Organizing Files and Folders

Learning Objectives

  • Organize files and folders.
  • Create files and folders.
  • Delete and restore files and folders using the Recycle Bin.
An image of a man sitting amongst a cluttered assortment of physical files is directly next to an image of a windows file center. This shows the ease and simplicity of storing files virtually.

Failing to organizing your files makes it harder to find them later.

As you use your computer to create and download files, it’s easy to become buried in a sea of tiny icons with vague names. Just as it is important to organize papers so that you can find them later, it is important to organize your computer files by creating folders and putting files inside of them.

File Explorer

In Windows, the primary way of interacting with files and folders is through the File Explorer application. (In older versions of Windows, this may be called Windows Explorer. In Macs, the equivalent would be Finder.)

There are a couple of ways to open File Explorer. The shortcut Win+E will open File Explorer. It can also be opened by clicking the Start button and typing “File Explorer” or by right-clicking any folder and selecting Open. By default, File Explorer is pinned to the task bar (see below), and it can be opened from there.

Start menu displayed with a search for file explorer in progress.

Open the Start menu and type “File Explorer.”

File explorer highlighted in the windows 10 task bar.

Find File Explorer pinned to the taskbar.

A right click of a file leading to a set of new options including, "Open", "Pin to Quick access", and "Scan with Windows Defender".

Right-click a folder and select Open.

Some folders already exist in File Explorer, such as Documents, Desktop, and Downloads. (Documents may be called “My Documents” in older versions of Windows). You can create more folders or folders within folders to allow for better organization.

To create a folder, right-click, then select New>Folder.

In the documents section of windows a right click option has been signaled with "new" being shaded in light gray on the new display page.

Right-click in File Explorer, then select New>Folder.

In Windows 7, there is a New folder button near the top of the window. In Windows 10, you can also click the Home tab, then the New Folder button.

A file finder window is open specifically on the documents page. There is a green arrow pointing towards the option to create a "New Folder" in Windows 7.

Windows 7 New folder button


A file finder window is open specifically on the home page. There is a green 2 indicating to where the option to create a "New Folder" in Windows 10 is.

Windows 10 New folder button


Renaming Files

To rename a file or folder, right-click the file or folder, then select Rename.

A fil folder displaying how to rename a file from a pre-existing one.

You can also click the name of the file or folder once, wait one second, then click the name of the file or folder again.

Note that in Windows, a file cannot contain any of the following characters: \ / : * ? " < > |. This is because those characters have special meaning in Windows. (For example \ is included in file paths.) If Windows encounters a file or folder with those symbols, it could potentially misread the file or folder name and cause problems. As a precaution, Windows will not let you save files or folders with those characters, so don’t worry about saving a file with those characters in the name by mistake.

Macs are less stringent about what characters can be included in a file or folder’s name; only the colon (:) cannot be used. However, it is a good practice to avoid using the Windows-prohibited characters in file names because the file name will be automatically changed when moved to a Windows computer.

Practice Question


Finding a Specific Folder or File: File Paths

When looking for a specific folder or file, it is helpful to follow the file path. The file path tells you what folders to click on to get to the file. Read it left to right to show what folders to click on to get to the file; read it right to left to show which folders are nested in each folder.

For example:

C:\Users\Sierra Rowan\Documents\Projects\suppliers

This file path means that the file is in the suppliers folder, which is in the Projects folder, which is in the Documents folder, which is in the Sierra Rowan username folder, which is in the Users folder, which is on the C drive of the computer.

Nesting dolls going from the biggest on the far left to the smallest on the fire right. The biggest one stands for "Users" the next stands for "Sierra/Rowan" the third represents "Documents" the fourth is "Projects" the 5 stands for "Suppliers" and the last stands for "File"

Note that the backslash is another shorthand format you might see in instructions to indicate which folder is being discussed. (For example, “Go to the Documents\Office Templates folder”)

Traveling the File Path

Rather than remembering the file path for a specific file, you can use the toolbar at the top of File Explorer or the Properties window.

Toolbar Method

For example, the screenshot below shows a folder in Windows 7 called New folder. The file path for this folder is C:\Users\user\Documents\New folder. In the screenshot below, the user could click Documents to go up one folder to the Documents folder, and the small double-arrow on the left to go up to higher folders such as user.

