WestWard Quarterly, the Magazine of Family Reading Writer's Workbench

Organizing Your Windows Computer

Computer hard drives, like people, tend to expand in contents over time. In the case of computers, the used space on the hard drive gets larger as new files are added without removing other files no longer needed. Many readers of WestWard Quarterly will accumulate data on their hard drive through their creative efforts as writers. Other files are added through downloading or copying material from the Internet, or through installing new programs.

While cleaning outdated or unnecessary data is always a good idea, a first step is to get your Windows computer organized so you can easily see what you have on your drive. By default, Windows typically saves your data in a subfolder called My Documents, inside a folder with your user name. In Windows XP your user name folder is inside another folder called Documents and Settings; in Windows 7 your user name folder is inside the folder Users.

Note: In Windows XP, Documents and Settings may contain several subfolders called Downloads, My Pictures, My Music, and others; in Windows 7 those folders will be in your user name folder. We have not had a chance to compare locations in Windows 10.

The purpose of this arrangement — automatically saving your files into a subfolder under your user name — is to allow multiple users of the same computer to keep their data separated, especially if different users log in with their unique passwords. But if you are the only person using your computer, this all seems unnecessarily complicated. Why not simply create the relevant folders you need in the root of your local hard drive (C:\)? Then you have easier access to all information through the Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer) or My Computer window. The necessary folders are immediately visible when you open the Windows Explorer or My Computer window.

An icon to view My Computer is usually on your Windows desktop. I prefer Windows Explorer. However, for the purpose of this discussion either Windows Explorer or My Computer (which is actually only a different interface for Windows Explorer) will work.

Using whichever you choose, click on the Local Disk (C:\) folder to see the list of the files and folders it, in turn, contains. You can now create the new folders into which you will organize your data. Select File (upper left of the window) and then select New, and then Folder. Give the new folder the name you like.

I created a folder simply called Documents (not the same as XP’s Documents and Settings) for my data that includes literary creations or other categories of information. Within my Documents folder I have subfolders for various categories such as books in production, books already published, email that has been saved, legal and financial data, letters, poetry, technical data (e.g., downloaded appliance manuals or computer tips), WestWard Quarterly material, and much more.

Besides the Documents folder in the root of the C:\ drive, I also created folders for Downloads, Images, Music Files, Web Sites and several others. These are intended to replace the various subfolders within my no-longer-used user name folder in the Documents and Settings (or, in Windows 7, user name) folder, as well as adding categories not found there. (Not many users, for example, build their own web sites.)

Now I am ready to move the files in my old Windows default location (or wherever your Windows version saved them into) into appropriate categories I have created, or will create, in the root of the C:\ drive. I can do that with a select, cut-and-paste operation or perhaps simply flip them over with the mouse pointer (technically, “insertion point”). Then, all my poetry will be in the Poetry folder in C:\Documents, all books being written will be within their own folders inside the C:\Documents\New Books folder, and the like. Pictures will be within appropriate categories in the Images folder, music downloads categorized inside the Music Files folder, etc. You get the plan.

To find a document or other file, all I now have to do is open either Windows Explorer or My Computer, view the contents of the C:\ drive, select the appropriate folder and subfolder, and double-click the file name. Windows will automatically start the appropriate program to work with that file, based on the file extension. For example, a file with a .doc or .docx extension opens Microsoft Word, a file with an .mp3 extension opens Windows Media Player or whichever is your default program for music files, or a file with a .jpg extension automatically starts whichever program is your default one for viewing pictures. (It is a good idea to set up Windows Explorer or My Computer to show the file extension. Click Tools, Folder Options, View and make sure that “Hide extensions for known file types” is not checked.)

Finally, what about new files you create, or material you download? Windows will still put them somewhere in the old default folder for your version of Windows unless you instruct it otherwise. Microsoft Word, for example, will still save your new poem inside the old My Documents folder within your user name folder. To change this, open Word and select Tools, Options (in Word 2007, select Office, Word Options), then File Locations; click the Modify button, navigate to the new Documents folder in C:\ (or whatever name you gave it) and select it. Now Word will always ask you where in your new Documents folder you want to save your poem, and you can select the Poetry (or whichever) folder to save it in. Other programs usually have a similar feature allowing you to automatically save your work in a location different from the Windows default. If not, use “Save As” instead of Save, and navigate to the folder in which you want to organize your data. As for downloads, various browsers (technically, “user agents”) allow you to stipulate where they should go; in Firefox, for example, the choice is found in Tools, Options, General, a radio button for “Save files to” and a Browse button allowing you to select your new Downloads folder in the C:\ drive. Using Windows Explorer, you can later either delete the downloaded files or move them to your chosen category, as described above.

Finally, what about old files you rarely use, but don’t want to delete — such as old emails, if you save them in Word or some other word processing program? You can create an Archive folder in your C:\ drive (or on another drive, such as a USB flash drive (“jump drive,” or “stick drive”). Then create an Email Archive folder, and within it you can create folders for old emails by year, respondent, or whatever works for you. (Recently I had to go back to 2003 to consult an old email someone sent me.) Using an Archive folder, you can reduce the clutter in the folders you regularly use, without deleting information that just might come in handy some day.

Happy Writing!
The Publisher

©2012 Laudemont Press