Hide All Desktop Icons in Mac OS X
Desktop icon clutter can really impact workflow by overwhelming you with files and just too much stuff to look at. Inevitably, it can be hard to avoid since a lot of apps download things to the Desktop by default, we save things there, screenshots go there, it quickly becomes the generic catch-all location for documents and stuff that we’re working with.
If you decide you have too many icons on the desktop and maintaining the desktop is just too much to deal with, you can actually toggle a secret setting in Mac OS X to turn off the desktop icons completely, thereby preventing them from being displayed at all. This effectively hides all the icons from showing up on the desktop only, but all of your files and stuff will still be accessible from elsewhere. You can think of this kind of like disabling the desktop, because you can still actually save files and folders to the desktop, it’s just that the icons will not show up.
How to Hide Desktop Icons on Mac OS X from Appearing Completely
Launch Terminal, found within /Applications/Utilities, and type the following defaults command string:
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false
After hitting enter, you will then need to kill the Finder so that it relaunches and the changes take effect:
Once the command is executed, icons will instantly disappear – the files will still exist, they are just no longer visible on the desktop.
This trick works the exact same in all versions of OS X, from Snow Leopard to OS X Yosemite. In fact, you can expedite the hiding of hte desktop icons on the Mac by turning the command string into a single line to be copied and pasted into the Terminal window, like this:
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false;killall Finder;say icons hidden
The desktop will no longer display icons, effectively hiding them from appearing. All of the files still exist, but they’re now discretely hidden in your home folder’s “Desktop” directory rather than cluttering up the visible desktop. If you’re wondering what this looks like when it’s in effect, it’s basically a super-clean desktop like this:
Notice how there is literally nothing on the desktop? Just a clean image of the background wallpaper? That’s what this trick does.
Note that this process is different than simply hiding things like Mac hard drive icons and network shares from showing up on desktop, because this trick is all inclusive and hides every single icon regardless of what it is, completely preventing them from appearing on the OS X Desktop whatsoever, despite still technically being stored in the users ~/Desktop directory. It’s obviously easy to implement, and it’s also easy to reverse if you decide the feature isn’t for you and you want to see everything visible as usual again.
So to be perfectly clear, this will hide your icons from showing on the Desktop by disabling that feature, but your desktop data, files, folders, and everything else is still available by manually going to the “~/Desktop” folder of the user account.
How to Show Desktop Icons Again in Mac OS X
To show the Desktop icons again, open the Mac Terminal and type the following defaults command, notice the only difference is ‘false’ has been turned into ‘true’, thereby re-enabling desktop icon display:
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool true
Again, kill the Finder and your icons will show on the desktop as usual:
Finder will relaunch, and the desktop will be revealed again with all of it’s icons shown. The image below shows an exaggerated example, with tons and tons of icons sitting on the wallpaper:
Similar to the hiding trick, you can condense those commands into a single command string to reveal the desktop icons again.
defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool true;killall Finder;say icons visible
This even gives you a nice auditory clue announcing the state of the icons (icons hidden, or icons visible).
Other than being a nuisance to look at, desktop clutter can actually slow down a Mac (or any computer, for that matter), since each individual icon and thumbnail must be drawn by the operating system anytime the desktop is accessed or shown. As a result, every single file sitting on the desktop takes up a little slice of memory, and redrawing the thumbnail icons uses a tiny bit of CPU, but with hundreds of files laying about those will accumulate to a significant burden on the computers resources, thereby slowing down the computer. This is particularly true with old Macs, but it applies to newer models as well.
So when in doubt, keep that desktop tidy and free of too many icons, or just hide the icons and files display like we described here so that you can gain a nice little speed boost until you sort through your files.