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I Can’t Delete a Folder

Why I don’t care.

Not every problem is worth solving.
Can't delete folder.
Can’t delete folder. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

As shown in the image above, I have a folder on my hard drive that I cannot delete.

I’m not looking for solutions.

I’m going to explain a more pragmatic, philosophical approach.

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TL;DR:

Can't delete a folder

It’s an understatement to say that computers present us with many challenges. One of the most important tools at your disposal is to discern whether or not to solve every problem. If, for example, you can’t delete a folder and its impact is minimal, letting that folder remain might be the right solution.

I’m not looking for solutions

I’m repeating that because I know many readers cannot resist throwing out idea after idea to try.

If you’re itching to make a suggestion — if you think you have some way to solve this problem —  you’ll miss the entire point I’m about to make.

This isn’t about solutions.

Unable to delete

The problem is simple: I have a folder with several subfolders and files that refuses to be deleted. If I try:

rd /s frustrating-folder

in Command Prompt (Admin or not) I get a sequence of errors:

The system cannot find the path specified

for several files in the folder tree. It can’t find the path, but it’s more than happy to tell me what the path is.

When I first ran this, it deleted the vast majority of the files in this folder. It left behind specific files that it couldn’t delete for some reason. As a result, the folder itself can’t be deleted because it’s not empty.

My approach

To make sure it was truly inconsequential, the only thing I did was confirm how much space the folder tree was taking.

The size of my frustrating folder tree.
The size of my frustrating folder tree. (Screenshot: askleo.com)

Forty-four megabytes on an eight terabyte drive. By leaving it be, I would lose 0.0005% of the available space on the drive.

I renamed the folder so I’d recall why it was still there the next time I ran across it.

ren frustrating-folder cant-delete-this-folder

I did nothing else. I did not spend time trying to solve the problem.

And I got on with my life.1

Some problems aren’t worth solving

I see people wasting amazing amounts of time attempting to solve problems that are ultimately inconsequential.

Not to mention the downright anger and frustration that some people experience as they try and try and try.

Folks, it’s just not worth it. Life’s too short to keep beating your head against the wall trying to solve something that Just Doesn’t Matter.

This isn’t about deleting an undeletable folder. This is about how you spend your time.

Of course I have ideas

Of course I have things to try. Lots of approaches I might investigate. I have theories as to what’s happening and why.

If the impact were more serious — perhaps if the frustrating folder was taking up too much space — I might even investigate some of them.

But it’s not, and my time is too precious to be spent tracking down things that ultimately don’t matter.

Do this

Choose your battles.

Value your time.

Not every problem needs to be solved, and not every problem needs to be solved by you.

Evaluate the impact of the issues you inevitably encounter throughout the day and decide which ones are important and which ones aren’t. Don’t waste time on the latter.

Here’s something I think is worth your time: Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

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Footnotes & References

1: Aside from writing this article, of course. Smile

33 comments on “I Can’t Delete a Folder”

  1. We get a lot of questions that I’ve been tempted to give an answer similar to the one in this article. For example, people who are trying to defrag the last 1 or 2% of a drive or close an email account they no longer can access.

    Reply
  2. A good advice indeed, but….
    Is it equally impossible to open this folder to review the content?
    I would at least be curious to know what I’m declaring “of no interest”.
    As there are no stupid questions, I feel reassured.

    Reply
  3. I have a somewhat similar issue with my work computer. The people higher up seem to think that every employee wants shortcuts to all kinds of things on their desktop. I’m not one of those employees. I delete a lot of shortcuts that I’m not interested in. Problem is, most of these require administrator access or even if they don’t and I delete them, they will come back again another day. I got tired of dealing with it and HQ didn’t seem to care that my desktop was cluttered with stuff I don’t care about. I just went and turned all the shortcuts I didn’t want into hidden shortcuts and moved on with life.

    Reply
  4. The idea, Leo, is not necessarily obsessive about solving every problem (especially when they are little problems).

    No, the real issue is, “Who, here, is to be the master? The computer, or me?”

    I for one have been known to go waaay out of my way to seek solutions to problems that just ain’t worth the solving — only because I felt that I’d be (needlessly, and cowardly) waving a flag of surrender if I let the matter be. I am NOT gonna let some d*mn*d computer dictate to me what I can and cannot do… especially on my own system!

    Reply
      • It depends on how you look at it, Leo. And even if the time time is “dictated” (your assessment, not necessarily mine), it isn’t wasted — I often learn ways of solving some very strange problems in just this way.

        Reply
  5. Over the years on several systems I have discovered that sometimes I can not delete empty (0 bytes) files. Yes I long since do not waste time when it happens. I am however curious as to why it may happen. A loss of address in the master file registry?

