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I only use iCloud for very specific purposes, specifically as a backup for documents I write on my MacBook Pro. Because of that, I disable all syncing but specific folders to iCloud. Given this is an Apple product, you’d think this process would be as simple as right-clicking a folder and choosing Sync to iCloud. It’s not that easy.

Don’t get me wrong, the process isn’t all that hard; but Apple hasn’t done us any favors in obfuscating the task. Fret not, I’m going to show you how this is done.

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What you’ll need

I’ll be demonstrating this process on an M1 MacBook Pro, running Big Sur 11.2.3. You should be able to successfully follow these steps, even with earlier versions of macOS.

How to remove sync items from iCloud

First, let’s narrow down what iCloud syncs. I do this mostly because I don’t use iCloud to sync between devices. As I mentioned earlier, for me iCloud is nothing more than a fail-safe backup for specific folders that are also backed up to Google Drive. One reason I opt to not sync most of the default options in iCloud is to simply save that cloud space for more important files. Before disabling the majority of sync items, I was always receiving the out-of-space notification from iCloud. This solved that problem.

To remove items from syncing to your iCloud account, click on the Apple menu at the far left of the top bar and then select System Preferences. In the System Preferences window, click Apple ID (Figure A).

Figure A

The Apple ID entry within System Preferences.

In the resulting screen (Figure B), click Options associated with iCloud Drive.

Figure B

This is where you configure what is synced with iCloud.

Uncheck everything you do not need to keep in sync with iCloud. Make sure you leave Desktop & Document Folders unchecked, otherwise

iCloud will move anything from within Documents to the cloud.

How to add folders to iCloud

This is where it gets a bit tricky. You can’t just open Finder and drag a folder to the iCloud Drive listing in the left pane, because that doesn’t copy, it moves the folder. So, instead of dragging the original folder, you must first create an Alias of the original folder. To do that, right-click the folder in question and select, Make Alias (Figure C).

Figure C

Creating an alias for a folder, named DATA, in Documents.

The alias is a link from the DATA folder in Documents to a new folder, named DATA alias. Everything in DATA alias will be in sync with the original DATA, even when you move DATA alias to iCloud.

Once you’ve created the alias, click and drag the new alias folder to the iCloud Drive entry in the Finder left navigation.

And that’s all there is to safely adding folders to sync with iCloud. As long as you’re only adding the alias folder, you won’t bother the original.

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