The Keys to Organizing Folders on Your Computer

By: Kalynn Bardolph  | 
A folder icon on a computer's desktop. 
Keep your computer files organized to make them easy to find and access.
Rob Atkins/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Your personal computer can be a wonderful tool. However, if you've never tried organizing folders in any meaningful way, your computer can quickly become cluttered and unruly. Keeping the files on your computer in order will allow you to gain access to them more quickly.

If you have had your computer for a while, odds are you have accumulated multiple files, photos and e-mails that you simply no longer need. Having a bunch of unused files on your computer can eventually lead to a slowdown of your operating system and may make finding what you really need a chore.


When building a file organization system on your computer, you can choose to follow whatever system works best for you. Whether you choose to organize files by date, description or a combination of both, there should be a way that makes sense to you and accomplishes your ultimate goal of cleaning up your desktop.

So where do you begin? First, you need to take stock of what you have and determine its importance. Second, you have to choose a preferred digital filing system. Finally, it's time to roll up your sleeves and begin organizing files. Let's take a look at what each of those steps could look like.


Taking Inventory of Computer Files

Once you decide to organize your computer files and take stock of what you have, you need to decide what stays and what goes. While you are in the process of taking inventory, you should also take the time to back up all the files you deem important, especially any personal files.

You may want to try a systematic approach to sorting through your files. For example, instead of just diving right in, you may want to start by separating all of the photos and images and going through them first. You might be surprised at how many pictures you have. You can always transfer some or all of these images to a CD or external hard drive to give yourself some extra space on your computer.


Or you could try going through all of your Word documents first and weed out any unnecessary files. However you decide to proceed, remember that the effort you spend getting your computer organized now will probably make finding important files easier later, saving you both time and energy [source: Hachman].

Watch out for duplicate files of pictures and images when you are performing your inventory. If you upload pictures from your phone and do not delete them off your device, the next time you go to upload photos, you may unintentionally upload the same file of images you have already stored.

Try to be realistic about what needs to be stored on your computer, and keep in mind that less is usually more. Check out the next section to get some tips on different methods for organizing your files.


Start Categorizing Files

Your computer most likely uses two different types of files: program files and personal files. Program files come from programs you've installed on your computer. Microsoft Office and Adobe Illustrator are examples of program files.

Personal files are those that you have personally created to store pictures, documents, spreadsheets and more. For the most part, if you lose personal files that aren't backed up, they are simply — and sadly — gone for good.


Once you have established which files are personal, you can begin to group them into subcategories, designating them perhaps as images, music or documents. At this point you will want to decide how you are going to go about organizing the files, such as by date or project name.

If you choose to organize by date, try to stick to a standard file naming convention. For example, you might use "March2023" or "031523." Pick one style and stick with it, or you may find yourself having to reorganize your files yet again.

If you organize your files by project name, try to keep a uniform capitalization scheme across all file names, and don't use special characters or spaces — most operating systems won't even allow this [source: Microsoft].

Most operating systems feature built-in tools designed to help you find, edit, and organize files. Windows uses the file explorer function to help users look for, edit, and files and file folders. You can also delete files using the same applications.

Once you have decided on a method for organizing your computer that works well for you, the next step is creating folders, re-naming the files you have decided to keep, and putting them in their proper folders.

Need some tips on what or how to name your folders? Check out the next section to get some useful tips on creating folders, and establishing a uniform folder structure.


Creating and Organizing Folders

When you have decided what files you want to keep on your computer, you can put them in folders. Creating a folder can, in most cases, be done by right-clicking and selecting "New" and then "Folder," at which point you will be able to give that folder a specific name.

When naming your folders, keep the names short and simple. Try to avoid using abbreviations, because there's always the chance you may forget what the abbreviation represents. Then you'll end up having to go through the folder to figure out what's inside, defeating the purpose of naming the folder in the first place.


Sometimes your computer will automatically save files in a certain location in an effort to keep itself organized. This can backfire, though, if you don't pay attention to the address of the file when it's created. Creating your own folders can help you stay organized in a way that is familiar to you.

When you are in the process of naming files and assigning them to different folders, it may be helpful to limit the type of files that go into each folder. Keep all Word documents in one folder and spreadsheets in another. Later, you'll be able to locate what you are looking for in a quick and efficient manner.

Once you have established a system, do your best to maintain it. If you create a new file or program, put it in the appropriate folder immediately. Sorting files and folders on a regular basis is one of the keys to keeping your system neat and organized.

Organizing and maintaining files on your computer is a great step in the right direction. There are other ways to store your files if you feel that keeping them all on your computer is taking up too much space. In the next section, you'll learn about other options for storing your computer files.


Storing Digital Files

Most computers will automatically save your data to the hard drive, usually known as the C drive. This is the most common place to store files. However, if your computer crashes, your data could be lost, so it's important to always back up important files. When deciding where else to store your files other than on your computer, you have a variety of options.

Storing your files on a USB device is a popular option. Most computers have at least one USB port. To do this, simply plug in the USB device of your choice, then click on and drag your files to the appropriate destination.


There are a wide range of safe and affordable USB storage devices to choose from. There are pocket-sized flash drives or thumb drives which are easily transportable but also easy to lose. There are also external hard drives, which are less portable but offer a lot more storage.

You can also store your data on a secure storage area network, or one of the many available cloud service providers. Both of these options provide a services in which there are multiple storage locations, each one of them backing up the others so that even if several fail, your data will still be safe [source: IBM].

Organizing computer files never truly ends. Computer file organization is a a process that involves the initial set-up discussed above, as well as a commitment to the process of keeping things organized.

Having said that, it's hard to go back to the unorganized mess once the hard work is over. So stick with your established file structure, commit yourself to some regular maintenance, and enjoy the increased productivity and peace of ming that comes with a functionally organized computer.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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