How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

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shutterstock 74870914   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For AllYour desktop is a mess. Admit it. Just like a desk with papers all over, a messy computer desktop is far from productive. Plus, it just doesn’t look nice. If you’re having issues finding the recycle bin on your desktop, it’s probably a sign from the Computer Gods that you need to change things up a bit. This doesn’t just mean removing a couple icons here or there, but instead starting with a clean slate…er….desktop.

You might be thinking “but I don’t want to download any programs to clean up my desktop“.  The great thing is you don’t have to. All of the following can be done without downloading anything. Although I will make some recommendations later on that will spruce up your desktop even more, they aren’t needed — just helpful.

Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Icons

Does your desktop look like this?

Messy Desktop   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

You’re not alone. A lot of users have icons all over. It starts when you buy a computer and there is all the “bloatware” loaded on with every icon imaginable on your default manufacturer wallpaper. Let me stop for a second. If you’re reading this article and have recently purchased a new laptop, get rid of this stuff. Secondly, don’t let your desktop get to the point where you are playing “catch up” or sorting through all the icons on your desktop trying to decide which ones to delete and which ones to keep.

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Now that I’m off that tangent, back to cleaning up icons. In Tina’s article, 7 Simple Steps To An Awesome Minimalist Desktop, she talks about removing desktop icons too and offers simple solutions to hide them or remove the shortcuts completely. However, many of those icons were on there for a reason — you wanted quick access. Unfortunately, due to the clutter with all the other icons that you either voluntarily or involuntarily (through program installations) created, that “quick access” which you are seeking has become counter productive.

My point is, before you drag all your icons into the Recycle Bin, think about which ones you want to keep. Do you have files that were temporarily saved on the desktop until they found a better “home” but were never moved? You don’t want to forget about them or just delete them completely. So my advice for you is first go through the “mess” (I know, I know — it sucks) and delete only what you don’t want. Or if it’s easier, move what you want to keep and delete the rest — just depends on the condition of your desktop.

Once you have sorted everything, it’s time to find a better location for those programs, folders and files that you want easier access too.

Icon free desktop   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Start With The Start Menu

Regardless of how your Start Menu may look right now, you can clean it up quickly in a few steps. Start by right clicking on the Taskbar and choosing “Properties“.

Task Bar Right Click Properties   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Click on the middle tab, titled “Start Menu”. Here there are a couple of important options to pay attention to — the check boxes. Uncheck both of them. You won’t need to see recently opened items or programs in the Start Menu because you’ll have all the common programs that you use pinned to the Start Menu.

Task Bar Properties Start Menu   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

To pin a program, open the Start Menu, click All Programs or just search for your program in the search box. Remember when I talked about leaving the programs/folders that you use the most on your desktop? Now you don’t have to remember which ones you use all the time — it just saves some time and effort. Once you find the program you want, right click on it and choose “Pin to Start Menu.” Do this for as many programs you desire.

Start Menu Right Click Pin to Start Menu   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

The are also many customizations in the Start Menu that will allow you to add and remove folders, choose whether they’re displayed as a link or a menu, and even the size of icons. You can adjust these settings by clicking “Customize” under the Start Menu tab in the Properties Window.

An example of how this will help is let’s say you want to access the Downloads Folder, which was on your desktop. Now you can check the option for it to be either a link or a menu and remove the icon from your desktop. This especially applies if it’s not something you’re constantly opening, but still want quick access to it.

Task Bar Properties Start Menu Customize   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Below is an example of what an organized, clean Start Menu might look like.

Clean and Organized Start Menu   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Managing The Taskbar

In previous versions of Windows the area to pin a program was called Quick Launch. Now it’s just referred to as the Taskbar. The nice thing about the changes to this area in Windows 7 are that you can easily pin programs and actually have added functionality besides just quickly accessing them. A deciding factor for what programs should go into the Taskbar is what additional features it has when you right click the icon in the Taskbar.

Taskbar Pinned Program Menu Options   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Obviously, you want to keep the programs to a minimum in the Taskbar so it doesn’t get too confusing, but even with a lot of icons, it still is much cleaner than previous versions of Windows.

