Removing Entries from the Microsoft Office Apps Recent Files Lists in macOS

R

Every so often – usually around the time of a major new macOS release – I perform a clean install of the OS on my Macs. Along with restoring user data I tend to restore the configuration data of certain applications including the Microsoft Office applications. While this is a great timesaver, it can also cause some unexpected results. For example, the Recent file lists in Excel, PowerPoint and Word. Let’s use Word as an example.

Opening a freshly installed copy of Word, I’m greeted with the Recent file list showing all the files I opened prior to performing a clean macOS install.

Recent file list in Word
Recent file list in Word

 

 

This is not as useful as it first seems. If I try to open one of these files I get a message saying that Word is unable to open that file even though I know it has been restored to the exact same location on my Mac’s drive. I assume this is because each entry is now merely a broken reference or symbolic link to the original file.

Unable to open file message
Unable to open file message

 

 

I’m left with a completely useless Recent file list. No worries, I can select all the recent file entries with a couple of mouse clicks and delete them en masse, right? Wrong. I can only select each entry individually and control-clicking gives the following options:

Recent file list options
Recent file list options

 

 

Not wanting to have to remove each entry separately, I started digging around the file system and found the file com.microsoft.Word.securebookmarks.plist buried deep within the Word configuration data containing all the recently opened Word documents. The full path to the file is ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Word/Data/Library/Preferences/.

Rather than delete this file, I first closed Word then renamed it as com.microsoft.Word.securebookmarks.old.plist from the command line:

Dummy Content
mv ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Word/Data/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Word.securebookmarks.plist ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Word/Data/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Word.securebookmarks.old.plist

 

 

On re-opening Word, the Recent file list is now empty:

Empty Recent file list in Word
Empty Recent file list in Word

 

 

There are similar configuration files for Excel and PowerPoint:

Dummy Content
mv ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Excel/Data/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Excel.securebookmarks.plist ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Excel/Data/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Excel.securebookmarks.old.plist

 

 

Dummy Content
mv ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Powerpoint/Data/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Powerpoint.securebookmarks.plist ~/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Powerpoint/Data/Library/Preferences/com.microsoft.Powerpoint.securebookmarks.old.plist

 

 

This is certainly not a subtle approach. By renaming the configuration files, you’ll lose all the Recent file entries along with the Pinned and Shared With Me file lists. To me, this is preferable to having a long list of files that can’t be opened. It may also be useful if – for whatever reason – you want to start afresh with a new Recent file list.

About the author

A native Brit exiled in Japan, Steve spends too much of his time struggling with the Japanese language, dreaming of fish & chips and writing the occasional blog post he hopes others will find helpful.

7 responses

7 Comments

  • Steve: Arigatou gozaimasu!!! Thanks so much for your effortless and foolproof way of emptying my Mac Word Recent files list. After retiring 3 years ago I was left with many, many dozens of old useless listings and I didn’t want to remove them all one by one (and a pox on Microsoft for that lack of foresight!!).

    Now I’d like your recommendation for expert help in Mac Mail. Last week my Mac Mail quit, after four years of perfect behavior. It’s totally defunct and only flashes a dialog box “Mail quit unexpectedly”. So I can’t even get to my mail boxes. I’ve reinstalled macos Catalina (I installed it last year, and it was and still is right up to date), but that has made no difference. Nor has numerous forays into the guts of Finder, with looks into different com.apple.mail locations. Nothing seems to work. Have you a colleague like you who works with Mail?
    Regards

    • David,

      Without knowing all the details, the only suggestion I have would be to move not copy the ~/Library/Mail directory onto the Desktop. If Mail then subsequently opens, you’ll have lost all of your preference settings and emails and will have to start over, but if your Mail accounts are IMAP – most are – it’ll be fairly trivial to re-download your emails.

      Good luck, Steve.

  • Been working on this forever. This helps. But I want to permanently disable these in Office as I am connected to Dropbox and it constantly synchs and recent files which I don’t want. All other forums say go to Options, Advanced, and Display to turn off Recent Documents Shown. For some reason, my 2018 Office for Mac does not have this option. If you have a way to do this, I would be grateful.

    • You could set Recent Items to none in System Preferences > General, but this is a global setting affecting all applications. Or maybe exclude the .plist files from Dropbox sync.

  • Thanks Steve – This was a life-save today. All my MS applications were hanging up “Not responding” due to a server that that was disconnected.

Steve

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