3 Steps to an Organized Desktop

Tina Sieber 13-02-2008

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 5 Packs to Transform Windows to Other OS Read More

    • . 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.


There are a hundreds of cool tools out there to make your desktop even more pretty and functional. Docks, gadgets, widgets 6 Cool FREE Widget Platforms for Your PC Read More , wallpaper resources Kick-Ass Wallpapers Read More 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).

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

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  1. Cheezwhiz
    February 26, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    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.

  2. ZeeMan`
    August 28, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    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?


  3. Toby-Linn
    July 18, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    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.

  4. Terry Finley
    March 2, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks. I can use your tips.

  5. vstarin
    March 2, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    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: and (Has Adult content (X rated areas/ if you can ignore that you'll find some of the best wallpapers).

    I use to store all my bookmarks if you want to check out my tags use this link: [Broken URL Removed]

  6. Lukas L.
    February 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Nice article.

    One thing that I also use besides cleaning up the desktop is put the important shortcuts that I would have on the desktop into a "Shortcuts" folder which is on the desktop. I then add this folder as a "Toolbar" on taskbar by right clicking on the task bar, clicking Toolbars > New Tollbar and select my shortcut folder on the desktop. This way I always have instantaneous access to all these shortcuts.

  7. ew
    February 20, 2008 at 6:25 am

    @ Tina: well i like tabbed docks too, but since i prefer freeware, i have been using jettoolbar for several years.
    it might not be looking as pretty as all the other mac-like docks, but its been saving me tons of hours and did declutter my desktop :)

  8. Sodium
    February 14, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    My poor-man’s desktop organizer is a background image with an array of rectangles with labels like 'Programs', 'Utilities', 'Security', 'Downloads', etc. This creates defined areas to cluster related icons and easily find them.
    I agree with you that the 'Desktop' taskbar is a very convenient, but under-used navigation tool. Thanks for reminding me.

    • Tina
      February 15, 2008 at 1:52 am

      lol Sodium...believe it or not I used to do that! I created wallpapers myself which had defined and labeled areas for the desktop icons. But they were pretty wallpapers nonetheless. :)

  9. Improbus
    February 14, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    To have a truly pimp-o-licious desktop you need Linux and Compiz (3D Desktop). Imagine, if you will, 4 or more 1920x1200 desktops all rotate-able in 3D. With Wine you can even run Windows programs.

  10. Gama Gatsu
    February 14, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    They tabbed pages in the upper right on that last screenshot of your desktop look intriguing. Where are they from and how do they work?

    • Tina
      February 14, 2008 at 5:07 pm

      That's a tabbed dock from Stardock's Object Dock. Unfortunately, this is not a free tool and I actually bought it because I liked it so much. :)

  11. Arvin Bautista
    February 14, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    The blog I've been writing with the help of sites like MakeUseOf has helped me get my desktop in order. I use three monitors - a 24 inch widescreen LCD with 1920x1200 resolution, a 17 in with 1280x1024, and a Wacom Cintiq that's 15 inches with 1024x768. That's a whopping 4.4 million pixels of working space (though I keep the cintiq turned off when I'm not using it). I use Ultramon to manage my wallpapers and the monitor layout (the cintiq is laid out below the 24 incher like in real life, but offset by how wide the docked Miranda buddy list is on the left side, so when I extend windows like Flash and Photoshop down to the cintiq, it ends up flush on the display.

    I've tried docks, even wrote an extensive article on my experiences with the different ones, but none of them offered (in freeware format) both the functionality of the taskbar and the system tray:

    Here's the screenshot of my desktop:

    And here's a closeup of my primary desktop:

    If people want to know more about what I've done to my desktop, check the posts on my blog labeled desktop:

    And I'd love to be featured in your upcoming desktop feature!

    • Aibek
      February 16, 2008 at 4:36 pm

      Looks pretty good. I have one question though, when you setup your system with two diff.size monitors is it possible to have diff resolution settings for each monitor ? I have a spare monitor over here and everytime I try connecting it Vista asks me to reduce the resolution to that of a smaller one. Any ideas?

      As for Tina's competition, here is a screenshot of my desktop


  12. nathan
    February 14, 2008 at 5:19 am

    I use the free version of object dock. with the recycle bin on the dock and the real one hidden.

  13. nostra
    February 14, 2008 at 2:10 am

    I want 'Do you work. Don't be stupid' wallpaper badly :D :D where can I grab one?!

  14. Dave Drager
    February 14, 2008 at 2:03 am

    Great article Tina! Lots of good tips.

  15. olaf
    February 13, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Install Rocketdock, hide desktop icons [right click on desktop], Google search dock icons, customize icons to liking [or keep default], perfect desktop.

    • Rob
      February 14, 2008 at 8:27 am

      Just installed RocketDock last week and a copy of Enso from (it's free now). Both are brilliant and really make a huge difference. No clutter and everything is now even easier to get to.

    • mark
      February 25, 2008 at 12:54 am

      I use RockDock and AppRocket. Both EXCELLENT software and light on the resources.

  16. ew
    February 14, 2008 at 4:53 am

    two essentials, one i have used for years, the other discovered last year (but best use if only you have a large screen) :

    Jettoolbar (i have tested rocketdock, objecktdock ,and what ever is outside , but nothing beats the tabbed interface of jettoolbar)

    mediaticker (beta) [Broken URL Removed]

  17. Norm
    February 14, 2008 at 3:45 am

    my desktop is cluttered to the max.. resolution is 1280x800 and there are only two rows of empty space left on the right side of my desktop.. i leave those blank intentionally because my wallpaper is meaningless if its right side is covered.. anyway.. what i'm trying to say is, I can do everything with some simple clicks.. i don't spend time worrying if every move i make will clutter up my desktop.. i clean it like once every two weeks or so, other than that, i extract everything to my desktop, keep the documents i am currently reading there, etc. with firefox, knowledge of some basic shortcuts, launchy, usage of the taskbar, and customizing every right-click pop-up menu of windows to my liking with [Broken URL Removed] I can find everything I need, and can do everything I want efficiently..
    my $0.02

    • Tina
      February 14, 2008 at 5:15 pm

      Hey Norm, I believe everyone should have their own style and if this is yours and if it works so well for you - perfect, don't change a thing! What I show is not a gold standard, but merely what I found most useful and beautiful.

  18. Shankar Ganesh
    February 14, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Excellent Tips.

    I personally have a very minimal desktop - barely any icons. But I use the Google Desktop Engine for to do lists and note taking.

    And I use Launchy ( ) to launch all programs on my computer. This has saved me a lot of time.