Using Desktop Stacks In macOS Mojave

A new feature in macOS Mojave is the ability to temporarily group files on your Desktop into Stacks. These Stacks can contain files of a similar kind, or groups organized by date or tags. You can expand and collapse any Stack to see what is inside, and use the file icons inside the Stack like regular icons. Desktop Stacks can help if your Desktop gets messy and you need to find files right now, but don't have time to organize your Desktop files at the moment.

Video Transcript
If your desktop looks like this then you may be interested in a new feature in macOS Mojave. At lot of times we just put files on the desktop when we don't know where else to put them. Maybe the best of intentions are that we just want to store them temporarily and find a better place for them in the Documents folder later on but we end up with a mess. Maybe this many files or even worse. So something in Mojave called Desktop Stacks allows you to kind of temporarily to get a handle on this.

So the way that these Desktop Stacks work is different than Doc Stacks if you've ever used stacks in the Doc. But it does do the same thing in that it groups files together. You can turn it on by making sure you have Desktop selected. So you want to be in Finder but you also want to click on the Desktop to make sure another Finder window isn't what is selected. That Desktop is selected. Then you go to View and you'll see Use Stacks. Turn that on and it collapses all of your files, really neatly, into these little categories.

So here it has figured out that all of my files really fall into three categories. Documents, Images, and PDF documents. When I click on one, like Documents here, it expands it and it fills the rest of this column and the next column with just those documents. I can collapse it again into a single item. The same thing here with Images. It will expand it and fill the rest of this column and the next one, the next one, and then PDF Documents is still there as a stack afterwards.

I can expand multiple ones. I can expand PDF Documents and also the regular Documents here and you can see all of these now. So it's really handy. You can collapse them as you need.

Now you don't have to go with just these categories here. You can say View. Then Group Stacks By and change to say Last Date Opened, for instance. Then you end up with stacks that are, you know, here's previous days, here's earlier. You can change it to something else like Tags or Date Modified, for instance. You can see here now it's got Years there and I can expand a year and go back.

So you have the ability to basically say how you want to do this. The Date Modified or Date Created may actually be really useful for some people although Kind is probably the way most people will use it. You can easily turn it off and everything is back the way it was. So it doesn't actually clean things up. It's just kind of a temporary view.

Notice the keyboard shortcut is Control Command Zero. That's zero not the o key. So when you use that you can very quickly go to Stacks and back. So you can kind of get a temporary handle on what's going on there. Find something. You can use any of these icons just as you would normally. Double click to open. You can drag and drop it somewhere onto an app or whatever. So it's a better way to handle a mess, if you have a mess, on your desktop.

Of course the best way is to actually is to not put files there for very long but actually just use it as a quick temporary place and then organize all your files. If you do have a desktop that looks like this then using the new Desktop Stacks feature could be very handy.

Comments: 22 Responses to “Using Desktop Stacks In macOS Mojave”

    Clay Sisk
    9/27/18 @ 9:06 am

    You also can invoke Stacks on the Desktop with Right Click options.

    9/27/18 @ 9:17 am

    when i turn on stacks my desktop icons don’t stack all they do is line up. i even made folders like you with the title of img but they just lined up.

    9/27/18 @ 9:19 am

    tim: Maybe you don’t have any files that group together? Unless you have more than one image, for example, you won’t get a stack for it. Not sure what you mean by “made folder like you” as I’m not making folders.

    Dr. Julie Armstrong
    9/27/18 @ 9:31 am

    I have heard that a messy desktop will slow down the file indexing/search functions. Does the use of stacks improve that if there are many files on the desktop or is it just a visual convenience? Thanks!

    9/27/18 @ 9:34 am

    Julie: The Desktop is just another folder. It is really no different when it comes to indexing that any other folder, like your Documents folder or one you have in your Documents folder. It just has a second way to view it — as icons on the Desktop in addition to inside a Finder window. But that has nothing to do with indexing or searching. In fact, the “messiness” of any folders really doesn’t change that as indexes don’t care about that. So having a messy Desktop may be bad for you (I know it bothers me) and may make it harder to stay organized, but it doesn’t affect indexing or searching.

    Leah F
    9/27/18 @ 9:59 am

    I’m using stacks grouped by kind and have a few PDFs in the PDF Documents stack. When I downloaded your Mojave keyboard shortcuts sheet (thanks so much for that!) directly to the desktop it created a new stack called ‘Other’ and placed the pdf in there! I couldn’t drag the pdf into the regular PDF Documents stack. Instead I used ⌘⌃0 to turn off stacks, then turned stacks on again and, voila, all the pdfs, including the shortcuts sheet, went into the PDF Documents stack. Odd, huh?

    9/27/18 @ 10:02 am

    Leah: You definitely can’t “drag” anything into a stack. They are just formed automatically. It sounds like it just didn’t add the new PDF to the stack immediately and took some time (or off/on) to update. Did you download directly to the Desktop instead of downloading to the Downloads folder first and moving it? If so, then the download starts out as a partial download file (not a PDF) and then changes to a PDF when complete. So that may explain the anomaly.

