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Five Ways to Become a Mac Minimalist

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My interpretation of minimalism in the home office is removing all distracting items that are not constantly utilized. For software, this is both easy and cheap. Becoming a hardware minimalist is slightly more expensive and time consuming and I recommend reading Apartment Therapy’s Unplggd for recommendations.

Minimal Mac

I recently discovered a website called Minimal Mac, and it is rapidly climbing the charts as my favorite blog. Naturally, it has a simple design that utilizes plenty of white space. Reading this blog has inspired me to clean up my iMac by reducing the clutter. Below are a few quick and easy steps to help you reach software bliss.

Clean Up Your Desktop

Open Preferences for the Finder and deselect everything. Organize your files in the Documents folder. Doing this will remove all files, folders, hard drives, etc. from your desktop.

Finder preferences

Empty Out Your Menu Bar

Do you always use the same Wi-Fi network? Remove the Wi-Fi icon in the Network System Preferences. Time machine backs up every hour automatically, so there’s no need for the icon. Are you unsure if it’s AM or PM? First, get more sleep. Second, remove it in the Date & Time System Preferences. Use your keyboard to change the volume? Remove the Volume icon in Sound System Preferences. You get the idea.


For extra credit you can remove the Spotlight icon using Onyx, a thorough maintenance and optimization tool.


Warning: disabling the icon also disables the hot key to activate Spotlight. Only do this if you don’t use Spotlight or if you’re satisfied with using Command-F in the Finder.

Simplify Your iTunes Controller

The built-in mini controller for iTunes is simple to use, but it’s definitely too large and distracting. I recently discovered the perfect app for reducing your iTunes controller to a single line of text. It’s called Bowtie. It offers a variety of cool themes, but the one that is consistent with this post is Simple Bar. It provides previous and next buttons, the artist, the title, and rating controls.


I don’t usually rate songs in iTunes, so I got fancy and removed the stars from the Simple Bar theme by modifying its plist and html files.

Forget About iChat

Start using Adium. It’s extremely customizable and it supports a slew of networks (including Twitter). Below is a screenshot of my preferences that made my buddy list virtually unnoticeable.


Empty Out Your Dock

Leave only the most essential applications in your dock. For me that’s Mailplane, Adium, Safari, Google Reader Fluid app, iTunes, and Tweetie.


Search for a Desktop background

Find a desktop background that is both soothing and non-distracting. For me, that’s a nature-related black and white photo. Here’s the one I chose. You can find more by searching Flickr.

Ten Minutes Later

Below is my new desktop after following these steps. Smaller dock, quiet buddy list, empty menubar, serene background, clean desktop.


What are some ways you keep your Mac minimal?

58 Responses to “Five Ways to Become a Mac Minimalist”

  1. Charlie

    Opps. The app I meant was Camouflage, not Caffine. Caffine lets you enable/disable never-turn-off-the-monitor mode (great if your watching a movie/reading a long article, etc)

  2. Charlie

    Instead of actually clearing out your desktop you can also use Caffine.

    Caffine just hides all the icons on your desktop, making it essentially another folder in Finder. I like to use it as a “sorting” area.

    Bowtie is awesome, thanks for the tip on that.

    Also, I can’t stand adium. I dont know why but i just dont like it. Granted I rarely actually use IM. Mostly facebook chat nowadays.

  3. Great post… My computer is in a much cleaner state that it was before I read this. Didn’t take all of your advice, but my desktop is a lot better and I’ve picked up some great tips. Thanks!

  4. Untertrhough

    What a stupidity, this is unbelievable. Removing spotlight icon, are you nuts?!! You have to be sick to do this. Was this icon in any way on your way?

    Adium instead of iChat?! “Really good” advice bro! And when I need to have conference call with 3 clients in the same time, using video chat and remotely control one of their screens, you’re telling me you can do it with shitty Adium?! Go and get a life. You probably don’t do any constructive work on your Mac, so I guess you have enough time to spend on stupid setups like this.

