Clutter is far more detrimental than you might think. And while most people only concern themselves with workstation clutter, I’m here to tell you that desktop clutter matters just as much. A tidy desktop not only makes things easier to find, thus reducing inefficiency, but is more pleasing to look at and doesn’t cause as much cognitive stress.
But as you probably know, the Windows desktop can be a tough beast to tame. Maybe you want it to be clean and organized, but no matter how many times you purge it, and no matter how hard you try to keep it in order, it somehow becomes messy again. That was me for many years. Keep reading to see how I got my desktop in order and how you can do the same.
The Key to a Clean Desktop
The actual act of cleaning a desktop is easy — all you have to do is select all icons and press Delete. The hard part is keeping it clean. To understand how to prevent desktop clutter, we need to understand why our desktops tend to collect clutter in the first place.
We simply want fast access to our most-used apps, files, and folders. And what’s the best way to do that? Shortcuts! Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to create a shortcut, plop it onto the desktop, and call it a day — do that a few times and boom, clutter. After all, is there a location that’s more conveniently accessible than the desktop? I can’t think of one.
So the trick is to find alternative methods for accessing our most-used apps, files, and folders. A cluttered desktop is just a symptom of a deeper issue: relying on shortcuts. If you can cut that out, then you won’t need shortcuts anymore, and suddenly your desktop won’t ever be cluttered again.
This is what you’ll learn by the end of this article.
Take heart in knowing that success is possible. My own desktop has been completely empty for more than four years thanks to the following tips and tricks. And despite how you might feel about Windows 10, this is one area where it excels. Keeping a clean desktop has never been easier.
Move App Shortcuts to the Start Menu
The redesigned Start Menu is perfect as a dumping ground for app shortcuts. First introduced in Windows 8 and greatly refined in Windows 10, the Start Menu should be your method of choice for launching apps. It’s accessible from anywhere — all you need to do is hit the Windows key — and it’s large enough to comfortably pin dozens of apps.
To pin an app to the Start Menu:
- Right-click on the app shortcut on your desktop.
- Select Pin to Start.
If you need to pin an app that isn’t yet on your desktop, check out the quickest and easiest way to create an app shortcut. Once pinned, apps can be resized (more important apps could be larger, for example) and you can mark them if they should be launched with Administrator permissions.
Organize the Start Menu Using Groups
Be mindful that you don’t just shift the problem of clutter from your desktop to your Start Menu.
For maximum productivity and sanity, you should further organize your Start Menu tiles into groups. Not only does this keep everything tidy, but it makes it easier for you to find apps when you need them.
As you drag app tiles around, you’ll notice that they “chunk” into separate groups. If you hover your mouse over each group, you’ll see a field called Name Group that you can click on to rename that group however you want. You’ll also see a marker with two horizontal lines — drag this to rearrange your app groups according to your needs.
Move App Shortcuts to the Taskbar
If you feel like the Start Menu requires one too many clicks, you can choose to pin apps directly to the Taskbar instead. I only recommend this for apps you use on a daily basis — the kinds of apps that are always open, such as web browsers, music players, text editors, etc.
To pin an app to the Taskbar:
- Right-click on the app shortcut on your desktop.
- Select Pin to Taskbar.
Once pinned, apps can be dragged around so you can rearrange them according to your needs. Be wary of pinning too many apps here — Taskbar clutter can be worse than desktop clutter. If you add too many apps, the Taskbar will split into multiple rows that you’ll have to scroll between by clicking on Up and Down arrows. I find that this kills productivity, so avoid it.
Customize the Taskbar for More Space
If you want to maximize how many apps you can add without spilling over into multiple rows, there are a few Taskbar settings that you should tweak. To access the settings, right-click the Taskbar and select Settings.
- Use small Taskbar buttons — This does exactly what it sounds like, and it works well. The only two downsides are that the Taskbar clock will no longer show the date and the Taskbar icons can be harder to see on higher resolution screens (i.e. 1920 x 1080 or greater).
- Taskbar location on screen — Most users keep the Taskbar along the bottom edge of the screen because that’s the default setting on Windows, but we’ve previously shown why a vertical Taskbar is better.
- Combine Taskbar buttons — If you prefer a horizontal Taskbar, then make sure you set this to Always, Hide Labels. Or at the very least, set it to When Taskbar Is Full. Both of these will maximize how much you can fit before spilling into another row.
Move Folder Shortcuts to Quick Access
The Quick Access feature is one of the better refinements in Windows 10’s File Explorer (formerly called Windows Explorer). Whereas the Start Menu and Taskbar are great for consolidating app shortcuts, Quick Access is where you should put all folder shortcuts.
If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry. It’s simple. Open up File Explorer (using keyboard shortcut Windows + E) and look in the left sidebar to see a section called Quick Access. Think of it like folder bookmarks: You can pin folders here and instantly access from anywhere in File Explorer.
To pin a folder to Quick Access:
- Navigate to the folder you want to pin.
- Right-click on the folder.
- Select Pin to Quick Access.
Pin File Explorer to the Taskbar
We aren’t done yet. File Explorer actually has a number of lesser-known features that can be useful. For example, you can access your Quick Access folders right from the Taskbar by pinning File Explorer just like you would any other app: Launch any folder, right-click on File Explorer in the Taskbar, and select Pin to Taskbar.
Once pinned, just right-click on the File Explorer icon and you’ll see a list of all Quick Access folders. This is the preferred way to “quick jump” to folders you use over and over again, and it’s actually faster than keeping folder shortcuts on the desktop.
Bypass the Need for Shortcuts With a Launcher
If you really want to clean up clutter all across your system, then you may want to forego the above alternatives and use an on-demand launcher instead. You have two options for this.
The first option is the Start Menu + Cortana. The improved search in Windows 10 means you can open the Start Menu (with the Windows key), start typing for an app or file, and immediately open it with the Enter key. And while you don’t need Cortana for any of this, some people find the voice control aspect to be much more convenient.
The second option is to install Wox. Wox is a third-party app that replicates the Spotlight feature from macOS. At any time, you can hit Alt + Space to open Wox, then type any app, file, or folder to launch it instantly. It can also act as a web search tool.
With either of these options, you won’t have to pin apps anywhere again. And with Wox, you won’t even have to pin folders anymore. Everything is just one query away.
Last Resort: Desktop Shortcuts the Smart Way
Let’s say you don’t like any of the above suggestions. You really like using desktop shortcuts and you want to keep using them — you just want to keep them organized. In that case, you can always resort to using Fences.
With Fences, you can create sections on your desktop for organizing your shortcuts, with each section called a fence. Fences can be minimized, which means you open them on demand, launch the shortcut you need, then close them back up. Shortcuts can automatically sort into fences according to rules, or you can set them up manually.
The downside? It isn’t free. There’s a 30-day free trial, but it’ll cost $10 after that ends.
Other Ways to Stay Organized and Productive
Now that your desktop is all tidy, we recommend going one step further and making sure all your computer files are organized. You’d be surprised at how much more productive it can make you. And while we’re at it, you should start using virtual desktops and Task View if you aren’t already.
We also recommend adding a second or third monitor to your setup and looking into these lesser-known but effective productivity techniques. All of these things may seem insignificant on their own, but when you add them all up, the gains can be huge.
How clean is your Windows desktop? What tips or tricks do you use to stay organized? Share them with us in the comments below!
Image Credit: stephen chatterton via Shutterstock.com, Jamenedo89 via Wikimedia Commons