you know, the file you are looking for will be highlighted.

how to exclude subfolders from finder search

Now, of course you probably won’t be searching the Desktop folder, and you almost certainly won’t be looking for a file that begins with “the”, but we hope this example and how-to was helpful!

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One thought on “How to Make Your Mac Finder Search Ignore Subfolders

  1. This lengthy writeup to do a discrete search in one folder and exclude subfolders doesn’t work, at least in Catalina. Command -> does nothing, and Command-A is wrong as it will also select any subfolders within the current folder. This was a long article for a couple commands, and they don’t work.

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