Are there any negative consequences to having a ton of files on the desktop?


I tend to be a bit sloppy with my desktop folder. How bad is it to have a ton of files on your desktop?

One consequence of having a ton of files on your desktop is that you're slowing down logon, because Explorer has to load up all the icons for your desktop when it starts up. Mind you, you are staring at the spinning dots while all this is going on, so you don't know that part of the time you're spending sitting and twiddling your thumbs is caused by all your desktop icons, but that's one of the things that's going on.

Another consequence of having all those files on your desktop is that they all need to get scanned to see if any of them are shortcuts with a hotkey, and to gather information about what programs they refer to so it can be used to provide the icon for a grouped icon on the taskbar.

It's not the end of the world to have a lot of files on your desktop, but you did ask.

Okay, you didn't ask, but I answered it anyway.

Comments (50)
  1. RCG says:

    At last I have discovered the actual reason my PC runs so much better after a fresh install of Windows.

    Seriously, though, this might be giving me an invisible speed boost on my machines with SSDs, as I tend to keep them a lot cleaner than my machines with lots of rusty storage.

    Thanks for the tip Raymond, I'm off to clean up my desktop.

  2. JCole says:

    Using the desktop for files relating to active work is just normal workflow for me; 49 files at the moment (only 7 are links). I use my physical desk for active work, so why not the desktop too? Others frown on this, but think they are just being silly. What else are you going to use that desktop space for?

    Considering I reboot only every other week (updates), I don't think there's any performance issue to worry about. Not sure why people get so concerned about how long a restart takes.

  3. Adam Rosenfield says:

    I almost never see my desktop because it's always covered up by other windows, so I keep very few things on it.

  4. James Sutherland says:

    I have 47 things on there right now; like @JCole above, I tend to use it as a sort of scratch space for working files, temporary notes etc, then have periodic clean-outs.

    I've seen a lot of users with hundreds of files there, though, which always bugs me – particularly on corporate systems where Desktop is a network redirection, making things unnecessarily glacial!

  5. DWalker says:

    @RCG:  Speaking of SSDs, in my experience: after installing an SSD, modern computers (Windows 7) will boot in 12 seconds (before installing anti-virus).  About 15 to 20 seconds after installing anti-virus.  The SSDs make a huge difference, probably above and beyond what's caused by icons on the desktop.  

    However, I do end up with a lot of desktop icons (not hundreds, but tens of files.  I don't ever use hotkeys to start programs — I wonder if that matters ("they all need to get scanned to see if any of them are shortcuts with a hotkey").  I don't think I even have any hotkeys defined; I should check.

    @JCole:  "Not sure why people get so concerned about how long a restart takes."  It probably doesn't matter much *most of the time*, for most people.  But when you are working on someone else's computer — cleaning up junk and unwanted software — and you have to reboot several times, and the computer has a slow hard drive, and the reboot takes two minutes or more — it is annoying.

  6. Boris says:

    @Adam: I use "Show the desktop". It's easier than going down to Documents or Downloads.

    Anyway, I just deleted 39 files from the desktop, mostly log files I needed only for about a day or two.

  7. Steve says:

    There's probably a whole psychological study to be done on what it means that youy are a clean desktop person or a lots-of-files person. I have one icon on my desktop, the Recycle Bin, and the output of BgInfo displayed in the top-right of my second monitor.

    As soon as I start any app the desktop is hidden anyway, so (for me) I just can't see the point of having a shortcut that's pretty much permanently hidden compared to the convenience of Jump Lists, MRU lists, or just plain finding it in File Explorer.

    Mind you I have got my 10 most frequent apps all pinned to my Taskbar (a hangover from my W8 days) …

  8. Engywuck says:

    When using roaming profiles there's another disadvantage: every (changed) file has to be copied from central storage at logon and synced there at logoff. Especially if you are using "Delete cached copies of roaming profiles" GPO (e.g. for space reasons on a Terminal Server).

    Of course in this case you should also use folder redirection for "My Documents" etc.

    I once had a user complaining that her logon took so long. She had a roaming profile – and several CD images in folders on the desktop, plus multi-hundred MB pictures (prepared for print).

  9. KooKiz says:

    For years I've been using my desktop as a launcher, with all the shortcuts perfectly ordered depending on the usage frequency. Only shortcuts, no file since it would make it harder to find the right shortcut.

    Then came Windows 7 and its taskbar. Now there is not a single shortcut on my desktop (except the default ones), and I use it pretty much as a temp folder. Crazy how a single new feature can completely change work habits.

  10. Smithers says:

    I can count the number of items on the desktop of both my work and home computers on the fingers of one foot.