A file finder window is open with three green arrows pointing in different directions. The first is pointing "To Higher Folders" the second is pointing at the "Documents Folder" and the third is aimed at the "File Path".

The screenshot shows a folder in Windows 7 called New folder. The file path for this folder is C:\Users\user\Documents\New folder. The user could click Documents to go up one folder to the Documents folder, and the small double-arrow on the left to go up to higher folders such as user.

Clicking the blank space to the right of the folder name will reveal the entire file path, which can be copied and pasted elsewhere.

In the documents library there is an option to highlight the entire file path which you can then copy and paste elsewhere.

Properties Method

Right-click the file or anywhere in the folder and select Properties. A window will pop up displaying the file path of the file or folder. (Note that it does not include New folder itself.)

A file finder is open on the documents library. There is a green arrow pointing to where a dropdown menu has been opened. A green box is at the end of the arrow showing where the "Properties" feature is. A New Folder Properties dialog box is open. There is a green box around the location details of the new folder.

Practice Question

Selecting and Moving Files

There are several ways to move files:

  • Click and drag the file into a folder.
  • Click a file, cut using Ctrl+X, then paste into the new folder using Ctrl+V
  • Click a file, copy using Ctrl+C, then paste into the new folder using Ctrl+V (leaves the original file where it is)
    • Note that the copies are not connected; edits made to one copy will not be reflected in the other copy.
  • Right-click a file, select either Copy or Cut in the dialog menu, then right-click in the folder and select Paste.

Moving Multiple Files

There are a few different ways to select multiple files (which we’ll discuss below). Once you’ve selected multiple files, anything you do to a single file will be done to all selected files. (For example, clicking and dragging will move all selected files, hitting Ctrl+C will copy all selected files, etc.)

You can select multiple files at once using the following shortcuts: Hold down Ctrl while clicking to select multiple files. Hold down Shift while clicking to select two files and all the files between them. Press Ctrl+A to select all files. (Note that when using Ctrl+A, you can use Ctrl+Click to deselect files. You’ll want to deselect the destination folder, since a folder cannot be in itself.)

A file folder with every other file highlighted.


A file folder with the first half of all the files highlighted.


File folder with all of the files highlighted.


Deleting Files and Folders

To delete a file or folder (or multiple selected files), right-click on the file and select Delete. You can also select the file and hit the Delete key on the keyboard. Deleting a folder deletes all its contents as well.
A highlighted file that had been right clicked on, displaying an option to delete the file.

You may get a dialog prompt that asks if you want to move the file to the recycling bin. If that happens, say yes. If you didn’t get a dialog prompt, the file was still sent to the Recycle Bin. (The Mac equivalent is called Trash.) Deleted files are not gone forever; they are sent to the Recycle Bin.

Recycling Bin

An empty recycle bin on the left and a full recycle bin on the right.

An empty and occupied Recycle Bin

Deleted files are not gone forever. When a file is deleted, it is sent to the Recycle Bin. The Recycle Bin can be found on the Desktop. Its icon resembles a recycle bin or trash can, and the icon changes depending on whether the Recycle Bin contains any files.

The recycle bin is a holding place for deleted files. To permanently delete a file, you can delete it again from the Recycle Bin, or you can empty the Recycle Bin. It is recommended you empty the Recycle Bin every once in a while to free up space.

If you delete something by accident, or if you change your mind about a deleted file, you can un-delete it by restoring the file from the Recycle Bin.

To restore or permanently delete a file, right-click on the file and select either Restore or Delete. Deleted files are permanently deleted; restored files are restored to their original location before being deleted.

A recycle bin with the option to restore a recycled file easily accessible after double clicking on the file.

Right-clicking a file

You can restore or permanently delete individual files or multiple files at once using the Manage option on the toolbar.

A recycle bin showing the multiple options on how to manage the bin.

In the toolbar in the screenshot above, from left to right:

  • Empty Recycle Bin: Permanently deletes everything in the Recycle Bin.
  • Recycle Bin properties: Allows you to choose how much space to allot to the Recycle Bin. When the Recycle Bin reaches capacity, it will automatically delete its oldest files. The Recycle Bin properties also has an option to automatically delete files permanently. (Unless you know what you are doing, it is recommended you leave Recycle Bin properties alone.)
  • Restore all items: Restores everything in the Recycle Bin to its former location.
  • Restore the selected items: Restores only the file or files you have selected.

Practice Question

Check Your Understanding

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.