Reader K submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
We have a few computers that should be donated, but I’m deathly afraid of losing files that either weren’t migrated to the new machine or were created after the new machine was up and running (and therefore, not on the new machine).
Is there some sort of computer utility program that can compare the directories (and nested subdirectories) of one computer against those of another, to highlight differences (files, newer versions) so I can decide whether or not to keep or delete the files?
I could just recopy the files to the newer machine, but I really want to make a conscious decision to bring over files, not just by default.
After the comparison is done and the files are copied over (assuming there are some), I know it’s important to have the hard drive destroyed so we don’t let our personal data into anyone else’s hands. I also know it’s important to recycle the components, not dump them. We will do those steps only after I’m satisfied that there aren’t files (i.e., older photos, important random documents) that need to be saved first.
Oh, by the way, I’m talking about Windows computers, not Macs.
My assumption is that you are using a Windows 7 operating system since it has been the OS-du jour the past couple years. As a result of this assumption, I’d start by trying SyncToy 2.1, which is a free Microsoft program that works with Windows 7. (Free! Free!) It will help you to transfer documents from multiple old machines to your current machine and also compare all the files to identify duplicates. It’s easy to use and all you do is click on boxes to make decisions about your files.
When the comparison is complete, I recommend spending 15 minutes a day weeding through all the documents on your new computer. You no longer need to worry about duplicate files, but there are likely still files you transferred that you don’t need or want. Eventually, you’ll sort through all these old files, and your machine will be uncluttered. At this point, be sure to do a much needed backup of your computer to an external hard drive or online, or, better yet, both.
For new content you create on your new machine, consider using a method that regularly has you deleting unnecessary and temporary content. I like the method Brian Kieffer uses — it’s the one I detail in my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week — which he describes in detail in “Managing computer file clutter.”
Finally, when it’s time to say farewell to your old machines, check out “How to dispose of old electronics” for advice on how to delete data from your hard drives.
Thank you, K, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check the comments for even more ideas from our readers.
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