Productivity Windows

3 Better Ways to Store Your Files Than on the Desktop

Joe Keeley Updated 07-05-2020

You shouldn’t save files on your desktop. It might seem like a quick and straightforward thing to do, but a cluttered desktop is going to hit your productivity. You soon won’t be able to find what you need or appreciate your desktop wallpaper.

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There are many better ways to store your computer files and keep your desktop clean. We’re going to show you where to save files on Windows 10.

The Downsides to Desktop Storage

The urge to save files to the desktop is understandable. It provides immediate access with a single click, which means that it’s tempting to turn the desktop into a de facto headquarters for storage.

While it’s okay to use the desktop temporarily for storage, it’s likely to quickly spiral out of control and become a mess.

Unless you are strict with maintenance, you’ll eventually succumb to these issues:

  • No file backups: Many file backup programs ignore desktop files by default. Of course, a decent backup program will let you include desktop files, but if you forget then you’re at risk of losing important desktop files.
  • Cluttered appearance: A clear and distraction-free workspace leads to better productivity and the same rings true of your computer desktop. If the first thing you see when you login is a messy desktop packed with files, it’s unlikely to give you a positive feeling. Plus, you won’t be able to properly appreciate whatever desktop wallpaper you have set.
  • Difficult to navigate: Files often end up on the desktop for easy access. Perhaps it’s a document you’re working on over the course of several days and you want to find it immediately. However, this quickly mounts up, and you’re left with a desktop that is overflowing with files. It then becomes hard to find what you need, the exact problem you were trying to solve originally.
  • Slow login: This problem mainly impacts network accounts, but having a lot of stuff on your desktop can mean it takes longer to login to your Windows user account. This is because it has to sync everything on the desktop before it can move on to something else.

1. Use Windows Libraries

Windows 10 libraries

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Windows 10 comes with things called libraries. Essentially, these libraries group folders together so that you can see all the files in a single place.

By default, your computer will have libraries for Camera Roll, Documents, Music, Pictures, Saved Pictures, and Videos.

These are not the same as the default folders, despite the fact that they have the same names.

To access them, open File Explorer, input Libraries in the navigation bar, and press Enter.

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Navigate inside a library and click Properties. Here you can define which folders that library should pull from.

Click Add… to choose a folder and use the Optimize this library for dropdown if the library contains specific types of files.

Libraries are excellent because they don’t require any extra work. Instead of saving on the desktop, simply store your file in a folder of your choosing. It’s far more flexible and organized.

You can take this one step further by using an app to automatically organize your files 6 Windows Apps That Automatically Organize Files for You Organizing files on Windows is a tiring job. Take a look at these automatic file organization apps that do it for you. Read More .

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2. Use Windows Folders

3 Better Ways to Store Your Files Than on the Desktop user profile folders 670x435

Similar to Windows libraries, but more ubiquitous, are folders. There are various reasons why folders exist and one of those is organization.

Simply speaking, the desktop is a folder itself. You can open File Explorer and go to Desktop to see everything you have stored there. You can then browse it like you would any other folder—sort, search, create, and so on.

However, what’s the point? If you’re doing that, you may as well use an actual folder that won’t clutter your desktop.

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Windows comes with default folders like Documents and Pictures that are perfect for storing your data. You can quickly create a new folder within these by clicking New folder from the menu at the top, or right click and click New > Folder.

You can create many sub-folders, though there is a limit as the total path can’t be more than 260 characters. Nevertheless, that’s plenty for even the most obsessive organizers.

3. Use Cloud Storage

If you store on the desktop for ease of access, you should consider using a cloud storage provider 5 Best Free Cloud Storage Providers Use cloud storage and access your files from anywhere. Let's explore the best free cloud storage solutions you can opt for today. Read More .

Any good cloud service will also appear as a folder on your computer and automatically sync everything within it to the cloud. This means that your files are not only accessible from multiple devices, but you also have multiple copies of them too.

Many providers also provide revision history, which tracks any change made to a file. If you need to revert to an old version, you can do that with a couple of clicks. That’s not possible if you store on the desktop.

Need Quick Access to Files?

Of course, the desktop does have a purpose. It isn’t great at storing lots of folders and files, but it is good at hosting shortcuts.