There are other things you can do in the Taskbar to “clean up” or simplify it. To access these, right click on the Taskbar and choose Properties once more. You’ll see that you’re already at the Taskbar options. Something to make note of is, first off, making sure the Taskbar is locked — it’s just nice to have that. Another option is auto-hiding the Taskbar. I like this because it gives laptops with smaller screens (or even large ones for that matter) a little more viewing real estate when a window is in full screen mode.

The last check box allows you to have small icons. This is especially nice for netbooks, but I prefer it on my 16” laptop screen because I don’t need big icons, and if you don’t need them, why have them. It allows you to pack a few more in a smaller space and, in my opinion, helps keep the desktop cleaner looking.

Taskbar big icons   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Below is what small icons look like. I recommend trying this out on your own computer, as you will see a much greater difference than in images like these.

Taskbar small icons   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Utilizing The Windows Explorer Pop-up Menu

I’m actually not talking about the window that pops up when any given folder is opened. This is indirectly related to the previous section, Managing The Taskbar, but I wanted to emphasize this feature to avoid it being missed.

In Windows 7, whenever you right click on the Windows Explorer icon on the Taskbar, you will get a pop-up menu similar to the one below. The only thing different between yours and the one in the screenshot are the additional folders I’ve pinned to it, which you can simply do by dragging any folder icon onto the Windows Explorer icon. Then if you right click it again, you’ll see your folder pinned. They can also be organized by dragging them around in any order you prefer.

Windows Explorer Pop up Menu   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Don’t Forget The Notification Tray

In previous versions of Windows before Windows 7, the Notification Tray wasn’t very neat, nor was it customizable. Now however, some, not all, of the icons have the same theme. That’s not all you can do with them though. If there is an icon that is “out of place”, you can click, hold and drag it to the “other icons” area.

The fact that the Notification Area is much cleaner and more customizable now really allows you to have a nice desktop, so take advantage of it.

Notification Tray   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Excellent Programs To Use

In the introduction, I mentioned that I would introduce you to a couple of programs that would be really helpful to you. Two of these have actually been mentioned in Tina’s article, which I linked to above, so I will keep all three of these short by simply mentioning them with a brief description.


Rocketdock Stack Docklet 1   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Tina covers this one quite well, but there’s one thing that she didn’t mention about it, and that is an optional add-on you can install called Stack Docklet. You can see it in action in the image above. It makes not having folders on your desktop much easier to deal with.

Rocketdock Stack Docklet 1 Closeup   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All


Launchy   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Launchy has been covered quite a bit on MakeUseOf, I guess it’s because it’s such an awesome program. As long as you can remember the first couple letters of a program, Launchy will find it. Just open it up with a keyboard shortcut (or the long way through the Notification Tray) and start your application in seconds.


Fences   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

Fences is a program that allows you to group your desktop icons by type. It gives you some options as to whether you want to create your own Fences or you want it to detect and sort the icons by their category. For messy desktops, such as what mine looked like in the image at the beginning of the article, having Fences group your icons is very nice. Even if it doesn’t do it perfectly, it still makes it faster.

Fences can be easily customized in many ways.

Fences option   How To Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once & For All

One more thing I really like about Fences is that a simple double click on the desktop hides all your icons. So even if you have some that you want on your desktop, you can remove them all and bring them back in two clicks, literally.


Now that you have the “know how” in cleaning up your desktop, there’s no excuse to not have it look great and impress your friends in the process. There are lots of other programs such as Rainlendar and Rainmeter, which add a plethora of additional functionality, but for a basic, simple, clean desktop, you don’t need anything like that.

Do you have any other tips for Windows users striving to have a clean and organized Windows desktop? If you’re new to some of these tips, which one do you feel will be most beneficial to you?

Note: Making my desktop that messy for this article was torture. Pure torture.

Image Credit: Monitor Help via Shutterstock

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84 Comments - Write a Comment



Thanks, Aaron.
Precisely the type of info I’d been half-thinking about…
Much appreciated.

