How many icons are on your desktop? Do you have a special way of organizing your files? I’ve discussed the benefits of keeping enough free space on your computer’s storage drive. Once you’re there, how do you stay there?

Apple has enabled users to avoid any semblance of organization by offering Spotlight, OS X’s system-wide search feature. Do you know it? It’s presented as a magnifying glass on the right side of the menubar and a search field in the top right of any window in the Finder.

If you know the name and/or contents of any document, photo, song, etc. on your Mac, Spotlight can probably find it, but the process of searching this way can be tedious. And if you don’t have the right keywords or recollect about a file, you may be out of luck unless you follow a stricter protocol of organization.

I have always preferred the latter, opting to organize my files in a hierarchy of folders that represent the various segments of my life. I begin with the folders OS X has provided for me in my Home directory: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, etc.

Let’s begin with this important folder. In here is every item that appears on the desktop. Is your desktop full of icons? Did you know your Mac runs slower the more you put there? In short, the more visual complexity on the screen, the harder the computer has to work to refresh the images presented to you.

To remedy this, I recommend putting random files in more logical folders and making the icons that remain full size to attempt to prevent you from putting that many things there in the first place. To change the size of the icons, go to the View menu in the Finder and Show View Options. You’ll see a slider that changes icons size.

In Documents, I have a short list of folders, some created by applications like Microsoft Office and others that have special purposes. The most prominent is My Files, where most of my personal and professional documents go. In here, I have folders dedicated to the major domains in my life (home, work, learn, money, travel, and so forth) and inside each of these is a string of folders representing each entity of that domain.

I don’t give as much attention to other media folders—Music, Pictures, Movies—because I really don’t have much to organize there. Most of my music is in iTunes and iTunes handles its organization. Most of my pictures are in iPhoto and iPhoto handles their organization. And I don’t keep that many movies on my Mac.

Why is all this organization important? When I visit clients, they often have spent little time organizing their files and as a result struggle to find things during our sessions. Keeping files organized also reduces the propensity for clutter and holding onto extraneous files.

Last week I met with Ann for the first time. Ann’s iMac is about five years old but still has a lot of life left. However, Ann has left organization to the wind and cluttered up her system with a ton of excess, making it harder to find and organize the documents and photos she actually wants to keep.

Ann was grateful to have homework when I left and is working on paring down her data. When was the last time you cleaned out your Downloads folder? Did you know that after you download an application installer from the Internet and install the app, you don’t need to keep the installer? Many apps still fail to update themselves and force you to download a new copy from the developer’s website, resulting in this excess.

After Ann does a bunch of cleaning, she’ll run a backup, another task that has eluded her until now. At our next meeting, we plan to upgrade her iMac with more memory and upgrade OS X to Mavericks, the latest version, both tactics making her Mac much faster and more resposive.

I encourage you to be vigilant. If you download a file and you want to keep it, put it somewhere memorable. If you have used it and do not need it anymore, trash it. And don’t forget to empty the trash periodically. Items you put in the trash stay there, taking up precious space, until you empty it, just like in real life.

Are you struggling with this? Are you concerned about deleting an important file? Give me a call if you need a hand to hold. I would be happy to put you at ease and help you take control of your computing life!