Why you shouldn’t store files on your Mac’s Desktop

“Over the years, I’ve repaired many computers. Most people just ask me to speed it up,” Jacob Penderworth writes for Tuts+. “I usually ensure they have enough RAM to run the latest version of OS X, update everything, clean out some caches if the hard drive is near full, and advise they reorganize things. I usually don’t have to mention the Desktop, unless it’s really bad. And I’ve seen some bad ones. Hundreds of little icons. These people have adjusted the icon size to 16×16 pixels just to fit it all on the display. The thing is, they probably don’t know how much it slows down their Mac.”

“Quick Look is one of my favorite features in OS X,” Penderworth writes. “While Quick Look is a fantastic tool to have, it will be your enemy if you keep Pages or Word documents, images, videos, music with artwork, and anything else it supports previewing on the Desktop. The tool is always ready with previews, so when you have a lot of documents on the Desktop, all those previews will have to be temporarily stored in the RAM. This means your Mac can become extremely slow.”

“Putting things on your Desktop because it’s easy is not a sound, productive or organizational strategy. In fact, it’s one of the messiest ways to store things on the Mac,” Penderworth writes. “Apple gave you folders like Documents, Music, and Pictures for a reason. There’s no need to create your own… [With a clean Desktop] the battery life will last longer, the computer will be faster, Finder won’t hate you, and so on.”

Read more in the full article here.


  1. I call bogus. Using the top command in Terminal I monitored memory in use by Finder, mdworker and the QuickLook frameworks and see no appreciable memory difference after moving all of my Desktop items into a folder so that Finder wasn’t having to cache their previews.

    I’m thinking at this point that the author has a bugaboo about cluttered desktops and has decided to “give evidence” to why it’s more than just visually unsettling to him.

    1. I haven’t done the leg work on this, but I had heard ages ago that items on your desktop were treated as if they were all *open* documents. This makes more sense.

      (I worked in tech support at the beginning of OSX, but don’t think that was internal info – I think it came later. But it still does make sense to me.)

      1. Agreed on web content. But OS X/Darwin/Unix is pretty tuned for open files and memory usage. Open file descriptors are just a few bytes. And from what I’m seeing, the author’s premise is false anyway. Or perhaps what you’re saying is sort of forget the author’s premise and just focus on the speed factor more RAM gives you in general, which I agree with.

    2. jt016 is absolutely correct. This used to be a problem, but hasn’t been in recent version of OS X.

      While having a ton of files all over the desktop is going to be messy and lead to disorganization, there’s nothing wrong with it from a resource perspective.

      I have stuff on my desktop all of the time. It’s an easy place to get to and drag and drop stuff to and from. Every so often I go and delete these files. Anything that I’m going to want to keep gets put away in dedicated folders.

        1. Spotlight is great, but sometimes you need to discover files that you don’t even know exist let alone have any search criteria that can be used. And sometimes you need to search for something where the only search criteria is going to result in an overwhelming number of results.

  2. I have 4 drives showing on my desktop, nothing more. I enjoy over 1500 desktop images that randomly come across my screen on my 27 inch iMac every 5 seconds. My friends and family (Especially my grand daughter love the images, and I change them out every few months with newer or different family photos, nature scenes, flowers, or cartoon Characters (think Elmo, Dora) or superheroes. It’s fun to mix them up and change them out. Regarding finder issues, I use my stacks, Documents, and within it, I have my Personal Files folder, which I use in my work. I always tell my wife the computer is just a big file cabinet, and if everything is in its’ place, you can’t lose it. Spotlight is a big help though when I have multiple files regarding the same jobs. Command i helps on more specific items, as I use the comments section on files as well. I use my computer to store the files, but I always control them, and where they reside within parameters I have set throughout the years.

  3. The local high school has a “multimedia” class being taught by a guy who knows nothing about it. The kids have stored 22 GB of HD video files and still images all over the Desktop—against our emphatic advice against this practice. Opening a drive or dumping files into a folder is “too confusing.”

    And they expect to learn something about multimedia.

  4. Funny: When OS X was originally created, Jobs wanted to remove the ability to put files on the desktop. It was restored pretty early on in the development process because of push back from testers.

    I never put files on the desktop, except as a temporary home before I move them to a folder. I don’t see the point. Most of my desktop isn’t visible when I’m using my computer, so it’s not at all convenient for me to store things there.


  5. The wonderful thing about the user experience is that there is no wrong, as long as it works for the us that involved.

    Years ago, we were forced to create new machines that had absolutely empty desktops. Nothing was to be stored there. That is, nothing was to be stored there until a user got their hands on the machine.

    Sometimes, putting something on the desktop is the best method.

  6. I use my desktop all the time. The idea that it slows the mac down is a throwback to an old problem which I believe doesn’t exist in more recent versions of OS X, but makes for good copy so it keeps getting written about. I use a nice little app called camouflage which hides the desktop (usually only important when I’m making presentations, otherwise as mentioned by others it is covered with app windows anyway), and using mission control a quick move to the corner reveals the icons where I can drag and drop from or to the desktop. And of course the desktop is really nothing but a special folder, so often I’m just using it in a finder window.

  7. Too many desktop files has been a problem long before Quick Look. A common knowledge tidbit among mac veterans.
    I always thought that this was why Steve tried to disallow desktop files when designing OS X.
    What I do is keep folder alias’ on the desktop with the original folder NOT on the desktop.

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