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January 31, 2005

Tip: Desktop - How do I clean it up?

Before you can alleviate your clutter problem, you need to determine which Desktop elements you ...

Before you can alleviate your clutter problem, you need to determine which Desktop elements you want to keep and which you no longer need. You can then dispatch them to their proper places—or throw them away.

Windows XP users have the Desktop Cleanup Wizard, which can help with this cleanup task. The Desktop Cleanup Wizard is easy to use, but you’ll gain more control if you manage your Desktop manually. The wizard works only with shortcuts and not original programs, files, or folders. Additionally, it doesn’t delete or relocate unwanted shortcuts. Rather, it moves them to a folder on your Desktop, which you can do yourself just as easily. If you want to follow the manual method we recommend, or if you are not using WinXP on your computer, read on.

You can deal with Desktop items on a case-by-case basis, but it’s just as easy, and it is safer, to create two temporary folders on your Desktop and then move all the Desktop elements into one or the other folder. (Exclude the Recycle Bin and My Computer icons, which should remain on your Desktop.) That way, you won’t accidentally delete an important element or move it into the recesses of your hard drive. To create each folder, right-click an empty area on your Desktop, select New, and click Folder. Name this first folder “Keep.” Repeat the steps to create a second folder, and then name it “Toss” (or something similar). Now, drag all your Desktop elements, one by one, into one folder or the other.

Once you determine a fate for each element, double-click the Toss folder and confirm that everything in it is destined for the trash. If the items you are throwing away are shortcuts (look for a small arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon), make a note to also remove or uninstall the originals if you no longer want the items on your system.

Items without a shortcut arrow are actual originals of programs, folders, or files. If you do not have copies of these stored elsewhere on your hard drive, you will be discarding your only copy if you throw them away. Make copies, if necessary, store them elsewhere, and then drag the items to the Recycle Bin.

If you are eliminating original programs, you should uninstall rather than delete them by using each program’s uninstall utility (check the program’s documentation) or letting Windows remove them. To have Windows remove unwanted programs, open the Start menu, select Settings, click Control Panel, and double-click Add/Remove Programs. (In WinXP open the Start menu, select Control Panel, and double-click Add Or Remove Programs.) Locate and delete the programs, one by one. When you are finished, check to see if the program icon is still present in your Desktop folder. If the icon still exists, you can delete it.

If there is no uninstall utility for a program and one is not present in your Add/Remove Programs list, you can contact the program’s manufacturer for removal instructions (if any are available). Otherwise, you can delete the icon.