Take a Mulligan

I think it’s happened to everyone. You’re cleaning up your stuff and you decide to move a bunch of files and folders from one place to another.

Windows asks if you’re sure. You’re really sure! But … it turns out you were really wrong and now your stuff is gone.

The first thing to do is remain calm.

Wait. Did that really happen?

If you delete a file and you realize right away that it was a mistake, press the CTRL and the Z key at the same time. The key combination of CTRL+Z tells Windows to “Undo” the last thing it did. If deleting the file was the last thing you did, you will probably get it back.

If you haven’t emptied your Recycle Bin, double-click on the Recycle Bin to open it and see if you can locate the file.

If so, you can either right-click on it and then click Restore, or just click once on it and then click Restore this item at the top of the window. 

The file will go back to its last location.

If you’ve deleted email, look in the Deleted Items folder in your email program. Email doesn’t go to the Recycle Bin.

Maybe it’s still around

If you don’t realize the mistake until it’s too late to do a CTRL+Z and your stuff isn’t in the recycle bin, there’s a good chance you just moved it inside another folder. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this with music and photos.

But…which folder?

One way to find it is to click on hundreds of folders until you find what you’re looking for.

A better way is to do a computer search. Windows includes a powerful search function. Just look at the top of any Explorer window in any modern version of Windows. Type your search term in there and see if Windows can find your file.  

There are alternatives to the built-in search. Not many of them do what they say they will.

Two of the best I’ve found are Everything, available here. Both tools are free and fast. Both offer a more robust search experience without having to go through all the indexing required by Windows native search.

SearchMyFiles is an excellent tool for finding duplicate files. Both tools work on Windows versions all the way through Windows 10.

If none of that works:

Try a file recovery tool. I’ve had success with Recuva

The program is free, and although the author encourages you to donate, you are under no obligation to do so.

You are also under no obligation to install the toolbars or scanners that might be offered to you when you install the program.  Simply clear the check box(es) and continue with the install.

When you run the program, Recuva will ask you what kind of file you want to recover.

Choose from:

  • Pictures
  • Music
  • Documents
  • Video
  • Compressed files
  • Email (yes, it will recover email!)
  • “Other” which will look for … other files.

Next choose a location from which to recover. If you deleted something from an external drive (like the SD card from your camera), just tell Recuva to search for it on that drive; don’t search your whole computer.

Recuva will search and present you with a list of files it’s found. You can continue to refine the search results from here, or you can restore now if you see the file you’re looking for. Not every file can be restored, even if Recuva can find it. 

You’ll see a green light if chances are good, red if not. Recuva can’t find or restore everything. You still need to back up your files. But Recuva has helped me get some of my customers out of a jam, and it’s a worthwhile tool to have installed.

What about you? Do you have a “go to” way to recover your files? Send email to [email protected] and I’ll share your solution with everyone.

Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along.


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About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

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