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Clean Up Your Mac: Organize Your Desktop Icons and Maintain your Desktop

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

Even if you prefer an uncluttered desktop, the ease of accessing things directly from there will almost always lure you back in. The truth is, you’re going to have stuff on your desktop, and at times, it’s going to seem cluttered. You can make it more orderly and easier to maintain simply by setting the desktop’s view options, removing icons you don’t need, and performing small maintenance tasks once it’s configured the way you like it.

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    Improve the Look of Your Desktop

    There are two specific wasy to improve the look and performance of your desktop. You can configure View options and configure Finder Preferences. Once your desktop is ready, you can maintain it to keep it clean.

    Configure View Options

    To make more room on your desktop and configure it so that it can be easily maintained, follow these steps:

    1.      Click an empty area of the desktop.

    2.      From the Menu bar, choose View>Show View Options.

    3.      Use the Icon Size slider to make the desktop icons smaller.

    4.      Use the Text Size window to configure the text size.

    5.      Use the Label Position options to tell OS X where to put the labels for icons, on the bottom or on the right.

    6.      Select any of the following:

    • Snap to Grid--Keeps items on an invisible grid so they are always aligned.
    • Show Item Info--Shows information about the item underneath its name.
    • Show Icon Preview--Shows icon preview when available. This is useful when scanning image files such as  TIFF files. (Your Mac has to work a little harder to do this.)
    • Keep Arranged By--Keeps the icons arranged by name, date modified, date created, size, kind, or label. This is a good tool if you regularly access items from the desktop and want to keep it organized. (If you choose this, Snap to Grid will be unavailable.)


    7.      Close the Desktop dialog box.

    Remove Items from Your Desktop Using Finder Preferences

    Another way to clean up the desktop involves removing items that are normally on it by default. For instance, there’s really no need to have the Hard Disk icon on the desktop all of the time, unless you’re just used to accessing things that way. You can just as easily open the Finder window and select the Hard Disk icon from there. The same holds true for CDs and DVDs, as well as connected servers.

    To remove unnecessary disks on the desktop:

    1.      Click an empty area of the desktop.

    2.      Choose Finder>Preferences from the Menu bar.

    3.      Choose General, and deselect any items you desire.

    4.      If you want the Finder window to open a different folder (not your Home folder) by default, make that selection from the New Finder Windows Open: area.

    5.      Close the dialog box.

    Maintain your Desktop

    To organize future data you will need to store on the desktop, follow these steps:

    1.      Create folders using the handy Shift+Apple+N keyboard shortcut.

    2.      Name the folders as if they were folders in a filing cabinet so that you can tell easily what’s in each one. You might consider titles such as Taxes, Clients, Artwork, Poetry, Music, Films in Progress, Hot Projects, or other descriptive titles.

    3.      Move your stuff to the folders.

    Remember that you’re trying to organize your files and folders, so the more you can organize your folders like a filing cabinet or filing system, the better off you’ll be.