Simplify and Streamline: The Ultimate Guide to a Minimal Desk Setup

A minimalist desk can provide you with a seriously refreshing environment when working at your desk. Minimalism as a lifestyle is about living with fewer possessions. You just keep around what you need. 

While we won’t need to get rid of anything entirely for a minimal desk setup, we will be cutting down significantly on what is on our desks. This idea of minimalism also gets touched on in our article on the best desk setups for programmers. It applies to so many uses! 

In this guide, we’re going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to transform your current setup into a minimal desk setup. The benefits will be apparent right away. In fact, you might want to expand minimalism into the rest of your life too after getting your desk set up. 

How To Hide Your Computer Tower

If you are interested in expanding your minimalism, here’s a great article on where to start with a minimalistic lifestyle

I am also talking from experience, as I have been slowly transforming my desk to be more minimalist every day. Now I’m pretty much down to my core necessities.  These steps are the I used myself to end up with this setup below: 

Let’s get you started with that minimalist desk setup. 

Why You Need A Minimal Desk Setup

So what do we actually get out of transforming our desk into a minimal desk setup? What are the benefits? 

Fewer Distractions & Better Focus

First and foremost, so many potential distractions get cut down with minimalism. When I have various knick-knacks on my desk, or a pile of documents, or mail, it’s so easy to get distracted. 

I worry about what those documents are, what mail I haven’t looked at, etc. It almost stresses me out before I even touch my work! 

A cluttered desk also adds another item that is constantly ringing in the back of your head: clean your desk.

It’s hard to get work done with a pile of stuff on your desk and your subconscious telling you to clean all the time. Free up your precious headspace!

Better focus is a high-value benefit of a minimal desk. Better focus means you waste less time, which pretty much adds to the hours of the day in a way. That’s a life hack if you ask me!

Prepare to be much more effective at your desk with your minimal setup.

High Functionality

Minimal desk setups are heavily function-oriented. You only leave out what you need on your desk. Thus you have only what you need to operate well. 

This is where the normal cluttered desk fails pretty badly. I know people with super crowded desks, it’s almost hard to find their keyboards. 

My Workspace (12)

When you have so much stuff on your desk, it’s hard to be purposeful with your desk setup. That usually results in poor ergonomics and a really horrible working experience. 

Forces Better Organization

Speaking of avoiding messes, minimalism pretty much forces better organization. 

If you move the mess off of your table, you can’t just put it all on the floor. You have to keep them somewhere accessible and organize them in a way that is easy to find things. 

If you skip this step of making things off of your desk hard to find, you will eventually end up with a cluttered desk again. Keeping the minimal desk setup alive forces you to be organized with everything that can’t stay on your desk.

Whether this means organizing your drawers, tossing out things you don’t need to make space, or using some sort of organizer. 

Aesthetics Are Unbeatable

This one is a little bit biased, but if you are reading this article, you likely agree. High five!

A minimalist desk setup just looks way too good to be ignored. They give off strong vibes of elegance, functionality, and cleanliness. It’s a really hard look to beat. 

Whenever you have too much stuff on your desk, it is much more challenging to make it all look good on your desk. Minimalist desks on the other hand are very simple to make aesthetically pleasing. 

The Best Desk Setup For Productivity

After all, you only have a few things on your desk. There are fewer possible configurations to present your desk in. That makes it all really simple. 

Now that we have all the benefits out of the way, let’s actually reap these benefits by transforming our current desk into a minimalist desk. 

1) Remove Everything From Your Desk

I highly recommend starting with a clean slate when changing your desk setup. It really “cleanses the palette” visually.  A clean slate with a bare desk gives you fresh ideas on what’s possible and really helps you visualize what your minimalist desk will look like.

This will add some time to making your desk setup, but it’s well worth it. 

That means taking every single thing off of your desk. Remove your keyboard, desk mat, plants, speakers, documents, monitor… everything! 

This also gives you an opportunity to wipe down your entire desk and take care of any blemishes that bother you. You can also give your items a quick dusting too so you just have a bunch of clean gear to work with. 

Once you have emptied your desk and cleaned it off, head to the next step. 

2) Start With The Essentials, Then Stop

The heading here really is the essence of minimalism, isn’t it? 

This is really where you have to have some self-control. Part of you is going to want to put everything back the way it was. That wouldn’t be a very productive next step. 

Throughout the next few sections, we’re going to talk about what specifically you should put on your desk to adopt that minimalism. 

Core Functionality

First and foremost, what is absolutely required to function at your desk? If you do a lot of computer work, then your computer goes in this category. 

If you have a tower computer, consider hiding it with the methods we talk about in this article. This results in you still having nothing on your table. For laptop users, you should only have your laptop on your desk. 

Unless you’re a laptop user, you can’t use a computer without your mouse and keyboard. Put those on your desk as well. Highly consider using wireless peripherals. This will add to the minimalism. We have a whole section on this coming up. 

If you don’t choose wireless peripherals, you will want to check out our guide on hiding mouse and keyboard cables

MX Master 3 Mouse

Notebooks, pens, and pencils are not core function items. You can use your computer without using a pen. This makes those random office supplies good for a top drawer. 

Think about anything else that is completely essential and can’t be put away when you’re done. Perhaps a light source for nighttime, we don’t want to work in the dark. 

That’s it! Everything else should still be off of your desk! 

So far you should have a pretty barebones desk. A computer, maybe a mouse and keyboard. Maybe a light for nighttime work. 

