Organize Files: Digital Organization for Beginners

You know the guy. The guy with the chaotic desktop, totally covered in little thumbnails. He can’t find anything he needs.

Just LOOKING at his computer stresses you out.

Are YOU that guy??

It’s okay, you’re not alone! Many of us find a huge pile of digital clutter each time we power up our computers. We try to ignore it.. pretend we know where everything is. But instead of taking the time to organize files, we simply shut it down and walk away.

It’s so much easier that way, right?

NO! Allowing digital clutter means you’re just putting off making decisions and allowing your possessions to be a disorganized mess!

Yep. I said it. YOUR DIGITAL FILES ARE YOUR POSSESSIONS.

Would you leave your clothes lying all over your living room, whether or not you ever wore them?

Or would you leave your books all over the bed or your desk, even if you haven’t read them in 5 years? NOPE.

You get the picture.

Organizing your digital files is just as important as organizing your home and physical things around you. Organization brings you peace, mental clarity, and allows you to reach your maximum potential and efficiency!

Hooray!

So where do we start?

How to Start Organizing Files:

organize files

Whether you’re a beginner with a terrifying mountain of files piling higher every day.. or a seasoned pro who has just been putting off organizing your computer files for too long – don’t worry.

You can do this!

During this process of Digital Organization, I want you to choose from these 2 options, every single time you’re faced with a question:

File

or

Delete

Those are the only options. I don’t mean to be a hardass here, I just want to make your life simple! With only 2 options, you don’t have any room to stray and continue to have disorganized files on your computer. Hooray!

How do you decide which option to choose?

Great question! The answer to that lies in.. well, more questions. Quiz yourself to find out if you should File or Delete.

  • Is this a legal document that you’ll need for the future? (Contracts, tax forms, etc.) Yes? File.
  • Is this file still relevant to your life, work, or hobbies? Yes? File.
  • If so, Is this file up to date? Yes? File.
  • Does this file help you in some way? (reference material, book, workbook, etc.) Yes? File.
  • Does this file (including pictures, music, papers, etc) mean something special to you? Yes? File.

If one or more answers here are yes, you probably want to file it away. But if zero answers were yes, it’s probably time to let it go on to digital heaven. . .

Here are some more queries for you while organizing files:

  • When was the last time you opened this file? If it’s been 6+ months, take it back through the first round of questions, and trash it if it’s unnecessary.
  • Is this SOLELY related to a previous job, project, “life”, relationship, etc that you are no longer involved in? If so, you may want to trash it.

Now that you know your options, you are truly ready to organize files! Follow these 10 simple steps to decluttering your computer – for good!

10 Steps to Organized Files

1. Sort Out Your Desktop

organize files

Your desktop should not be your dumping ground for files you don’t know where to put, or are too lazy to file. (Sorry, but you know it’s true. I’m guilty too!)

Take a minute . . . or ten, and go through EVERY file on your desktop. If it’s just 5 or if it’s 342 files, go through them.

DELETE what you don’t need, and will never need.

FILE what you use now, or will definitely use or reference in the future.

For now, just drag and drop the ones that you decide to keep and file.. into the BROAD folder that applies: Documents, Photos, Music, etc. We’ll worry about getting it into exactly the right place later.

How much should you clear off and why?

I personally suggest that you clear off your desktop altogether. I LOVE turning on my computer to an empty desktop – covered only in beautiful travel photos of my adventures!

Then when I turn it off at night, it’s the same peaceful feeling. No matter how hectic my workday was, the visual of cleanliness and organization helps you get in that calm mindset too!

If you insist on keeping a few files on your desktop, that’s okay. You’re not banished or anything 🙂 BUT, I do suggest that you have an organization system for them!

I’ve heard of some people who put “Things to do” on one side of their screen, and keep constant reference files (things they look at every week or every day) on the other. At the end of the week, they follow this cleansing process again and clear the clutter from the “to do” side. This frees them up to be able to find those reference files they need daily, but doesn’t let the mountain grow back!

Whatever works for you, works for me, friend!

Just don’t leave a huge pile of file junk on your desktop. It’s unbecoming! And is a literal visual stressor.

Why make your life more stressful than it already is?!

2. Declutter Your Downloads

We all download things. Lots of things. Hopefully legal things.

Sometimes we need them and use them. Other times we think we will need them in the future, or assume we will reference them.

Whether or not you ever actually used the files you downloaded doesn’t matter. There they are, and there they’ll stay, until you do something about it!

“There they are, and there they’ll stay.”

What you need to do now – right now– is to follow the same exact process you did in #1 while sorting out your desktop. You must decide what to delete, and what to file.

