How to Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once and For All

As you probably know, the Windows desktop can be a tough beast to tame. Maybe you want an organized and clean desktop, 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.

A clean 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.

Keep reading to find out how to clean up your Windows 10 desktop once and for all.

How to Clean Up Your 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.

A cluttered Windows desktop

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:

  1. Right-click on the app shortcut on your desktop.
  2. Select Pin to Start.

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.

Clean Up Windows Start Menu Pins

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:

  1. Right-click on the app shortcut on your desktop.
  2. 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, you can customize your Taskbar settings. To access the settings, right-click the Taskbar and select Taskbar Settings.

  1. 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).
  2. 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 a vertical taskbar can allow you to locate apps faster.
  3. 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. 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 them from anywhere in File Explorer.

To pin a folder to Quick Access:

  1. Navigate to the folder you want to pin.
  2. Right-click on the folder.
  3. Select Pin to Quick Access.

Pin File Explorer to the Taskbar

We aren’t done yet. Although some people opt for File Explorer alternatives, File Explorer actually has a number of useful 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.

Clean Up Windows Quick Access

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 to use Talk to Cortana on the Taskbar. 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.

While you don’t need Cortana for any of this, some people find the voice control aspect to be much more convenient.

To start talking to Cortana, click the white circle (the Talk to Cortana button) in the Taskbar. Cortana in Windows 10 has a lot to offer, so don’t count it out.

Clean Up Windows Cortana

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.

Achieving a Clean Desktop

Now that your desktop is tidy, you probably feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. You can finally access your apps and files without digging through a messy desktop.

We also recommend going one step further and making sure all your computer files are organized. To make your life even easier, use these Windows apps that automatically organize files for you.

Image Credit: scanrail/Depositphotos

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