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Organized Data: How to name files, folders and photographs

Some call me OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), when it comes to naming files, photos and folders, but I like to call it: organized.

This is a peek into my world of data organization.

I started using this system sometime after college.

Before, my files were a bit of a hodge-podge mess all over the place: Untitled 1, Untitled 2, Blablabla.

Then when I graduated, I realized I had to deal with a lot more files than before, and I had to be a lot more organized especially in naming folders for projects.

Here are some of the tricks I use when naming files and folders for anything I do:


Everything sorts alphabetically, and it’s kind of annoying if you are on a project and you think in a sequence. For example, folders look like this if you don’t use numbers:


Therefore, I name folders with numbers at the start like this:

I always use double-digits, because I rarely hit 99 folders, but I do go over 10 folders on occasion, and if you only use single digits on a PC (not on a Mac), it makes the 10. Folder go just below the 1. Folder.


This is inevitable.

You will end up with so many files, you will need 2 generic folders to help throw the excess you don’t need to look at in there.

  • Archive: These folders are for things you need to keep, but don’t need to look at
  • Admin: These folders are for things like manuals, how-tos, blank forms, templates

You can name them:



The “_” symbol before the name, trumps any numbered folder. It’s nice to put Archives or Admin stuff at the top so it’s easy to drag and disappear.


Keep them descriptive and useful, but not verbose.

Toronto Dominion Canada Trust? Name it “##. TD

The shorter your folder names, the better it is for your file name.

I call President’s Choice Financial “##. PC


I hate, Hate, HATE projects that have more than 4 folder levels deep.

You can’t find ANYTHING.

This is what a proper 3-level folder structure looks like, which is the rule you should generally follow:

1, 2, 3.

The 4th is if you REALLY need it.

But if you need a 5th folder level, then you need to create an entirely different set of folders at the first level, or find a different way of sorting it.

I’ve been on projects with 5+ folder levels and this happens:

  • stuff get lost in the confusion
  • people don’t bother clicking 10 times to get anywhere to really stick to the system
  • you can’t copy the folders in a backup because the file name is TOO LONG

When you go to make a 5th folder the next time, do everyone a favour and slap yourself before doing so.


It didn’t bother me much before, but it does now.

I am really after people on my project when they leave files named “Untitled” somewhere.

People know when I’ve gone into their files or folders, because it comes out with a name afterwards.


Blank spaces on PCs, turn into %20, because it’s a stupid operating system that has no idea how to create a proper ‘blank space’ in a name.

It sometime causes headaches when you copy or upload files, because of that %20 crap, so to avoid this, ALWAYS use underscores ” _ ” or dashes ” – ” in between parts of the name.


I can’t tell you how many times this has caused me a headache on a project for whatever reason.

You are allowed to leave blank spaces in folders, however. ๐Ÿ˜›


Depending on what you’re naming, it will change, but I generally follow this structure:

Main Category_Sub Category_Date*

*Dateย looks like:ย YearMonth #Month NameDay

Note that I am using ” _ ” a lot in this to be cleaner and to sort between the categories.

I use a ” ” for the date because it’s a category with sub categories (yyyy/mm/dd), and the ”ย ย ” in between denotes that.

How about an example?

So let’s say you have a bank Statement from TD Bank for the 21st of January 2013. It would look like this:


Main Category = TD because it’s TD Bank that is the institution

Sub Category = Statement because it’s a bank statement

Year = You need to put the year in front, so it sorts by year without you doing anything

Month # = Since a month name like “JAN” sorts alphabetically, I put the month # in front like “01” to help it sort better

Month Name = This is not necessary if the Month # is enough for you, but I like looking at the month name, even if it’s redundant

Day = I don’t always put this, but if there are a lot of statements in a month, I do, to separate them out

Come up with a naming system that suits YOU so that you’ll keep using it.

Don’t make it complicated if you don’t have/want to (e.g. adding dates or month names)


If you want the main category to say: “TD Bank”, then write it like this: “TDBank”, with a dash in the middle.


Like a budget category,ย it depends on what you do, so it’s quite personal.

I suggest the following folders in general:

_Backups: Back up your files, throw them all here

01. Budget: Obviously. I name and keep all my budgets by year (2012, 2013, etc).

02. Taxes: I like having folders by tax year (2012, 2013), and putting all documents in there.

03. Banking: I have folders by country and then by bank or money institution.

04. Credit Reports: I have folders by country

05. Bills and Receipts: Sometimes I keep these if they’re important.

06. Government: Anything to do with healthcare, license plates, health cards…

07. Insurance and Wills: Scanned wills, photographs of my things for insurance by year

08. Career: Resumes, interview prep notes, anything I’ve prepped for in the past

09. Education: Certificates, notes from college

10. Programs: Any program you’ve purchased and their serial numbers

All of the above only works if you actually name your files like how I mentioned above. That way, you just need ONE folder to hold multiple bank statements from different banks, and it’ll all be pre-sorted by file name without needing multiple folders.

Plus, it’s easier to see that “Statement” is from one bank or another, if you name it with the bank short name in front.


When you get things like photographs, it can get trickier, and by trickier, I mean I get lazier.

I take thousands of photographs when I travel, and I am not keen on naming any of them individually unless I really like it, and want to send it to someone.

However, for my own purposes, I am content to leave them named as IMG_#####.

Note: I use PICASA (free Google product) to organize all my pictures.

What I like about Picasa is that it creates folders right on your desktop, you can see thumbnails and you can use their Quick Photoshop-like filters to do things to your pictures in seconds.

Take for instance this picture I took in Evora Portugal, of an Art Installation in 2012.


Photo of an Umbrella Art Installation in Evora Portugal, 2012

I keep two sets of major folders:

Originals and Selections


In my already-sorted-through-image folders, it looks like this:


I sort through by major countries/continents, then cities in each country.

