Here is how to organize computer files on your home computer in an easy to set up and use system that allows you to find the documents, photos and other files you wish to locate quickly and easily as needed.
Today's Declutter 365 mission is to declutter computer files, and then organize the ones you've got left, on your home computer hard drive or in the document files you keep on the cloud.
As always, the first step in the process is to declutter, because there's never any use in organizing something you no longer need.
You can declutter (or since this is digital, in this case that means delete) duplicate files, old draft versions of documents that have a superseding version of the document, or things you don't want to read anymore, such as ebooks or PDFs you received but no longer find relevant or interesting.
The same rules apply to decluttering computer files as to decluttering paper, in that most of it you get to decide if you should keep or not, based on what you know you want, need and often reference.
However, to the extent you need to save some of these computer files or digital documents for tax purposes, or other legal or financial reasons, you can check this cheat sheet explaining how long you should keep various types of documents to give you guidance of what should be saved.
Delete what is obviously digital clutter immediately, and then as you organize what's left in later steps for this mission, if you come across more that can be deleted you can do it at that time.
Your computer is basically a digital file cabinet, and therefore many of the same rules that apply to organizing your files within your home filing system also apply to this digital filing cabinet.
To make sure it's easy to find things within your digital file cabinet you'll want to group similar and like items together, create categories (folders) and sub-categories (sub-folders) that make sense to you to "file" the digital documents in, and name the folders and files in ways that you can remember and that are intuitive to you.
One of the keys to organizing and later finding the computer files that you've stored on your computer, so you can reference or review them when you want or need to, is to use naming conventions for both the individual files, as well as for the digital folders those files are stored in.
What I mean by "naming conventions" is simply the way you name the file name or document name should have some coherence and regularity, and provide you with a bit of context about the document to help you identify it, even without opening it.
As an example, if you download a PDF copy of your bank statement each month as it becomes available, you can help yourself find all of these bank documents, and identify each month more easily, if you consistently name them something similar, which also includes the date within the file name. This could mean, for example, you name the PDF "bank-statement-6-18" which indicates it is a bank statement, and the numbers indicate the month (June) and the year (2018). So next month, in July, you'd name the PDF of that month's bank statement, "bank-statement-7-18"." (Notice in these examples, instead of using a space between words, I've used dashes. It is immensely helpful to get in the habit of using dashes, not spaces, between words within file names, so begin now.)
This type of naming convention will help you find and organize all of the bank statements into one place, and also locate the right month and year's statement without requiring you to open each file and look at the document itself to find the right one, if you some day need to reference the July 2018 statement again, for example.
If you'd named one of the statements "bank-statement-1" and the next "statement-from-bank-1" and another "july-bank-statement-2018" it would be much more confusing, and in some of the examples the name alone wouldn't provide you with as much information about the contents of the document as it would be helpful to have. For example, you'd later have no idea what month of the bank statement "bank-statement-1" contained without opening it up to look inside (or using a more complicated search feature within your computer).
Of course, all of those names listed above, even if they weren't consistent with one another, are more helpful than the string of random characters and/or numerals that may be assigned to the document as provided by the bank itself, such as "bk-stmt-8750572" or something weird like that. You know what I'm talking about, the weird documents or files you'll find in your download folder that you have NO idea what it is, and no recollection of ever downloading it.
We'll talk more about dealing with downloaded documents below, but for now remember that it will help you organize your computer files more easily to change the names of all of the documents to things you will understand and intuitively would know to search for, and to be consistent with your naming conventions once you begin naming certain types of related documents.
Your computer software operating system has already started the process of organizing your computer files for you, and we're just going to further set up a system based on its foundation.
Generally, you can find documents and files that you create, download or save in one of three main areas of your computer: (1) your desktop; (2) documents folder; and (3) downloads folder.
For an organized computer file system I recommend that you do not keep files anywhere but within your documents folder. That means you should not keep folders or files on your desktop and you'll be moving all the files currently within your download folder into the documents folder as wll.
To make sure your document folder doesn't become a disorganized jumbled mess we'll be setting up a system of folders and sub-folders within the documents folder, where you'll place individual files. That means when you open up the documents folder it's like opening up your digital filing cabinet, with lots of folders inside.
All files should go within a folder, and not be sitting alone and uncategorized within the documents folder.
Before we get into what folders and sub-folders you're going to set up within your documents folder, I want to address what is normally a black hole of jumbled up, often unidentifiable files on your computer -- your downloads folder.
