by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: Whether an object is digital or physical, store it in a set place.
Digital file folders do the same thing for your computer as physical file folders do for your home office. Folders group information together so you can retrieve it more easily when you need it. Folders can also eliminate the visual clutter of looking at a list of individual documents.
You don’t have to set up digital file folders. If a document is clearly labeled, then you can go into a search box, type in key words, and locate the information you’re looking for. And, if you’ve grown up around computers, this may be the way you naturally use to locate a document you have saved on your computer or in the cloud.
On the other hand, if you didn’t grow up around computers and instead spent years (successfully or unsuccessfully) slipping pieces of paper into manila folders, then trying to locate what you want from a screen full of random documents may cause stress.
If you are used to the action of putting paper into folders, grouping digital files into folders can eliminate visual clutter on your computer screen and help make the vast amount of information on your computer seem less overwhelming.
Create Digital File Folders
Following is the way I’ve set up files on my computer. Is it the only way? Nope. Is it better than other methods? Probably not; but it works for me. The moral of my dithering – do what works for you (unless you're setting up files that multiple people will have access to, then you’ll also want to consider how others will go looking for the information).
Concerned that you’ll do something wrong that will cause information you want to disappear? Start with backing up your personal files to the cloud or a flash drive. If at any point you don’t know what I’m talking about, get help from a tech-savvy friend or family member.
Imagine Digital Information as Physical Objects
One: Start by imagining a file cabinet (or several). Each drawer belongs to a different topic. For example, I have a “drawer” for house-related stuff, another for family, and another for work.
Just as you don’t have hundreds of physical file cabinets in your home, you want to limit the number of digital folders you have at this level. These have a very general label (say, House).
Two: Within each “drawer”, I have my “hanging file folders.” These are big topics – say, home renovation or wedding photos. Digitally, you won’t have an icon that looks like a physical hanging file folder, it’s just an illustration of a file folder. However, if you imagine that physical file cabinet, you can envision how some information will get grouped together.
Three: Next, you move down to the manila folder-level. This is a specific topic that’s part of a more general topic.
So, if we imagined a physical file cabinet, I’d have a drawer for “Home.” Within that drawer, I might have some hanging file folders labeled with topics such as, “Renovations,” “Insurance,” “Product Manuals,” “Mortgage Payments,” etc.
Within the “Renovation” folder, I’d have manila folders labeled as, “Bathroom,” “Kitchen,” “Roof,” “Gutters,” “Electrical,” etc.
Four: Within each folder, I have the documents related to the topic. (Think of these as the pieces of paper you’d slip into your manila folder.)
Create and Label Folders
How many folders is too many? If you have one piece of information in a folder, you may be more specific than you need to be. I don’t need a folder labeled, “Shower Door” to hold a copy of the receipt for that item. That document can simply sit in the “Bathroom Renovations” folder.
I like grouping information into folders because when I open a folder, I’m looking at more folders, which represent groups of information. I don’t feel inundated by individual documents. It’s not until I get more specific that I start seeing individual documents. For example, when I returned to my computer to edit this article, I clicked open five folders to get to this document:
Work > A Less Cluttered Life > Blog Posts > 2019 > June > Digital Folders (the name of the document)
I don’t mind clicking open all these folders to get to the document I want. Each time I open a folder, I’m looking at less than a dozen items. I feel like I’m moving along a path to my destination. Yes, I could go into a search box and type the name of the article and go straight to the article.
However, my meander through my digital files keeps me in touch with other areas that might need some attention. It works for me.
On the other hand, you may prefer to have a file folder labeled "Home" or "Insurance" and you don't bother to break down the topic any further than that. And, you know what? That's a perfectly fine method as well.
Let's face it, you can always create a subfolder sometime in the future if you decide it would be useful. So, whether you give your folders broad, general names or you create folders within folders to get more specific (or some combination of the two, depending on the topic), go with what works for you. And by that I mean the system that you'll use and maintain on a regular basis.
Sign up for emails from A Less Cluttered Life and learn how simple, everyday practices can eliminate the scattered feeling of trying to do too much. Join the free program, A Year of Decluttering, and get access to the 7-day e-course, Distraction-free Decluttering.
The Organized Squirrel, Susan, shows you how acorns (small habits) can grow into oak trees (a better life).