Aaron Couch

You’re welcome Steve! Glad it helped. Thanks for reading and for your support!


Steve Yancharas Jr.

I have 115 items on my desktop, think I’m gonig to check out Fences. Thanks!

Aaron Couch

Woo! That is crazy! Feel free to check back and let me know what your thoughts are on it (if it helps or not, any drawbacks that you don’t like about it, what you DO like about it, etc.)

Thanks for reading Steve!


Ron Morrow

I end up just moving all the icons/files I store on my desktop every 6 months or so. Now I have a dozen “desktop cleanup” folders on my storage drive lol. Definitely not the best solution but great for the lazy.

Gonna check out RocketDock, thanks!

Aaron Couch

Oh yeah, that’s like stuffing everything in drawer after drawer in your house… which unfortunately I do, as well as others I’m sure.

RocketDock combined with Stackdocklet is awesome! In fact, it wouldn’t be the same without Stackdocklet in my opinion.

Let me know if it helps. Thanks for reading Ron!


Vipul Jain

i clicked on the topic to just comment that
“Make a folder and dump everything in it”
woah, i’m gonna check some of this out :D

Aaron Couch

You’re welcome Vipul! Glad that it may have changed your mind about some things. I’d love to hear how it’s helped you, if you’d like to provide any future feedback.

Thanks for reading!

Vipul Jain

i actually was an avid user of rocketdock till i had Win XP.
But at that time it didnt have options to make folders within the dock items.
After i got Win7 i didnt feel the need of it sometime back, but now with more & more MBA documents i really needed a good looking solution.
So now i am back with it and using it instead of my usual make a folder & dump method :p

Aaron Couch

Sounds like a really good plan! Glad it is working for you.



You don’t need Rocket Dock when you have the Windows 7 Task Bar. It’s better than any dock IMO.

If it’s the Stack Docklet you want try Stand Alone Stack. It does the same thing as the Stack Docklet, in fact it’s devolved from it, but you don’t need Rocket Dock or any other dock to use it. You make a stack with it and pin it to the Task Bar. Works very well.

Aaron Couch

Hey thanks for pointing this out. I certainly agree that the Windows 7 is excellent. I was in love the minute I started using it (although I’m not sure if it feels the same way :P)

As far as not needing RocketDock, you’re right and I am all about running as few programs as necessary. I will look into StandaloneStack. Perhaps I’ll research it and cover it in an article if I feel compelled.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!



I created a folder on my desktop named _desktop.
I then installed it as a task bar dropdown: right click taskbar, select toolbars, select new toolbars, navigate to desktop, select _desktop (or whatever name was given).
I now have only three (3) icons on my desktop: Computer, _desktop, Recycle Bin.
Every other shortcut for installed software gets moved to _desktop.
_desktop also has subfolders for organizing, but the only thing in it is shortcuts. It’s like a mini Start Menu, but quicker to use.

Aaron Couch

That seems like a great system Barney! Thanks for reading and sharing your tactics in managing your desktop!



I use nexus, rather than rocketdock, simply because it has some cool extras like a command for ejecting the dvd tray.
When I buy a new laptop, the first thing I do is uninstall more or less everything, except required windows apps and drivers, then defrag, then install only what I need and use.
Once that is done, I sort out my start menus, moving all the windows stuff into a folder and grouping apps into folders so at the end I have about 6 folders, for example all graphic editing apps are placed in a folder called “image manipulation”.
Then I use my desktop for work in progress. Once something is done, I move it to a designated folder in documents. This way I keep everything neat and tidy and am able to find things at a later date.
Another powerful tool, if used properly is the library links in windows vista and 7. Although not a desktop thing, they work superbly for managing and sorting all those files that used to be stored on your desktop!

Aaron Couch

Hey everyone… do what Carie does! This is great advice! Everything from being proactive with removing preinstalled bloatware in a new computer to using the desktop as your work station and nothing else — that is what I like the best and what I do as well.