Shortcuts mean you don’t have to navigate through File Explorer to find your files. Instead, you double-click the shortcut and are immediately taken there.

Windows 10 new desktop shortcut

Right click on the desktop and click New > Shortcut to activate the wizard. Alternatively, left click and drag a folder or file to the desktop to turn it into a shortcut.

Even if you remove a shortcut, the actual file will still be safe.

Instead of putting the shortcuts on the desktop, you could go one step further. Right click on any shortcut and select either Pin to taskbar or Pin to Start.

Of course, you don’t want to overload your taskbar or Start menu either, but you can use this to pin the most important files and programs that you need regular access to.

Clean Up Your Desktop

While the Windows desktop does have a purpose, it isn’t a warehouse for all your files. Hopefully we’ve demonstrated the better options available to you.

If your desktop is still a bit of a mess and full of junk and shortcuts, take a look at our guide to clean up your Windows desktop How to Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once and For All Do you look at your Windows desktop and wonder how to clean it up? Here are some decluttering tips that can make you productive. Read More .

Related topics: Data Backup, Declutter, Organization Software, Storage, Windows Tips.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. dragonmouth
    May 20, 2020 at 11:46 am

    What is the difference if you replace your file icons with shortcut icons on your Desktop? It will still be cluttered.

  2. Schauk
    May 8, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Try Stardock Fences.

  3. Magnus
    August 18, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    I wouldn't have any interest in using "Desktop" for anything but a select few shortcuts... except that applications have turned, especially "Documents", default directories into their dumping ground for extraneous crap that actually really belongs in their own damned "Programs" folder. Unfortunately, there's really nowhere other than "Desktop" to put them where it's just MY PERSONAL files. I don't, yet, have a second internal hard drive (I prefer externals with power switch, which I use. 11 and 12 years old my main two are now. And that's precisely why I prefer them to internals)... but will whenever I get around to my Ryzen + M.2 build (not until closer to 2020, as its looking now).

    And, as most of us know, a new "C:/" folder isn't viable for such uses, either, due to incessant permissions nagging, even UAC prompts too now.

    This app dev abuse of "User" directories really has gotten out of hand. The whole freaking point of them has long been rendered useless. And left us absolutely NOWHERE else for OUR files, other than "Desktop" (if not a second internal hard drive). As I said, the problem is most grievous with "Documents". There's so much erroneous apps dumps in there, your ACTUAL documents get lost in the shuffle. It's freaking RIDICULOUS we have to resort to alternatives over this.

  4. Jeff
    December 22, 2016 at 11:57 am

    You don't publish comments? Are you real?

  5. Jeff
    December 22, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Sorry I don't agree. In today's fast moving world, speed is of the essence and the desktop gives you that. The cloud does not provide quick access. For example I cannot copy a cloud file shortcut to my desktop. I this intentional of MS? Probably.

    My solution is to save files to meaningful folders and then copy a shortcut to the desktop (Ctrl-Shift drag and drop or Paste as a shortcut). Then a single click is all you need to work on that file. When done , erase the shortcut and tidy your desktop. The cloud stands in the way of inclusion. MS needs to re-prioritise.

  6. Barbara
    March 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Crass novice here. I am afraid to delete the My Documents folder on my desktop so I can use the shortcut I have there, too, now. How do I get it to go where it should be w/o losing all of it?

  7. Al Barol
    March 7, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    the Desktop is part of each user's local profile which is loaded into memory at each login so having lots of files/folders on the Desktop clutters up memory which can be a nightmare on a machine with small amount of memory.
    My cousin had an XP machine that literally took nearly 30 minutes to boot up to a point where he could use it. The machine had 2 gig of RAM but 4 Gig of data on the Desktop! After moving that stuff off the Desktop to another non-profile location, that machine booted up fast!

    • Rani Kheir
      April 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

      I am not sure about XP, but newer Windows does not load everything on the desktop to RAM. I had over 4 gigs of files on my desktop, only about 2 gigs of RAM being used at the moment.

  8. Arbaz Khan
    August 29, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Yeah I am a little lazy with the so I tend to go the easier way and I store my important files on the Drive, easy and convenient.

