David Barker - BarkerDavid@gmail.com - CC-BY-ND 2.0

Staying Organized: Delete Everything

(Originally published April 2012.)

Even with the flooding in Thailand last year, storage is incredibly cheap, and getting cheaper. We’ve gotten to the point where there is virtually no reason to delete anything. Google saw this coming years ago, promoting “archiving” in Gmail over ever actually deleting anything.

Unfortunately, local filesystems are rarely as easy to use as Gmail’s search bar. (Side note: this is both extremely sad, and totally unnecessary.) So how do you stay organized while keeping everything?


The best way to stay organized is to force yourself into it with fire. Delete your desktop and downloads every night (plus any other folders where crud tends to pile up).

This is a pain at first. Raymond Chen tells the story of Microsoft’s scratch network share - despite the self-explanatory name, users often complained about lost work every time it was wiped. I experienced a similar problem in my work at StudentRND:

Adam: I made a folder in \jolt\Temp.
Me: Woah, it’s really difficult to find. I’m just going to delete everything else.
Ed: Do not delete Temp.
Me: ???
Ed: We will lose months of work. A lot of the files for the plasma speaker are there!

We ended up settling on just moving everything into a folder, “Temp before March 10 2012”, which is unfortunately still there. This does not happen on folders which are emptied nightly.

Treat your temp folders like a trash can - you wouldn’t store important files in the trash. Having the folders erase themselves nightly sends this point very strongly. It sounds extreme, but it’s actually very liberating. Backups are easier. Your hard drives usually have more space. (Okay, I said there was no reason to delete anything, but there’s really no reason to save the vs2012 installer when you can re-download it.) Best of all, you won’t have to spend 30 seconds hunting for a file you don’t remember.

(In writing this I considered making a github repo with scripts to do this automatically, but I decided against it because it’s unbelievably trivial. If you’re using a unix-based system, add

0 0 * * * rm -rf /tmp/* (…)

to your Crontab. In Windows, you can do the same with the task scheduler.)