    Since I invariably have open at least two maximised windows on each monitor (at work, I currently have Outlook, Chrome and Firefox maximised on one monitor, Notepad++, P4V and Visual Studio on the other), the desktop is always completely obscured and therefore a completely useless place to have any icons. Consequently, I slightly obsessively keep all icons off my desktop and whenever an installer does put an shortcut there, I mentally curse the company that created it as I select the icon and [shift]+[delete] it.

  11. Antonio 'Grijan' says:

    Keeping tens (or hundreds) of files/links in the desktop also are a non-computer-related performance issue: "where is that file now that I need it?". Not to mention that the "show desktop" command introduced in Windows 98 is a patch for what I consider a bad practice, and one that has been maintained for 17 years!

    My Windows 7 desktop/home server only contains about 10 items: the Recycle Bin, an "Unused icons" folder (where I put all those icons created by installers), links to my current projects' folders (which I don't use anyways), and a text file called "Reboot tasks" where I write down manual tasks I have postponed to be performed immediately before or after a reboot cycle (I use to reboot only once a month, on Patch Tuesday :-) ). Every program I use is either pinned to the Task Bar, to the Start Menu, or resides in the MRU list of the Start Menu. I have even removed the Show Desktop button at the far right of the Task Bar using 7+ Taskbar Tweaker.

  12. Josh says:

    This makes me wonder: Is there any user-facing telemetry on what windows is doing when it boots? I know there is a smattering of data in the event log, but none of that is really actionable. Task manager now has "startup" and inside that, "startup impact" (even though basically everything says "not measured"), but it'd be awesome if I could see "oh, loading the desktop is taking forever" or "you have zero disk space so everything is slow" so as an end user I could improve my system performance without resorting to the internet of myths (see: registry cleaner, etc.).

  13. JustJoe says:

    I'm often guilty of this myself, but I usually have folders created on the desktop to provide ease of access to information.  I guess I'll start using shortcuts to those folders rather than an actual folder on the desktop.  I also like to keep the other users' profiles to a minimum on my machines as they also tend to slow the machine down, and its difficult to control and monitor other user's bad file-saving and personalization habits on a shared machine without locking those features with the Administrative Templates.

  14. Hildar says:

    @Josh

    There is a verbose boot messages GPO that does this. Although it's still not really verbose.

  15. DWalker says:

    Some commenters here seem like they are being shamed into removing folders from their desktop.  Unless you have a roaming profile, it's perfectly fine to keep work folders on your desktop for ease of access.  After all, it's YOUR desktop.

  16. Tymme says:

    You forgot to mention the visible and audible eyeroll when tech support gets ahold of your system…

  17. alegr1 says:

    If only Microsoft had a feature to auto-clean the desktop… Oh wait, they have! Too bad both incarnations of it are so ill-conceived and ill-designed, that they should have been taken out and shot (along with the managers who pushed for them) way before SP1 of the corresponding OSes…

  18. John Styles says:

    A colleague in a previous job – using classic Macs – used to keep his working documents in the wastebin (allegedly because it was an easy place to find them and then drag them onto the desktop as and when he needed them). He was very upset when the I.T. department were upgrading his O.S. (or something) and emptied it.

  19. Tim says:

    I wonder how much this actually slows it down in practice. I guess hundreds of icons might take some actual time to load, but my intuition is telling me that loading a couple hundred KB of bitmaps from the hard disk and parsing a few fields from binary-format .lnk files is only going to take a few hundred milliseconds and be a negligible amount of time compared to everything else the OS does at login.

    Probably a very different story if the desktop folder is on the network. And a lot of random access to different .exes to load icons might be slower on non-SSDs than I think.

  20. David Totzke says:

    Along the same lines and back in the Win95 days, I found that having a large amount of files (in terms of size vs. sheer number) always seemed to make the computer unstable.  Put 50 or 100 meg in a folder on the desktop and the system became unstable, remove those files to a folder somewhere else and stability returned.  It's anecdotal at best but it seemed to "always happen".  Any chance there was something happening that could have caused this?  It didn't seem to be related to the number of files but more to the actual total size of those files.  Thanks.

  21. Yukkuri says:

    @John Styles — I have always found these sorts of apocrypha about people keeping non-garbage files in the Trash/Recycle Bin to be rather doubtful. Even everyone's proverbial grandmother knows what happens to actual objects put in an actual rubbish can: they get hauled off and disappear. So often user misconceptions come from trying to take GUI analogies too literally, and yet somehow there are vast masses of users that in THIS ONE SPECIFIC CASE refuse to take it literally at all? Really strains credibility.