    Arbaz,

  9. Uri.goldberg
    July 8, 2014 at 9:42 am

    its important to differentiate between Sync folders and Backups.
    Sync Folder works like http://www.dropbox.com , you delete a file, and its deleted everywhere.
    Backup means you choose what to backup from your computer, and it cannot be deleted from the backup (only from your computer) , thats why its a backup.
    you can actually enjoy them both look at [Broken Link Removed]
    you can find it under the pro version.
    it will both , back your computer up + give you an extra 512 Giga Sync folder (as like Dropbox ).. and it all for 2$ / month.. recommended

    • keren
      July 17, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Yeah, me too I use dupplica, It's actually the cheaper online backup I found on the net. Cheers

    • keren
      July 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Yeah, me too I use dupplica, It's actually the cheaper online backup I found on the net. Cheers

    • keren
      July 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

      Yeah, me too I use dupplica, It's actually the cheaper online backup I found on the net. Cheers

  10. Swapnil
    June 27, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Yes I am also too lazy and always save files on desktop for easy access, I think Cloud storage is one of the best way to store files, and no doubt it is the future of file storage.
    [Broken URL Removed]

  11. Juan Savaroni
    June 4, 2014 at 12:28 am

    1. Always copy important files to an external drive. I do this at the end of every computer session.
    2. Make a full disc image backup every month. I use Acronis with a Western Digital drive. You can access any file from this image.
    3. Keep your backups offsite.
    Cheers Sav

  12. Joseph P
    May 16, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    @Joel L. - You should clear some space off your Windows partition if at all possible. Last I heard, Windows file systems still have issues with file fragmentation which can significantly affect performance. This is much worse when a partition is almost full.

    I used to use one defragmenter that wouldn't even try to run if there wasn't at least 10% free space on the partition.

    I also imagine (but do not know for sure) that having more free space on your partition will make the drive last longer because with less fragmentation, there should be significantly less writes and seeks for any given file update - especially if you have large files like music and video.

  13. Ben
    May 13, 2014 at 6:29 am

    A problem with creating a separate partition is that programs always save to the C drive by default (at least in my experience).

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Yeah, that can be inconvenient. I've had to manually reassign new programs to my E: drive but you get used to it after a while.

  14. gene ryack
    May 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Personally, I like a second hard drive in my workstation to store files.
    If your OS craps out, the files on the second drive are unaffected in most cases.

    I'm also looking for some cloud storage that will accept uploads of folders for backup.

  15. Bin Dar Dundet
    May 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    There are no perfect solutions, only a series of trade-offs. Assess your risks, your needs, and/or what works best for you. Then, just do it!

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Definitely a good point. :)

  16. Joe
    May 9, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Oops, my touchpad got me. That should read, "Filling up a data partition ..."

  17. Joe
    May 9, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Another reason not to store your data on the same partition as your operating system is that it's easy to fill it up and then your operating system has no place to work and starts to fail. Fem hard to backilling up a data partition is annoying, but doesn't cause any system level problems.

    Also, operating system partitions have a lot of data on them that is always changing. This makes them hard (or impossible) to backup reliably while the system is running.

    You have a lot more control of a data only partition and can usually make reliable backups just by checking that none of your user level applications are writing to the partition while the backup is running.

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      I'm struggling with something similar. I gave 40GB to my Windows partition and it's been hovering at 39GB. Every once in a while, it'll give me an error due to lack of space, forcing me to go on a hunt to clean it up...

  18. Godel
    May 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Never forget the security risks of storing unencrypted files in the cloud.

  19. John W
    May 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I used to beat my audio and video editors every week for putting enormous media files on the desktop. Most of these files are bigger than the pagefile and they always end up calling tech support moaning about their workstation stuttering and freezing.
    Eventually I made a desktop background image warning of their immediate demise if they called support and we found media on the system drive.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Oh man, thinking of that makes me shudder!

    • Bruce E
      May 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I used to have mining engineers doing this on NT4 workstations in an NT4 network. All of these huge files (AutoCAD drawings, hi-res aerial shots of the pit or current expansion projects, [unauthorized] .PST files, etc.) were being stored on the desktop or in their profile directories and they just couldn't understand why it was taking so long for them to log in or out of the network each day. A few workstations were attempting to sync GBs of profile data at every log in/out on a 10/100 switched network with only 1 shared file & database server for that group of engineers.

