Signs of spring are everywhere, which makes this is a good time to tackle some spring cleaning…on your computer. It may not seem like the most challenging of challenges to delete old files, and it may not make a huge difference to your computer’s operating speed (unless you’re deleting very large files). But it can make a difference to the speed at which you are able to find what you need and therefore the speed at which you operate.
The thought of permanently deleting files is making me break out in a cold sweat!
Permanently tossing out files is a bit like down-sizing your house. It’s time to throw out those boxes of junk you haven’t looked at in years and you’re thinking, “But what if I need this broken blender one day?”
If you completed last month’s challenge then you have a disaster recovery plan and are hopefully making good use of a Cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox to backup the files you can’t afford to lose. So instead of permanently trashing old files, consider uploading them to the Cloud and only deleting them from your local storage. This will make the files available if you ever do need them, but they won’t be taking up space on your desktop or in your downloads folder.
I have thousands of files…where do I start?
I recently asked a colleague (whom I consider to be pretty techy) what advice he would give in a blog post about how to delete old files. He said, “I don’t know, but I definitely need to read that post. I have way too many files and I don’t know where to start.”
If your job involves working on a computer for most of the day, chances are you have files on your desktop, files in your download folder, and multiple copies of files “just in case”. If you like the idea of going through all the folders on your laptop one by one and deleting what you don’t need, by all means go for it! But you can also use some of your computer’s automation features to make this process easier.
If you have a Mac: Use Smart Folders
The purpose of a Smart Folder is to collect files that fit specific criteria from anywhere on your computer. It’s an automation that saves you from having to search for certain types of files over and over again. But you can use a Smart Folder for other purposes too. If, for example, you know you created an image last month but you can’t find it, just create a Smart Folder to pull together all the image files on your computer created within the last month.
So, how does a Smart Folder help with this month’s challenge? The beauty of a Smart Folder is that you can use it to find any files you haven’t opened in a while. For example, I ran a Smart Folder filter to search for any files I haven’t opened since before December 2018. My theory was that if I haven’t opened the file in over three years, chances are I don’t need it anymore. I was right; my Smart Folder returned a very small number of files that I was able to view quickly and decide which ones to completely delete and which to upload to my Cloud storage. It took all of five minutes. I then ran a Smart Folder search on any files I haven’t opened since 2019. Admittedly that returned a more overwhelming number. But again, Smart Folder to the rescue. I used the filter feature to move month by month through 2019, breaking the larger task into more manageable bites.
How do I make a Smart folder on my Mac:
- From your Finder, click on File: New Smart Folder.
- Select where you want to search (“This Mac” or “Desktop”)
- Click the Plus sign beside “Save” to reveal filter functionality
- Use the filters to select by File Type, Last Opened Date, Last Modified Date, etc
- Use the Plus button to create additional filters if desired
(For more reading on Smart Folders and some other great uses for them, check out this article.)
If you have a PC: Use Your File Explorer
You can create Smart Folders in Windows (and this post will show you how) but a quicker filter feature is available directly in your File Explorer.
- Open File Explorer
- From the left-hand menu, select the drive you want to search (select “This PC” if you want to search everything)
- Type “datemodified:” in the search bar and select the date range you want to search
Hold up…there’s one caveat
Your computer deals with way more files in a day than you do, from caching images on websites, to operating system applications, so be mindful of what you’re deleting. As I overheard once in a restaurant between a mother and her son: “If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.” Or in this case: don’t delete it.
Make spring cleaning a year-round event
Again, this isn’t a challenging challenge, but it is time-consuming. Consider setting aside a half hour each week and work through your files bit by bit. Once you’ve gone through all the effort to tidy up your files, keep that half hour blocked off in your calendar and use it to run a search on any files you worked with that week. Then you can quickly delete what’s no longer needed, and upload the rest to the Cloud.
Good luck with this month’s challenge and we’ll see you in June!