What Should I Transfer To My New Mac Title Image

At last.

You’re upgrading your faithful but ancient Mac. To a brand spanking new Mac. But your left wondering …

After all those years using your old mac you’ve installed and deleted masses of stuff.

It’s likely a bit of a mess.

Should you be just transferring it all over?

Or are you better off starting from scratch. And picking specific things to move across. And if you do.

What should you transfer to your new Mac? Assuming that you’re not going to just shift everything over.

Wondering What To Shift To Your New Mac As A Non Techie?

When you’re not particularly technical. Without doubt it’s a whole lot more work transferring your files across by hand.

If you’re a confirmed non techie. Then you’re best using the tools Apple provide by default: Migration Assistant.

Migration Assist will move your Mac’s files across to your new Mac.

Migration assistant transfers everything across the right way. And puts things in the right place and in your Mac’s system libraries. Something that’s more difficult to do manually.

The down side is that it’s more of a whole sale move. And that means you don’t get a lot of choice on picking particular applications or files to carry across. And to leave others behind.

But you do get to pick what you transfer over from your old Mac in set groups.

Your applications are grouped together and you can transfer those.

The files associated with your user’s name on the Mac are shifted over as another set of files.

Then you have miscellaneous other files and folders as another group.

And the settings you set up on your old Mac for your network and system moved as a whole.

How To Shift To Your New Mac And Get The Most Choice About It

1. Switch On Your New Mac And Set That Up.

Take a walk though Setup Assistant on your New Mac.

Get your OS installed and your new Mac set up and waiting for your file move. This Apple document here takes you through the steps.

You’ll need your Apple id to set up iCloud. And choose ‘Don’t transfer any information now’ when you get to that bit of the setup. You’ll do your transfer later.

2. Tidy Up Your Old Mac.

While your new Mac is setting up it’s time to take a look at your old Mac.

But Stop.

Before you do anything to your old Mac get yourself an external drive.

Getting yourself an SSD – solid state drive makes it all go faster. Take a Time Machine back up of your current Mac to an external drive. If you’re not sure how to do that they follow this article on the site How To Backup Mac.

With that backup safely done. You’re free to take a look over your old Mac.

Are there any updates to your Mac or Applications waiting for install?  It’s best get yourself on the latest versions of everything.

Take a look at your Applications folder for any defunct applications you can get rid of?

Check through personal files and folders, photos, web browsers, mail files.

Anything there you’ve not used in years and don’t want?

Delete the ones you don’t need. They’re in your backup if you do change your mind.

3. What About Moving Your Apps?

When you’ve an old Mac. And especially if your Mac can’t run the latest release of the MacOS any more. Then transferring your Apps using migration assistant. Means you might have old versions of the apps on your new Mac. And you’ll have to go through and update them.

Your new Mac will have the standard Apple Apps installed so no need to worry about those. Numbers, Pages etc ..

And apps that won’t run will have a line stuck through them on your new Mac.

You can always decide not to transfer your apps to your new Mac at point 5 below.

4. Take Another Backup Of Your Old Mac.

Get another Time Machine backup of your cleaned up older Mac.

If you’re feeling particularly worried at this stage. Then take that backup to a second external drive. And that’ll be the backup you use to migrate to your new Mac.

5. Now You’re Ready To Migrate And Pick What To Migrate.

With your new Mac up and running. Virgin installed and you logged in.

Plug in your external drive – the one with your cleaned up Time Machine backup on it. Plug it into your New Mac.

You then use Migration Assistant to move your files from your old Mac to new.

You do have the option of migrating over Wi-Fi.


Unless you’ve bags of time. And great WIFI you’ll find it far quicker to migrate from a Time Machine back up on an external drive.

Start up Migration Assistant. Enter in your admin password. And pick to ‘Migrate from a Mac, Time Machine backup’.

Migration Assistant 2nd Screen

Click on your external drive and pick your latest backup.

Then you can pick what to shift. As a non techie you’ll likely pick all the options.

Migration Assistent User Name

But you can check mark against your user name. To just to migrate the files under your user name. And you’ll get everything associated with you as a user from your old Mac.

Then if you want. You could separately clean install your applications on your new-to-you Mac.

Migration Assistant 5th Screen

Or you can check all the boxes, to transfer your applications. Your user name, other files and folders, and your system and network settings.

Or some other combination. For the full details on transferring using Migration Assistant to a new Mac. Check out this site article here.

Using Migration Assistant doesn’t get you much detailed choice on what you transfer.

But it’s by far the easiest way.