    • If you really are doing something constructive on your Mac, you’d know that cmd+space bar gives you the drop-down Spotlight search bar. Also, Adium is considerably better when dealing with *Instant Messaging*. iChat is VERY bloated compared to Adium (which is very resource-light), and there is no incorporated, “official” way to customize iChat.
      So why don’t you stop bitching and learn a thing or two about software before posting your opinion? I use both Adium and iChat at the same time: I do my text-based chatting through Adium and my video through iChat. I have run into almost no problems while using Adium, and would gladly switch to using only it if they add video support.

      To respond to the OP, I actually enjoy a very busy Dock, strangely enough. I find that the more I add, the smaller it gets – and I have everything in one place. Same with my Menu Bar, too. I have my system monitors (CPU, network in/out, RAM usage, etc) for when I’m doing processor-intensive work. (I’m a sound engineer, Pro Tools and Logic Pro are my game)

  5. I am finding that my menubar keeps getting more cluttered, but I haven’t found a really good way to cut down on it.

    I find it hard to remove the Adium and Tweetie icons from the menubar. I love how it tells you whether you have new messages in a clear, but unobtrusive way. Don’t know how you would replace that. (I have my dock set to autohide so I get more screen real estate, so I can’t use it as an indicator. And growl, I might forget if I don’t act on the alert right away). I also have the Character palette because otherwise I find it very difficult to enter greek letters (for science). I have MenuClockCalendar for both the date/time and quick access to a calendar.

    Anyone find a good alternative to not having a battery indicator (if you use a laptop) in the menubar? Currently, I find that also indispensable.

    As for programs running, I would also include iCal, Mail, Pathfinder, Launchbar, and Fresh (which is surprisingly useful!).

    • Paul, I recently found the solution to that over on the Minimal Mac site ( They had a short blurb on the MiniBatteryStatus Dashboard Widget ( It has what they call Growl alerts when you have a battery status change. As they put it, “Therefore, do you really need to know when your battery is at 79%? Do you really need that ticking countdown of unneeded stress?” So you set an alert when you’re at 5% or 10% so you know to plug in. You can also set it to alert when reconnected to power and when fully charged. I love it because as a widget, it’s out of the way. I have my Dashboard set to appear by going to a hot corner so if I REALLY want to know how much power is left, I can quickly pop it on and then back off the screen. It is a great little free app.

  6. Removing the AM/PM from the menubar is a great way to shave off a few pixels, but you can always set the time to 24 hour instead of the default 12 hour if you have trouble telling if it’s 6 AM or 6 PM.

  7. I killed off half the items in my menu bar, and got rid of the hard drive icons on the desktop. Amazed at how much better it looks. I also turned off a few items from the Dock, though I like having a few extras there.

    Great tips, especially for a Mac newbie like myself.

  8. Skelly Rocker

    Well that’s that decided then. When I send my iMac off to get the hard drive upgrade at the end of the month, I won’t be getting my drive cloned. A fresh start. Joy.


  9. While trying to keep my mac minimal I always run into the same problem: there’s no way to uninstall software.
    Can I just drag software to the trash? Do I need to use a third party app?
    When I right click a file and choose “open with”, a huge list of apps shows up that aren’t even installed on my mac or that I don’t ever want to use. How can I declutter that list?

  10. What a great article.

    My desktop is not as simple as yours, but here’s how I handle each of your items:

    Clean Up Your Desktop – Couldn’t agree more. I shut off the items so only CD/DVDs appear when inserted (which is very rare).

    Empty Out Your Menu Bar – We differ a little here, but I think it’s because there’s no space saving in removing items; the menu bar is there regardless. Still, I do kill some items that would otherwise be there.

    Simplify Your iTunes Controller – Yep, and mine is even simpler than yours: I use the keyboard for controls, and use GimmeTunes to call up song info (via keyboard) if needed.

