tl;dr Is there any good software out there to help me organize my files? I have a ton!

Longer Version:

I want to be able to organize my files once and for all. I have 20 years of files kicking around, some organized by date, some by type, some by whatever project I happen to be doing, etc. It's a big mess.

I have many types of files. Among them, Pictures, Videos, Music, downloaded binaries of many flavors, Visual Studio projects, perl, Java, web projects, word docs, excel, ODTs, church things, Scout things, craft project files, etc. The list goes on and on. At first I tried to organize based on "Phases" of my life:

  • Before High School
  • High School
  • Associates Degree College
  • Bachelors Degree University
  • Getting Married
  • Master's Degree University
  • Having kids
  • etc

This doesn't work well enough. Having parallel structures in my High School folder for on-the-side projects I continued in college seems silly. So I tried by year:

  • 2008
  • 2009
  • etc

It was too arbitrary and hard to find things. Was that 2003 or 2004? I can't recall...

So I tried

  • DC Trip
  • Project XYZ
  • Life in Boston
  • Life in New York
  • Yellowstone Adventure
  • Programming Projects
  • etc

Still didn't get it all, and I ended up with a lot of "Misc" folders with unrelated items in them. Not helpful.

There has to be a better way.

What I decided is that I need to be able to organize my files using more than one folder hierarchy, but managed so there is no duplication where not needed.

What I mean is I would like to be able to place a file in a directory hierarchy structure such as:

  • docs/pics/2008/Niagara Falls Trip/blah.jpg...
  • docs/pics/2008/Fishing in Florida/blah.jpg...
  • docs/pics/2011/Fishing in Maine/blah.jpg...
  • docs/pics/2010/XRays of my broken leg/blah.jpg...

and I would also like to navigate to these paths:

  • docs/personal/medical/XRays of my broken leg/blah.jpg...
  • docs/trips/pics/Niagara Falls/blah.jpg...
  • docs/trips/pics/fishing/florida
  • docs/trips/pics/fishing/maine

And get the same files. I don't want to duplicate the files, I want to have the folders I navigate to get to them be pointers to their actual location, seamlessly. (I know I could make Windows Shortcuts for them, but that's a tedious pain...) Basically, I want to be able to organize my files in multiple categories, have only one copy of them, but be able to find them via multiple directory traversals. (I understand I will have to do the initial work to categorize things, that's not the problem.)

Another example to cement the concept:

  • /docs/grad_school/cs687/blah.cpp
  • /docs/grad_school/cs661/blah.cs
  • /docs/undergrad_school/cs325/blah.java
  • /docs/undergrad_school/cs481/blah.cpp

Another view of these same files would be:

  • /docs/src/cpp/cs687/blah.cpp
  • /docs/src/c#/cs661/blah.cs
  • /docs/src/c#/cs481/blah.cpp
  • /docs/src/java/cs325/blah.java

Again, I understand I would have to do the initial filing of all these things myself. I'm just looking to see if there is a software product out there that can help me organize my files with multiple views of the same data. Does such a software product exist?


  • My data needs to be mine and stay private
  • Windows would be the best platform, but I'm not averse to Linux
  • Sub $1000 USD for software
  • Ability to backup the whole structure is needed
  • My hope is to have this tightly integrated with Windows Explorer such that I can just use Windows Explorer. Also wouldn't hurt if the command line functioned in this fashion as well.


I've come across a phrase I didn't know before, and this may help: Faceted Search is basically what I want to do, but to do the searching, I want to traverse directories via Windows Explorer. Maybe it's not the right term, but it seems close to me.

2 Answers 2



Take a look at Elyse, a tag-based file manager. You can try it for free using up to 30 tags and the full version costs only $10. It's available on both Mac and Windows.

You've done a lot of thought about this, which will be good when you plan your tag taxonomy. Having a general organizational game plan before you start is hugely important. For example, you might want to start by creating a set of nested tags for the different overarching categories you mentioned, like life phases.

Here's a sample image of the Elyse interface.

Elyse interface

  • Thanks ZeroFlux. I'll give this a try and see how close it is to what I'm looking for. From a quick look, it seems like it covers the first part (organization) but doesn't handle the folder tree. I'll check it out in more detail. Thanks. :-)
    – kmort
    Jan 24, 2015 at 3:49
  • So I've put some time into it. It's close to what I want, but not quite. It seems like it's half way there. In Elyse, they abandon the concept of folder structure almost entirely, and use tags. I would like to use tags AND have Windows Explorer allow functionality transparently. Seems like a pretty tall order. Elyse might be the best there is. Thanks ZeroFlux!
    – kmort
    Jan 26, 2015 at 3:14
  • Hmm, I see your concern. I thought Elyse could exist alongside a folder structure, so that incompatibility is a disappointment. I would consider contacting the creators of Elyse to see if they have any ideas before giving up on the dual system. Did you also consider importing your folder structure as tags? Not sure if that might more closely meet your needs. Alternatively, you might want to check out Microsoft Sharepoint. It's a little overpowered for what you're requesting, but it may offer the features you need to flexibly organize your files.
    – ZeroFlux
    Jan 27, 2015 at 16:12
  • I'll look into Sharepoint. I've never actually used it, but can give it a try at work. Thanks ZeroFlux.
    – kmort
    Jan 28, 2015 at 4:03

I find for the most part unless you have a specific need that organizing files is a waste of time. I recommend Everything Search which will pull up any file on your computer "instantly". Just type and it'll match on anything in the path, so it becomes trivial to get to what you want in moments. On Linux you can use 'locate'.

Put things in folders that are just enough to isolate small enough collections to find what you want in a reasonable time and that's all you need. If a folder starts getting a bit unweildy then make one or more subfolders to split them into groups. Otherwise don't bother.

  • 1
    I wish. :-) I'll try Everything Search, but I'm not hopeful. There are so many different types of non-text files that searching isn't really going to help. Say I have 7 different versions of some shared object (linux dll) and I don't know the name of the file...
    – kmort
    Jan 26, 2015 at 19:47
  • If you don't know the name of the file then you match on the deepest subfolder you know it to be in. Once you've found the name of the file you can use Everything to find any other versions of the same file. It doesn't search the content of files so it doesn't matter if it's a text file or not.
    – Tanath
    Jan 26, 2015 at 19:49
  • So, the results are it doesn't meet the needs for what I'm trying to do. It's a good tool though. Thanks Tanath. :-)
    – kmort
    Jan 28, 2015 at 4:03
  • Sorry to hear that. I think you'll still benefit from Everything though. Why didn't it work for you?
    – Tanath
    Jan 28, 2015 at 22:06
  • It's a super-useful tool for searching, but not everything I'm looking for is searchable. (The files themselves might not have text content and might not have a good name on top of it. Think of all the folders of DCIM\blah001.jpg on a hard drive) Thanks though.
    – kmort
    Jan 29, 2015 at 23:50

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