Four Great Ways To Declutter Your Desktop

I have something of a confession to make – I’m very particular when it comes to computers. While I can walk around with two week’s beard growth or drive in a mud splattered car for most of the summer without a care, my Mac has to be ‘just so’. After all, my Mac is what I work on, it’s what I record my music onto and, since I don’t want a television in the house, my Mac is what I tend to digest most of my entertainment on too.

In order to keep everything as I like it, my Mac must be organized perfectly with a system of folders, colour coded files and, above all, a clean Desktop. Despite my best efforts however, this isn’t always practical, as there are no amount of temporary folders which can replace the speed and usefulness of using the Desktop as a place to temporarily store files for later categorising and/or deleting.

That’s why clutter-cleaning applications are so useful, affording the user the best of both worlds. Here’s some of the best available at the moment.

Clean Slate

Clean Slate's preferences

Clean Slate's preferences

Not to be confused with the popular Windows restore utility which goes by the same name, Clean Slate is developed by Old Jewel Software. As with each of the clutter cleaning programs covered here, Clean Slate is able to sit in the Menu Bar, accessible with just a click or two, though it does not do so by default.

Clean Slate is a visually pleasing app to use and is the most slick I’ve come across in its class. With options for activation via a keyboard shortcut, it can also replace your Desktop background with a custom image and several high quality images are included with the app.

It may be worth noting for those who are considering running Clean Slate on an older Mac, or one short of RAM, that Clean Slate used up approximately 45MB on my Mac running Lion when using a custom Desktop image. Hardly a cause for concern for the majority of users, but a little more memory intensive when compared to the some of the other methods covered here today.



Camouflage's preferences

Camouflage's preferences

Developed by Briksoftware, Camouflage is a more lightweight application compared to Clean Slate and seems to run a little lighter on memory too, hovering around 12MB RAM when I used it. Though in its basic use, Camouflage sits in the Menu Bar and is able to hide desktop icons with a couple of clicks, the app brings a small but useful twist to a category of apps which seems to offer less scope for experimentation.

Accessible via Camouflage’s options menu, the user has the choice of integrating the app with OS X’s Finder. How it works is this: When hiding icons is selected, a double-click anywhere on the Mac’s Desktop brings up a Finder window showing the files. This mixed approach appears a rather minor point for Camouflage but I found it surprisingly handy in day to day use, thus pushing Camouflage ahead of the competition for me.

I did come across some reports of a bug in Camouflage which occasionally resets Lion wallpaper to default but was unable to reproduce it in tests on my Lion setup, so it may have been updated


Desktop Curtain

Desktop Curtain's immersive approach to de-cluttering

Desktop Curtain's immersive approach to de-cluttering

The final of the three clutter remover applications here, Desktop Curtain is released by developers Many Tricks and has an immersive approach to hiding desktop icons. As the name suggests, Desktop Curtain masks your desktop with, quite literally, a curtain – though it should be pointed out that it also has the ability to hide icons in a more typical fashion, with options for both the system default wallpaper or custom ones too.

As with Clean Slate, Desktop Curtain uses approximately 45MB RAM in OS X Lion. Despite its excellent design, I didn’t take to Desktop Curtain’s graphics as much as Clean Slate or Camouflage, though it’s likely just a matter of taste and you may find yourself enjoying the apps novel approach.

while Desktop Curtain requires an Intel processor, Power PC users are supported with the free Desktop Curtain Classic, available here


The Command Line Alternative

Using the terminal to mask desktop icons

Using the terminal to mask desktop icons

If you don’t want to use an app for something which can be covered with some light Terminal use, then here’s a slightly more technical method of hiding your Desktop icons. There shouldn’t be any issues with the method outlined below, but as always when using the Terminal, be careful, make sure you’ve backed up and use at your own risk. It’s also important not to follow the steps while Finder is actively performing a task such as copying files.

To begin, launch Terminal and then copy and paste the following text into Terminal’s window (as you can see in the above screenshot) and press Return:

defaults write CreateDesktop -bool false

Next up you need to relaunch Finder. Despite the slightly ominous sounding ‘killall’ command shown below, all that actually happens is that Finder is quit and then automatically relaunched. Copy and paste the following:

killall Finder

Now hit Return and you should be all set. If you wish to return to normal and show Desktop icons again, relaunch Terminal and insert:

defaults write CreateDesktop -bool true

Then repeat the ‘killall Finder’ command.


The above applications are the best I’ve yet come across for temporarily hiding desktop clutter but if you’ve got any other tips, tricks or recommended software for hiding desktop icons and cutting down on clutter in general, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!


Add Yours
  • This article’s title is misleading. It is not about decluttering, but about hiding the clutter, which, in my opinion, are two very different things.

    • Cut every corner, it’s the American way.

      I have to agree. I use Hazel to actually de-clutter. It automatically marks files as old, later moves them to a catch-all folder for me if I haven’t cleaned up, and then much later it will automatically file pictures to my pictures folder, movies to movies, documents to documents, etc.
      …all of which is customizable.

      Usually Hazel keeps my work hidden from plain view, but on occasion I use Camoflauge when I need to keep things where I left them and interrupt my workflow for a presentation.

    • Ditto. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when I expected to find solutions to a small problem we all face from time to time. I know there are many Mac users who do this kind of equivocation, but I expect better from commentators and call them out when they fail the “meaning vs. the word” test. AppStorm went completely belly-up on this one.

