Declutter Your Desktop

Declutter Your Desktop

Keeping your desktop clear of digital clutter allows your operating system to work more efficiently. Plus you get to see your beautiful wallpaper and focus on your tasks at hand, rather than the visual chaos of multiple icons, folders, pictures, screenshots, and documents that sometimes creep onto the desktop.

Reader's Note: I do use a MacPro, so some of my tips are geared toward my fellow OS X users, but many ideas here translate well to the PC world as well.

Keeping a clear desktop may mean adjusting your mental model. You do have to be willing to avoid throwing every file willy nilly onto the desktop. How can you accomplish this feat of strength?

Create a folder system that truly works for you.

folder-home.png
Movie Folder
Music Folder
Picture Folder

Within your Documents, Movies, Musics, and Pictures folders, create folders that are easy to understand. For you. If a folder name doesn't work, you can always change it or delete it. Some potential ideas:

  • 2015 Holiday Name
  • 2015 Important
  • Archive
  • Blogging
  • Career
  • Certification
  • Education
  • Event Name
  • Fun & Random
  • Healthcare
  • House Sale
  • Job Applications
  • Pets
  • Receipts
  • School
  • Taxes
  • Tutorials
  • User Guides

Maybe you're a mom with three kids. A folder named School may not cut it. You may like a folder named after each individual school. I'm a big believer in creating folders that are as specific as possible. Therefore, I allow one layer of nesting in my system. Meaning, I would create a main folder called School and then place folders inside it named after each specific school. I may end up having just ten documents in each specific sub-folder, but this system works better for me than scanning through 100 main folders.

I keep my folders organized by Name, so everything stays in alphabetical order. However, every once in a while I do reorganize by Date Last Opened. If I haven't opened a folder in quite some time, I usually take a peek at what's in there to evaluate if I need those contents any longer. May as well delete the unnecessary or move those items to the Archive folder.

What if you're one of those super visual people who knows that you placed that pdf in the bottom left corner of the desktop next to that purple icon? Well, try recreating your desktop imprint in the Documents folder by NOT arranging by Name. And don't use the list feature either. Instead select the Icon view and rearrange everything as you like. 

Organizing Documents by Icon View

Stick to using your folder system.

I can't stress this piece of advice enough. If you don't make the commitment to using the folders you created, then things will pile up on your desktop or in your Downloads folder. And that's just messy, both visually and mentally. 

I don't make many movies, but my sister sends me great videos of my nieces and nephews. I'm in the habit of renaming each video as soon as I download it. I try to use action words combined with names. Since the action is probably why I'll want to watch it again, I like including those verbs. But sometimes I'm looking for all of the videos for a particular kiddo. By including names, I make it easy for myself to use the Finder and filter my search by name as well.

I have one folder called Family inside Movies. Once I've logically renamed the video, it goes into this folder. Immediately. As the kids get older, I may adapt this system so that I am being more specific. Creating folders by year or date range seems logical to me. But my bottom line is that once I've downloaded the video, I get it into permanent storage in a folder. Immediately.

Same with anything I save for blogging. I found free clipart for this post and saved the images to my desktop. Sometimes I have multiple images that I'm debating using. Some may be color and others black and white. While I'm playing with them, I'm fine with them sitting on my desktop. As soon as I hit publish, though, those images either get trashed or saved into a Pictures folder for my blog.

Keep just a few folders on your desktop. For temporary storage.

My Person keeps one folder he calls Pending. Anything that he doesn't have time for right away, he throws in there. Then he goes through that folder on a regular basis. If he still needs that document or picture or whatever, he integrates it into his folder system. If he realizes that the piece is no longer useful, he trashes it.

I wish I could have just one folder. I've settled upon two. I have Pending_Blog, and Pending_School. The idea of mixing these two areas of my life into one folder just makes me twitch. Generally, these two areas produce the most amount of documentation.

I'm constantly finding sources and materials for both blogging and teaching. I have to keep them separated or the jumble would become overwhelming. As far as personal documents go? I'm actually really good at moving those files into folders immediately. It's one of my habits of mind that I'm super disciplined with.

However, my curiosity and enthusiasm for both blogging and teaching creates quite the digital trail. Oh, look at this graphic organizer. That's a great exit ticket. This e-book sounds amazing. And I could go and on about how sometimes the Interwebs just sucks me in. So I'll keep my two Pending folders and go through them periodically to re-evaluate the usefulness of the pieces they contain.

Evaluate your Dock.

Do you use the Application short cuts that are there? If you can't remember the last time you used an application, make it go POOF! Better yet, if you know you won't use that program again, uninstall it and really save some space.

You can even hide your Dock, if you prefer. Go to the right of the Dock Separator and right-click. You'll get the option for Turn Hiding On. I'm not a fan of hiding my Dock. I like knowing and remembering which programs I have running, so the Dock is a great visual reminder. 

View of Dock

Take out the Trash!

Another great reason for me to keep my Dock in view. I empty my Trash at least once a week. Seriously, those documents pile up too. If you place something in the Trash, then just get rid of it. Permanently. 

Empty your Downloads folder too.

On Macs, everything you download gets placed into that Downloads folder. Everything.

When I switched to an iMac in 2012, I had no idea. Months went by. Months! Then I read up on some basic Mac maintenance and realized I had a cornucopia of crap. I mean, really valuable documents, pictures, and movies.

What a pain going through all of those files. I love listening to my Wil Wheaton audiobooks, but I do not need multiple copies of those audiobooks. One on my hard drive will do. And then I back-up to Time Capsule; it's my only religion.


By maintaining a clean desktop, you are helping your computer run more efficiently. But more importantly, you're creating a calm visual environment for your work. 

Mad-Eye Moody's philosophy of "Constant Vigilance" is the way to approach keeping your desktop clear of digital clutter!

How do you keep your desktop clean? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you know someone with a cluttered desktop and you found value in these strategies, please share this post. 

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