Just a heads up, that desk lamp does not need to take up any precious desk space. Highly consider monitor light bars. We talk about their benefits here, and also how light bars compare against desk lamps

Productivity Tools

Now we need to think about the tools that actually contribute to our productivity. If you have a TON of tools that contribute to productivity, then just choose the top two or three. 

We can’t forget to practice minimalism as we go about these steps! Try your best! Fight the urge to dump everything on your tabletop! 

Productivity tools can include multiple computer monitor setups, as those can make a huge difference in efficiency. 

Some people absolutely require music while working or doing anything else at their desks. That means a pair of speakers might be worth having on your desk. 

Think about those 2 or 3 NEEDS, and place them on your desk. Remember, anything we don’t place on our desk can still be nearby and easily accessible. 

3) Make It Inviting

So far your desk should just look like a tabletop with a few pieces of gear. Good job! 

Though we want a minimalist desk, we don’t want to make it a boring place to be.  We want to be excited to go to our desks for work, play, and everything in between. 

This is where you should input a small amount of your own flavor to make this desk your own. This comes in a few forms. 

Art, Plants, Lights Etc.

Some people love art, and that is very unique to different people. You can add some simple art on the wall, and your workplace will already seem like yours. 

Others enjoy having a plant or two to add some nature to the inside of the house. I love having a plant here and there. Just be sure to water it! 

As you can tell from my own photos on this website, I love background (or bias) lighting. I have lights behind my monitor and some behind my desk. Together they brighten up my workspace with any color I want. 

Try to add these items sparingly to not clutter the place up again. If you had three frames up above your desk before, try one this time. If you had 10 plants on your desk before, try just two or three now. Embrace the minimalist mindset. 

Adding this touch makes the space unquestionably yours and thus a very inviting place to be. And we didn’t need to add a ton of stuff to make that happen. 

4) Remove Various Distractions

So we barely have stuff on our desks. Now we should start hiding things… Let me explain. 

A minimalist desk setup is easy to kill when you have some visual clutter. That includes stuff that isn’t even actual clutter.

This is where we talk about various distractions. One of the most popular examples of this is bad cable management. 

I highly recommend you check out our article on cable management for glass desks. This is where we discuss managing cables along a super challenging desk type. When applied to normal desks, you essentially barely see any wires at all!

If you want more specific cable management articles, check out the following. I’ve put these articles in order of convenience to actually carry out. 

  1. Hide Monitor Cables
  2. Hide Wires On Top Of Your Desk
  3. Hide Wires Underneath Your desk
  4. Hide Your Laptop
  5. Hide Your Docking Station

Hiding as much as you can realistically hide will pay huge dividends. Visual clutter gets cut down significantly. This is the final step that really isolates minimalist desk setups from normal desk setups. 

Congrats, your desk should have only a few items, be personalized to you, and be free of any unexpected visual clutter! We’re almost done…

5) Stay Organized With Out Of Sight Items

You noticed by now that not everything had made it back to your desk. If that doesn’t sound like you, start back at Step 1 above. 

What do we do with everything else that used to be on our desks? Well, don’t throw it away. They were probably there because you actually used/referenced it previously.

I recommend sorting everything else into different priority piles. Priority 1 pile is stuff that is used almost every day and needs to be quick to access. Priority 2 is less frequently used, and so on and so forth. 

If you have drawers, priority 1 items belong in the first drawer. They should be available at a moment’s notice. The second drawer is for priority 2 items. See where I’m going here? We are slowly designing our workspace to be extremely functional and user-friendly. 

We have a dedicated article on a more detailed method of drawer organization. Check that out if you want a next-level storage system. 

Don’t have drawers? Check out our article on how to organize desks that don’t have drawers.  We also cover other methods of under-desk storage here.

We also have an article detailing how to deal with deep desk drawers. If you have a standing desk, we have a dedicated resource for standing desk storage solutions here

6) Make It Comfortable  

The last thing on this list of minimalism is super far from the least important. I did make this point last because it’s pretty much important for any desk setup. I hope you made it this far! 

That point is, your desk needs to be comfortable, and ergonomic.

This is especially important if you spend significant amounts of your day at your desk. Your back will thank you, and so will your arms, wrists, and neck. Pretty much your entire body. 

If you don’t have a proper office chair (don’t use a dining chair) check out our article on how much a proper office chair costs. Some can get pricey, but there are definitely supportive and affordable options out there.

Herman Miller Office Chair

To ensure your desk is comfortable, check out this article on desk ergonomics by Mayo Clinic.

The key here is to raise your chair until your arms are level with the desk, as shown here. Then, if your feet are hanging below, use a footrest such as the one below. 

Also, make sure you have enough room in front of your desk so you can actually move around in your chair naturally.

CushZone Under Desk Foot Rest

This CushZone footrest provides a comfortable sitting position, it elevates your legs which can improve blood circulation in the legs. It features an adjustable height, high-quality foam, and a non-slip and machine-washable cover.

Check Price on Amazon

Use lots of bias lighting behind your monitor to avoid eye strain as well. When you sit at your desk, ensure you are comfortable and not getting sore in different ways. If you are, that means your ergonomics will need some adjusting.

Photo of author


I'm a big time workspace enthusiast who is constantly experimenting with my setup. Sharing along the way to help people make their own desk setups more functional and inviting, whether it be for productivity or play!