If I get more than 3 cities in a country, even though it can all be put onto the same continent, I create a new folder just for that country.


In my original photograph-image-folders, it looks like this:


I use a 4-level folder naming convention here:

1st Folder: Pictures

2nd Folder: 03. Trips

3rd Folder: Portugal, Evora (2011)

4th Folders: Each sight / site / grouping of photos

All my pictures are organized in this manner, and it makes it easy to see what you have, and the cities are organized like this:

Country, City (Year)

I visit cities multiple times, so I like to know what year I saw what.

Other times I don’t quite care, like in Canada. I am less interested in what year I was there, because I’m always there.

If we dig deeper into that Portugal, Evora (2011) folder, this is what you’ll find – my 4-level folders:


That’s not all I do (yes, it gets better… or worse, depending on your perspective), but it’s a good overview to get started on thinking about how to organize your data.

Any tips on organizing data and files that you’d like to share, or ask about?



  • Michael W.

    Hey, I just found this post and this is the BEST I’ve ever seen to actually put into words what I’ve been trying to accomplish for almost 2 years. I won’t go in to depth about my specific project, but would LOVE to speak with you if you’re still available! I took away a lot of helpful things from your post and have a question or two as well.

    Hope to connect with you soon! I’m on IG/Twitter: @_techquest

  • James

    I don’t recommend using very short folder names as you suggest. Taking a tip from programmers and their recommendations for description variable names, I recommend descriptive folder names. This helps document your file system content.

    Additionally, any content from media devices such as cameras, video and sound recorders I run through a script which creates folders such as 2013_05_29 by reading EXIF data or video meta data. I later add a descriptive element to the folder name such as 2013_05_29-London_Eye.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @James: The second tip you have is also something I do for naming photos and an excellent idea.

      I don’t use long names for folders for 3 reasons (it’s mostly because I want this particular system to be a flexible one to use even on projects, and not just in your own personal life):

      1. Usually folders for projects and anything I do, doesn’t start at the Root folder, it’s usually tucked away into 2 levels already before I get there.

      2. In Windows, if you have long descriptive folder names, it truncates it at the end with a ~ symbol because it’s too long, and it screws up everything for files, naming etc, because it’s trying to read the actual name but runs up against ~

      3. If you give super long descriptive folder names, you won’t be able to have multi-levels because everyone will dump everything into either one folder because they’re confused.

      The best I’ve found is either having multi-level categories to separate everything easily, with something like:

      Banking > ING Direct > ___put all statements in here____

      Or to name each file specifically as ING Direct_Statement, and throw it all under Banking.

  • fabulously frugirl

    I LOVE THIS, and I can’t wait to read your series so that I can soak in more tips to better organize me files. I just started a relatively new project at work, and I am so implementing this file directory (and any new tips you have), since the current project files I am working with is complete mayhem, and it’s already 3 years into the project, with too many links to old files to re-organize.

    Thanks so much for writing this! You are the awesome-est! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • CorianneM

    This is a great post. I have a system with folders, and it was working for a while, but here and there it’s getting a bit messy. I had been thinking about what I needed to change, but I was getting nowhere. But perhaps I can use some of your things to bring back some order into my life ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Mochi & Macarons

      If you want to know more about it, I can go more into detail. I’m working on a series for each section (folder) I outlined.

      • CorianneM

        Ha, I would actually. I probably won’t copy everything completely, but I was so inspired that I spent 3 hours yesterday sorting through my documents. It already paid off today; just now I needed to look a particular version of a doc up, and I found it immediately. I’d be interested to know more about your system!

        Too bad I have work to do now, otherwise I would go back to organising my files ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter

    YES! I wish more people (like my boss) more effectively named files. One of my HUGE peeves is using Jan, Feb, etc at the beginning of files. When I worked in real estate, I used to go and rename all of the minutes on the server folders, so that you could read them in order and made perfect sense for the email recipient (usually a client).
    I really need to take another stab at cleaning up our shared drive at work. Thankfully, my dept consists of my boss and I, so I can basically do whatever.

  • tomatoketchup

    I have all my photos organized through iPhoto on my mac. Since switching from PC to mac years ago, I found the way iPhoto does everything automatically to be good enough for my organizational needs. The only problem I foresee is if I ever decide to switch back to PC or to one of those other oddball operating systems in the future. Apple would really have to drop the ball in order for me to switch back though. I’m a big Apple fan.

    Nice photographs by the way. Your composition is excellent ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Mochi & Macarons

      Apple is fantastic! I’m especially happy with using Picasa for organizing photos, but I know in the future I might change so I need to keep folders organized just in case.
      Thanks! I try. I’m not the best by far but at least they’re worthy of being desktop wallpapers.

  • Vanessa

    Way back when you mentioned that you had like 10k photos from Asia and I thought “wth is she photographing?” but now that I see that you have 117 photos of umbrellas, I understand ๐Ÿ˜› With that many files it’s absolutely necessary to have a filing system like yours. My trip photos are organized by dates which is horrible and something that I’ve been meaning to change forever.

    • Mochi & Macarons

      I take multiple photos of the same thing because you don’t know until you get home, load it and realize it was blurry, not sharp, etc.
      I don’t like it by date, I have no idea what it stands for because of my awful memory.

  • Mikhaila

    I just got my computer a few months ago, and wanted to start with a clean slate as far as organizing my files. This is a great strategy, thank you!

    • Mochi & Macarons

      You’re welcome!

      It took me about 2 years to scan everything and then get it down pat like this. Now it is a habit.

  • Kris

    Oh, this makes my OCD self happy. I do a pretty good job already, but this could really help me take it to the next level of cleanliness.

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