Cleaning Your Desktop and Downloads

I don't like having a messy desktop.

I know many people who use their desktop as temporary storage for random files, but seeing lots of files all over a desktop gives me anxiety.

Instead, I prefer to use the downloads folder for temp storage. I have my browser settings set to download files directly to the downloads folder without asking, and I can quickly manage files from there.

I don't like having a messy downloads folder either, but I only ever see it when I'm moving files in or out of it so it's not so bad.

Regardless of what folder you use for temporary storage, over time there is a tendency for files to start to collect.

I'm usually pretty good about deleting old downloads, particularly if they're just installers, or copies of files that I've got stored elsewhere, like email attachments or cloud storage.

Even still, every now and then there are files that linger. Files that I've either downloaded or created that don't really belong in any of my existing folders. Sometimes they're text files with notes. Sometimes they're PDFs that I want to read and delete that I just never seem to get around to dealing with.

If any of this sounds familiar, there's a simple system I use to keep my downloads folder tidy and my files organized. It's easy to remember, and it doesn't take much time or energy.

Archiving Your Files

The technique involves being intentional in your chaos.

A box full of random papers is disorganized.

A box labelled "2020" full of random papers is intentionally disorganized.

If a year's worth of papers is too chaotic, you could use folders to separate things by quarter or by month.

Digital files are the same way.

A folder full of random files is disorganized.

A folder named "2020" full of random files is intentionally disorganized.

Likewise, if a year's worth of files is too chaotic, you could use subfolders to separate files by quarter or by month (or even by day if you really want).

Pick a schedule that works for you—I've chosen monthly for myself—and on that schedule, move all the files from your folder (%UserProfile%/Downloads in my case) to an Archive folder or subfolder (%UserProfile%/Archive/YYYY/MM is what I use).

Over time what you will find is that occasionally you may need to pull older files from the archive to your working folder, but most of the time these files will be from the most recent folder in the archive.

After a few years it should be much easier to review older archive folders and decide what to do with their contents. It's very easy to delete files from 2-3 years ago that you clearly haven't needed in that time.

Automating the Process

This system also benefits from the fact that it's easy to automate. I'll leave detailed discussion of how I automated this for myself for a future post.

For my own automation I wrote a reasonably short PowerShell script that gets called automatically once a month by Windows Task Scheduler.

I personally don't make zip or tar archive files, but I feel like they could be useful for reducing how much storage space is used for the archived data.

In Summary

If your disorganized filesystem irritates you, I hope you'll give this method of intentional disorganization a try.