  20. GadgetDude
    May 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    There is yet another alternative to consider that is a variation of the Cloud:
    Personal Cloud.
    Western Digital has created what is essentially an external HD configured to be your own Personal Cloud.
    Therefore, you can use either an online cloud and/or your personal cloud located on a drive external to the computer.
    Personally, I like the Personal Cloud because it has none of the hassles of an online cloud.

    • Yodi C
      May 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      I can RDP into my 4 TB EHDD from any computer. How is that different from WD's Personal Cloud?

  21. Dan S
    May 6, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I do a lot of the above. Most of my files are located in onedrive. Some files (apps) are pinned to the desktop and some are pinned to the start menu. However, for portability, I also move the files that I work with frequently to my web page storage area in a folder I named TRANSIENT. This way, when I visit elsewhere I can simply download the files from the transient folder to their computer. As an addendum, adding folders to TRANSIENT for each main folder in My Documents area, you can keep data in these folders empty until a change is made. Then, move the changed file to that sub-folder and you can easily determine which files have recently been changed. This also acts as a file backup system.

  22. Jack A
    May 6, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    You mention that having the data in a separate partition protects it should the OS partition get attacked or corrupted. What if that happens to the data partition instead? Then your OS is fine but you just lost all your data. There is no truly safe strategy using the same hard drive. The only real safety net is backing up your data on an external drive or in the cloud or both. I do the latter because a fire in my house would destroy the computer AND external hard drive. Including the cloud in your solution is the best strategy.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm

      Yeah. Truth is, there's always a chance for ANY sort of backup to be lost. Traditional wisdom says to keep at least 3 different types of backups (computer, external, cloud) but it's possible for all 3 to be corrupted. The only thing we can do is be diligent and redundant to minimize (not eliminate) those risks.

    • Bruce E
      May 8, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      You don't necessarily need to include cloud, but you must have some kind of off-site solution as part of the backup. The only stuff I allow to be saved in the cloud is all relatively unimportant. It's loss would not matter much at all. Off-site storage of important data and long-term backup copies (all of which are encrypted) are stored at relative's houses (and those rotate as well). If it is important, there will be a MINIMUM of 3 copies of it, normally at 3 different locations. If it is absolutely critical, special backup procedures are in place to maintain at least 3 copies of its current state as well as at least 2 copies of the last 4 generations of the data and, in some cases, there are even more generations of diffs (instead of point-in-time complete copies) of some material that can be applied to revert to previous versions of the data or to bring an older copy up to date in the event intermediate copies were corrupted.

  23. Davey126
    May 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Great (and often repeated) guidance but sidesteps the reality that many individuals will typically do whatever is most convenient regardless of potential risk - until they get burned. People opt not to use seat belts, smoke cigs and do a vast number of other things that someone, somewhere has deemed 'risky'. Until there is a low to near-zero alternative to storing files on the desktop they will likely remain there for a great many folks.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Unfortunately, there's truth to your statement. All we can do is keep warning and guiding people. Each time we do, there's at least one person who changes their ways. (I hope.)

  24. DieSse
    May 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Storing files on the desktop also uses resources and so slows the system down - particularly on older systems, and especially if they're large files (eg music, pictures, videos).

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      This is especially true for Windows XP, but since support for XP was recently discontinued I think it's less of an issue these days. Thanks for making note of that.

  25. Antonio N
    May 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I have too many drives at home and all my files are messed up... yikes

  26. Tom S
    May 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    "But unless you are strict with maintenance"
    kind of self explanatory?

  27. anil
    May 6, 2014 at 11:45 am

    well get a upgrade..

  28. Scott Hedrick
    May 6, 2014 at 2:06 am

    I didn't realize the Desktop is affected by System Restore. I tend to keep lots of items in folders on the Desktop. Guess I'll have to put those folders somewhere in Documents and just put shortcuts on the Desktop.

  29. andrew m
    May 6, 2014 at 1:15 am

    'Fences' is wonderful on win7. Not only does it allow you to keep different types of links, icons and files in their own 'box', but it has a default 'box' where all files dropped on the desktop go. Thereby confining the clutter.

    • Scott Hedrick
      May 6, 2014 at 2:06 am

      I have used Fences on XP and Vista and liked it. Didn't know it worked on 7.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      I like the concept of Fences but it has never really worked for me in practice. It just enables my clutter and makes me even lazier, haha. But if it works for you, that's great!

