If you are a Windows user, you already know how convenient it is to use the desktop for file saving and to access your programs. But there is one big downside: it can get loaded with icons and folders pretty quickly. And, in such a mess, it is always hard to find the file or shortcut you are looking for. In this guide, we see how we can organize the Windows desktop, keep its icons tidy, and avoid filling it up again.
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Table of Contents
Sort icons the classic way
As a starting point, we can resort to the typical options Microsoft offers to organize the Windows desktop icons. Go to desktop and right-click anywhere, then select Sort by > Date modified or Sort by > Name.
Under View > Auto arrange icons, we can uncheck the option to let us drop icons wherever we want.
In addition, we could make use of a couple of folders to make our desktop a bit less cluttered. A folder with our programs and files for work could reside under a "Work" folder, our shortcuts for games in a "Games" folder, etc.
Although these simple steps are standard knowledge for most users, they can still make it easier to find the thing we want.
Hide all desktop icons
We might fill our desktop with icons, even if we try to avoid using it as a workspace. That's because most of the programs we install in Windows will automatically create a desktop shortcut unless we prevent it. So, from one moment to another, we can end up with a desktop full of shortcuts.
If that is the case, or if our uncle's messy desktop is just too much to handle, a simple -yet not ideal- solution would be to hide every single thing on sight, getting a crystal clear desktop.
To do this, we have to right-click on our desktop, then go to View > Show desktop icons. Everything on the background will vanish.
We still can access all of our desktop files and icons - otherwise what's the point? The way to do this is to open a window in File Explorer and click the folder named "Desktop." Inside, there are the contents of our desktop. We see them in a standard window format.
To toggle the icons on, we repeat the process, selecting once again View > Show desktop icons.
On the other hand, if we have a habit of storing files and opening programs from our desktop, this option is probably not for us.
Use virtual desktops
Alternatively, we can organize the Windows desktop, by spreading it at additional virtual desktops. This way we can both have a clean desktop when we need it and keep our original cluttered one.
The result is still the same, although we haven't actually tackled the initial problem of amassing too many files on our desktop.
If you want to learn more about virtual desktops for all versions of Windows, check our guide:
Move shortcuts elsewhere
Having shortcuts of our most often used programs can contribute significantly to the desktop clutter. But, although all these icons can prove to be irritating, accessing a program directly from the desktop is indeed quite handy.
So, if we want to organize the Windows desktop and still keep the shortcuts, we can simply transfer them somewhere else. Windows 10 offers us great alternatives, too, like the taskbar, the Start menu, and Quick access.
Move to taskbar
To pin a program to the taskbar, right-click it (or its shortcut) and select "Pin to taskbar."
In case our taskbar has too many icons, we can also free up some space there. For example, we could minimize the search box, which takes up a good amount of taskbar space.
To do this, right-click the taskbar and check Search > Show search icon.
We can also reduce the size of the taskbar icons, to further save up some space. To do this, right-click on any space on the taskbar, select Taskbar settings...
...and next, select Use small taskbar buttons.
Instead of moving the shortcuts to the taskbar, we can also use the Start menu. R
ight-click a program, either from the apps list or its shortcut, and select "Pin to Start." On Windows 7, it will be visible as a shortcut on the left side of the Start menu. On Windows 10, it will appear as a tile in the menu when we press the Windows button.
Another way to do this on Windows 10 is by dragging directly the icon we want to pin to the tiles area, while the Start menu is open.
Then, we can organize our tiles in groups, and give appropriate names to them. For example, a "Games" group would contain shortcuts to our gaming apps.
Move to quick access
Windows 10's File Explorer includes an improved quick access, which we can use to access our files quickly.
Quick access serves the same purpose for folder shortcuts as the Start Menu and taskbar for program shortcuts. We can pin the folder we want to quick access, and it will appear on every File Explorer window, on the left panel.
To do this, navigate to the desired folder, right-click and select Pin to Quick access.
Next, we can proceed to pin the File Explorer to the taskbar, for even more instant access to our files. To do so, navigate to any folder, right-click on the equivalent taskbar icon and select Pin to Taskbar.
We'll notice that the File Explorer icon remains on the taskbar. Press it, and we jump to the Quick access folders and our most frequently used folders.
Organize the Windows desktop with DesktopOK
If we like our desktop tidy, but also want to keep our preferred icons, we might still face some problems. It is likely that we have arranged our icons in a particular formation, and that's how we expect to spot what we are looking for later.
But what happens if we connect our PC to a different monitor or a projector? Or in case some old video game changes the screen resolution for a short period? Our icons will probably get messed up, and we will have to arrange them again manually.
SoftwareOK offers a solution to this specific problem with a free app, called DesktopOK. The app is portable, which means we don't have to install it - and potentially add another shortcut on our desktop.
Using it is simple enough. We run the utility, and press Save, to keep the current position of our icons.
We can store as many icon set-ups as we want, for example for different screen resolutions. There is also an option to save a copy of our current desktop every time we shut down Windows.
And since we are still here, we can make use of one more tool we may be interested in.
Press Tools > Hide icons > Use this option, and our icons will instantly disappear.
It's a quick fix that can sometimes prove useful. For example, if we are about to make a presentation.
Organize the Windows Desktop with Fences
Another program we could consider if we like keeping files and shortcuts on our desktop is Fences. What it does, is create groups (or fences?) on our desktop.
To make a fence, left-click and drag anywhere on your desktop, then type a name.
We can move files, shortcuts, and folders, by dragging and dropping them in and out of these fences.
They are highly configurable. We can change their color, name, and size. We can also hide and unhide their contents, and many more.
The Fences app also gives us the chance to define rules for auto-arranging specific files we place in the desktop. For example, we could create a rule to automatically put every .doc file in our "Work" fence.
There is one drawback: it is not free, offered at $10 after a 30-day free trial. It still provides an excellent utility, though, so if we find it helpful while using it during this period, it's worth the purchase.
Use search instead of shortcuts
There is also an entirely different way to organize the Windows desktop. If we really want to stop creating shortcuts, we have to find an alternative way to have fast access to our programs.
The first option is to use the native Windows search. The search feature in Windows 10 is significantly improved: type the first letters of the app you want to launch, and it will appear above in the "Best match" box.
And if you don't want to write, you can do the same with Cortana, using its voice recognition.
If we need a more refined app launcher, we can use a third-party one. For example, Wox, which is like Windows search with extra functionality.
With Wox we can search and quick start any program without leaving our desktop. We press Alt+Space to launch the tool, and then type the name of the filer, folder, or program.
The more we search for certain apps, the more weight they gain and will appear before other results. This means that we won't have to pin apps and folders anymore; we have instant access to everything we need through search.
How clean is your Windows desktop?
Do you use your desktop to save files and run programs? Have you ever tried any of these methods to organize the Windows desktop? Let us know with a comment.
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