Have you ever deleted a large number of files from your computer in an attempt to free up more storage space, only to find that after all that effort you didn’t gain a single byte of extra room? If so, you have already discovered that “deleting” a file from a computer running Windows doesn’t actually delete it. When you hit the delete key or click the delete menu selection to get rid of a file, it goes to your recycle bin, where it is stored until you are absolutely sure you want it gone for good.
The great thing about having a recycle bin is that it serves as an automatic safety net that prevents you from permanently deleting something you wish you didn’t. The not so great side effect is that if you don’t periodically empty the bin, your computer may punish you by performing sluggishly. But, what exactly does “periodically” mean? The answer to that question depends on the size of your recycle bin, how often you use it, and what you’re sending there.
By default, the maximum size of your recycle bin is 10% of your drive. So, if your drive has 100 gigabytes of memory, your bin will hold 10 gigs. If you are often deleting huge movie files or folders full of music or photos, your bin will fill quickly and it should be emptied daily. If you are only occasionally sending small text files to the bin, emptying it every few months would be just fine. In the middle of those two extremes is the average computer user who should get in the habit of emptying the bin at least once a month.
An important point to remember is that once your recycle bin is full, Windows permanently deletes the oldest file when a new one comes in. If this is a concern, you can adjust the size of your recycle bin quite easily by right-clicking on it, selecting “properties” and changing the size. You can also shrink the recycle bin if you’re not worried about permanently losing files once the bin gets full. Do be aware that if you attempt to delete a file that is too large for the bin, Windows will permanently delete it.
If emptying the recycle bin gives you anxiety because you’re worried you may permanently lose something you wish you didn’t, try opening the bin, arranging the files by file type and looking through them carefully before emptying. This is done by clicking on the column header “type” which will list all files of the same type together. If you find a file you’re not absolutely sure you’re ready to permanently part with, drag it to a folder you’ve created in My Documents named “RecycledAgain” for recycle bin files you’re not ready to let go of.
Of course, if you’re really brave you can bypass the recycle bin altogether by holding down the shift key when you’re deleting a file, and it will be gone for good.