Mac Productivity

How to Clean Up Your Mac Desktop and Increase Productivity

Abhishek Kurve 11-09-2017

A lot of users tend to store things on their desktop for easier access. As a result, it can get cluttered quite quickly. A cluttered desktop can not only decrease productivity but can also cause cognitive stress Clearing Out Clutter Is Good For You — But Why? Decluttering is a great way to start the year feeling fresh, and it gives you a big sense of accomplishment — but there's more to it than that. This simple habit can improve your life. Read More . It makes things harder to find, and of course, it doesn’t look good to the eye.


Some users might try to organize their desktop now and then, but they give up at some point as the process gets cumbersome. Today we’ll show you how to clean up your Mac’s desktop for once and all, both manually and automatically.

Organize Desktop Icons Using Built-In Settings

First, let’s have a look at the inbuilt settings you can use to declutter your Mac’s desktop.

Clean Up By

mac desktop clutter clean up by

If you feel that files on your desktop need some structure, you can have your Mac sort them automatically. To do so, right-click on any blank space on your desktop and click on Clean Up By. You can choose from the following options:

  • Name
  • Kind
  • Date Modified
  • Date Created
  • Size
  • Tags

The desktop icons should now be automatically sorted and organized.


Snap Icons to Grid

mac desktop clutter snap icons to grid

If the icons are scattered all over the desktop, or if they are overlapping each other, you can snap them back to a grid. To do so, right-click on any blank space on your desktop and click on Sort By > Snap to Grid.

The desktop icons should now be automatically aligned and organized properly.

Adjust Icon Size

mac desktop clutter adjust icon size


Large icons, obviously, take up more space on your desktop. Luckily, macOS lets you scale down the size of your desktop icons. To do so, right-click on any blank space on your desktop and click on Show View Options. Here, you can adjust icon size to your liking.

In the same window, you can also change Grid Spacing and Icon Text Size.

Hide Desktop Elements to Clean up Clutter

In this section, we’ll see how we can hide various desktop elements to achieve a cleaner look.

Hide Connected Drives, CDs, iPods From the Desktop

mac desktop clutter hide connected devices


By default, macOS shows all the connected hard disks, external disks, CD/DVDs, iPods, and the connected servers on the desktop. While the desktop icons provide easier access to these items, they also make up for a more cluttered desktop. To hide these items selectively from the desktop, open Finder.

Click on Finder > Preferences from the menu bar. Under the General tab, uncheck the items you want to hide from the desktop. The hidden items won’t show up on the desktop, but you can still access them from the Finder’s sidebar.

Temporarily Hide All Desktop Icons

mac desktop clutter hide all icons

There are times when you need to have a clean desktop. For instance, say, you’ve to deliver a presentation at work. A cluttered desktop doesn’t leave the best first impression. Using this terminal command, you can temporarily hide all the desktop icons.


Open Terminal and type in the following command:

defaults write CreateDesktop false
killall Finder

This should hide all the desktop icons at once. To bring back the icons, type in the following command:

defaults write CreateDesktop true
killall Finder

Hide Desktop Icons Using HiddenMe

mac desktop clutter hide icons hiddenme

If you’d rather not fiddle around with the Terminal, HiddenMe is a free menu bar app for Mac The Ultimate List of Mac Menu Bar Apps These tiny smart utilities don't get in our way like the dock apps do -- Mac menu bar apps sit in a corner and swing into action only when you need them! Read More that lets you hide/show your desktop icons with a single click. To hide desktop icons, just click on HiddenMe’s icon in the menu bar, and click Hide Desktop Icons. You can also assign a keyboard shortcut Everything You Need To Know About Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts No matter what operating system or program you're using, keyboard shortcuts are a tool you can use to make things quite a bit easier for yourself. Simply not having to take your hands off the... Read More and set it to launch at every login.

Automatically Hide and Show the Menu Bar

mac desktop clutter hide and show menu bar

You can choose to keep the menu bar hidden and show it only when hovered over. To do so, open System Preferences > General. Here, check Automatically hide and show the menu bar.

Automatically Hide and Show the Dock

mac desktop clutter hide and show dock

If you have a MacBook with a smaller screen, you can save some screen real estate by hiding the Dock. To do so, open System Preferences > Dock. Here, check Automatically hide and show the Dock. Now, the Dock will only be visible when you hover the mouse over it.

Additionally, you can also move existing folders from your desktop to the Dock for a cleaner desktop experience.