The fun part of this one is that you will probably have a LOT of files to delete from your downloads folder. More than likely, if you were truly going to use it, you already did!

This step may take you a while due to the sheer volume of built up downloads, but it’s probably one of the easiest steps here! Score!

3. Organize Photos

organize files

This step toward a decluttered computer may lead you down some rabbit holes, and that’s okay! As long as you get back to the task at hand. Re-live your memories, but then organize the files!

So, how do you organize your digital photos??

Depending on the volume of photos you’re working with and your style preference there are a few different ways to organize the files. I think these two are the best:

  • By Event
  • By Date

If you’re a big organization nerd like me, you’ll do both.

I cannot possibly outline every possible organization system for photos, so I’ll just tell you what I do!

My first tier of folders is by YEAR. Inside, I have a folder for each EVENT (Spain Trip 2018, Christmas 2017, Haley’s Wedding, Egypt 2019, etc).

Next, because I do a bit of editing and touching up of my photos, I have a third tier. EDITED ___(Trip to Spain, etc)___.

Other times my third tier will be a specific THING I took pictures of (the Sagrada Familia, the Royal Palace of Madrid, etc)

To summarize, here are my folders: (each indention indicates that the folder is INSIDE the one above it).

  • Year
    • Event
      • Edited Event (optional)
      • Thing
        • Edited Thing (optional)
    • Event
      • Edited Event (optional)
      • Thing
        • Edited Thing (optional)

Rinse and repeat.

Take a stroll down memory lane and organize those files already! It’s no use having pictures filling up your computer if you have no idea where they are! 🙂

4. Organize Or Delete Music

organize files

Some of us still have music we uploaded from a CD, or downloaded (legally or illegally! – lookin at you Napster fans!) years ago. Our folders contain dozens of songs we love.

Songs that remind us of our childhood, first loves, college days, wedding dances, etc.

I understand (I actually have 2 music degrees.. I really do understand). But maybe it’s time to revisit whether or not you actually need all of these files.

In this internet-centric, streamable-music day and age, you can listen to nearly anything at the drop of a hat. Scary? Maybe. Awesome? Definitely.

So, probably, most of your music files (at least the generic ones by even kind-of well-known bands) can be found instantly online.

However, if you have files of songs or pieces you composed, recorded, karaoked to, etc. (files you cannot replace, or that mean a great deal to you), that’s fine! I don’t want you to get rid of all of your music.

Just organize those files!

Here’s how your tier system should probably go:

  • Artist / Composer
    • Album / Year
      • Song / Piece
      • Song / Piece
    • Album / Year
      • Song / Piece
      • Song / Piece

And so on.

Bing, bang, boom! You’ve got this!

5. Re-name Files

This is an easy one. You MUST name, or re-name each and every file you’re keeping so it makes some sense. Most automatically assigned file names are a seemingly random assortment of numbers and letters.

Instead of IMG_123_456_7 … name it something like Keukenhof Tulips 7.

The key here is to make it something you can search for, and to give each one an individual name, or at least number. Also, you want to try to create a standarized format for your naming system. This will help keep your files in order and easier to find!

If I have multiple pictures of one thing, I typically give it a number: Tulips 1, Tulips 2, Tulips 3 etc. OR I give it another adjective: Tulips Red, Tulips Pink, Tulips Yellow.

Notice I always put the KEY word, Tulips, first. This means that I’d find Tulips in a search or in a folder, and then be able to sort out which ones I wanted. If I’d put Red, Pink, Yellow in front of the tulips, sorting through files could become a tedious nightmare.

The same goes for non-photo files. If I have many drafts of a paper or presentation, I’ll include them all, as well as any documented steps of the writing process: Lincoln Paper Outline, Lincoln Paper Rough Draft, Lincoln Paper Draft 2, Lincoln Paper Draft 3, Lincoln Paper Final Draft.

Then put them all into one, unifying folder.

6. Put All Files Into a Folder – Create one if Necessary

organize files

So I already instructed you to file things into their big, broad folders: Documents, Photos, Music, etc.

Now it’s time to get to work putting them into smaller, more descriptive folders.

You’ll probably need to create new files to do this thing right.

Buckle up, buddy. It’s time to organize files! Woohoo!

I pretty much already broke down Photos and Music files for you. So we’ll skip straight to Documents.

How to organize documents

First, start with the biggest, broad folders: Work, Legal, Hobbies, Portfolio, Personal. You can name yours whatever you wish.