A Reasonably Techie Wondering What To Transfer To Their Virgin Mac

You’ll need an hour or two when you’re transferring things manually to get it all across. And a large enough external drive or USB stick to hold your files.

Decide what you want from your old Mac and what you’re leaving.

But take a Time Machine backup of your old Mac to an external drive. Just in case you’re tempted to make any changes as you go through your old Mac.  Then you’ve a backup to fall back on.

Boot your new Mac, and let Setup Assistant install a clean install of MacOS for your Mac.

Have your iCloud password and user name to hand so that you can set that up on your new Mac as part of the installation.

Authorize your new Mac with your Apple id and password.

With your new clean Mac set up you’re ready to manually transfer your files.

You Should Transfer Your Personal Files To Your Mac

On your old Mac plug in the external drive or USB stick you’re using to copy your files across.

Then go to your home folder by clicking on the little house icon by your user’s name in a Finder window.

If you can’t see the little house icon in your Finder window. You can change this with Finder Settings (from Mac OS Ventura). In earlier Mac releases it’s called Preferences.

Finder Settings

Click on the sidebar tab and check mark Home.

Finder Settings Sidebar Home Option

Your home folder contains the files associated with your user name on your Mac.

You’ll need to go into each folder and check their contents. The folders of particular interest will be Pictures, Music, Documents, Movies, Downloads, Desktop.

Dropbox if you use that service. And other folders associated with cloud services you use.

Go into each, look for what you’re currently using. Be sure to look into folders within folders to make sure you’ve checked and copy everything you want.

Copy using the same file and folder structure to your external drive.

If you’ve not used the files or folders in several years. And you recognize that you now longer need what’s inside them. Then don’t copy them over from your old Mac to your new Mac.

Don’t spend too much time on the Preferences folder. Just set up your app’s as you want them on your new Mac.

There’s no need to copy the Cache files as your apps will create what they need as you use them on your new Mac.

Transferring Your Personal Files To Your New Mac

Plug in your external drive to your new Mac and now you copy the files across.

The trick here is not to create extra copies of the top level folders in your new Mac’s Home folder.

You’re putting the content of each folder into where it needs to be on your newer Mac.

For example, you copy the CONTENTS of the Music folder on your external drive. Into the Music folder in your home folder on your new Mac.

Should You Transfer Applications To Your New Mac?

The odds are you’re best downloading and fresh install the Applications you actually use.

The standard Mac apps – Numbers, Pages, Keynote you’ll get anyway when you set up your new Mac. And clean install the Mac operating system. So there is no need to worry about those.

Depending on the age of your old Mac. Some of the Apps won’t run anyway on your new Mac’s OS.

For instance, iPhoto was replaced by the photos App.  If you were to transfer that App to your new Mac then the app’s image would appear with a strike out – a line through it. Because it can’t run on the latest MacOS.

Generally, You can’t just copy and paste Apps from your old Mac to your new Mac. Because Apps store files in certain places to run at all. And it’ll be difficult for you to know what goes where.

That’s why a fresh install of your Aps is better. And you’ll be running the latest versions.

Transfer Your Browser Favorites and Book Marks

Whether you’re using Safari, Google Chrome on your Mac or Firefox. You can export your favorite web addresses and book marks to your external drive.

Copy them onto and import them into the browser on your new Mac.  

You’ll have Safari installed as part of your new Mac OS build. The other browsers you use you’ll need to download to your new Mac. And then you can import your bookmarks.

Make a note of the way you like your browser set up with the privacy and cookie settings you like. And re-enter them on your new Mac.

Transfer Your Calendar Entries

If you sync your Calendar to iCloud then your entries will automatically come across to your New Mac.

Otherwise you can go into your Calendar app on your old Mac. File > Export and export your entries.

You can then File > Import them into the Calendar app on your new Mac.

Transfer Your Music Files

You can copy those when you copy your personal files from your old Mac’s home folder. See transferring your personal files above.

Transfer Your email

If you’re using outlook mail then by installing the app. And logging into your mail your current email files will transfer down.

You’ll have to manually move any mail files you’ve stored locally.

After You Think You’re Done Keep A Backup Of Your Old Mac To Hand


Because you may change your mind about a file or folder you left on your old Mac. And having a back up to hand means you can dive into it and grab that much needed file for your new Mac.

In Closing

Whether you’re a techie or non techie. Moving your files to your new Mac doesn’t mean you have to bring all your old Mac’s clutter with you.

And now you know how.

Got some more time? Why not have a look at our other Mac articles on the site?

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