    Forget About iChat – I can’t, because it’s video chat just works and I vc with my daughter a lot. Still, I use Chax to consolidate all contacts into one window that automatically sizes to only the space needed, and even that window I usually have closed all the time.

    Empty Out Your Dock – I was almost proud of my relatively small dock, but it’s HUGE compared to yours. One reason I keep it rather small is that I have MobileMe sync it between my 24″ iMac and my 13″ MacBook. I wanted to make sure it was still usable on the smaller screen.

    Search for a Desktop background – Alas, here you’ve got me. I have a folder called “Reds” on my iDisk; the iMac hits that folder for a red-ish desktop background at random each day. (I have a folder called “Blues” that my MacBook uses).

    • I suggest using LiteSwitch to jazz up your command-tab interface – I use it because I can highlight an app, and hit q to mark it for quitting (without LiteSwitch, Q immediately quits an app), and I can double-tap F to force quit an app.

      I set many of my Fluid apps to not appear in the Dock, so as to keep it smaller, so Command-Tab helps me switch to those “hidden” apps.

  11. Here’s another vote for DragThing. A couple of clean and unobtrusive docks put just where I want them to appear. Accessing folders, launching apps, switching between them – simple and to the point. The Apple-supplied dock is shrunken and shoved off to the side. The rest of my desktop is pretty barren with no icons (except the Trash Can) and a simple color pattern.

    I’m spoiled without DragThing. By the way, it does support at least some notifications, like the unread count in Mail.

  12. I recommend DragThing for the construction of small minimalist docks containing exactly what you want, located where you want them and behaving how you want them to. Camouflage is a great free utility for hiding all the desktop icons at those times when you don’t want to see them (at home, on breaks, etc). Need more quick access items than a minimal dock allows? Install Xmenu to put a menubar drop-down list of oft-needed folders. Finally, use Namely to quickly launch applications by invoking a hot key and entering the first 1-2 letters of the application name. Yeah, yeah, I know Quicksilver blah blah blah. I like my set up better. Anyway, the whole QS scene is just a little creepy.

  13. This is AWESOME … being a geek I typically like buttons, bling, etc all over, but this minimalistic approach is where it’s at. Menu clear and desktop clear. Loving it so far.

  14. Except… I love my clutter. My clutter defines me. I am my clutter, plus steam, plus forward motion, plus goals… Now where did I put that… there it is!… no, not that, the other… wait! No, maybe I filed it…

  15. cmd + space for spotlight is a fantastic alternative to quicksilver and the like. You can even use spotlight to do simple maths.

    type “cmd + space … 487/8”

    and then the answer will appear. Beats having to open the calculator app or worse go to dashboard. I haven’t got the bottle to try nested functions and check if they are right as I’m an engineer and the correct answer is quite important. If any one has experience of this it would be great to hear.

    Great post, now have two new blogs to peruse when procrastinating!

  16. I’ve been reading this blog for the past 3 weeks and has become one of my personal favorites. It’s motivated me to clean up my Mac. I’ve got rid of my dock, have a few menu bar items and living off of Quicksilver. The only thing I am looking for is the perfect minimalitic wallpaper.

  17. Thanks for the menu bar tips. Mine is littered with applications. I may switch from having programs like LittleSnapper in the menu bar to the Dock to make room for other more important menu bar apps.

    You should mention Quicksilver, LaunchBar, Google Quick Search Box, etc in the Dock section. These make the Dock almost completely unnecessary aside from the programs that give you helpful notifications (and those that are frequently opened using other files via drag-and-drop)

    • Hey Greg. I’ve tried all of the Quicksilver-esque software. They’re all great for the first ten minutes. My problem is I always forget to use them! I’ll keep trying though.
      This morning I read about someone who quit using Quicksilver in exchange for Spotlight. I gave it a try: “command+space f…i…r… enter” and boom Firefox opened. Surprisingly fast and easy.