Take a moment and just look at that desktop! It’s cluttered. I’m surprised you can find anything on it! Look at all that junk. No, I don’t mean the stapler, coffee cups and loose paper clips on your real desktop. I’m talking about all those extra icons on your Windows desktop.

Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the desktop is the screen you see after Windows fully boots up – the one that shows after you close all programs.

While it’s convenient to save items to the desktop, you’ll find that it quickly becomes hard to navigate, due simply to the number of icons on the desktop. So let’s take a moment to clean things up.

Before we start, we need to differentiate between data files, programs, and shortcuts on the desktop. Data files are those created by programs, such as Microsoft Word or Excel. Programs are just that – programs that can be executed. Lastly, shortcuts are simply pointers that connect you to the appropriate data file or program. Shortcuts typically have an arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon. Shortcuts we’ll leave alone, but the next couple of steps will show how to move the data files and programs off of the desktop.

The first thing to do is to move data files off the desktop. Yes, you can save files to the desktop, but, in addition to the files themselves showing on the desktop, many apps will also create temporary files, and those sometimes don’t automatically erase, thus adding to the clutter on the desktop. So, select every data file on the desktop. (You can select multiple files by holding down the Ctrl key as you click on subsequent files.) Once they’re selected, let go of the Ctrl key, and right-click on any one of those selected files. In the pop-up menu select Cut. Then double-click on your Documents folders. (In XP, it’s named My Documents.) Right-click on a blank area in the Documents folder and select Paste. This will move all of those data files into the Documents folder. Of course, depending on just what file type it is, you can also move a file to your Pictures folder, your Music folder, or any other folder. The point being, it’s best to save files to one of these pre-named folders in Windows, rather than the desktop.

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The next step is to move any executable files off of the desktop. I recommend you move executables into the Program Files folder on your C drive, using the same technique as you used with the data files. Once you’ve moved the program files there, you can create shortcuts to them on the desktop. Simply right-click on one of these program files, and in the pop-up menu, select Send To, and then Desktop (as shortcut). This will add a shortcut on the desktop that points to the program.

Wait a minute! In the prior paragraph, we moved the program off of the desktop, and then made a shortcut on the desktop that points to the program. That seems redundant. Why not just keep the program on the desktop? Well, one reason is to make the program available to other users in Windows. If your computer has multiple users that log on with their own user names, those other users don’t see your desktop. They have their own custom desktop that may not show that program. Also, if you ever need to do a system restore, items on the desktop may get lost during that function. Having the files in the Program Files folder will assure the programs persist through a system restore.

Of course, during these steps, if you find any items you no longer need, you can delete them. Just right-click on the item and select Delete in the pop-up. This will send the item to the Recycle Bin. The good thing about the Recycle Bin is, if you decide you deleted a file prematurely and still want it, you can restore it back to the desktop.

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Now that you have your desktop cleaned up, it’s easy to keep it neat. Save files to your Documents folder. In your Documents folder, make a Downloads folder. Save all your downloads to it. This way your desktop will be lean and easy to navigate.

This article is provided by Steve Smith, The Computer Psychic. All content is protected by applicable copyrights, and may not be reproduced without express consent of the author.

The information in this knowledge base article is provided “as-is” with no warranty, express or implied, as to the suitability or validity of its content. It is up to the reader of this article to determine if the steps outlined herein are appropriate for his or her use. As with all tasks on the computer, be sure to have a current backup of your data before proceeding.