Change Default Screenshot Location

Taking a screenshot on a Mac is pretty easy How to Take Screenshots on Mac: Tips, Tools, and Tricks to Know Need to take a screenshot on your mac? Here are the best shortcuts, tips, and apps for macOS screenshots. Read More . The only annoying thing is that the screenshots are saved to the desktop by default, which adds to more clutter. Here’s a terminal command These 6 Awesome Terminal Commands Will Boost Your MacBook You can only cram so much into graphical user interface before it becomes cluttered, so it should come as no big surprise that you can do some really cool things using the Mac Terminal. Read More to change the default screenshot location.

Open Terminal and type in the following command:

defaults write location ~/Pictures/Screenshots
killall SystemUIServer

Now, all your screenshots would be saved to the “Pictures/Screenshots” folder in your home directory. You can replace it with any folder path you like, just make sure to create the folder before specifying it.

Use Apps to Organize Files Automatically

Here are some great tools that can help you in organizing your files.

Use Smart Folders for File Organization

Technically speaking, a Smart Folder 8 Smart Folders You Need on Your Mac (And How to Set Them Up) A Mac Smart Folder lets you group together similar files from all over your machine. Here's how to use them and some great examples to get started with. Read More is a saved search in a Finder tab. It’s a virtual folder you can set up to filter files based on your search query. For instance, you can filter all the image files on your desktop that are more than a week old. Now that all the files matching these criteria are listed, you can select and move the files wherever you like.

Smart Folders can be a great file management tool, but the organization needs to be done manually. What if all these file organizations could be done automatically? Thankfully, here are a few apps that let you organize files automatically, hence clearing up your desktop clutter 9 Tips For a Minimalist & More Efficient Mac Experience Your Mac's interface is clean and beautiful as it is, but with a few tweaks here and there, you can polish it up some more for a more pleasant desktop experience. Read More .

Use Folder Tidy for One-Click File Organization

mac desktop clutter folder tidy

Folder Tidy ($10 with free trial) is a nifty app that lets you select a folder and sort the files automatically with inbuilt or custom rules. For instance, you can choose the Desktop folder, and it’ll automatically organize all the files into the appropriate sub folders like pictures, documents, etc. If you need more control, you can even make custom rules to sort files.

Use Declutter to Keep Your Desktop Organized

mac desktop clutter declutter

Free app Declutter creates folders like pictures, music, videos, etc. on your desktop. With one click, you can move all the files on your desktop to the relevant folders. You can create custom rules based on file name or extension to organize the files. You can run this sorting on demand, or you can configure the time interval to declutter your desktop automatically.

For Everything Else, Use Hazel

mac desktop clutter hazel

Hazel ($32) is an automation tool for Mac that monitors changes to folders and then performs a particular action. For instance, you could set a rule to monitor the Desktop folder: “Whenever a PDF document is added to the Desktop, move it automatically to a PDF folder.”

You can setup similar rules to automatically clean up your desktop. There’s virtually no limit to what can be done using Hazel. To get started with it, refer to how to get started with Hazel Hazel - Performing Tasks On Your Mac So You Don't Have To I have previously written an entire MUO guide about using Apple's smart folders and Automator program, but a classic third-party application called Hazel is one of my personal automation assistants that works in the background,... Read More .

How to Avoid Desktop Clutter

Until now, we’ve seen how to remove existing desktop clutter. But how is this clutter created in the first place? Simply put, we tend to put everything on the desktop for faster access. If we could find an alternative way of quickly accessing stuff, we can avoid the desktop clutter from piling up.

Use Spotlight to Open Files and Apps Quickly

mac desktop clutter spotlight

Spotlight is a powerful launcher Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More that comes baked into macOS. Instead of putting a file or an app on the desktop, you can quickly fire up Spotlight using Command + Space and search for the particular file or app. You can search for installed apps, files and folders, and nearly everything on your Mac.

If you’d like more control, check out Alfred. Alfred is an app launcher for Mac that comes with lots of bells and whistles like custom workflows 6 Amazing Alfred Workflows to Make You More Productive Now that users and developers are able to extend Alfred's capabilities by adding their own workflows, calling it an 'application launcher' seems a bit limiting. Read More . It also lets you assign keyboard shortcuts to your favorite apps.

Enjoy a Cleaner Desktop on Your Mac

Using the tips mentioned above, you can easily keep your Mac desktop clean. As many of you might agree, cleaning a desktop on-demand is easy. The tough part is actually keeping it clean always. Fortunately, the apps we discussed above can automatically clean your desktop without requiring user intervention. Also, using Spotlight is a habit every Mac user should get used to 7 Good Habits Every Mac User Should Get Used To Today we're going to share our favourite good Mac habits, while desperately trying to forget the bad ones. Read More as it could prevent piling up of clutter in the first place.

Did the above tips help you in cleaning your Mac desktop? Also, if you’ve any other tips, please share them with us in the comments below!

Related topics: Computer Automation, Declutter, Mac Tricks, OS X Finder, Productivity.

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