It’s easy enough:

Work files go in the Work folder. Legal things like contracts, tax forms and filing paperwork, restraining orders from stalking your favorite celebrity, etc – they all go in the Legal folder. Things you do for fun – hiking trail maps, cross stitch patterns, whatever – all go in the Hobbies folder. Put your resume, cover letter, references, work samples in the Portfolio folder. Things you want to keep to yourself go in the Personal folder – journal entries, a book you’re writing; a long lost love letter.

Once you’ve sorted things out that far, then go for details.

Most of those details will depend on your unique situation. But here are some suggestions for organizing the 2 biggest document folders:

Work Folder

  • Clients
    • Client 1
    • Client 2
    • Client 3
  • Projects
    • Project 1
    • Project 2
    • Project 3
  • Contracts
    • Employment contract
    • Project contract

Portfolio Folder

  • Resume & Cover Letter
    • This Year
    • Last Year
  • Referral Letters
    • Reference 1
    • Reference 2
    • Reference 3
  • Certifications
    • Current
    • Expired
  • Work Samples

You get the idea. Keep things separated. Stop reading through every single file to find what you need.

If you ever have to go and “Get all of the files for the Smith case!” or “Send me your resume immediately so I can hire you for this fancy new job” or anything else, really.. You don’t waste any time! You find it all. You know just where the documents you need can be found.

You’re organized and impressive. People want to be just like you, and your boss wants to hire more people just like you- because you’re efficient! (and darn good lookin’ too!)

7. Copy Some Files Into “The Cloud” – Google Drive, DropBox, etc.

organize files

Some things are important to have on the go. Resume, copy of your driver’s license, a draft of your novel, etc.

By all means, keep legal and private things off of the internet – but consider putting a few of them in “the cloud” so you can access them any time you want.

As an avid traveler, I choose to put a copy of my passport in the cloud.. just in case.

This file organization step boils down to your personal preference, but it’s something to think about! Just like on your laptop or desktop, your chosen version of the cloud will have folders and the opportunity to organize files!

SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY! Always choose organization!

8. Empty the Recycle Bin

Now that you’ve cleared out a LOT of clutter, old files, and junk you didn’t even know you had.. it’s time.

Do a little once-over of your recycling bin and make absolutely sure there’s nothing you’ll need in there.

Then wave bye-bye to the crap that’s been clogging up your computer.

EMPTY YOUR RECYCLE BIN.

Just do it. Nike style.

Your faster-working computer will thank you, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief.

Yay! Your Files are Organized, Your Computer Is Clean – How do you maintain this digital utopia??

9. Make a Habit of Saving INTO a folder

organize files

While this step takes about 6 extra seconds each time you save a brand new file, and it may be tiresome in the beginning… this step is easy, I promise.

Each and EVERY TIME you save a new file onto your computer – be it a download from the web, a document you just started, or a photo you uploaded from your camera, do two things:

  1. Give it a recognizable name (see Step #5)
  2. Put it in the appropriate folder. Create one if necessary (see Step #6)

That’s it.

Really.

This will ensure that everything you save from here on out goes in an appropriate place!! No more digital clutter, only organized files! SCORE!

Finally, you’ll want to take this last step:

10. Revisit This Process Once a Week

organize files

Hooray! You’ve organized all your files! Congratulations!

You’re set for life now, right?

WRONG!

*cue the sad trombone sounds*

This junk will keep piling up, day after day. It’s just the way of the world. There’s stuff to download, pictures to print, music to hear, and more.

The only way to truly stay on top of this is to repeat this process weekly. Or, if you rarely download items or create new files, monthly may be okay for you.

Whatever works for your schedule – set a specific time each week (or month) where you will spend 10 minutes or less clearing out your digital clutter. Organize the files you’ve acquired, and delete any old files that are now obsolete.

Sha-bam! You’re set for life now – really.

So what now?? This is the best part!

Live and Work Peacefully with Organized Files!

For organization is the key to happiness, after all!

What do I mean by this? I mean that when your computer is organized and your files are organized, you can work efficiently! You can find what you need quickly, easily, and without frustration!

Instead of grimacing at your poor desktop, previously cluttered with crap you never knew where to put, now your desktop can feature a picture of your upcoming vacation destination, a family member you love, a beautiful picture of a favorite memory, or anything you want besides stressful clutter!

When you’re done working (which will be soon, because you’re SO efficient now), you can spend time doing what you love. Taking care of yourself. Starting a great new habit. Anything you want!

The world is your oyster when you’re organized!

So get down to business!! It’s time to organize files, friend!

and remember: make good life choices!

~Allison

Save it for later!

organize files
organize files
organize files
organize files

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