Tips – Empty your Recycle Bin

A conversation with a neighbour today:

“Hey Dave, you know I said my computer was running slowly?”

Me: “Yeah, sorry I’ve been meaning to pop in and look at that for you”

Neighbour: “Well today, I emptied my Recycle Bin, and now it starts up almost straight away!”

Me: “That’s great, but how long since you last emptied it!?”

Neighbour: “Oh, I don’t think I ever have…”

There’s a lesson here. When you delete something, it doesn’t actually get deleted. It goes in the Recycle Bin just in case you did it by accident. That item is still taking up storage space on your computer’s hard drive. Think of it this way – the computer doesn’t actually delete the file, it just changes the pointer that tells it where the file is from say, My Documents, to Recycle Bin. The file’s still there, taking up space, but you just don’t notice it any more because it’s tucked away in a folder you very seldom (or in the case of my neighbour, never) access.

While this shouldn’t ordinarily affect the speed of your PC, the Recycle bin, if you’ve never noticed before, sits as an icon on your Desktop. Every time Windows boots up, anything on the desktop has to be loaded up so it’s immediately available as soon as Windows has finished loading. In the case of my neighbour, his Recycle Bin probably contained thousands of files (including some REALLY big files like photos and videos). So Windows not only had to load the Recycle Bin icon onto his desktop, it also had to read and load all of the files that were contained in it. No wonder his PC took ages to boot up!

Another way that a full Recycle Bin could cause your PC to slow down, particularly on an older PC, is if you’re running out of hard drive space. Remember, my neighbour had probably never emptied his bin, so it’s quite possible that a large percentage of his hard drive was taken up by files he didn’t actually need! Your hard drive has a finite capacity, and although on the surface your files might appear to be pretty organised, underneath they are scattered all over your hard drive as Windows writes files, moves them, deletes them, and reuses space freed up by all this behind the scenes activity. Think of a library. Remember when you had to go look up the book you wanted in the old card index, then hunt down that section of the library, find the right set of shelves, then find the spot on the shelf? That can be quite time-consuming if it’s a LARGE library! Do the same in a small library, and you’ll be much more efficient! Now, when you delete a file it doesn’t actually get removed from the hard drive, it just gets moved to a different shelf, the Recycle Bin shelf. It’s still holding a spot in the library, along with ALL the other deleted files. So, it still takes about the same time to find that book or bit of data you need. Emptying the bin clears all those deleted files/books off the shelves.

If your PC is getting on a bit, it’s likely your hard drive is getting full of all the pictures of your kids, videos of your family outings etc., etc. Thinking back to the library analogy, we need somewhere to work amongst all the books. With a full hard drive (typically less that 12% free space), Windows runs out of space to work, and has to start moving things around all the time just to do its job. Add to that the underlying disorganised state of the hard drive, and it’s like having to work at the kitchen table while your family is eating their dinner, your kids are doing their homework and your partner is indulging in organising their stamp collection all at the same time! Emptying your Recycle Bin frees up a bit (or a lot) of working space.

Of course, there are other things you can do to speed up your PC, and many of these will have a much greater effect, but emptying the bin is a quick, simple everyday task that can help keep your PC running more snappily.

How to empty your Recycle Bin

Simply locate the Recycle Bin icon on your Desktop. On Windows 7 it looks like this:

And on Windows 10 it looks like this:

Right-click on the icon, and select “Empty Recycle Bin”. You’ll be asked if you’re sure – I can’t help with that, it’s your call – and if you are, click OK and Bob’s your uncle!