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Clean Up Your Mac: The Desktop

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/5/2009

In my experience, it only takes a few days to bring disorder to a sparkling, clean desktop on a brand new Mac. If your Mac has been in service for years, your desktop may be a total disaster. Here’s how to take control of your desktop and make it look and feel new again.

  • slide 1 of 5

    Remove Unwanted Items

    Your Mac’s desktop probably contains unneeded documents, pictures, music, movies, broken aliases, remnants of downloaded files and installations, and other unnecessary data. Applications and downloaded programs put stuff there. When you create a screenshot, it ends up there. Applications also put their icons there. If you’ve deleted any pictures, movies, or documents, you probably have a lot of broken aliases too. The desktop can (and will) accumulate a lot of unnecessary items. If it’s just about to get on your last nerve, it’s time to clean it up.

    To get started:

     1. Check the aliases (the items on the desktop with arrows beside them), and then drag the broken aliases to the Trash.

    2. Throw away any documents you’ve created that you no longer need or want, including pictures or music.

    3. Focus on getting rid of stuff you created and don’t need any more. (Be careful about deleting application folders or files that don’t look familiar.)

    Tip: Remember, you can select multiple items by dragging the mouse over them.

     

  • slide 2 of 5

    Move Data you want to Keep

    After removing items you don’t need, drag the items you want to keep to their appropriate Home subfolder by following these steps:

    1.      Open the Finder and position it so you can still access the desktop.

    2.      Choose View>As Icons, then choose View>Arrange>By Kind. (This only works if the Finder is set to View>As Icons.)

    3.      Locate any file you want to keep. If it’s a document, drag it to the appropriate folder in the Documents window. Do the same for music, movies, or pictures. When dragging, hold down the mouse while hovering over the appropriate folder; in a second or two, the subfolders will appear. Drop the file into the appropriate subfolder. Repeat as necessary. Remember to only move files you’ve created!

    4.      When finished, click an empty area of the desktop and choose View>Arrange>By Kind.

    You’ll still have items on your desktop after following the steps above. You will likely have downloaded installation files, icons for HDs and network places, icons for items you really want to keep on the desktop, and other stuff. Once all of the personal files are in place and all broken aliases are removed, continue with the next section.

     

  • slide 3 of 5

    Clean Up Unzipped Files, StuffIt Files, Disk Image, and Tar Files

    When you download programs from the Internet, most put an icon on the desktop for easy retrieval and installation. Once installed, though, those files are no longer needed and can be deleted. Here are some common file formats and icons to look for:

    ·         Disk Drive Icons--These icons are left by installation packages. They should be dragged to the trash once the program is installed.

    ·         .dmg—Indicates a disk image file. This file usually appears after the downloaded file has been decompressed.

    ·         .sit or .sitx—Indicates a StuffIt file, the standard Macintosh file-compression format.

    ·         .tar—Indicates a tape archive file, an older Unix utility that combines several files into a single icon to simplify file transfers. These files are not compressed.

    ·         .gz—Indicates a gzip file, a standard Unix compression format.

    ·         .tar.gz or .tgz—Indicates a compressed archive of files.

    ·         .zip—Indicates a winzip file, a common compression format for Windows computers.

    You might also run across other file types including Arc (.arc), Arj (.arj), BZip (.bz), Compact Pro (.cpt), LHa (.lha), Rar (,rar), and Unix Compress (.Z), although these file types are less common. You can safely delete all of these files. However, if you paid for the software and you want to keep it in case you have to reinstall it later, or you don’t want to have to download it again, save the .dmg file.

    Tip: You can trash any files or folders that say Installer on them (as long as they’ve been installed).

     

  • slide 4 of 5

    Miscellaneous Items

    To deal with the miscellaneous items on your desktop you’ll have to look at each one and determine if it is a functional application, a duplicate copy of something, and if it is something you really need. You might find that you have folders that contain applications that don’t work because you failed to purchase or register them, that the folders are duplicates of other folders stored elsewhere on the hard drive, or that they are items you simply don’t need or want anymore. If they are applications that are not already in the Applications folder, you can drag them there; if they are copies, they can be dragged to the Trash. You might also have icons for a disk that can be ejected from the CD or DVD player.

    Continue working until you’ve gotten rid of every unnecessary item. Once you’ve finished the cleaning process, your desktop should look as good as new!