  30. epiquestions
    May 5, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    You don't lose saved data when reinstalling the operating system (windows 7 and up). Every folder that you create in the OS partition is retained, and old windows files and folders (user, program files, windows folder etc) are put in windows.old folder of your new install.

    Anyway it is still better to create a separate partition for the data. One thing I do is to move the Desktop,Downloads, My Documents, Saved Games, My Pictures, My Videos, My Music of the users folder to a users folder I created in the data partition. Ie: Rightclick c:users{username}Desktop. Choose properties and go to location tab. Click move button and choose where to move or just type the new location in the bar and apply

    • Bruce E
      May 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      This only applies if you are not doing a clean install. Most people who end up needing to reinstall the OS are doing so because there is too much damage to repair and don't want the extra crap hanging around. That means formatting the OS partition and installing, in which case it all goes away.

      You are better off keeping the OS and data on separate partitions, or better yet, on different drives.

  31. Frank Leespeaking
    May 5, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    I don't trust anyone else's cloud, so I roll my own with a Synology NAS. More than likely if you're on this site, you should know better.

  32. Abhishek R
    May 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Another great article for managing files and folders in windows

    Thanks

  33. Gavin R
    May 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Another option is to put a shortcut to a folder on your desktop. You might already have a shortcut to Documents but you can right-click on any folder and Send to > Desktop. This can give you quick access to important folders (including drag and drop into them), and hopefully producing less clutter than you would by adding shortcuts to a lot of programs or files.

    • Joel L
      May 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Yeah, folder shortcuts are important. There's still the danger of cluttering the desktop with a million folder shortcuts, but it's definitely a better alternative than sending all program shortcuts directly to desktop.

  34. Akash D
    May 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    well i create a folder named startup and put all my program shortcuts in that folder and use fences to hide that folder :)

  35. Arup Ghosh
    May 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I use every method you mentioned here, but condition getting the same.

  36. D Black
    May 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I use to do what you said "pin shortcuts to the "taskbar" until I learned that all those shortcuts pinned to the taskbar are always running in the background, ultimately slowing your computer down. It's better to place the shortcut to the program on your desktop.

    • Howard B
      May 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Items pinned to the Taskbar are *not* always running in the background; they are running *only* if they have an outline around them. If they have multiple outlines around them, there are multiple copies (or multiple windows, or multiple documents) active.

    • Ignacio C
      May 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      Where did you learn that? AFAIK (As Far As I Know), pinning to the taskbar only creates a shortcut to the item.

    • Achraf A
      May 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      As Howard said, pinning to the taskbar doesn't make programs stay running in the background, they are only running if they have a glowing outline on them that shines a "orangish" color when you hover on them.

    • Craig S
      May 7, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      This is definitely not true, but it'd be horrible if it was.

    • D Black
      May 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      I was told that by the IT guy where I worked. He said if it is on your desktop you have to double-click to open - not running; 'pinned' in your taskbar - single click- it's running. Windows that are minimized show in taskbar yes are running but disappear when window is closed.

    • D Black
      May 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks. I stand corrected.

  37. Rick Shortt
    May 5, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    "If your computer gets wiped somehow, those files still reside on the cloud and you can always retrieve them again."

    I have almost everything in the cloud one way or another, and love it, but aren't there some caveats to that statement? If in Windows I delete a local file or folder by accident that is syncing to Google Drive or Dropbox, it gets deleted from the cloud too. Though perhaps you were thinking about the fact it can still be recovered from the Trash there. I know that with Google Drive, you can retrieve files from trash for 30 days. Not sure about the specifics for Dropbox.

    • Achraf A
      May 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Dropbox offers a much better and more powerful solution, it stores a File History that you can use to restore a different version or the latest version of the file you'd get deleted, and yes, the file history copies doesn't count against your Dropbox storage limit.

    • Rick Shortt
      May 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Of course, any of these syncing cloud storage options are a guaranteed saving grace if you hard drive flat out fails. Even with a scheduled backup program on your computer that is backing up to an external drive, if your hard drive dies between backups you will probably lose something...

    • Uri.goldberg
      July 8, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Sync folders are good for extra cloud storage , but will not provide you with a backup
      I am a happy user who combines them both with Dupplica online backup
      look at [Broken Link Removed]