How to Find Lost or Misplaced Files and Documents in Windows

By | March 19, 2022

When you accidentally lose or misplace a file, document, or anything else, here are some solutions you can try!

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

How did this happen? It’s actually a lot easier than you might think—and the method for recovering lost files isn’t complicated either.

Check File Path Before Saving Your File

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

When 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.

Fortunately, there is a way to find the file, even if you can’t remember exactly where it is.

Check Recent Documents

One of the easiest ways to get the file back is to reopen the app and check the Recent Documents list.

If you’re using a Microsoft Office product to save files, you’ll find the 25 most recently saved files when you first open the app.

Or you can click File > Open > Recent Documents.

If you have recently saved a file, it will most likely appear in this list.

However, if it’s been a while, and you’re looking for old files that were saved but can’t be found, you’ll have to look for other solutions.

Windows Search By 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 filename.

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

The file will appear in the list of files below the search results.

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

Search By Extension

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

If you recently saved the file, it will appear in the search results under Best matches.

By the way, it also works great (or maybe better) using Cortana, especially for documents. If you click on the Cortana icon on the taskbar, you’ll actually see a list of your recent activities below Pick up where you left off.

If you recently saved the file, it will appear here. However, you can also search by clicking Documents under section Search.

Start typing the file name, and it will appear below Cortana’s search results.

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

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

File Explorer Search By Modification Date

Even if 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 about a month ago, you can find the file using those criteria.

  • open File Explorer, and click the file search field in the upper-right corner of the window.
  • choose Date modified, then select the time period you want to search.

Choose something like yesterday or Last week will show you any files you’ve modified within that time frame.

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

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

To do so, on the menu tab Search, click Advanced options, and activate File contents.

Now, when you type a word or phrase into the search field at the top right corner of the window, it will sift through the contents of the file to try and find it.

Keep in mind that searching the contents of a file can take longer to process, so you should give the search results time to appear in the list.

Check Recycle Bin

Most likely, one of the solutions above will work for you. However, in the worst case scenario where nothing appears, one last search option may bring up the files.

It is very common that people accidentally delete files. It may have accidentally dropped a file over the trash icon on the desktop. Or it could be by right clicking on the file to rename it or creating a shortcut and accidentally selecting Delete.

Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to double-check the Recycle Bin for your lost files. To do so, go to your Windows desktop and double-click the icon Recycle Bin.

If you remember the file names, you can scan through these files and find them.

If you don’t know the filename, Original Location or Date Deleted it might give you some insight as to whether it’s the correct file.

Find Hidden Files

A hidden file in Windows is any file with the hidden attribute enabled. Hidden files are “invisible”, unlike normal files you can see in Windows Explorer.

Most files that are given a hidden status are system files, and as such, are essential for the proper functioning of the operating system. It’s possible that your files have been set to hidden state by mistake. Here’s how you can confirm if that’s the case or not:

  • open File Explorer.
  • Click View.
  • Now check the box Hidden items from there.

This will show all hidden files in explorer. However, if you still can’t find the missing file, skip 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 the missing files, it’s a good idea to restore the system-wide hidden file settings.

Restore Your Files From Backup

If you’ve tried all of the methods listed above and still can’t find your missing file, it’s likely that the file has been deleted. There are many reasons it could happen: sudden shutdown, sneaky malware, and so on.

Of course, to restore your files, you must first have a backup. However, if you don’t remember doing a backup, don’t worry, because your system may have done the automatic backup for you behind the scenes.

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

Perform a System Restore (System Restore)

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

  • In the Start menu search bar, type system restore and click Create a Restore Point.
  • choose 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 are not lost.

File Recovery With File History

If your lost files have been backed up before, you can find them through File History.

  • In the Start Menu search bar, type restore files and select Restore your files with File History.
  • Look for your file and its different versions.
  • Click Restore to restore your files to their original location. You can also save it to another location by right-clicking Restore and select an option Restore to.

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

Be Careful About Losing or Misplaced Files

Hope one of these tips worked for you. Your first line of defense against this happening again is to make a mental note to always check the directory location dropdown in any window where you saved the file. Make sure to note the path to where you want the file to go before clicking that Save button!

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