Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Your Mac’s interface is clean and beautiful as it is, but by making a few visual and functional tweaks here and there, you can polish it up some more and speed things up all around.
The tweaks that we’re focusing on today will give you a minimalist Mac experience. We’re talking about customizing the OS using a “less is more” approach. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Declutter the Finder Sidebar
By default, the sidebar in Finder lists shortcuts to several locations that it thinks you might need. But do you? Only you know the answer to that, but there’s a good chance you probably don’t use all of them. To get rid of the shortcuts that you don’t need, first bring up Finder Preferences by hitting cmd+, or by right-clicking in an empty space in the Finder toolbar and selecting Customize Toolbar… from the menu that pops up.
Next, in the Sidebar tab in the preferences, uncheck the boxes next to the locations that you want to hide from the sidebar. Unchecking the box next to Hard disks hides the hard disk icons from your desktop as well.
I have chosen to hide all locations under Favorites except the ones that I use most often: iCloud Drive, Downloads, Documents, Screenshots, and AirDrop. I use Spotlight to bring up anything else I need, including the Applications folder. I have hidden the Devices section completely because I use a menu bar applet called Ejector for ejecting disks. If I have to navigate to the Home folder, this is how I do it:
If you want to add a location to the sidebar that isn’t listed, simply open it in Finder, click on the folder icon at the top of the window, and drag it into position.
Clean up the Dock
Do you use all the apps that reside in your Mac’s dock? If yes, how often do you use most of them? Many of them sit there looking pretty “just in case you need them” — but you probably don’t need them all. We suggest getting rid of the icons for apps that you don’t use on a daily basis. To remove an app from the dock:
- Click and drag the app icon out of the dock and let go of it once the Remove option appears, or
- Right-click on the app icon and then click on Options > Remove from Dock
Once you get rid of unused or rarely used icons this way, you won’t have to scan several colorful icons to find those handful of apps that you use all the time. Get into the habit of using Spotlight to open apps, not only can you lose the icon but it’s faster too.
Note: If an app is open, its icon will appear and can’t be removed.
Declutter the Menu Bar
Many apps clutter your menu bar with icons you probably never use. Before you know it the menu bar is overflowing with icons and you’re staring at it trying to recall which of those you need to click on. Sounds familiar? We have all been there.
With all these cool menu bar apps coming out for Mac (mine included), the thing I want from WWDC is a dual menu bar to fit them all in!
— Chris Hannah (@chrishannah) June 9, 2016
Avoiding the many useful menu bar apps is out of the question. The alternative is to customize and tidy the menu bar every once in a while. Hold down the command key and move system icons around in the menu bar or drag and drop them off the menu bar to make them disappear. To hide icons of third-party applets, you’ll need an app like Broomstick (free), Barsoom ($6.99), or Bartender 2 ($15).
Note: You can’t get rid of the Spotlight icon from the menu bar, even though you should be hitting cmd+spacebar to bring it up anyway.
Hide the Dock and Menu Bar
Now that you have cleaned up your dock and the menu bar, it’s time to ensure that they don’t get in your way all the time, but come up quickly when you need them. To do that, you’ll have to set them to hide automatically by going to System Preferences. You’ll find the Automatically hide and show the menu bar option under General and the Automatically hide and show the dock option under Dock.
Remove Unused Apps
With so many interesting Mac apps available, it’s tough not to try them all but it’s important to uninstall any apps that are taking up valuable system space and providing little to no value. We recommend using AppCleaner to remove apps. It displays your apps in a neat alphabetical list, and when you remove any app, it even disposes all the relevant residual files hidden in the depths of your Mac.
With AppCleaner, you can also remove system apps like Chess, but removing too many stock apps can be risky and cause problems with your OS. We recommend leaving system apps alone.
Choose New Apps with Care
Before you jump right into installing anything on the web, see if your Mac already has a similar tool and how that stacks up. Some of the best Mac software comes pre-installed, and it has the advantage of being designed to play well with the entire Apple ecosystem. You might surprised by all the functions that you don’t need apps for, such as making quick edits to images, looking up words, and taking screenshots. OS X has tools for these functions built right in.
If you’re opting for a third-party app, go for one that makes your workflow simpler and leaves the bells and whistles out. You’ll find these Mac app recommendations useful.
Clear the Desktop
When you hide a window on your Mac and forget how cluttered your desktop currently is….#almostahorrormovie
— Burn down the internet (@agriponbeer) February 25, 2016
Instead of treating your desktop as a catch-all for every other file you save or folder you create, I suggest keeping your desktop blank. Leave only a beautiful wallpaper to rest your eyes on from time to time. As for keeping your most-used files and folders accessible, why not create a separate folder for them, complete with a sidebar shortcut in Finder for quick access? You have Finder open all the time anyway, so those documents are still easy to bring up anytime.
On a side note, you might want to use the keyboard shortcut cmd+option+h more often. It hides all apps but the current one — great for rescuing yourself from any app clutter you have going on.
Rebooting the mac is the only time I get to see my desktop image clear of the six billion icons that clutter it up. pic.twitter.com/1SK02hYQGg
— vince dorse (@vincedorse) March 24, 2016
Use Spotlight More Often
The more you use Spotlight for finding files, the less time you need to spend organizing them. You can dump them in a handful of folders and still find them pretty quickly just by searching. Get into the habit of using your Mac’s built-in search mechanism for everything. What can be simpler than hitting cmd+space and typing in a keyword or two to reach every corner of OS X?
1 Search for file w Spotlight
2 Highlight the item
3 Command + R Reveals it in a Finder window
— Paul Martin (@jugglerpm) May 27, 2016
When I first started using a Mac, I hardly ever used Spotlight except to open apps. I kept forgetting that the feature even existed. Once I made an effort to use it more often, I realized just how powerful Spotlight is, especially since improvements introduced with El Capitan. One big advantage of Spotlight is that it has allowed me to ditch elaborate folder structures in favor of a basic, minimal hierarchy.
Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts
If you find yourself reaching for the mouse to click on a certain menu item too often during the day, it’s time you memorized its keyboard shortcut. If you have trouble remembering the shortcut, why not create a custom one that you’re sure to remember? You can do that from System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts. After you navigate to this location, click on the + icon below the right panel as shown in the image below. This brings up a dialog box where you’ll have to:
- Choose an Application for which the shortcut will be applicable
- Add a Menu Title for the command that you want to use a shortcut for
- Add a Keyboard Shortcut of your choice to replace the menu command
- Click on the Add button to finalize the shortcut
Note: You’ll need to type the menu command exactly as it appears in the menu when you have the corresponding application open.
What Does Your Mac Look Like?
Cleaning your Mac desktop need not be a time-consuming, never-ending effort. You don’t need to fiddle with complex settings either. Even a few simple tweaks can make an impressive difference to your workflow. Go ahead and try a few now!
Is your Mac desktop clean or cluttered? Have you made any tweaks to clean it up and optimize it? Tell us all about your OS X setup, minimalist or otherwise.