As we acquire information and files from the Internet, from accounts we have online, and more, we often download files to keep for later reference. Most Internet browsers are set up for these files to go into our downloads folder by default.
This, in my opinion, is a very bad idea, and is one of the main sources of a disorganized computer filing system.
I already mentioned the problem of the downloaded files themselves often being named in ways we personally won't intuitively understand, such as seemingly random numbers or characters. In addition, the downloads folder is set up as one big cavern where you dump files of all types, with no organizational system. If you don't take any steps to label the files in a way you can identify, and just keep "piling" documents into the cavern, it becomes a big pile of useless stuff. It's useless because you don't know what you have or how to find it again.
To avoid these problems you need to change the default location that your Internet browswer (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer) uses for placing downloads, which is into the downloads folder, and instead have it ask you which folder YOU want the file to be placed into, each time you download something.
The exact method you use to change this default setting on your browser varies, depending on the browser you use, but you can follow the instructions after doing a search for a phrase such as "how to choose where a download is saved" and the name of your Internet browser of choice.
Once you've changed this setting, each time you initiate a download you'll be prompted to choose a folder to place the download into, which will help you keep all of your computer files organized as you acquire them. I also use the time when I'm choosing the folder I want to place a file into as an opportunity to change the name of the download to follow my naming conventions, which helps me identify the key information about that specific file right then and there.
The habit of stopping putting things into your downloads folder, and instead placing everything in folders and sub-folders within your documents folder, and naming things with your naming conventions, as you download items, will significantly decrease the amount of frustration you have finding files on your computer from now on. I promise, it's life changing!
Now that you know how to deal with downloads from now on, and why to avoid the black hole that is your downloads folder, let's talk about how to organize computer files within your documents folder. The key, as I mentioned before, is to create folders and sub-folders within the documents folder, treating it like a digital file cabinet.
Below I've listed some ideas of potential types of folders and sub-folders you might want to create, but as always lists like this come with a warning. Your system will be unique to you, because everyone saves different types of computer files, so use this list as a jumping off place, to give you ideas and suggestions, and then tweak it by adding or subtracting folders to make it your own and to fit the types of files you've got on your computer.
Further, some of these folders may seem familiar, because they're similar to the suggested file categories for your home filing system that we worked on earlier in the missions and challenges, when dealing with paper files.
The beauty of digital folders is you can move and re-arrange things easily, with just a click of a button or dragging and dropping items into a new place, so keep working with your system until it makes sense to you.
To help yourself easily delete old documents when they're no longer useful you may want to create sub-folders for various years of documents when this makes sense, so you can delete an entire sub-folder at once, when it gets too old to be useful anymore. Then, on an annual basis, perhaps when you're doing your annual paper file purge, you can also quickly and easily delete old computer files to keep this digital space free from digital clutter.
Once you've set up your folders within the documents folder it's time to move any documents and files you've got sitting in your downloads folder, desktop or sitting in your documents folder outside of a folder into the correct folder.
Continue to delete anything you find you don't need, re-name files if you can't figure out easily what they are, or they don't follow your naming conventions, and create sub-folders or additional folders as needed as you find files that don't fit into the categories you've already set up.
Depending on how many files you've got this may take a while. Do it 15 minutes at a time until you've dealt with them all. It's OK for this project to take a several 15 minute sessions.
The key, once this initial organization is done, is to now use the system you've got, and always add downloads or documents you create to the right folders, immediately, from now on.
In another Declutter 365 mission later this week we'll focus on another vital step of properly organizing your computer files, which is to make sure you've got an adequate and frequent back up of those files somewhere in case of computer hard drive failure.
Since your computer files were important enough not to delete, but instead to organize, you know you don't want them lost forever if there is some type of hardware or software failure, so make sure to do this step to keep your important files safe and secure.
I hope this mission has gotten you inspired to tackle the task of decluttering and organizing your home.
When you begin to declutter the feeling you get is contagious, so if you're loving the results you're getting I would encourage you to keep going.
I've got a whole series of 15 minute decluttering missions (eventually 365 of them!) that you can do.
Just pick and choose the ones you want to do, that will make a big impact in your home. But if you want someone else to tell you the order you can also grab the 15 minute daily decluttering mission calendars and follow along as we all get our homes clutter free together!
Second photo in collage, of unorganized computer files in folder courtesy of Victor Frost
I would love to hear from you, sharing your thoughts, questions, or ideas about this topic, so leave me a comment below. I try to always respond back!