I just released my “How I set up a new Mac” video, and I realized that I’ve been meaning to declutter the Mac experience and make my Mac minimal. So today, I am going to do precisely that. There are a few key ideas behind this task: If a default app can serve the purpose and it looks aesthetically pleasing, I shall avoid installing 3-rd party solutions Any unused apps, tools, or buttons have to go. No redundant useless, space-taking, distraction-creating alternatives.
Starting with the Dock and the Launchpad. Even though I cleaned up my Launchpad in my setup video earlier, it could’ve been better. Before I re-organize everything, I will first clean the dock even further. I want to leave 3 to 5 apps that I use all the time. The most important ones. All other apps shall be launched via the Launchpad or, most often through the Spotlight. So in my case, I am leaving the Finder app, a browser of choice, Notion as the app that I use to run my business, and Things as my task manager and messages. Things, by the way, is a great to-do and note-taking app that, in a subscription world, shines in as a one-time software investment. It matches the minimal vibes and helps me gather all my goals quickly.
So, back to the dock, I am removing the dock app suggestions because I don’t need them, and I am even removing the downloads folder since every time I open the Finder, I see my Downloads folder by default. That’s what I meant earlier when I mentioned eliminating redundant alternatives. I might leave a slight magnification animation for fun, but that’s all. Oh, and I am also bringing the dock back to its center bottom position because it just looks so clean and minimal at this point.
If you decide to follow me in this clean-up journey, the recipe here is straightforward. If an app hasn’t been used for the last three months and you are relatively sure that you won’t find a use for it in the next two to three months, it has to go! Also, if you don’t like an app, even just for aesthetic purposes, it has to go knowing that there are better alternatives. Don’t throw away corporate apps you are bound to use for work…OK?!?
Everything that used to live in the dock and is often used stays in the Launchpad. Absolutely everything else goes into a MISC folder. Remember, plenty of apps already run in the background and launch upon the computer startup, so they don’t need to exist and their icons to be visible. Also, notice that when I open the Launchpad, the dock is on top of it. There is no need for an app to be present in the Launchpad and the dock simultaneously.
The cherry on top of this entire process would be to organize the apps alphabetically. Unfortunately, there’s no intuitive way to sort them like this, but fortunately, at this point, there is a handful, so it takes little to no time. Now that is what I call perfection. REMEMBER – NEVER OPEN THE MISC folder. It will be like opening Monica’s hidden closet from Friends! Moving on to the Finder. Everything has to be in list view. Forget the big icons. List views are easier to navigate, take up less space, and provide additional information such as dates, sizes, etc. I prefer to have the list view alongside the preview on the right because I deal with many images and video files. The preview on the right helps me hit the space bar less as I can glance at a file quickly.
The sidebar is something to clean up too. Unchecking and hiding unused folders like Recents, Pictures, and Music is one place to go. Hiding the labels or tags is something that I don’t find a use for either. I am also hiding all network items and just leaving the basic folders that I use almost all the time. I often use a few custom folders that I decided to move to the toolbar on top. I created custom icons for them. Before placing them, cleaning the toolbar was also something I had to do. I removed buttons that I don’t use daily or have access to from the finder menu – like choosing my view. As much as I wanted to hide the status bar and path bar on the bottom, though, I couldn’t. Navigating quickly in the hierarchy or glancing at several files selected or file size is essential.
Applying the same principles to Safari, the fog and noise slowly fade away. In the toolbar, I removed pretty much all icons. For example, I don’t need to have the plus sign to open a new tab because I use CMD+T for that. I don’t need to see an icon for the sidebar or anything else for that matter. All I care about is the address bar and the back and forth icons: no favorites bar, no status bar. I’ve also cleaned up all my favorites, and from the Safari home screen, I’ve chosen to unsee everything besides my updated favorites.
That gives me the freedom to plaster a nice clean image as a background as well. Talking about the background, placing a nice wallpaper with some white space is the last and the most satisfying thing you can do. I know you might be unpatented, though, so now might also be a perfect moment to put something minimal-looking as wallpaper. On my Desktop, I keep only files that I am using daily. In many cases, at the end of each day, I organize all files that I want to keep and everything else I put in the recycle bin.
If I keep something on the Desktop, I might want to access it from my iPad or iPhone later since the Desktop is synced via iCloud. I hide the desktop hard drives or attached media from the Finder preferences because it already exists on the Finder’s sidebar. No need to be visible on the Desktop as well. Also, I 100% use Stacks. Stacks sorts all desktop files in their respective type and instantly makes any Desktop look organized.
Next up is INBOX ZERO – or email. I come from a history of over 11 email inboxes and so many headaches and pressure that it makes my head hurt thinking about it. What I will show you can be achieved with any app, with some being a lot easier, though. I use an app called Hey. It’s a full service. Some of the email boxes I closed, others I simply forgot to use, and those I care about I forwarded to my Hey email. Besides being a concise and minimal-looking service to use, Hey also helps me eliminate distractions. Unlike any other email service, out of the box, Hey comes with all notifications OFF.
That should speak a lot. On top of that, Hey has a compelling screening feature that doesn’t allow any email to arrive in my IMBOX without first going through a screening process. The inbox is called IMBOX, by the way, because it’s considered sacred and iMportant. Thanks to my efforts and the help of Hey, I always go to bed with Inbox zero. Achieving the same results are possible with other email clients, but it takes time and patience to unsubscribe and slowly but surely eliminate all nasty, useless emails. A quick action you can take is to create folders and rules that organize regular emails in their respective place.
Next up, you can consider using a cloud service like iCloud to store all your files instead of keeping them on the Mac. Using such a service has many advantages, the main one being the freedom of moving from one Mac to another without the risk of losing anything. I’ve used nothing but iCloud to store all my personal and work-related files for over five years.
If got forbid my Mac crashes today or disappears, I can move to another Mac in a matter of minutes, knowing that all I care about will be synced automatically. To achieve the desired digital minimalism, you can take another step and turn off all notifications on the Mac. I know this might be hard, but it’s not and makes perfect sense. For many of us, notifications are already pinging on our phones, so there’s no need to be stressed out on the computer as well. I keep all notifications turned off as far as sounds, and for others, I might just leave the red bubble to keep me informed. For example, I’ve kept notifications for Hey because, as I mentioned, all emails are with notifications OFF by default, except for those that come from 2 or 3 people, which I considered essential and deliberately allowed. I might get sync updates from apps like my Synology NAS drive, but this is informative. Remember, no sounds.
The Mac menu bar is also something that I prefer to keep tidy. After this clean MacBook set up and in my process of decluttering the Mac, the menu bar already looks very clean and tidy, but there are still things that can be optimized. For example, I don’t need to see the Wi-Fi icon because I can see its status with the last two macOS versions by clicking on the settings icon. If you have an icon that you’d like to hide but it won’t by default, a great tool that you’ve probably heard of is called Bartender.
The Bartender app organizes and hides all icons in a neat drop-down way while customizing them. For example, the default Apple Music play icon shows up when I play something, and I can’t seem to find a way to turn it off. With Bartender, I can just drag it into a hidden section, and it appears no longer. The same goes for the Spotlight icon that I never click on since I use CMD+space to launch it. It also goes in the hidden section of Bartender. Also, with Bartender, I prefer to use the little arrow icon to expand the hidden apps, making the menu bar look very clean.
If you are not used to using Spotlight, learn the magical combo of command+space and start utilizing it for launching apps or doing quick calculations. It can, of course, do a lot more than that, but even those two steps will increase your productivity dramatically.