I know that I like my desktop completely clean, so what I’ll do is if there is something that needs my attention, I’ll move it to the desktop so that it gets taken care of.

Awesome advice! Thanks for reading and sharing these awesome tips Carie!



this is one nyc informative article,,,,whenever u leave plenty of icons on desktop it slows down ur pc,,,all this will help u speed up ur pc a bit :)

Aaron Couch

It does some, but honestly, I don’t think it has as much to do with your computer’s speed as it does YOUR OWN speed in finding what you need and getting things done.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!


Alan Wade

I dont have a single icon on my desktop. I dont see the point of having a really good background and then covering it with Icons. My Start Menu is just nine pinned apps and programs with all the icons customized with the help of IconPackager. The desktop is skinned with WindowsBlinds and I like to change it all about once a week. Some of the often used shortcuts to apps and folders are added to my right click context menu so nothing pinned in the taskbar either.

Aaron Couch


I’m the exact same way! I like a clean workspace. It looks nice and makes me actually want to get things done.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.


Luis Tovar

Thanks. Other interesting application is xlaunchpad (free)

Aaron Couch

Thanks for sharing Luis. That is a cool app! The one thing that leads me away from it (as far as had I known of it and included it in the article or not) is that it’s not the primary way to clean up a desktop, but rather change how it looks.

Some people like this, and others don’t, but I wouldn’t say this would be for everyone.

Nonetheless, a great recommendation and an interesting app that I will be checking out.

Thanks for reading and sharing this!


Ahmed Khalil

it is very useful for me thanks for that

Aaron Couch

Not a problem! Thanks for reading and for your support.


lance burn

Im going to try this

Aaron Couch

Great! Let me know what you think!


Tug Ricks

RocketDock is definitely the way to go. Where’d you get the icons? They look snazzy.

Aaron Couch

They do don’t they :P I love them. I used to change from theme to theme for the longest time until I found these. They’re my favorite hands down and I’ve used them for years.

What I love is that there’s also a community who contributes icons in the same style, which the creator has now included in the pack.

They’re called Lucid icons and are available for download on DeviantArt:

Thanks for reading man!


Timothy Liem

never get those kind of problem since I switched to Ubuntu. btw, that Fence thingy looks alot like Gnome Shell.

Aaron Couch

Interesting to know Timothy! I’m honestly not very educated in Linux… although I need/want to be.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on this. Perhaps some users will find it helpful.


Kevin Liske

I never got the whole save everything to your desktop concept. I’ve got the two dozen program shortcuts that I use every day or at least weekly, a handful of web page links that I want to explore further, and that’s it. If I want a file, I either start the program or start it from the directory it’s in. Apparently I’m the resident oddball here and no one I work with understands how or why I keep my desktop uncluttered.

Aaron Couch

That’s great Kevin!

Seems similar to what Carie mentioned in the comments above. She only uses her desktop to display what she’s currently working on. Then once it’s accomplished, it’s moved to an appropriate folder. I really like that method of workflow.

Thanks for reading, Kevin, as well as sharing your own techniques!



agree, my desktop is way too cluttered.

Aaron Couch

Sooo, what are you going to do about it?! :P



I just right-click and hide icons. No icons here.

Aaron Couch

I see, so you’re all about the quick fix method ;) It might work for a while I suppose. Haha

Thanks for reading!


General Melchett

Well, I downloaded Fences, and after an argument with the computer over .NET 2.0 (I still don’t understand what .NET actually is/does), I eventually got it up and running – and it’s brilliant!

I can find things again!

I made a few “fences” for different types of file, and there they are – right where I left them, instead of having Windows mysteriously re-arrange them every time I look away.

And it looks pretty too! I’m well and truly chuffed. Thanks Aaron!

Aaron Couch

That is great “General!” :P I love hearing about how articles have helped people. I also like that you shared your experience.

Thanks for reading and for your support. It’s readers like you who make writing so enjoyable! (Although, in honesty, all readers make writing enjoyable.)


