3 Steps to an Organized Desktop

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Let’s face it, a desktop that is covered with shortcuts, icons, files, folders, and still harbors the default wallpaper is boring and ugly. No one wants to see it, you can’t find anything on it, it’s neither inspiring nor useful. And why have all those things on the desktop anyway? Is it convenient to close open windows just to access My Documents or open another program? Who does that?

If you agree, if you’re using Windows XP, and if you need some ideas on how to change the bad habits, you will find the following tips very helpful. You’re welcome to follow step by step or create your own flavor and just pick what you like.

STEP 1: Clean Up

    After completing this step you will have nothing but a maximum of two things sitting on your desktop: the recycle bin and a new folder.

    Clean-up Your Desktop

    Go ahead and create a folder on your desktop. Right-click onto an open space and select >New >Folder from the menu. Then move everything that clutters up your desktop into that folder. Don’t worry, we will attend to the contents in the next step.

    If you would like to get rid of the Recycle Bin Icon, check out the instructions for Windows XP Pro and Home at TweakXP.

STEP 2: Get Organized

    This step will help you to always have the shortcuts you need at your fingertips. Before downloading and customizing cool applications, we will work with what Windows has to offer.

    Right-click onto the Taskbar and choose >Properties. A little window will pop up where “Show Quick Launch” needs to be checked. The new bar will appear right next to the START button in your Taskbar. If you’re already using Quick Launch and/or if there are icons in there, go through them and remove everything you don’t need. Now open the folder we created in Step 1 and decide which of the things in there you really, really need and use often. Remove whatever you can do without. Of what’s left drag and drop all program and folder shortcuts into the Quick Launch bar. Files that are not shortcuts, first need to be moved to another location altogether. Cut and paste them into My Documents for example, and drag and drop them into the Quick Launch bar from there.

    At this point you will likely notice two things:

    1) I can’t see all of the stuff I dropped in there, and
    2) those yellow folders look kinda dull, how can I tell them apart!?

    So let’s fix that!

    First of all unlock the Taskbar. Right-click onto an open spot in your Taskbar and remove the checkmark in front of >Lock the Taskbar. Now you can increase the space for the Quick Launch by dragging the dotted border to the right until you see all important icons. If there are too many icons in there, make your Taskbar bigger by clicking it at its upper border and dragging it upwards. You could even drag the whole Taskbar to the top or the side of your screen. But whatever you do, don’t forget to lock it again when you’re done. For more killer tips and tricks check out this tutorial on CoolNerds.

    The yellow folder icons in the Quick Launch bar aren’t helpful, thus they need to go. Right-click on a folder and select >Properties from the menu. You’re in the >Shortcut tab and at the bottom there is a button called >Change Icon… Click it, browse through the available icons and select one that best resembles what your folder is about. If you do this for all of your folder icons you will end up with a very original Quick Launch bar.

    Since you have removed everything from your desktop you may miss some of the system shortcuts like My Computer or My Documents. Maybe you added those to the Quick Launch bar, but there is another way to quickly access them. Again the Taskbar offers a quick and easy solution: Toolbars. Right-click on your Taskbar, from the menu select >Toolbars and put a checkmark in front of >Desktop.

    Windows Toolbar

    Now even though your desktop is almost empty, you will meet old friends in this Toolbar and you will never again have to minimize a window to access them.

    Is there anything left in the folder you created? Do you need what is in there? If there is and if you do, rename the folder, cut and paste it into My Documents or any other location, just not the desktop, then either drag and drop it into your Quick Launch bar and give the shortcut a nice icon, or create a new Toolbar pointing to that folder. Otherwise just delete the folder.

    Congratulations, you just transformed an unorganized mess into a productivity boosting, clean platform.

STEP 3: Ask Yourself!

    My laptop, the only computer I own, is fully “pimped” and thus others find it hard to use. Actually that’s a good thing. ;) They complain about the small font size (WUXGA rules!), the lack of icons on the desktop, or they ask me “Is this a MAC?” because I installed a transformation pack FlyakiteOSX. Still they manage to find Internet Explorer (grrr). Ok, so what puzzles me the most is that they maximize all windows to full screen. Why, oh why!?

    If you do that, ask yourself what more do you see in a maximized compared to a smaller window. Naturally, this depends on your screen resolution. If you’re on 800 x 600 pixel go ahead and max, you have to do it! But if you enjoy the luxury of a much higher resolution, maybe some windows only require two thirds of your screen while the rest could be dedicated to open folders or a small program like a messenger or RSS reader. The idea is to use the available space in a smart way and not to waste it. Just a thought.


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There are a hundreds of cool tools out there to make your desktop even more pretty and functional. Docks, gadgets, widgets, wallpaper resources and changers etc. Stay tuned for my next posts to learn all about these!

In the meantime I would like to see what your desktop looks like. What tools and strategies do you use to keep it clean and organized? Post a comment or mail me a screenshot. The coolest desktops will be featured on MUO. Below you see my Desktop.


Click on the image for the full size image (1920 x 1200 pixel, 2.38 MB).

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Comments (26)
  • Cheezwhiz

    What I do is make a folder for desktop shortcuts. That way, when I save, say, a setup file to my desktop, all I have to do is drag it into that folder or the Recycling Bin. Every now and then I go into that folder and delete anything unnecessary.

  • ZeeMan`

    Great help thanks!!!! :D one question though. Do you know of a program or a widget or something that lets you spread out your open windows like one would do with a mac?


  • Toby-Linn

    I’ve been using FileBox eXtender for years now, and it’s perfect for favoriting your usual folders and having them as a quick link that you access from the taskbar.

    Definite time saver! Great article, btw. I’m gonna work on cleaning my desktop from all the programs, you’re right, I don’t need them there. I can access programs just as well from quick launch.

  • Terry Finley

    Thanks. I can use your tips.

  • vstarin

    I use the wallpaper changer from PowerToys and Rocket Docket to make my desktop more fun and usable. ( these are both great.)
    Also try using Ultra Explorer a way better tool than the regular old Windows Explorer. (check my bookmark tag (download at your own risk) to find links to obtain these apps.

    The best wallpapers can be found on: caedes.net/ and
    http://www.babene.ru/?lang=en (Has Adult content (X rated areas/ if you can ignore that you’ll find some of the best wallpapers).

    I use sharinglinks.com to store all my bookmarks if you want to check out my tags use this link: http://www.sharinglinks.com/bookmarks/vstarin

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.