    Reply
  6. I think there’s something philosophically deeper here – isn’t it in Man’s nature to want to know the answers to things; no matter how trivial? There’s even a Rover named ‘Curiosity’ wandering around Mars at mind blowing expense. A cynic would say that this is a totally trivial use of Man’s time and effort – absolutely no use to anyone! What about knowledge for its own sake? OK it’s probably OCD but I like to know why something doesn’t work as it should. Then again I’ve got the time because I’m retired!

    Reply
  7. I confess to spending a lot of time on problems like this when they come up. Not because I want to devote my day to trivial things, but because small problems like this are sometimes the first sign of something much more serious.

    Like standing at the foot of Hoover Dam and seeing a tiny trickle of water dribbling down the concrete. Just a few drops – completely trivial, right?

    Reply
  8. Solving problems like this leads to learning how to be a more proficient user. Why, how, the time etc. doesnt matter. It needs to be solved and I will learn while doing it.

    Reply
  9. Hi,
    I’ve had this problem quite a few times, however, whenever it came up, I could not change the name of the folder or of the file affected. I never had a folder or file I could not remove that I could rename. On every occasion the inaccessible folder/file name were inaccessible as well.

    Reply
  10. In writing about computers Leo has left behind a life philosophy with which I frequently find myself agreeing. This is another such. To those who see it as a struggle between you and a computer stop and think. In the time you have spent on a trivial issue you could have been doing something more rewarding, more creative, more useful and helpful. What you are doing is wasting your time. At 84 there’s not enough left to bother with trite and trivial things.

    Reply
  11. “Not every problem needs to be solved, and not every problem needs to be solved by you.”
    — Leo, I have tried this logic with my wife for many years. And failed.

    Reply
  12. From time to time, I have run into similar issues (a seemingly undeletable folder/file). My first action is to reboot my computer, then try again. If that fails, I run check-disk to ensure that the file system is not corrupted. I agree with Charles in Florida. I don’t look at the size/impact of the issue. For me, the real issue is “Is my filesystem getting corrupted?” “Will correcting this small issue now save me hours/money later?” When I was young, my parents taught me that if I take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. Their logic has worked well for me over these past more than 70 years. I ‘sweat the small stuff, so the big stuff doesn’t happen’. When all else fails, in an administrative cmd (command prompt) window, I run ‘DISM.exe /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth’ to update the backup system file store, then ‘sfc /scannow’ to scan for errors. It is ONLY after I exhaust any possibility that there may be a corruption issue on my computer that I consider ignoring the undeletable file/folder and go on with my life.

    Note: To date, I have never been unable to delete a stubborn file/folder following the steps outlined above. I may spend an hour or so dealing with the removal of a few very small files, but in the end, I have the comfort of knowing that my system is functioning correctly, and that it has not become corrupted. Any time things don’t work as expected, I have a need to know why. That’s how I’m built,

    Ernie

    Reply
  13. I found that problem solved in 3 ways; 1) Downloaded software called “File Shredder”; used it successfully with no problems. 2) Webroot has a shredder/deleter that works almost always. 3) Acronis backup software has a shredder that works well. Between the 3, I have been able to delete all problem folders & files. Hope this helps!

    Reply
  14. Thanks for your philosophy which I broadly agree with. Of course it SHOULD be easy to delete unwanted files, but computer programs are made by people, some of whom don’t really seem to care about whether or not unwanted files can be easily deleted. I have occasionally spent hours trying to understand or delete some unwanted files, but in the end regretted the exorbitant amount of time I’d spent with very little to show for it. If it can’t be done in 2 minutes, don’t waste 2 hours trying…

    Reply
    • “some of whom don’t really seem to care about whether or not unwanted files can be easily deleted”

      I believe that’s an unfair mischaracterization of the people who write this software. They care, but bugs happen. Design flaws happen. Not all of them are caught, and not all of those caught are deemed important enough to risk fixing (and every fix includes additional risk). The bugs might not even have anything directly to do with deleting files, but manifest there for any number of obscure reasons. Windows, and all systems like it, are incredibly complex.

      Reply
  15. Leo,

    I did NOT miss the point of this item. I fully understand what you are saying. I agree that some things are simply not worth the bother. For me, the correct function of my computer is not one of them, even regarding very minute things. I’m sorry if I did not make that clear,

    Ernie

    Reply
  16. Regardless of the point of the article, you did present a challenge to your readers to try and solve it. I’m 80 and do enjoy time dedicated to just these issues. I would try booting a Linux thumb drive and attacking the stubborn folders from outside of Windows or whatever.

    Reply

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