We’ve all done it. We’ve sat there deleting files on our computer and our finger forgot to stop tapping the mouse. Pretty soon, we’ve discovered that we’ve deleted more than we meant to and those important work files or family pictures are now gone.

Is it time to cry? Time for a stiff drink? Well not quite. There are some things you can try to see if you can make those deleted files reappear.

First – PRO Tip!

Stop using the computer. Yes that’s right. As soon as you delete a file, the chances of it being successfully recovered goes down the more you continue to use the computer. As you download more things and use more programs, the deleted file gets overwritten multiple times until it gets to the point where it is too corrupted to be brought back from the dead.

So as soon as you’ve realised you need to restore a file, stop using your computer. Shut down as many of your running programs as possible.

Below are four recovery options you can try starting with the easiest of them all.

Drag It Out Of The Trash Bin (If It’s Still There)

If you’ve just deleted it, check your operating system’s trash bin (assuming you haven’t immediately emptied the trash). If it is there, simply drag the file out with your mouse or trackpad back to its original folder.

Be aware though that any files deleted from an SD card or USB stick will not appear in the trash bin. They will bypass the trash and be deleted immediately.

Backups

If trash bin recovery is not an option, then it’s time to look at your backups – you are making backups aren’t you?

For macOS, the backup option would be Time Machine. You can set it up by going to System Preferences–>Time Machine, and when you need to restore a file, just go to Applications–>Time Machine and choose which version you want restored.

For Windows, the best options are either SyncToy or System Restore. Being an overcautious paranoid guy, I use both. SyncToy has to be manually run but System Restore can be automated.

In the Windows menu, start typing “system restore” and very quickly “create a restore point” will appear. Select that.

Under the System Protection tab, you can set up a System Restore point by clicking “Configure” to switch the feature on.

If you accidentally delete a file and need to roll back to a previous version of your Windows system, just highlight the relevant drive in “Protection Settings” and now click “System Restore” to see all of the possible points you can roll back to.

Cloud Storage File History

OK you’ve deleted your trash bin and you’ve discovered that your backup options were not working. Now you’re starting to panic a little. Hang tight, there’s other things you can try.

I always try to upload as much as possible to cloud storage as another backup solution. With the exception of Dropbox which charges an arm and a leg, many cloud storage solutions are becoming extremely cheap. And the selection is becoming very broad – OneDrive, Google Drive, Sync, Box, Google Photos, and iCloud are just a few possibilities.

One of the great things about cloud storage is that they have a file history feature where deleted files can be recovered if it’s within a certain time frame. In Dropbox, it’s at this link. In Sync, it’s here.

In iCloud Drive, it’s slightly hidden. You need to go here and in the bottom right-hand corner, there’s a small “RECENTLY DELETED” link.

Recuva

OK so far you haven’t been able to recover those wedding photos and you’re seriously considering changing your name and fleeing from the wife to a non-extradition country. But before you pack your suitcase, there is one last option you can try.

There is a piece of free software called Recuva. It has a very good reputation for recovering files but as I said before, you usually have no luck with recovering files if they were on an SD card or USB stick. But Recuva DOES scan these things to see what it can find.

Recuva’s success depends entirely on when you deleted the file and how much you have done on the computer since then (hence the tip at the start to stop using your computer).

Install and run Recuva. Then choose the drive which the deleted file was on (if it was an SD card or USB stick, insert it into the hard drive and select it in Recuva) and Recuva will begin to scan the drive to see what can and cannot be recovered.

When it is finished, it will base its results on the “traffic light” system. Files marked green are intact and can be recovered easily. Files marked yellow are a “maybe” and you can give it a go. Files marked red are probably corrupted and gone.

You can click the “Last Modified” column to make sure everything is in strict date order and it is just a case of scrolling and getting lucky. Weirdly enough, Recuva does not offer a search function which would speed things up if you knew the file name.

If after all that, you STILL don’t have your file, you will have to decide how important the file is to you. If it is irreplaceable, consider going to a computer professional who may have more advanced scanning tools. But if it’s just a bootleg copy of Bryan Adams, you may just want to let it go and move on.