Reader Robert Drake finds his Mac a little too tidy for his taste. He writes:
I noticed that you wrote an article about tidying up your Mac and thought you could help me. My son came over the other day to “help” me with my Mac. Part of that help was to rearrange the icons on my Mac’s Desktop. They’re organized by name, but I can’t move any of them out of position. When I try, they move right back to where they were. Old habits die hard and I like to keep icons where I put them, not where the Mac puts them. How can I undo what my son did?
Let’s walk through the ways that you can arrange icons on the Desktop. If, while in the Finder, you choose View -> Clean Up, the icons on the Desktop will snap to an invisible grid. (If something on the Desktop is selected, this command will change to Clean Up Selection.)
Below the Clean Up command in the View menu is the Arrange By command, with Name, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Kind, and Label appearing in its submenu. Select the option you want and, sure-as-shootin’, the Desktop items will be arranged that way (with any mounted volumes appearing first in the upper-right corner of the screen).
There’s one more, less-obvious option. Select View -> Show View Options (Command-J). At the bottom of the Desktop window that appears, you’ll see a Arrange By pop-up menu, which offers these choices: None, Snap to Grid, Name, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, Kind, and Label. From all appearances this duplicates the function of the Arrange By command, but, as you may have heard, appearances can be a penny earned. When you select one of these options, the icons will arrange themselves accordingly, but they will then insist on remaining in that order. When you try to move them elsewhere, they’ll snap back into position.
Knowing this, the answer is simple. Open this window and choose either Snap to Grid (which allows you to move icons, but will snap them to the Desktop’s invisible grid) or None. Should you later wish to rearrange your icons without this intractable result, use the View -> Arrange By command.