  22. JCole says:

    As others have mentioned there is the quick button to show the desktop down beside the clock. There's also a Win+D hotkey. That's far easier than navigating to a working folder, or trying to switch between the multiple explorer windows I usually have open. Should clarify that most of my desktop files are in folders, or quickly end up in folders.

  23. alegr1 says:

    @Yukkuri:

    No one ever went broke because of overestimating stupidity of people.

  24. Anon says:

    @Yukkuri

    As a former tech support person working retail, I used to think the "I can't find the Any Key" story was apocryphal until I saw someone searching for it.

    I also thought the old "My computer won't turn on." "Can you press <button> for me?" "Hang on, let me turn my flashlight on." "Flashlight?" "Yeah, the power is out here." story was apocryphal until someone living right around the corner called when the store power was out, and we had a similar conversation.

  25. wonders says:

    Hey, you would be the guy that knows the answer to this:

    Back in the days of Vista I pulled a prank on my friend and generated around 10000 empty files on his desktop. Explorer went nuts and started eating one full core for about 15 minutes or so, after which we killed it and deleted the files. However that didn't stop it. Even rebooting didn't stop it. We had to leave it running for a couple of hours before it calmed down. WHAT WAS IT DOING?!

  26. Katie says:

    @Yukkuri

    It definitely happens. I know someone who used it as a way to help sort things while cleaning up things like her music folder. She would go through and delete tons of mp3s, then go back through the recycle bin and pick-and-choose things to bring back after the initial purge. It was convenient for her because it knew what paths to bring them back to, but she could review them all in one big bin. A friend helped her remove a virus and emptied her recycle bin just to make sure she wouldn't accidentally bring the infected files back in, and a year later she would still complain to him about it.

  27. Al Go says:

    Is the performance hit just at logon, or every repaint of the desktop (eg using a window full screen and then showing desktop again)?

  28. Josh B says:

    @wonders: Probably the indexing going haywire, first putting all those files in the queue, then trying to process them for their metadata and fulltext (whether or not they still existed by the time the queue got to them), then having to remove all the entries, and then finally trying to clean up the search database. The system search in Vista was really bad and one of the primary causes of its slowness, though it got better with each SP and Win7. I wouldn't say it was actually fixed until Win8 though.

  29. Ray says:

    @Yukkuri: We just had this at work in the last month. Someone wanted something restored from their mailbox. We discovered they had an entire FILING system in "Deleted Items." My co-worker had to remind the user that Outlook has an "automatically Deleted Items on exit" setting that could get turned on by an upgrade or something…

    Found out that they thought they could get around the mail quota by leaving stuff in the Deleted Items. <facepalm>

    Found out from another co-worker that he had this call before so we have at least 2 users who use the Outlook Deleted Items folder as primary storage.

  30. I remember there used to be a Desktop Cleanup Wizard that would attempt to clean up your desktop by removing stuff you didn't use. I don't recall seeing it in recent versions of Windows.

  31. Edward M. Grant says:

    "Not sure why people get so concerned about how long a restart takes."

    Generally speaking, people boot computers with the goal of doing something other than sitting there watching the boot screen.

    I decide I want to play a game. I put down my laptop and go to my gaming PC, and turn it on. I don't want to have to sit there for three minutes before I can play the game (sadly, I sometimes have to, by the time Windows has installed its updates and rebooted, and Steam has installed its updates, and Steam has… done whatever it spends all that time doing when it starts up).

    I'd add that slow logins due to desktop scanning isn't just a Windows thing; my girlfriend's account on our Linux desktop took an age to log in until I moved about a hundred image files from the desktop to a subdirectory.

  32. xpclient says:

    And what if "Show desktop icons" is unchecked? Does logon still slow down?

    [Yes, but not as much, because there's no need to fetch icons. (Still need to read shortcuts for taskbar grouping and hotkeys.) -Raymond]
  33. Drak says:

    At work I set my desktop icon size to the largest possible value (by clicking on an icon, and then using ctrl + mouse wheel to scroll it to enornous size). When co-workers asked me why I did this, I told them that it was so that I wouldn't put a lot of junk on my desktop :)

  34. xpclient says:

    Btw if you use a Start Menu like Classic Shell which is not crippled to eliminate submenus like Windows 10's menu, you can add a "Desktop" folder anywhere to it so Desktop contents can be accessed via the Start menu without even showing the desktop or slowing down logons. You can show the Desktop's contents in multiple columns, hide extensions and keep your wallpaper clean and beautiful.

  35. Engywuck says:

    I admit, I once upon a time had my working files on linux in /tmp – well, they *are* temporary until completely finished, right? :-)

    The I noticed that there are linuxes that empty /tmp on reboot or have it on ramdisk and quickly stopped that practice. Well, mostly.

