How out of control is your Mac desktop? Can you see the carefully chosen wallpaper image in the background, or is it obscured by files, folders, aliases and DMG files for applications you have downloaded?

Do you drag things onto your desktop so that you can find them, only to lose them amidst a thousand screenshots? Do you happily save everything to your Desktop, once in a while dragging things into a folder which may or may not be called Stuff?

Over the years Apple has come up with various ways to help us keep things organised on our Macs, ways to help us find what we needed, and ways to help us keep our files in order.

For example, you can search for a file using Spotlight. Just press Command + Space and then start typing the name of the file, or a word you know will help you identify the thing you are looking for.

But that doesn’t necessarily leave your desktop any less uncluttered.

Here we’ll talk you through some steps to take to keep your Mac desktop tidy. We’ll also share some news of a new feature coming in Mojave that will make it even easier to keep your desktop free of clutter.

Arranging desktop icons

Probably the fastest way to make your desktop look a little more presentable is to arrange the icons. No, it’s not necessary to drag them around yourself, you can press a few keys and they will tidy themselves up.

Here’s how to get your Mac desktop icons rearrange themselves.

  1. Find a free bit of your desktop that isn’t covered by an icon and right click/control click there.
  2. You will see the following options.
  3. You could just choose Clean Up, which would quickly shuffle the icons into line, with equally spaced gaps between them.
  4. If you’d like your icons to be organised by name, date, and so on, then click on the option below to see various options. If you’d like all your Folders grouped together, and all your screen shots grouped together, choose Kind. If you would prefer things in name order then choose Name.
  5. There are even more options under Sort By. Such as Date Last Opened and Date Added, which might help you track down the screenshot you took on Monday.
  6. There are also View Options that you might like to use to make your desktop look a little less crowded. Right click and choose Show View Options. This will bring up a pallet of options from the Finder including the option to change the icon size - so if you are rapidly running out of space on your desktop you could try reducing the size of the icons to squeeze more in. Equally, if necessary you could make the icons bigger so that you could easily see them.
  7. It is also possible to change the size of the grid that the icons are organised inside. If you image there are lots of squares with each icon fitting inside one, changing the grid size means that each square is smaller, and the icons can be closer.

How to stop screenshots going to your desktop

However, if that sounds like too much hassle, you could change some setting so that everything doesn’t automatically end up on your desktop.

One of the worse culprits for filling up your desktop is screenshots. If you want to stop screenshots automatically saving on your desktop you can create a folder just for screenshots, here’s how to do that:

  1. Click on the Finder to open a new Finder window.
  2. Create a folder in the Finder by right clicking on the Finder window.
  3. Now open Terminal (press Command + Space and start typing Terminal until the icon appears, then click on that icon to open the app.
  4. In Terminal type the following:
    defaults write com.apple.screencapture location
    (There needs to be a space after location - it won’t work without it)
  5. Now drag and drop your screenshot folder on top of the Terminal window and it will automatically fill in the directory path.
  6. Now press Enter.
  7. A word of warning - don’t delete the folder you created!
  8. If you would still like easy access to your screenshots from the desktop you could create an alias.
  9. Just locate the folder you created in the Finder and right click on it.
  10. Choose Create Alias.
  11. Now drag and drop the Alias to the desktop.

How to organise your desktop

The tricks above might help you make your desktop look a little less messy, but it won’t necessarily keep things tidy.

The best way to stop your Desktop from getting too cluttered is to try and do a little bit of desktop housework from time to time. A few folders on your desktop - beyond the staple Stuff folder - would be a good place to start. Perhaps one for Family, one for Work, one for Vacation Plans, and one for everything else. Then once a week just drag and drop items into the corresponding folder.

How to find things on your desktop

Even with a hundred items on your desktop, you could still find the thing you are looking for - if you know its name.

To jump to the folder you titled Work, for example, click on your Desktop and then press W. This will highlight the first folder or file with a name that starts with a W. Press W again if the first result isn’t what you are looking for.

Desktop Stacks in Mac OS Mojave

One of the new features coming in macOS Mojave is Desktop Stacks, a new feature that will make it easier to find things on your desktop as well as keep things tidy.

Stacks isn’t new to the Mac, it arrived with Mac OS X Leopard back in 2007 and allowed you to drag a folder into the Dock, where, if you clicked on it, you would see the contents of the folder fanned out so you could easily click on the file you wanted.

In the case of Desktop Stacks, files are grouped together rather than spread across your desktop. In Mojave when you want to tidy up your Desktop in a hurry, all you will need to do is choose Stacks from the Finder View menu.

With Stacks evoked, your desktop files will be stacked into groups. The default is to stack files by file type. So, your images will be grouped together, as will PDFs, for example. Alternatively you could choose to stack by date, and Apple will also show you stacks for Today and Yesterday, as wall as last 7 days, last 30 days and by month and year.

You can also choose to stack by Tags, which could be useful if you already tag files when you save them. (When you save a file you can assign a Tag that makes it easier to gather all the files you have labeled with the same tag.)

Your folders will be kept separate, and will appear below the stacks.

When you drag a new file onto the desktop it will go straight into the relevant Stack (unless it’s the first of its kind, in which case it will start a new Stack.)

How to use Desktop Stacks

When Mojave arrives in the autumn this is how you'll be able to use Desktop Stacks.

  1. Choose View from the Finder menu bar.
  2. Click on Use Stacks.
  3. By default all the files are organised by Kind.
  4. If you want to see the files in a Stack, just click on a Stack and all the files inside it will appear on the desktop. You’ll be able to drag and drop from the desktop to emails as usual.
  5. As well as choosing how your Stacks are sorted, you can choose to sort the contents of your Stacks. So you could sort the images within a Stack by date, for example.
  6. If you right click on a Stack you will get access to more options, including the ability to create a new folder from the selection.

We also have this article explaining how to get Desktop Stacks and Dynamic Desktop now.