Decluttering your cubicle or desk can greatly minimize visual distraction in the workplace. Seeing last week’s memo out of the corner of your eye can trigger your brain to periodically reevaluate its relevance. There’s no point in wasting cycles on redundant processing.
But what about your computer desktop? If you want to take workspace decluttering to its logical conclusion, getting rid of icons on your desktop is worth exploring.
Removing icons isn’t for everyone. A few people still use them to open files and launch applications, but most of the time, icons are dropped on the desktop due to operating system defaults rather than user intent. Software installers will add icons to the desktop, Start menu and Quick Launch bar if those options are left checked.
So why are desktop icons such a bad thing? They’re not, really. They’re just clutter, and clutter by definition serves no purpose. Clearing icons from your desktop has a few advantages:
- You get to enjoy that nice wallpaper you’ve installed without obstructions
- Newer versions of Windows have a search box in the Start menu to find and launch any application in less time that it would take to sort through a screenful of shortcuts
- You’re more inclined to launch apps with the keyboard instead of the mouse, which is usually more efficient. With older versions of Windows lacking the Start menu search box, third-party alternatives like Launchy, Google Desktop or AutoHotkey can be used to open files and apps without reaching for the mouse
- You’re more inclined to place new files in a meaningful location the on front end rather than sit indefinitely in an arbitrary spot. You’ll file newly created or downloaded documents in Documents, new videos in Videos, and so on
As with physical decluttering, removing icons doesn’t automatically lead to an organized file system. Just as many workers with clean desks can have drawers crammed with old paperwork and pens, it’s possible to have a clean computer desktop with poorly organized files under the hood. But like a clean physical desktop, a clean virtual desktop serves as viral motivation to eliminate clutter. Through continuous visual reinforcement, spatial abundance seeps into your consciousness, and you’ll want to spread the zen to the rest of your workspace.
Two Ways to Remove Desktop Icons
You can either hide your desktop icons or delete them.
Hiding them is the easiest option, and often the safest option in office environments. Normally, when you delete an application icon from the desktop, you’ve only deleted the application’s shortcut — a pointer to the real location where the app resides; so you’re not in danger of deleting the actual program. Shortcut icons have a small arrow in the bottom left corner. If the arrow isn’t there, chances are that actual program was installed on the desktop instead of, say, Program Files. This is a perfect example of an icon you should hide rather than delete.
While you can’t show or hide icons individually, hiding (or showing) all icons couldn’t be simpler. In Windows XP, just right-click an empty space on the desktop, select Arrange Icons By from the context menu, then uncheck Show Desktop Icons from the submenu. In Windows Vista and 7, right-click on the desktop, select View, then uncheck Show Desktop Icons.
The one icon that can be hidden or shown individually is the Recycle Bin. In Windows Vista or Windows 7, go to Start | Control Panel, select Appearance and Personalization, then Personalization. In the left pane, click Change desktop icons, untick the Recycle Bin checkbox, then click OK. Bye bye, Recycle Bin.
XP is a little more complex. Open the Start menu and click Run and <Enter>, then type “gpedit.msc” and <Enter>. Click the Administrative Templates folder in the left pane to expand it, then click on Desktop. In the right pane, double-click on Remove Recycle Bin Icon from Desktop, click on the Enable option in the property window that appears, then click OK. That should do it. If you’re having trouble finding the Desktop folder under Administrative Templates, the option may have been removed from your system configuration (a rogue admin, no doubt). Try downloading Microsoft’s TweakUI Powertoy, which also gives you the option of removing the Recycle Bin.
If, for whatever reason, deleting all icons isn’t an option, go through them one at a time and delete the ones you’re comfortable with deleting. Right-click the offending icon, select Delete from the context menu, and click Yes to confirm.
Unlike hiding icons — which keeps them on your desktop, but invisible — deleting icons only keeps your desktop clutter-free as long as you prevent new software installations from adding more clutter. Whenever you run a software installer, untick any option to add a desktop icon. When you download a document or media file, I recommend taking a moment to navigate to the folder where you expect the file to remain until it’s deleted. In other words, don’t download a PDF to the desktop if you’re going to move it to Documents anyway. Download it directly to that folder the first time.
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