  36. John Kerr says:

    >> Okay, you didn't ask, but I answered it anyway.

    If only you would start taking that approach to all the questions, things could be a lot clearer around here.

  37. EMB says:

    >> Okay, you didn't ask, but I answered it anyway.

    Hey! I asked. I'm asking this since Win 3.11. You just didn't saw my question.

  38. mk says:

    Having ~100 directories on the desktop also breaks SHBrowseForFolder; it will no longer list anything other than the user profile directory.

  39. Chris Crowther @ Work says:

    My work laptop's desktop is completely empty.  My one at home is full of stuff.  I am tempted to clear it as well; I don't use them nearly as much as I used to (since Windows 7 I've tended to just use the Start Menu's search box.)

  40. Cesar says:

    @Edward M. Grant: "Generally speaking, people boot computers with the goal of doing something other than sitting there watching the boot screen."

    The theory was that people were supposed to keep the computer in suspend/hibernate all the time. Yes, even that gaming computer in the corner you use once a week would be kept in suspend/hibernate the whole week. You can see that sort of thinking surfacing in IIRC Windows Vista (where the "power button" in the Start Menu was actually suspend, the "power off" option was hidden in within a small dropdown menu), in the initial Gnome 3 versions (which had only a "Suspend" option, which turned into "Power Off" if you held the Alt key; or you could log off and power down from the login screen, where the option was visible), and I believe also in the initial Windows 8 versions (where the "power off" option was hidden in the settings screen, which AFAIK you could only reach by moving the mouse in non-discoverable ways – I don't have much experience with Windows versions more recent than 7, everyone around me seems to use Linux or Mac).

    Needless to say, that's not how people actually use computers. When you leave a room, you turn off the lights, you don't just dim them. In the end, the designers had to concede and make the "power off" option more discoverable in the systems I mentioned (I haven't yet played with Windows 8.1 or more recent, but I think I've read somewhere that they also made the "power off" option more visible there).

  41. Joker_vD says:

    That doesn't seem to actually be true… When I boot up, initially all icons on the desktop are blank, and only then Explorer loads them, and this process is rather obvious. For some reason, it loads them from bottom to top, right to left, in columns.

  42. M says:

    Do a few folders on the desktop with lots of stuff in them also have the same negative consequences (or is it just top-level "items") ?

  43. Yukkuri says:

    @Ray I wouldn't believe if I didn't try it just now and find that yes, indeed, Outlook lets you make folders in 'Deleted Items'. D: D: D: D: D: x.x

  44. alegr1 says:

    @Cesar:

    Leaving your computer in Suspend/Hibernate sounds like an excellent idea! Until you discover the damn Vista will light your room up in the middle of every night to check for some updates!

  45. alegr1 says:

    @Master Programmer:

    There is hidden Desktop Cleanup task run by the Task Scheduler. It checks for orphaned shortcuts on the desktop and removed them behind your back. UNFORTUNATELY, it's too stupid to realize that shortcuts may point to ephemeral locations. Because it runs under non-user account, it doesn't have access to network locations and considers shortcuts to network locations orphaned. This is why they disappear. And this haven't been fixed, and will never be fixed, I guess.

  46. John says:

    Every time I reinstall windows or upgrade the drive / laptop, I make a folder name "OldDesktop".  In that folder I dump everything from the previous system.  Stuff I really want gets found and resurfaces, stuff I've lost interest in stays in that folder.  I can drill down through the OldDesktop folders 15 or so years.  It seems to be working for me so far : )

  47. dot says:

    >Mind you, you are staring at the spinning dots while all this is going on, so you don't know that part of the time you're spending sitting and twiddling your thumbs is caused by all your desktop icons

    verbosestatus to the rescue!

  48. @dot says:

    While VerboseStatus is great, I've noticed it's not exactly "verbose" once you actually type your name and password and log on: sixteen messages fly by in about two seconds, then the next 18 seconds is "Preparing your desktop…". About as helpful as "Welcome". :P

  49. Hotkey Virgin says:

       "files on your desktop … get scanned to see if any of them are shortcuts with a hotkey"

    Is that how hotkeys work?  I have heard of them, but never used them.  I'm gonna go check… OMG there's a field right there in the shortcut properties, "Shortcut key"… I have been using Windows for 20 years now, and I finally know how to set a hotkey for a shortcut.  THANKS RAYMOND!!

    P.S.: I just found a bug in Windows: it has a problem assigning the backspace key as a hotkey to a shortcut.  It keeps insisting that I am pressing the None key… but my keyboard does not have a None key.  OHHH I get it… there is none… so it **does**… VERY CLEVER MICROSOFT.

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