Clean out the Downloads folder with Hazel

If you’re like me, your Mac’s Downloads folder is full of long-forgotten mystery items, much like a college student’s refrigerator. Fortunately, Hazel from Noodlesoft ($21.95) can keep it tidy.

I hate the Mac OS X Downloads folder. It’s where Safari places downloaded files by default and, in my experience, is an out of sight, out of mind landfill of forgotten PDFs, photos, installers and who knows what else. Before long, its contents commandeer a significant portion of your drive’s storage and that’s just unacceptable.

Yes, you can tell Safari to deposit downloads elsewhere. Many people choose the Desktop. It’s a logical choice, as you’ll see your downloads every time you sit in front of your Mac, which will prompt you to act. But the path of least resistance is beautiful and tempting. I typically ignore the junk on my digital desk, figuring, “I’ll clean that up later.” Of course, that never happens.

The best solution is to let Safari fill the Downloads folder and get regular reminders to clean it out. That’s where Hazel helps.

Hazel is a scripting application that helps you manage files. Its interface is familiar to anyone who’s created a rule in Apple’s Mail. You can create scripts to move files, change their creation date, flag them with a color or a Growl message and a lot more. I use it to keep an eye on my Downloads folder.

I’ve created a simple rule (below) that notices any file that’s been in my Downloads folder for more than a month. When it does, it applies a red label, throws up a Growl notification (“Stale files in Downloads Folder”) and moves the offenders to a folder labeled “Purgatory” on my Desktop. From there, a quick glance in Purgatory identifies what’s worth saving and what’s trash. I love it.

My rule is simple and I’m sure you can improve on it, but it helps me avoid clutter and save storage space. If you try it, let me know how it goes.