Ryszard Grodzicki

Fences is really a great program. Groups created by it are also scrollable so you may put loads of icons on a tiny space.
I just still need to do the most irritating thing – go through all the files on a desktop.

Aaron Couch

Ah yes… that is the most time consuming part of it. But it’s well worth it in the end!

Good luck and thanks for reading!



Just try to keep everything important in D drive in right catalogue and keep only shortcuts on desktop

Aaron Couch

That CAN work, although even with just shortcuts on the desktop, it can still get quite cluttered though.

Thanks for reading!



Switch to AROS, the Amiga clone in public domain. Get off this operating system treadmill.



Sometimes I want to ask people who have desktops that look like the first desktop preview, how in God’s name do you make your desktop so crowded?! I have tried to do it several times and it drove me nuts! Oh by the way, thanks for the article. Hopefully after reading this, my friends can clean up their desktops. c:


caz desktop is the first place accessible after entering windows. hence, crowded..

Aaron Couch

Me too, Fayz. Me too. Sigh.

Thanks for reading and your support and for sharing this article with your friends! (Sounded like you did anyways)



Helpful :) Im gonna reccommend it to my friends

Aaron Couch

Thanks for reading and sharing it! You’re awesome.


Divit Dsouza

Nice article…
I used to use Fences and will use it again when my desktop gets messy.
Trying out Rocket Dock for now :) Would you mind telling me the icon pack that your are using?


Darryl Price

I have three files on my desktop called Scratchpad.doc, scratchpad.xls, and scratchpad.pdf. I also have a folder called Scratchpad. When I download a document to my desktop, I save it as one of these names – overwriting the previous scratchpad file. If I read the item and want to keep it, I “save as” and rename it to the relevant directory. Otherwise it is left as scratchpad, and is saved over next time. Simple.

Aaron Couch


I’m trying to understand how this affects your file management though. I suppose it depends on your workflow and what files you’re downloading, but wouldn’t renaming those files as that not be conducive to accessing them later on if you need to?

Perhaps I missed something…

Let me know though, I’m interested in hearing more about your system. Thanks for reading.



Maybe I’m missing something basic here. One can simply right click on the desktop, then use the option “View” to choose whether to have any icons displayed. It can be changed easily in a couple of clicks of the right button.

I’ve always used the option to hide icons not just for minimalism, but also because I change my desktop wallpaper a lot. Between the “Pin to the start menu” option and Quick Launch, there is quick access to the half-dozen programs I use 90% of the time.

Aaron Couch


You’re right. You can quickly hide icons, but that’s not the point about the article. The desktop is a great place to store files and folders which require your attention, but shouldn’t be a place to store everything. When it’s used as this, it becomes counter productive.

Think of it in the sense of your physical desktop at home (if you have one). The most effective use is if you only have the work that you need to get done right now on it. Once you start building up other clutter it becomes counterproductive.

Like you mentioned, Windows 7 has some great features to manage shortcuts and clean up your desktop as well… which I mentioned too.

Does that answer your question?

Thanks for reading! If you disagree, feel free to further explain your argument!


sigits Sigit

thx Aaron, i’ll try it to my PC’s :)

Aaron Couch

You’re welcome! Let me know how it goes and thanks for reading!


Kylee Kanavas

You just improved the quality of my desktop!!! :)

Aaron Couch

That’s quite an honor actually, and frankly what I was hoping someone would say! So thank YOU for your support. I am really glad that I’ve helped you.

If you care to share any specifics as to how it’s helped, I’d love to hear them.

Thanks for reading Kylee!


Yash Kataria

Great article Aaron. Something which every Windows user should read.
I am using fences for the last 6 months, and it’s awesome. You can make, delete, resize fences on your will. The only one more feature that I will love in fences is search option.

Aaron Couch


Thanks so much for your support! Although I don’t really need Fences, I do find it quite useful… especially to those who like having icons on their desktop, but don’t want the hassle of a chaotic mess.

Yes! A search function would be fantastic! Have you heard of Everything by Voidtools? Or Launchy? Both are great search tools and have strengths in different areas.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts Yash!


