Arrange, sort, or group your files

Do you organize your clothes by color or by style? How about your spice rack: alphabetically or by intensity of flavor? Everyone has their own way of organizing what's important to them, and you can use Windows 7 to be just as particular about all of your important files and folders.

The four basic ways to organize how your files and folders appear in Windows 7 include arranging, sorting, grouping, and changing your view. Understanding the differences between these options will help you customize and combine them to your liking.

Bring instant order to your files (Arrange by)

The easiest and most effective way to organize your stuff is to use file arrangements in your libraries.

Picture of the Pictures library arranged by month
The Pictures library, arranged by month

You can arrange files in the Documents library by author, for example, or you can arrange the Music library by artist if you're looking for an album or song by a particular band. For more information about libraries, see Working with libraries.

To arrange a library

  1. In the taskbar, click the Windows Explorer button Picture of the Windows Explorer button..
  2. In the navigation pane (the left pane), click a library (such as Pictures).

  3. In the library pane (above the file list), click the Arrange by menu, and then choose a property. For example, in the Music library, you can choose Artist to quickly arrange your music collection by artist.

    Picture of the "Arrange by" menu
    The "Arrange by" menu

When you arrange your files, Windows doesn't just put your files in a different order. Instead, they are presented in a completely different way. The arrangements work differently depending on which one you choose. For example, arranging your pictures by month will put your pictures into stacks, like this:

Picture of files arranged in stacks
Files arranged in "stacks"

While arranging by day will put them into groups, like this:

Picture of files arranged in groups
Files arranged in "groups"

There are four default libraries in Windows 7, each with their own specific arrangements. You can also create new libraries and choose which arrangements are available for them.

To learn how to create a new library, see Create a new library.

To change the available arrangements in a library

  1. In the navigation pane (the left pane), right-click a library, and then click Properties.

  2. Under Optimize this library for, choose a file type. For example, if you plan to use a library mostly for pictures, choose Pictures. (If you're unsure, choose General Items.)

  3. Click OK. The available arrangements for the library will now reflect the file type.

When you discover an arrangement that you like, you can further customize it by trying other options, such as sorting, grouping, and changing your view. Experiment to your heart's content; if you don't like what you see, you can easily go back to the default view settings by clicking the Arrange by menu and then clicking Clear changes. (You won't see this option if you haven't made any changes to the view, sort, or group settings for an arrangement.)

Sequence your files to suit you (Sort by)

Sorting options are similar to arrangements, except they don't change the way your files appear—they just reorder them. Generally, files are listed in alphabetical order by name. But this convention doesn't always make the most sense. For example, if you're viewing a list of photos that you took with a digital camera, the files might have hard-to-remember names like "IMG_0450." But if you tag your photos, sorting them by tags will probably make more sense than alphabetizing them. For more information about tagging, see Tag pictures so they're easier to find.

To sort your files

  1. Open the folder or library that you want to sort.

  2. Right-click an empty space, point to Sort by, and then click a property (such as Tags).

    Picture of the "Sort by" menu
    The "Sort by" menu
  3. If you don't see the property you're looking for in the Sort by menu, click More to add additional properties.

Create visual breaks for easy organization (Group by)

In addition to arranging and sorting, you can also group files by property. Like sorting, grouping won't significantly change the way files are displayed. It just breaks them into different sections, depending on which property you choose. So, if you have a folder full of text documents, you might want to group them by type to see which program was used to create them. Or, if you're dealing with photos, you can group them by date to separate them by the date they were taken.

To group your files by property

  1. Open the folder or library that you want to group.

  2. Right-click an empty space, point to Group by, and then click a property (such as Type).

  3. If you don't see the property you're looking for in the Group by menu, click More to add properties.

If you want to remove the grouping separation in a folder or library, just right-click an empty space, point to Group by, and then click (None).

Change the appearance of your files (View)

In addition to changing how your files are organized, you can also change how they appear.

To change your view

  1. Open a folder or library.

  2. On the toolbar, click the arrow next to the Views button Picture of the Views button, and then move the slider.
    Picture of the Views menu
    The Views menu

If you mix view options with different arrange, sort, or group options, you can create some interesting and helpful combinations. For example, if you've arranged the Pictures library in a certain way, you might also want to change the view to make the pictures bigger.

You can also show or hide the file names for pictures and video files. If you take a lot of pictures with a digital camera and don't bother renaming the files, this can greatly reduce the clutter in your Pictures library.

To show or hide the file names for pictures and videos

  1. Open a folder or library containing pictures or video files.

  2. Right-click an empty space, point to View, and click Hide file names. (If this option has a check box next to it, the file names are already hidden from view.)

Note

  • If you don't see the Arrange by, Sort by, or Group by menus, it means that these options aren't available for the particular browsing state that you're in. For example, arrangements are only available in libraries, so you won't see this option when you're browsing outside a library.