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How I clean my Mac desktop like a pro

December 30th 2017

How I clean my Mac desktop like a pro

If you are like me then you like to set up a pretty wallpaper on your Mac desktop. Yet, it's quite easy to download files to the desktop in order to access them right away. Then we forget to delete them. And the desktop gets messy. Now here is how to clean it like a pro

To be more precise, I use two tools to automate a clean desktop. I found those quite recently. One can be used independently of the other but the two combined work great. Why not start a little cleaning routine for 2018 ?


Unclutter is not a new Mac application, but I had never heard about it before. It basically adds a drawer accessible at the top of your screen, on top of any other applications. You can reveal this drawer with a mouse gesture or with a hotkey.

This app has three sections. There is a note area which I find pretty interesting. Quite often, when I'm on the phone and I have to write down an address, I'm not sure what to use in that moment of rush. Sometimes I open a new tab on Sublime Text - which I find weird as I mainly use it for HTML coding. Sometimes I open Apple's Notes, but then I don't really want to store post-it type notes over there but true relevant memo like licence codes, FTP information, databasis settings.... And sometimes I open Text Edit, but then again, I don't really want to save a document with two lines of text that I'm going to use immediately and forget about it afterward.

So the note section of Unclutter is just for those quick moments when you need to write down something but do not intend to save it for further use. You can also use them as quick reference that you use on a daily basis. Over there I store some small Javascript codes that I know I'll be using later.

Unclutter also has a clipboard history. Should it be a link or an excerpt, you can save up to 50 items. It's quite convenient if you're doing research on a subject and want to quickly bookmark links and quotes for instance.

Finally, there is a file section where you can drag and drop documents and folders for a quick access. Now this is quite interesting as this section can easily turn into your desktop with the use of a second tool: DeskDrawer.


More precisely, I'm talking about a workflow called DeskDrawer, designed for Alfred and developed by Carl J. Smith. It basically creates another virtual drawer - a specific folder - into which you can sweep the files that are on your desktop.

Move / Unmove your files to DeskDrawer

There are four ways to tidy up your desktop and to move your files to the drawer:

  • Invoke Alfred and search for the name of the file that is on your desktop. Use the right arrow to reveal possible actions and select "Move to DeskDrawer".
  • Select one of more items on your desktop, invoke Alfred and type move.
  • Use the custom hotkey (to be defined in the workflow settings. eg. Ctrl-M) to move the selected items
  • To clean your desktop entirely, invoke Alfred and type sweep.

Now by default, DeskDrawer's folder is placed at the root of your Home folder in macOS. However, you can change its location. The goal here is to relocate that drawer right within Unclutter's own folder - which is also located at the root. That way, if you have files on your desktop, you can simply invoke Alfred and type sweep. Those files will automatically disappear and be accessible from the Unclutter drawer, at the top of your screen.

DeskDrawer actions

Most of the time, items placed on the desktop are a bit special. Some are temporary files that you mean to trash, some are documents you are currently working on. That's the reason why Carl J. Smith added some options. After typing drawer, a list of previously moved files shows up. From there, you can perform several actions :

  • Select an item to open it with the default application.
  • Command-select an item to reveal it in Finder (which will be the DeskDrawer folder).
  • Control-select an item to open it in Alfred (for further actions).
  • fn-select an item to Trash it.

Lock files on the desktop

You can specifiy files or folders to remain on the desktop whenever you do a sweep action.

Just select the files, invoke Alfred and type protect Alternatively, invoke Alfred, search for that file, use the right arrow to reveal possible actions and select "Protect from DeskDrawer Sweep".

BEWARE : The DeskDrawer workflow is not supported anymore. You used to be able to cancel an action by typing unmove. This does not work anymore. Your file will be relocated to the workflow folder, deep down in Alfred's own package, as shown on this video I recorded.

Download Unclutter

Download Alfred

Download the DeskDrawer workflow

I tried to write about the Alfred app itself, but there is so much to say I don't even know where to start. There is no word to describe my love for Alfred. Also whoever has ever written about Alfred simply never has done it justice. If you want more information, I encourage you to have a look at this page. Note that the use of workflows requires a premium licence but it's the smartest thing you can ever buy for your Mac.