VS Vishnu

but i use XP

Aaron Couch

Oh, well I highly recommend you upgrade to 7. However, if you don’t want to, RocketDock and Fences should still work as well as pinning apps to the Start Menu. The only function that you can’t really take advantage of is the superior taskbar in Windows 7. Still, XP does have Quick Launch, which isn’t the greatest, but can help free up the desktop by adding your most commonly used apps there instead and saving the desktop for your most current work.

Hope that helps! Thanks for reading.


Actually xp allows you to create floating menu bars on the desktop. In the quick start, create a folder, then place shortcuts. Once done, drag off blue bar and it will float independently on the desktop. A feature that I initially missed on windows vista then 7! Rocketdock also works on xp.

Aaron Couch

That’s really interesting Carie. Thanks for sharing! You’re lighting up the comments with awesome ideas! I love it.


Benjamin Glass

I hate desktop icons, so everything is on my start menu!

Aaron Couch

Good plan Benjamin. I do too, which is why if I want something done right away, I add the folder or file to my desktop. That way I see it every time and it is constantly on my mind to accomplish so I can remove it.

Thanks for reading man!



Ugh, what are you all doing. Use a TWM like

Aaron Couch

Thanks for sharing this. However, for those who may be less computer literate (which this article is aimed at, but certainly not only for) a TWM doesn’t really seem like the best way to manage desktop icons.

I do appreciate you sharing this though and also for reading! If you want to elaborate more as to how it benefits you, I’d love to hear. Perhaps, I’m just not very educated with them.


Rahul Patil

Thanks for RocketDock

Aaron Couch

Don’t thank me Rahul, thank its creators! :P

Thanks for reading!


Adjei Kofi

fences looks cool

Aaron Couch

It IS cool Adjei! Thanks for reading. Let me know if you end up using Fences and how it works out for you.


Ellen Odza

I just installed Fences and used it to group together the shortcuts on my desktop (which already were organized in groups, but now they HAVE to stay together!) Awesome – thanks so much!

Aaron Couch

That’s awesome Ellen! Sounds like even before you had a much more organized desktop than the averaged user.

So glad Fences is working well for you.

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts and experiences.



Must read for my entire family….tech challenged…great info I am emailed them today.

Aaron Couch

Awesome! Hopefully it’ll be easy to understand. Honestly, anyone who uses a computer (so everyone) should organize their desktop, otherwise it is utterly counterproductive to its intended purpose — providing quick access to the files you need NOW.

I’m not opposed to files on the desktop, they’re necessary at times, but only have the ones you need now. And use all the other things I mentioned to organize the rest.

Thanks for reading and sharing this with your family. Truly an honor.



I started using Fences a few months ago and don’t know how I survived in the past without it. Great program!

Aaron Couch

Yes it is! Thanks for sharing your thoughts Edward, and for reading as well!


Silviu Despa

Lol Aaron my desktop looks just like that with a whole bunch if useless shortcuts and folders !

Aaron Couch

Oh no Silviu! Haha. Are you planning to change anything since reading my article?

I recommend reading what Carie recommended earlier in the comments about only using the desktop for work that you need to access now, and nothing else. Just like how you (hopefully) use your physical desktop.

Let me know if there’s any way I can help. Thanks for reading!


Ibrahim Nadir

Dude you really put a lot of stamina in your article. I wonder where u get it from…

Aaron Couch

I appreciate your compliment! I think it’s a compliment. It is, isn’t it? Well… to be honest, it’s just determination. And somehow I remain creative in all of it.

Hope this article helped you in some way!



Thanks Aaron. That’s what I need.
But I have CX Sync folder that sits on my desktop. I can’t figure out how to move it.

Aaron Couch

Is the folder just a shortcut? Meaning, is there another location the folder is in as well? These typically get put in the My Documents folder too. If this is the case, deleting it would be your best bet, from the Desktop that is.

If not, I’m not sure what to tell you. You might consider doing a search online or contancting CX and seeing if they can help you.

Hope this helps! Let me know if it does.

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