    9/27/18 @ 2:09 pm

    Am I the only one who doesn’t get it? For me Stacks is FUBAR and cannot believe no one has yet to mention the following. For decades we were taught and hounded against keeping anything other than the Hard Drive on our desktop because it was too easy to accidentally trash important files. Also Having many icons on the desktop would slow down your mac and require valuable system resources to keep them there. STUPID.

    9/27/18 @ 2:11 pm

    Then in recent Mac OS Apple even hid the desktop by default, you had to manually change Finder Preferences in order to show the desktop! So now it’s okay to dump all your files on the desktop and use Stacks as some kind of eye candy card trick to group them all in piles? The only thing I was ever “allowed” by I.T. folks to keep on my desktop at work were aliases.So now we can just put our files anywhere and Stacks will make them easier to find?

    Patrick J Jeffas
    9/27/18 @ 3:24 pm

    I installed Mojave today but Stacks does not appear anywhere in View in Finder. I tried restarting, but still not there. Also, NOTHING AT ALL appears on my actual Desktop. Everything is there in the Finder, but nada on the actual Desktop. In related news, Pathfinder (love it) is struggling with Mojave and I’m forced to use Finder.

    9/27/18 @ 5:23 pm

    Robert: I agree with you that using the Desktop to store files is a bad idea. I avoid it and I teach others to as well. However, it definitely shouldn’t slow your Mac down. At least not with any modern Mac and modern OS. But I guess other people may think differently than us, and to them maybe Stacks is very useful. I’d actually like to see them add it to the Finder Icon View in regular Finder windows. It could have some interesting uses there.

    9/27/18 @ 5:25 pm

    Patrick: One thought is that maybe you don’t have the Desktop selected? If any other Finder window is selected, then that is where the Finder’s focus is. You’d need to click on the desktop to see this option. Also, if you have Pathfinder installed, maybe that is getting in the way? Or something else you have installed?

    9/27/18 @ 10:01 pm

    I find stacks on the desktop to be useful for those temporary files that get dumped there on a day to day basis before I have time to clear them away. As Gary said though, I wouldn’t be ‘storing’ files there for an extended period. As for Pathfinder screwing up the Finder & misbehaving in Mojave, it has a lot to do with whether you have disabled the Finder in Pathfinder’s settings. Mojave doesn’t like that.

    Judi Short
    10/22/18 @ 1:00 pm

    When I turned on Stacks. every single file on my desktop disappeared and nothing is there except the few things I have saved to a folder “after 10/16/2018.” I use the desktop for things I’m actively using, then they move away. (Like photos I want to email, or a logo that goes into the footer on my gmail). When I turned stacks off, nothing returned. Where are my files? Finder doesn’t find them.

    10/22/18 @ 1:02 pm

    Judi: Stacks is just a way of viewing things. Turning it on or off doesn’t move anything. Did you look in a Finder window at your desktop folder in there to see the items as a list? If icons are hiding behind each other or behind windows, you would still see them in a list.

    Judi Short
    10/22/18 @ 4:17 pm

    There is one folder, the one I made the day this happened. 10/16 And the only thing in it are the two letters I have written since that time. All the rest of the photos etc have gone poof! I find them in the icloud archive that the apple lady on the help desk had me make before I updated to Mojave, but that was a day or two before I clicked the turn on stacks button. But that is not a very convenient place, and not easy to get to.

    10/22/18 @ 4:20 pm

    Judi: OK, how about in your Trash? If you accidentally selected the files and deleted them, they should be in the trash unless you emptied the trash.
    If not there, have you tried a search for them? It is possible that you accidentally grabbed them and dragged them somewhere else. A search for them should turn them up.
    Of course, you could always just use your Time Machine backup to grab all of the files from the Desktop from right before this happened too.

    Judi Short
    10/22/18 @ 4:58 pm

    TRash has very little in it. It has an icloud folder that is EMPTY. All my files went into three archive folders under my main directory and I suppose the desktop could be there, do they give the stacks folders a name that I could search?All my mac files and icloud files all went into these archive folders and I have to drag and drop all the folders to get my life back to normal. Grrr.

    10/22/18 @ 5:03 pm

    Judi: Remember, these desktop stacks are NOT folders. They are just a different way of viewing the same content that is on your desktop. It doesn’t move, rename, delete or organize anything. It just gives you a different view. Like if you were to switch between List and Icon view in a Finder window. Same content, different view.
    If your files went into “Archive” files then this had nothing to do with Stacks. It sounds like you had iCloud Desktop & Documents turned on, and then turned it off. When you do that, all of the files in your iCloud Desktop and Documents folders are placed into Archive folders instead of deleting them.

    11/14/18 @ 2:01 pm

    When I turn on stacks and group by kind, every file goes under “other”, it does not matter what kind of file there are (pdf, screenshots, png, etc), I’ve tried restarting my MacBook Pro, force quit finder, modify files, copy them, duplicate, moving from other folders to desktop and nothing works, everything is under “other” which is not helpful.

    I don’t keep files on my desktop but organizing them by kind would be good as I could have organize them faster.

    11/14/18 @ 2:05 pm

    Brian: Try rebuilding the Spotlight index.

    11/17/18 @ 6:58 am

    Hello Gary, didn’t work. I’ll stop trying to use stacks and will keep my desktop clean.

    Thanks anyway.

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