Clearing out junk can be cathartic, but sometimes, we can get a little delete-happy and accidentally delete something we didn’t intend. Not to worry — it happens to everyone. In most cases, restoring the file is easy. Here’s how to do it.

Deleting extremely large files might prompt a message warning “This file is too large to recycle, do you want to permanently delete it?” If that is the case, you’ll need to use more sophisticated methods to recover it. If want, you can change the size of the Recycle Bin on Windows so you don’t encounter that message as often.

Luckily, most files and folders you “delete” are temporarily moved to the Recycle Bin before they’re permanently deleted. They can be recovered in just a few clicks.

Recovering Files from the Recycle Bin

There is a Recycle Bin icon on your desktop by default — if you haven’t moved it, it’ll be in the top left-hand corner of your desktop.

If it isn’t there, check the rest of your desktop. If it is completely gone, scroll down in the article. We have some instructions that will help you get it back.

The Recycle Bin should be in the top left of the desktop.

Double-click the “Recycle Bin” icon to view your recently deleted files.

Recently deleted files

If you’ve deleted a lot of stuff, sorting through it might be difficult. Right-click, go to “Sort By,” and click “Date Deleted.” The most recently deleted files will be moved to the top of the list.

Scroll and find the file or folder you want to recover (or use the search bar at the top right), right-click it, and then click “Restore.”

If you inadvertently deleted more than one file or folder, there are a few ways to quickly select multiple items on Windows.

You can hold Ctrl and left-click to select multiple items individually. Say you deleted five items: a, b, c, d, and e, and you only want to restore a, c, and d. Hold Ctrl, left-click a, c, and d, and then right-click any of the selected files, and hit “Restore.”

The second way allows you to select lists of files. Say you deleted 10 items, named a through j, and you want to restore c through j. Hold Shift, left-click c, and then left-click j.

All of the items between c and j will be selected. Then, you can right-click any of them, and hit “Restore.”

What to Do If the Recycle Bin Is Missing

If the Recycle Bin is missing from your desktop, it is probably just hidden. There are two simple ways that could happen.

The first is that all of your desktop icons have been hidden — in that case, just right-click empty space on your desktop, go to “View,” and make sure there is a tick next to “Show Desktop Icons.”

Note: The right-click menu got a significant rework between Windows 10 and Windows 11. In this case, the option we’re using is in the same place, so don’t worry that they look different.

The second option is that you’ve removed the icon from the desktop entirely. Fortunately, all you need to do is click the Start button, type “Themes and related settings,” hit Enter, and then click “Desktop Icon Settings.” Make sure that Recycle Bin is enabled here.

Make sure "Recycle Bin" is enabled.

If by some chance that doesn’t work, you can always type “Recycle Bin” in File Explorer’s address bar.

When you delete a file accidentally, you should always act as quickly as possible. Files in the Recycle Bin might be automatically deleted by Windows, and all deleted files will eventually be overwritten.  So it doesn’t matter if you’re just fishing something out of the Recycle Bin or using a third-party recovery tool — the sooner you strike, the more likely you are to have good results.

RELATED: How to Use Microsoft's "Windows File Recovery" on Windows 10 and Windows 11

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Nick Lewis is a staff writer for How-To Geek. He has been using computers for 20 years --- tinkering with everything from the UI to the Windows registry to device firmware. Before How-To Geek, he used Python and C++ as a freelance programmer. In college, Nick made extensive use of Fortran while pursuing a physics degree.
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