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!