Messy Desktop – time for a spring clean

I live in a small flat and I know that the ONLY way of managing this is to keep it fairly tidy

Windows Desktop - Cluttered
My Windows desktop. It’s getting rather silly
I’m not obsessive or over-fastidious: it’s just that I know that life is more manageable, and easier in the long run, if I try and keep everything more or less in its place. It’s the same with my physical desktop: when I finish work I like nothing but mice and keyboards on it.

This tidiness extends to all my computer filing. PDFs of different subjects all have their place, clients have their own email folders, and so on. I don’t understand people who say things like “where are my keys?” whenever they want to go out. If you always put your keys in the same place when you come in, then you always know where they are when you go out. How simple is that?

So why is it that my Windows desktop has over 100 icons on it and I can never find the shortcuts to things I use every week (if not every day)?

I reckon my computer support clients divide into four groups on this subject:

  • Group 1 contains the people for whom any new shortcut or other type of icon goes straight into the recycle bin unless it’s essential. It’s almost a point of pride not to allow anything new to remain on the desktop.
  • Group 2 is populated by the sensible ones. They have shortcuts to programs they use often and maybe a few shortcuts to data files they use often (Word documents, spreadsheets, PDF files and so on). If they’re really good, there are no actual data files on the desktop – just shortcuts.
  • Group 3 comprises those that have shortcuts to programs, but who also store actual files and actual folders on their desktop (maybe dozens and dozens of them).
  • Group 4 consists of those – like me – who are in danger of losing the plot. By the time we’ve found what we are looking for, we’ve forgotten why we were looking for it.
  • Those in Group 1 don’t need any help. Do it your way. Good for you.
  • Those in Group 2 don’t need any help either. I think that this is probably how Microsoft envisaged us using the desktop. Keep things handy that you need often, but tidy away everything else.
  • The best suggestion I have for those in Group 4 is “get a grip”. I was just about to start cleaning my own desktop when it occurred to me that it would be more fun to blog about it than to actually do it.

Cluttered Desk
Where’s my laptop gone? This is NOT my desk!
Now, finally, to Group 3 – those who store actual files and folders on their desktop. Ever since Windows came out, I have understood that anything that is on the desktop is stored in memory. If you have actual data files on your desktop totalling 500mb then you have almost 500mb less RAM available for programs and other tasks. If I’m right on this, it simply doesn’t make sense to “waste” your RAM in this way. It is far more efficient to create shortcuts to files and just store the shortcuts on the desktop.

You can also create shortcuts to folders such that clicking on the folder shortcut will open a window revealing all the files in that folder. So why store the entire folder and its contents on the desktop?

I’ve been trying to find some definitive proof that precious RAM is wasted by storing files on the desktop. I can’t find any. There’s any number of opinions – agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, and also loads of plain rubbish as well. See this thread, for instance.

You’d think Microsoft could provide the best answer. The nearest I can find to corroborate my opinion that files on the desktop are wasteful of RAM can be found here.

It clearly says on that page:

Don’t store files on the desktop

To improve your computer’s performance and find files more easily, it’s best to store files in the Documents folder rather than on the desktop.

To access files from your desktop, create a desktop shortcut instead.

They then offer a link to show you how to create or delete a shortcut.

Tidy Desk
That’s more like it!
So, I reckon I’m safe in continuing to give the advice that it’s best not to store actual folders and files on the desktop.

As far as the multiplicity of program shortcuts is concerned (and this is what makes up about 90% of the clutter on my own desktop at the moment), my tip is to create a special folder.

In fact, I do keep this one actual folder on the desktop as it will only contain shortcuts (so it will remain small). Into this folder (which I call something obvious like “Rarely used shortcuts”) I drag all those shortcuts from my desktop that don’t need to be there. That way, they are easily accessible if I need them , but not getting in the way in the meantime. If necessary, they can be dragged back out to the desktop later. This tip doesn’t save RAM, but it certainly makes using the desktop a lot easier.

Right, just for once I’m off to practise what I preach…..