By Whitson Gordon Jan 24, 2012 8:00 AM
Ditch Hard Drive Clutter with an Organized, Automated Home Folder
Your home folder is the base of operations on your computer, where you throw every document, app installer, photo, and other file you'll need later. So why does it look like it's been ravaged by a virtual tornado? Here's how to organize all of your documents so you never have to rummage through a mess of files again.Icons by David Lanham .
We've already talked about how to clean up and organize your desktop , but your documents folder can get just as cluttered, especially since a lot of what you keep on your desktop is temporary—while your home folder builds up every project you've ever worked on, not to mention half the files you download. Building off of Gina's original document-organizing method , we're going to show you an updated folder structure for your documents, how to integrate it with Dropbox so you have it everywhere you go, and how to keep it clean without ever having to touch it.
Organize Your FoldersThe first step in getting your home folder under control is to create a folder structure that works for you. Most of the home folder is already set up for easy organization—you have your documents in one folder, your music in another, and so on. But within those individual folders, things can get cluttered quickly.
Generally, I let my media player manage my Music folder, and my photo manager deal with my Pictures folder (though you can always do it yourself , too). Your Documents folder, on the other hand, is up to you. You could just shove every word document, PDF, and other miscellaneous file in the documents folder and leave it up to your search function, but I prefer to add at least one layer of organization so I know where everything is. This is a little different for everyone, but I've found that these five folders should provide a good skeleton for just about anyone.
- Those should reside in the cloud , or at the very least on an external drive. Rather, this folder is for application-specific backups, settings, and other files. That means your Quicken backup file, exported address book CSVs, and stuff like that go in here. In addition, a lot of programs—like the GIMP or PhraseExpress, for example—like to put settings folders in your Documents folder. Usually, you can't change their location, but I don't like them cluttering up the root of my Documents folder. So, I usually hide them and place a shortcut to them in the Bak folder—at least for the ones I'd need to regularly access. You can hide a folder in Windows by right-clicking, going to Properties, and checking the "Hidden" box. Mac users don't really have this problem, so you shouldn't need to hide folders inside your Documents.
- your Todo.txt file , scripts you need for Geektool or Rainmeter , and so on. A lot of times, the difference between Bak and Scripts can get murky, especially if you don't have too many scripts. If you find that both folders are fairly empty, you can consolidate them into one folder for easier access. I have a lot of random scripts I keep on hand for different things, though, so I prefer to keep them separate. Again, you can tweak this structure to fit your workflow—this isn't set in stone.
Lastly, you should have one or two places where you temporarily store files. These days, that's usually your Downloads folder and/or your Desktop . Everyone organizes them a little differently , but I've found that if I need to organize them, I'm relying on them too much. I set Firefox, uTorrent, and other programs to dump their downloads in my Downloads folder, and I usually use whatever it is—an app installer, a .torrent file, or whatever else—immediately, and then it can be deleted. If it's a document or PDF, I'll usually put it right into Docs. Like Docs, this folder should never have too many things in it at once—once you've used it, delete it, or put it into one of the above folders if it has a place there. My Downloads folder is essentially a halfway point between the internet and my documents, so if something's been in there for awhile, it isn't where it needs to be.
Automatically Keep It Clean with BelvedereComing up with an efficient folder structure helps out a lot, but constantly having to move files around is kind of a pain. We can automate some of the process with a program like Belvedere for Windows , or Hazel for Mac . We've shown you how to use them before , so we won't go into too much detail here, but you can use a few simple rules to make sure everything stays clean.
Now, Belvedere will automatically archive documents of that type that have been in there for over a week. You can tweak the rule as you see fit; I've found that a week is usually sufficient for me. You can also check the "Confirm Action" box in the Edit Rule window if you want it to give you a popup every time it moves files, but this can get annoying.
I've set up a similar rule for my Downloads folder, that moves all week-old EXE files to the Recycle Bin (since these are usually installers that I no longer need). Again, you can do it with whatever file types you want. If you want to get more advanced with it, too, you can—whether that's automatically adding downloaded music to your favorite media player, regularly emptying the recycle bin, and more. Check out our full guides to automating your folder organization with Belvedere and Hazel for more ideas and info.
Sync Everything to the Cloud with Dropboxtalked about this once before , but we're going to use a slightly different method. Instead of using our Dropbox as our home folder—since I like the default home folder structure—we're going to use symbolic links to sync only the folders we want. Symbolic links are essentially like shortcuts, except your computer doesn't recognize them as shortcuts—it sees them as the actual folder they're linking to.
On Windows, the process is a tad confusing. We're still going to put the folders we want to sync in our Dropbox folder. This is the only way it works on Windows. Then, we'll create symbolic links in those folders' original locations, so it's like they were never gone, and all your apps will still use the same file paths to find all your documents and settings.
To do this, first grab a folder that you want to sync (we'll use Docs as an example) and drag it into your Dropbox. Then, to create a symlink, you'll need to jump into the command line and run the
mklinkcommand using this syntax:
mklink /D C:\Path\To\Link C:\Path\To\Original\FolderSo, in the case of the Docs folder, which now resides in our Dropbox, this would:
mklink /D C:\Users\Whitson\Documents\Docs C:\Users\Whitson\Dropbox\DocsNow you should see a link to Docs in your Documents folder, which leads you to the real Docs folder in your Dropbox.
In OS X and Linux, you can leave your desired folder (again, in this case, Docs) in its original location, and create a symlink in your Dropbox to sync the folder. Do this with the
lncommand, which works like this:
ln -s /path/to/original/folder /path/to/linkIn which case, you'd run this command to link the Docs folder:
ln -s /Users/Whitson/Documents/Docs /Users/Whitson/Dropbox/DocsNow, repeat this process for any other folders you want to sync—I sync all my Documents folders and my photos, but not my music, videos, or downloads—and you'll have access to them on all your other machines without messing up your computer's original directory structure. Note that if you're uncomfortable with the command line, you can always use an app like previously mentioned Dropbox Folder Sync for Windows or previously mentioned MacDropAny to create those symbolic links.
Obviously, everything in this guide is subject to your particular wants and needs. If you only have one or two "scripts", you can always just throw them in Bak to make your life easier, or if you find you need another folder for something specific related to your work, go ahead and create it. This is merely a skeleton outline, and should provide you with a starting point for a newly minted home folder with all the syncing, automated cleaning goodness you can think of. Got any of your own tips or modifications to this? Share them in the comments below.