Spring Cleaning Your Digital World

Do you struggle with finding your files on your computer? Let’s talk a bit today about how to set up some folders to improve your workflow and help you find items easier.

Think of it as a little spring cleaning in your digital world.

The Default Folders

No matter what operating system you’re using, most have a place to store your documents and other files. In most Windows computers, you can find six main folders:

  • Documents (or My Documents)
  • Pictures
  • Music
  • Videos
  • Desktop
  • Downloads

If you use a cloud service like One Drive or Dropbox, you may also find folders under those main headings too.  More on storage in a cloud drive in a later post.

Usually, by default, when you import any music, it goes into your music folder. For example, iTunes stores all music in your music folder. Likewise, videos tend to import into your videos folder, and images go into your pictures folder. Your “Downloads” folder usually captures any files or programs you download off the internet unless you specify they should go somewhere else. The Documents folder is usually where any other files you create go to, such as if you’re creating a file in Microsoft Word.

However, without creating a better file and folder set up in each of these default folders, you’ll soon have a cluttered mess of files on your hand, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything at all easily.

Make It Work for You

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a happy personal computer owner for about thirty years now, but I was surprised to realize while helping a web and logo design client that many people don’t know they can create more folders and subfolders, or that they can organize their file storage to suit their needs. My client was complaining to me that he hated how hard it was to find files on his computer.

When I took a moment to look over his system, I could see why.

My client had been storing everything on his desktop because he didn’t know how to find it otherwise.

In terms of physical storage, this would be like storing everything on your dining room table because you wouldn’t know where to look for anything if it was stored anywhere else, such as in drawers and cabinets. In other words, it was a huge cluttered mess.

Getting Set Up

Just as we all need to do a little spring cleaning from time to time in our homes — decluttering the junk drawer, cleaning out the cabinet that seems to collect clutter, and so forth — we also should take some time every now and then to go through our digital clutter and either organize it, back it up, or get rid of it.

After you’ve figured out what you need in terms of folders (more on that in a bit), start by creating your folders and subfolders, then dragging and dropping your existing files in your documents folder into the newly created subfolders. Keep going until you have all of your files put away somewhere.

Maintaining the System

Of course, this works best if you stick with and regularly maintain the system you’ve decided on.

I try to only save files to the right folder, but every now and then, things do get cluttered up. I have a system in place that works for me, where I periodically go through different files, and delete anything that is unnecessary. Since I’ve begun to use some organizational apps more for tasks like Recipe storage, Menu Planning, Project Management, Blog Planning, and Home Repair Projects, I’ve found that I don’t have as many “half done, never looked at again” files to delete. I have more about this in another post, How I use Evernote and Google Keep in Place of a Planner.

Organizing Your Backup Files

If you also have an external hard drive for backing up your files, it’s a good idea to also create a system of folders and subfolders in that, so you can more easily find your files when you need them.

My external hard drive has a set up that is similar to my desktop computer’s system. I’ve learned the hard way to make backups of my client’s jobs (even if they aren’t a regular client), as well as backups of my own personal projects. Computers seem to crash when you least expect it, and if you’ve been working for a year on a new ebook, that can be catastrophic. Thank God for external hard drives and cloud drives.

What Folders Do You Need?

When thinking of how to make your file storage system work best for you on your computer, you’ll need to think about how you use your computer and what you need your system to do for you. This can’t be a one size fits all set up.

The best way to figure out what folders you need is to consider these two things:

  1. How do you use your computer?
  2. What files do you have stored on your computer in a disorganized manner?

Usually, the kinds of work you do and the kinds of folders you have will let you know what you need.

Because I wear many hats in the work that I do on my computer, my folders reflect that. I like to keep my main folders inside of the default “documents” folder very basic. I have added these folders:

  • Design Print
  • Design Branding
  • Design Websites
  • Household
  • Homeschooling
  • Healthy on the Cheap
  • Thoughts and Designs

Pretty Basic stuff.

Organizing Projects or Client Files

The three “design” folders contain subfolders for each client I’m working with. After a month, I move the client folders onto my external hard drive for backup, since design files are generally huge, and I’d rather not take up too much space on my hard drive with those.

Inside each of the design folders (one for logo design, or branding, one for print design like brochures, and one for web design), I have a series of subfolders that are set up like this:

Client Name Folder

  • Moodboard Folder (this contains design inspiration, based on what the client is interested in)
  • Source Graphics Folder (these are the images, unedited, that the client gave me)
  • Working Files Folder (files with edits to the images and other graphics)
  • Final Files Folder (the final published files)

By keeping my project folders standard like this, I’m able to better find what I need during a project.  This basic idea can be adapted to whatever sorts of projects you use your computer for.

The “household” folder contains things like tax forms, home repair project ideas that I’ve found, recipes, and other basic items relating to our household.  I also have a sub-folder for taxes, and that is further subdivided by year. I keep paper backups too of course. You never know when you may lose your hard drive, so you should always back up your computer.

The “homeschooling” folder has items for homeschooling, including my kids’ transcripts. Right now, as all but one is an adult, this folder has morphed from containing school related projects to containing college reference letters, transcripts, ideas for graduation open houses, senior pictures, and so forth.

About Storing Photos

By the way, you don’t have to limit storing your images in the “pictures” folder.

My computer’s “My Pictures” folder is just backups from my digital camera in folders organized by month and year (which my camera generates). I store other relevant photos and graphics in my documents folders in the appropriate subfolders.

Many of my photos are also in a cloud drive (Dropbox). My cell phone is set up to automatically back up my photos into my cloud drive, so I usually go through those every few weeks to delete unneeded photos, and back up the photos I want in a more organized way.

For example, sometimes when I look at photos I have taken, I realize some photos make work well as backgrounds for social media images. Some photos are great inspiration for icon design, logo design, or other illustrations. Sometimes they just work well for other uses. I assess each image, and save it in the right folder for later use while working.

If you’re not a designer and artist like me, you probably still have other potential uses for your photos that you take (scrapbooks for example). Taking a few moments to sort through your photos periodically makes it a smaller job than going through large numbers of photos right as you’re looking for something specific.

Using the Desktop for Storage

I don’t have any folders on my desktop, as I use my Windows 10 desktop in tablet mode (even though it’s not a touchscreen) because I find it more intuitive. I have a Windows 10 Tablet that I take with me on the go, and a Windows 10 phone, so I just try to keep things consistent. However, if you prefer to work with a more standard Windows layout, creating extra important subfolders in your desktop folder will cause them to show up on your main screen (“desktop”) of your computer, so your most important folders are in front of you.

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