Documents Folder Missing on Mac: How to Get It Back

Without even realizing it, many of us rely on the Documents folder to create and keep so many of our documents. It becomes second nature to store them there and it’s only when that folder goes missing that we realize how important it is to our everyday computer usage.

In most cases the folder is still there, it’s just that a setting in Finder has been changed and the shortcut to the location has been removed. This can be easily fixed in Finder Settings. It’s also possible that there is an issue with iCloud but that has a fairly simple solution as well.

My name is Eric and as a longtime computer user, I have become accustomed to using the Documents folder. It’s a quick and convenient place to keep your documents and other files but I know if it goes missing it can cause great panic. Don’t worry too much yet, I’ll show you some quick ways to fix this.

Keep reading to learn how to get your Documents folder to show up on the Finder menu once again. If you are finding that the Documents folder is gone from your disk or the files in it are missing, I will cover that problem as well.

Two Different Issues

There are two different issues that can occur for which people are looking for solutions. Both of them can be very frustrating but in most cases, there are solutions for both.

The first and most common issue is that you’re not seeing the Documents folder link on the left side panel of Finder. This is often just a configuration issue. It may have been changed by accident or by an application, but this is a very straightforward fix.

The second issue can be that all the files that were previously in your documents folder are missing or the Document folder itself is missing from your hard drive. This can require a little more investigation and work to fix but in many instances, it can be fixed rather quickly.

In the next couple of sections, I will take a look at both situations and give a brief explanation of what might have happened and how you can get your Documents folder back.

Issue 1: Missing from Finder Menu

If your Documents folder isn’t showing up in the left side panel of Finder, it can be frustrating and even a little alarming, but in most cases, the folder is still there, it’s just that Finder’s configuration has changed somehow and the link is no longer showing up.

This can happen if you accidentally delete the link or change the configuration by mistake. I have done this many times myself so it’s not uncommon. It’s also possible that an application or on rare occasions a macOS update has somehow changed it.

The great news is that if this is the case, it’s an easy fix. Just follow the steps below and we can get your Documents folder showing up in the left side Finder panel once again.

Step 1: Open Finder

Click on the Finder icon to open it.

Step 2: Go to Settings in the Finder Menu

Click on Finder on the menu at the top of the screen and then select Settings from the Finder dropdown menu.

Step 3: Check the Documents Checkbox

Click on the checkbox beside Documents.

Step 4: Close Finder Settings

Click on the red button to close the Finder Settings popup window. You should now see the Documents link in the left side panel in Finder.

Issue 2: Folder or Files Missing from Disk

If you’re finding that the files from your Documents folder, or the folder itself is missing, then you have a much different situation. Missing files can be a result of disconnecting from iCloud but it could also be a result of accidental deletion. Let’s take a look at these situations

Disconnected iCloud

Due to the way that iCloud is set up and connected to your computer, disconnecting from iCloud can result in all of the files under your Documents folder being removed from your machine. In fact, if you disconnected iCloud you should have seen the following message asking for confirmation.

While they may be gone from your machine, they do still exist in iCloud so they are not lost.

You can get them back by simply turning iCloud back on or copying them from your iCloud drive to your local documents folder. If for some reason you are not able to access your iCloud drive, you could restore them from Time Machine which I will cover in the next section. 

Turn iCloud Back On

The easiest way to get the files back is to just turn iCloud back on. You can do that using the following steps.

Step 1: Open System Settings

Click on the Apple logo in the upper left corner of your screen and select System Settings.

Step 2: Search for iCloud

Type iCloud in the search field in System Settings and you should see an iCloud Result. Click on it to take you to the iCloud settings.

Step 3: Click on iCloud Drive

Click on iCloud Drive to see the settings for it.

Step 4: Turn on iCloud for Desktop and Document Folders

Click on the switch to turn on the settings for Desktop and Document Folders.

Once this is turned on, it will copy your files back to the Documents folder on your Mac.

Leaving iCloud Off

If you don’t want to turn iCloud back on, you can use the following steps to get your files back.

Step 1: Open Finder

Click on the Finder icon to open it.

Step 2: Navigate to Documents in iCloud

In Finder, click on the iCloud link on the left side of Finder. Then in the main window of Finder, Double-click on the Documents Folder.

Step 3: Select All the Files in Documents

Click on the Edit menu and then click on Select All.

Step 4: Copy the Files

Click on the Edit menu again and then click on Copy.

Step 5: Select your Local Documents Folder

In Finder, click on your local Documents folder on the left side panel.

Step 6: Paste the Files/Folders into the Local Documents Folder

Click on the Edit menu one more time and then click on Paste.

Your files will now be back in your Documents directory.

Accidental Deletion

There are situations where you may have accidentally deleted or moved the files and/or the folder into the Trash. If this is the case, don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us at one time or another and hopefully, you can get them back by restoring them from the Trash or from a Time Machine backup.

Since restoring them from the Trash is the simplest, let’s look at that first. 

If your entire Documents folder is gone, you should look for the Documents folder in the Trash, If it is just the files that are missing you will need to look for those when following the steps below.

Step 1: Open the Trash

Click on the Trash icon on the bottom right corner of your desktop.

Step 2: Select the Missing Files or Folders

Step 3: Put the Files or Folder Back

Right-click on the file or folder you wish to restore to the documents folder and then click on Put Back to restore it.

Your files and folders should now be back in the Documents folder.

If you do not find the folder or files in the Trash, you will need to restore them from a Time Machine backup. Hopefully, you have Time Machine set up to back up your system at regular intervals. If you do not have Time Machine backups set up, you will not be able to recover the files.

If you do have Time Machine set up, you can restore the files using the steps below.

Step 1: Open the Documents Folder in Finder

Open Finder and then navigate to the Documents folder as you normally would.

Step 2: Open Launchpad

Click on Launchpad in the lower left corner of your desktop.

Step 3: Start Time Machine

Type the word Time in the search field in Launchpad and you should then see the Time Machine icon. Double-click on the Time Machine icon.

Step 4: Find the Items in the Documents Folder in Time Machine

Select the Documents folder in Time Machine and then scroll through the list of backups until you see the items that were previously in your Documents folder.

Step 5: Restore the Items

Click on each item you wish to restore to select it. Right-click on the item and then click on Restore.

Your files will then be restored to your Documents directory.


Below are a few other related questions you might want to check out as well.

Can I use Time Machine to restore files lost from turning off iCloud?

Yes. This is a great way to restore them if for some reason you are unable to get into your iCloud account or you don’t want to turn iCloud back on. Time Machine will restore any files that were previously on your hard drive as long as they were there when a backup was taken.

Can I restore files lost by turning off iCloud by putting them back from the Trash?

No, you cannot. Unfortunately, when iCloud removed the files, it did not move them to the trash. It permanently deletes them from your hard drive. Luckily they are still in your iCloud so you can still recover them from there or from Time Machine.

Does turning off iCloud remove any other files from my Mac?

Yes, turning off iCloud will remove all files from your Documents folder and your Desktop if it has been set up to keep those files in iCloud. When turning it off, you should see a warning message stating that the files will be removed.

Final Words

The most common reason for your Documents Folder being missing is that it is not configured to show up in Finder. This is easy to fix by changing the settings as shown above. If your files are missing, then it is most likely from disconnecting iCloud or accidental removal.

Files from the Documents folder can be restored by turning iCloud back on, copying them from iCloud or even restoring them from the Trash or Time Machine. I hope the information above has helped you to find your missing Documents folder or the files inside it.

As usual, let me know if you have any questions or comments regarding this issue. I would love to hear from you.

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