How to organize your phone’s home screen

Color coding, minimalism and other weird ideas that are better than whatever you’re currently doing

An illustration of a phone and apps.
(Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Post)

When Alyssa Claseman needs to open an app on her iPhone, she knows exactly where to find it. She has organized all her apps into folders by color and memorized the hue of every icon.

“This is actually a point of contention in my house,” said the 35-year-old attorney in Sarasota, Fla. “My husband uses the search bar to find his apps, but it definitely takes him longer than it takes me, I guarantee it.”

It may not be for everyone, but the method works, Claseman said — as long as she stays on top of app logo redesigns.

In the age of “organization porn” — like viral videos of people restocking their immaculate refrigerators — phone screens often get left behind, said Amanda Dodson, a TikTok creator and organization coach. Dodson gets dozens of requests every month to help clients wrangle their messy homes, but no one has ever asked about phone screens even though we spend far more time on our phones than in our pantries, the 31-year-old said.

Our phone screens, like our homes, are stages where our lives play out. As such, they deserve our care and respect, Dodson said.

“My philosophy is that these silly little tasks that we have to do in our lives — like clean up your phone screen or do the dishes every single day until you die — feel kind of pointless in the arc of a life, but those are a life,” she said.

We asked Washington Post readers to send us screenshots of their home screens, and most hadn’t taken any obvious steps to organize. But the ones who did came up with weird and wonderful ways to make their phone screens reflect their priorities. Here are their best practices for a better screen.

Group by color, category or vibes

What they did: By far, the most common method for organizing a phone was grouping apps by utility. Some readers made different folders for work apps, social media and games, for instance.

If organizing by function makes you bored, try color. Just be ready for the day when an overnight update ruins your system — at least until you reorganize the apps to match their new logos.

How to get it: To set up app folders on an iPhone, hold down your finger on an app until it starts wiggling (“long tap”), then drag it on top of any other app you’d like to put in the same folder. To change the name of a folder, open it from the home screen, long tap on any blank space and edit the title at the top. This process works the same on many Android devices.

It’s your phone, so the folder names don’t have to make sense to other people. One reader retitled each folder with an affirmation based on the apps inside: “I am connected,” “I am productive,” etc.

If your efforts to organize go off the rails, iPhone users can undo any folders or widgets they’ve created in Settings -> General -> Transfer or Reset iPhone -> Reset -> Reset Home Screen Layout.

And if those little red notification bubbles drive you crazy, you can make them disappear by going to Settings -> Notifications. Tap on the offending app and turn off the “Badges” slider.

The strangest widgets get priority boarding

What they did: Widgets don’t have to be utilitarian. Readers showed us all sorts of unique widget selections, from a single phone contact (“Jessica”) to a potty-training countdown. Have some fun and ponder which shortcuts would actually make your life easier. You could even turn your entire home screen into widgets to cut down on clutter and get more information at a glance.

How to get it: On an iPhone, add new widgets by long tapping on any empty space and selecting the plus sign in the top left corner. This takes you to a widget menu where you can view all your installed apps that offer widgets.

On Android, try long tapping on whichever app you’d like to turn into a widget. You may see multiple formatting options, so choose whichever you like best. If that doesn’t work, try long tapping any blank space on your home screen and checking the bottom menu for “Widgets.”

Not sure which apps make sense for a widget? Checking your most-used apps can help you decide. On an iPhone, go to Settings -> Screen Time -> See All Activity. Switch to the “Week” view up top, then scroll down to “Most Used.”

On Android, try Settings -> Digital Well-being and Parental Controls. Tap on the bar chart icon in the top right corner to see your most-used apps.

(You can also reference your “most used” list to pick which apps appear in the dock on your home screen. If you never use Apple’s email app, for instance, it doesn’t deserve top billing. And if TikTok keeps sending you into a dissociative haze, go ahead and move it out of thumb’s reach.)

What they did: An empty home screen is a tranquil home screen. Why stare down at constant reminders of unread emails when you can float in the calm waters of nothingness?

How to get it: You can remove apps from your home screen without deleting them from your phone. On an iPhone, just long tap on an app and select Edit Home Screen -> minus sign -> Remove from Home Screen.

On Android, long tap on an app and select “Remove.”

When you need the app again, use the phone search bar and start typing in its name. On an iPhone, access the search bar by swiping your finger downward on the home screen. On Android, you’ll probably see the search bar right on your home screen.

What they did: One reader used a custom background and app icons to create what can only be described as a masterpiece. Here’s where he found the launcher, wallpaper, icons, art widget, calendar widget and keyboard widget for Android.

How to get it: To set a new home screen background on an iPhone, go to Settings -> Wallpaper -> Add New Wallpaper and browse the options, which include photos from your albums, gradient colors and renderings of the day’s weather.

On Android, go to Settings -> Wallpaper and Style -> Change Wallpapers. Your options here are more fun compared with iOS, with video wallpapers and dynamic photos that move. If your device is running Android 12, flip on “Themed Icons” to make the little app logos match your background.

If you’re really ambitious, you can add custom app icons. First, download the icons you want from a website or app (or design your own), then save them to your phone’s photo library.

Next, open the iPhone Shortcuts app and tap the plus sign in the top right corner to create a new shortcut. Give your shortcut a name — like “Instagram” or “Pictures of My Hometown Friends at Various Weddings” — by selecting the down carat next to “New Shortcut” and tapping “Rename.”

Tap “Add Action” and use the search bar at the top to find the “Open App” option. Select which app you want to open by tapping the word “App” and choosing one from the menu. Then go to the “i” information icon at the bottom of the page and choose “Add to Home Screen.” Under “Home Screen Name and Icon,” you can tap the default icon and replace it with one from your photo library.

Unleash the forces of chaos

What they did: Not organizing is its own form of organizing, no?

Some readers kept all their apps on the home screen and organized by pages — work apps on the first page, library apps on the second, etc. Others, like the one pictured above, keep everything at a glance by storing a whopping 43 apps on a single screen.

One reader said he keeps all his apps on the home screen, but places his favorites in an arc where his thumb can easily tap. To each their own.

How to get it: Hide or rearrange the different pages of your iPhone home screen by long tapping on any empty space and selecting the little dots that pop up at the bottom. From there, you can uncheck pages you don’t need to see or change their order by dragging them around.

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