How to Find Lost or Misplaced Files and Documents on Windows

Losing or misplacing a file is no fun. Within seconds, days, or even weeks of work could disappear. Before the panic takes over, let’s take a look at the best ways you can recover your misplaced files.

How does this happen? It’s actually a lot easier than you might think—and the methods to recover the lost files aren’t complicated either.

1. Check the File Path Before Saving Your File

Often when people click on File and Save in Microsoft Excel or Word, they click the Save button on the Save As window without looking at the file path at the top of the screen.

The moment that file closes, you’re almost out of luck. Without noting where you saved the file, you won’t know where to go to reopen it later.

Thankfully, there are ways to find that file, even though you can’t remember exactly where it is.

2. Recent Documents or Sheets

One of the easiest ways to get that file back is to reopen the application and check the list of recent files.

If you use a Microsoft Office product to save the file, you’ll find 25 of the most recently saved files when you first open the application.

Or you can click on File > Open > Recent Documents.

If you just saved the file recently, the odds are good that it will appear on this list.

However, if it’s been a while, and you’re looking for an older file that you saved but can’t find, you’ll have to explore other solutions.

3. Windows Search With Partial Name

Your next option is to perform a Windows search. This is possible if you at least remember the first few letters of the file name.

To do this, click on the Start menu search bar, and start typing the file’s name. Type as much as you can remember, starting with the first letters.

The file should pop up in the list of files under the search results.

This is a perfect solution if you can remember part of the file name. But even if you can’t, don’t worry. There are still more options to find that file.

4. Search by Extension

You can also find the file by searching for the extension type. For example, if you know you saved a Word document somewhere, then search for “doc.” Or if it was a Libre file, then search for “odt.”

If you recently saved the file, it’ll show up in the search results under Best match.

By the way, this also works as well (or maybe even better) using Cortana, especially for documents. If you click on the Cortana icon in the taskbar, you’ll actually see a list of your most recent activities under Pick up where you left off.

If you just saved the file, it should show up here. However, you can also search by clicking on Documents under the Search for section.

Start typing the name of the file, and it should show up under Cortana’s search results.

There may still be cases where you saved the file so long ago that the results don’t include the file. Or, you might have saved the file with a non-Microsoft application, and you can’t remember the extension.

Whatever the case may be, it’s okay. You still have a few more options to find that file.

5. File Explorer Search by Modified Date

Even though you created the file a long time ago, it’s still possible to find it by focusing on the relevant date range.

If you know you created the file sometime last month, you can find the file using that criterion.

  1. Open File Explorer, and click on the file search field in the upper-right corner of the window.
  2. Select Date modified, and then choose the time period you want to search for.

Choosing something like Yesterday or Last week will show you every single file you’ve modified in that time period.

If the odds are good, your file will show up in the list. But this depends on how well you remember when you created the file.

If you can’t remember when the file was last modified, another option is to search the file’s contents. This could be a sentence you remember writing or a title or header you know was part of the document.

To do this, on the Search menu tab, click Advanced options, and enable File contents.

Now, when you type in a word or phrase into the search field at the upper right corner of the window, it’ll sift through the contents of files to try and locate it.

Just keep in mind that searching file contents can take a bit more processing time, so you’ll need to give the search results time to show up in the list.

6. Check the Recycle Bin

Most likely, one of the above solutions will have worked for you. However, in the worst-case scenario where nothing turns up, one last search option could turn up the file.

It’s surprisingly common that people accidentally delete files. It might have been accidentally dropping the file on top of the trash bin icon on the desktop. Or it could have been right-clicking on the file to rename it or create a shortcut and accidentally selecting Delete instead.

Whatever the reason, it’s always worth double-checking the Recycle Bin for your lost file. To do so, go to your Windows desktop and double-click the Recycle Bin icon.

If you remember the file name, you can scan through these files and locate it.

If you don’t know the file name, either the Original Location or the Date Deleted might give you some insight into whether that’s the right file.

7. Look Up Hidden Files

A hidden file in Windows is any file with the hidden attribute turned on. A hidden file is “invisible,” unlike normal files that you can see in Windows Explorer.

Most of the files assigned the hidden status are system files, and thus, are critical for the proper working of an operating system. It might be possible that your files have been set to a hidden state mistakenly. Here’s how you can make sure if that’s the case or not:

  1. Open the File Explorer.
  2. Click on View.
  3. Now check the Hidden items box from there.

This will show all the hidden files on explorer. If you still couldn’t find your lost files, though, jump to the last tip.

Please note that many Windows system files are hidden for a reason—to stop accidental damage to the operating system. If you don’t find your missing file, it’s a good idea to restore the system-wide hidden file setting.

8. Restore Your Files From Backup

If you’ve tried all the methods listed above and still haven’t been able to find your missing files, it may very well be possible that they might’ve been deleted. There is a slew of reasons that could happen: an abrupt shutdown, sneaky malware, and so on.

Of course, to restore your files, you first need to have a backup. If you don’t remember carrying out a backup, however, do not worry, as your system might’ve carried out automatic backups for you behind the scenes.

Try one of these system restore methods to see if you can find your files.

Perform a System Restore

A successful system restore will restore your system to a specific point in time, called System Restore Point, where everything worked fine.

  1. In the Start menu search bar, type system restore and click on Create a Restore Point.
  2. Select choose a different restore point and restore your system to an older version.

This will restore your system to a previously known good state where your files were not missing.

File Restoration With File History

If your lost file has been previously backed up, you can find it through File History.

  1. In the Start Menu search bar, type restore files and select Restore your files with File History.
  2. Search for your files and their different versions.
  3. Click on Restore to restore your file to its original location. You can also save it to a different location by right-clicking on Restore and selecting the Restore to option.

Note that if you hadn’t configured your File History before this, you’ll get a ‘No file history found’ window, which means this option will not work for you.

Be Careful About Losing or Misplacing Files!

Hopefully, one of these tips did the trick for you. Your first line of defense against this happening again is making a mental note to always check the directory location dropdown in any window where you’re saving a file. Make sure to note the path where you want the file to go before clicking that Save button!

Even if you couldn’t find the files through these tips, it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to Windows File Recovery, and other recovery software, there are ways you can recover lost and deleted files.

Author: Shaant Minhas

Source: Shaant Minhas.” How to Find Lost or Misplaced Files and Documents on Windows”. Retrieved From

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