    • Actually, you guys are talking about organizing, not de-cluttering. Which you should just do, instead of looking for an app that’ll do it for you.

      You’re using Hazel to clean up the mess that you were too lazy to deal with in the first place. This article is about hiding clutter, not keeping your file system organized.

      The solution to your problem is “select all” and “move to trash.” Stop joining the discussion if you’re just going to tear the writer to shreds.

    • I can de-clutter my physical desktop by pushing everything onto the floor.

      De-cluttered? yes. Organized? no.

      Organize and de-clutter are not the same.

      The title here has done nothing to lead you to believe you should looking here for something about “cleaning up” your files.

      • You could de-clutter by pushing everything onto the floor, but that’s not even what’s suggested here. Using these apps would be analogous to throwing a blanket over your cluttered physical desk and calling it de-cluttered just because you can’t see it anymore.

        What I do (having Hazel shove everything that’s old into a catch-all folder) is more like shoving everything onto the floor. …except Hazel will go ahead and clean it up for me after a few days.

        Anyway, I don’t see the point of arguing semantics here. If I (and others) feel misled by the title of the article, I can say so. No need to get upset.

    • Peter, I don’t believe the title is ambiguous. What you’re talking about is organising.

      If you read Camouflage’s description, it describes itself as an application for removing clutter – not organising.

      You can read the description here;

    • I see your point Peter, sorry about the confusion. I should’ve thought about the possible misinterpretation! Either way, I hope you found some great apps for your click :)

  • I use Hazel. This sweet little app can apply rules to all the crap you dump on your desktop or any other folder. Check it out.

  • IMO Apps like Desk Shade, Camouflage, Desktop Curtain and Clean Slate only add to the clutter. There’s one more GUI application that has to be kept running on the background and one more mode that you have to repeatedly toggle on and off.

    However one alternative with AppleScript would be:

    tell app “Finder” to set collapsed of window of desktop to not collapsed of window of desktop

  • I use Camouflage, can’t live without the “Click on desktop for finder”-function. If I use someone else’s Mac, I’m constantly clicking the desktop without an answer :P

  • Not upset. Hazel’s organization of it aside, how is there a difference between having a folder you can’t see that contains the same clutter the desktop you can’t see has?

    You can think of it as treating the desktop as a folder itself. It just hides the information so the clutter isn’t a distraction.

    I don’t use these apps myself but as a designer my desktop can find itself cluttered at times when I’ve got several projects on my lap, however to help editing photos and things a neutral background helps to see color contrasts and fixes correctly, and this clutter can cause distraction. And I believe the point of these apps are to do just that. To cover the distraction. Not to organize. So yes it does seem more analogous to throwing a blanket over your desk but the seems to be the point of the apps.

    • I agree Kevin. These apps are really just meant to hide your sloppy lifestyle (which is great!). Apart from distraction, sometimes people come over last minute and you toss your unfolded clothes in the closet and shut the door so no one will see them scattered all over your room. In the same way, sometimes you need to take a screenshot or show someone something on your Mac and you’re just too embarrassed of that messy desktop. It happens to the best of us!

  • Try The Lost Watch 3D app free from the app store. Amazing!!

  • I use an app called DeskToday and I find that very easy to use. Might be worth a look at in the future as well. It moves everything on the dekstop into a folder with the date you did the cleaning.

  • I agree with the above comments that hiding your desktop icons doesn’t really help you organize anything. I tend to save things in their rightful place from the start, but rather than mess up my nicely organized system, anything that doesn’t fit stays on my desktop until it finds a place, or is deleted.

    That said, sometimes I need to do screen shots and screen captures, and a trick like this is useful. I also agree with those who don’t want another app running in the background just for this.

    So, I took the shell script version, expanded it a bit and turned it into an Applescript which you can put into the script menu of your Mac, or call with your favorite launcher utility. Personally, I have it set it up as a hotkey in Alfred, which I already had running in the background anyway.

    Here’s the code: (Copy it into AppleScript Editor and save it as a .scpt file or a .app depending on how you plan to use it.)

    — Get the value of CreateDesktop
    set theResult to do shell script “defaults read CreateDesktop”

    — If CreateDesktop is 1 (true) then set it to 0 (false), else set it to 1 (true).
    if theResult is “1” then
    do shell script “defaults write CreateDesktop -bool false”
    do shell script “killall Finder”
    do shell script “defaults write CreateDesktop -bool true”
    do shell script “killall Finder”
    end if

    • Updated the script to work on machines where the default was never manually set using Terminal:

      – Get the value of CreateDesktop or set it to 1 if the key does not exist.
      set theResult to do shell script “defaults read CreateDesktop”
      on error
      do shell script “defaults write CreateDesktop -bool true”
      set theResult to do shell script “defaults read CreateDesktop”
      end try

      – If CreateDesktop is 1 (true) then set it to 0 (false), else set it to 1 (true).
      if theResult is “1” then
      do shell script “defaults write CreateDesktop -bool false”
      do shell script “killall Finder”
      do shell script “defaults write CreateDesktop -bool true”
      do shell script “killall Finder”
      end if

  • My response to the anal person who said

    Organize and de-clutter are not the same.

    de-clutter or tomatoes

    How about a nice cup of STFU

  • I use the terminal code, and then make an automator app with the terminal script. Oneclick show and hide!