How to clean up your Mac's desktop

The Dock on Mac
The Dock on Mac (Image credit: iMore)

Most of us have a tendency to use our Mac desktops as a dumping ground, saving files there that we access frequently; unfortunately, those files can pile up, turning your desktop into a hot mess. As such, this is your Friday reminder to do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to clean up your Mac desktop. And use these tips to keep it tidy in the future!

1. Organize desktop items into folders

You can keep your desktop from becoming a mound of files by grouping your documents and images into folders. Folders make it easier to keep track of related items, and they look nicer than random assortments of files over your desktop picture.

  1. Open the Finder.
  2. Click on the File menu.
  3. Select New Folder. (Alternately, hold down the command and shift keys and type n.)


  1. That will create a new folder on your Desktop. Name the folder.
  2. Drag the files you'd like to include in the new folder.
  3. Alternatively, you can select files on the Desktop you'd like to group together, then go to the File menu and choose New folder with selection to create a new folder that includes those items.

2. Align and sort desktop items automatically

You can also have the Finder align and sort items to keep any documents and folders you do have looking nicer and neater. You can do this by going to Finder > View and using the Clean Up and Sort By options.

  1. Open the Finder.
  2. Select the View menu.
  3. Click on Clean Up By.

  1. Options include cleaning up by name, kind, date created, date modified, size and tags. Select the criterion you'd like to clean up the icons by; the Finder will do the rest.
  2. Open the Finder.
  3. Select the View menu.
  4. Select Sort By to automatically sort items on the desktop by the criteria you set. If the icons have gone a bit askew, select Snap to Grid to get them to fall into a geometric pattern.

You can also adjust the size of the icons, spacing of the grid and other settings.

3. Customize desktop view options in the Finder

  1. Open the Finder.
  2. Select the View menu.
  3. Select Show View Options. (Alternately, hold down the command key and type j.)
  4. You can adjust icon size from small to large, adjust grid spacing, increase or decrease the size of label text and its position on the bottom or the right of the icon, and other criteria.

Any questions?

Hopefully this helped you clean out those digital desktop cobwebs! If you're having trouble, just drop a note in the comments and we'll look into it.

11 Comments
  • Thanks for these helpful tips Peter. They have really helped tame the 20 videos from YouTube channel from taking over my desktop.
  • I guess this is a great divide in modern computing.. Either you keep your desktop super clean all the time or it's full to the brim with icons. I'm in the first category and have always been, but plenty of people in the office have tons of icons everywhere. Just looking at their desktops makes my head hurt..
  • Exactly!
  • It's worth mentioning Hazel, software that keeps your desktop clean.
  • Hadn't heard of this one before. Is it like Fences on windows? God I miss Fences!
  • Hazel is brilliant, it can do so much.
    I have it monitoring my downloads folder, so that when I download my bank statements etc it automatically renames them & files them away. Same goes foy my photos uploaded to Dropbox, it files them into year/month folders based on the Exif data. Well worth checking out. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use Unclutter (unclutterapp.com) to keep my desktop clean and tidy. Love it. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use Unclutter (unclutterapp.com) to keep my desktop clean and tidy. Love it. Sent from the iMore App
  • I use Unclutter (unclutterapp.com) to keep my desktop clean and tidy. Love it. Sent from the iMore App
  • Thanks for the tips! I'm new on Mac so these are very helpful, on Windows I'm super organized. Sent from the iMore App
  • if you gotta put stuff in a folder to make it neater, you'll also soon find yourself using Spotlight to search for that one file as well u need. I only use Spotlight now... All my files are neat, and try to keep my desktop clutter-free, but 10 out of 10 u use Spotlight to swill search, even though i could just dig into a folder, i can see, spotlight is quicker for me always