narrow it down to the essential essentials (frequent use daily): music player, internet browser, my documents and show desktop (which isn't really important, but just in case)
right-click on taskbar, select Properties. In Start Menu tab, select the first Customize. In the general tab, select small icons.
to pick and choose which programs you want on there, set number of programs to 0. then you can drag items on to the list. or leave it. you can change it later.
'show on start menu' check email if you want it.
In the advanced tab, select 'open submenus when I pause on them with my mouse'
and edit the start menu items. my settings
control panel: display as a link; enable dragging and dropping; help and support; my computer: display as a link; (my documents: display as a link); My Music: don't display this item; My pictures: don't display; (Network connections: display as menu); Run command; Search; System Admin tools: Don't display.
For recent documents, uncheck 'list my recently opened documents'.
Behold the mini prettiness.
load it up with your secondary programs and arrange it all pretty like. I have items like Calculator and Wordpad on top, media player, games, a couple office programs, then a shortcut of the recycle bin. As well, right-click on an item to change the name to something easier. eg. VLC media player>VLC; Microsoft Word 20XX>Word. Overtime, unpin the programs you don't find yourself using.
finally, this video
shows you how to tweak xp to get a faster pop up of the start menu.