I see lots of people stressing because they’ve accidentally deleted
their recycle bin icon. But, really, do I even need a recycle bin? Does
it perhaps slow my computer down?
Windows Vista made it very easy to
accidentally delete your recycle bin (but it’s easy to fix). But
you raise a good point: is that necessarily a bad thing?
The fact is, you don’t actually need a recycle bin. It’s
there solely as a convenience. You may want it, but you can
live without it too.
Let’s take a closer look at exactly what the recycle bin is and how
it works. Maybe you’ll decide you don’t even need it.
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The recycle bin is nothing more than a safety net. That’s all. It
serves exactly one purpose: to help you recover from situations where
you do something you wish you hadn’t.
Something like deleting a file.
It turns out that deleting a file by accident is very common. We all
do it from time to time. In fact we do it in the real world as well …
how often have you gone fishing through your garbage can or bin of
paper to be recycled to retrieve something you threw away by
It’s that behavior that the Windows Recycle Bin attempts to mimic.
When you delete a file in Windows Explorer that file is not actually
deleted, it’s moved to the Recycle Bin. That way, if you later
decide you didn’t mean to do what you just did, you can search for that
file within the Recycle Bin and move it back.
Now, the Recycle Bin is not without its limitations:
- It’s of fixed size. The Recycle Bin typically has a
certain amount of disk space assigned to it to hold the files you
deleted. Once it fills up it automatically and permanently
deletes the oldest deletions to make room for the newest.
- It’s of fixed size. If you try to delete files that
are larger than that size, you’ll get a warning that the file(s) won’t
fit and will not be placed in the Recycle Bin.
- It’s not always used. If you delete a file from
within the Windows Command Prompt, for example, the file is deleted
permanently, bypassing the Recycle Bin. Similarly, if you delete files
from within applications, they may, or may not, use the Recycle
- It’s not always there. The Recycle Bin is not
present on “removable media” like USB thumbdrives, nor is it present
when you access a drive across a network.
- It’s not related to your email. While your email
program may have a Recycle Bin folder alongside your inbox or other
mail folders, this is totally unrelated to the Windows Recycle
Bin. The Recycle Bin in your email is provided by, and implemented by,
your specific email program, and thus follows whatever rules that email
program chooses to give it.
You can bypass the Recycle Bin manually by holding down the SHIFT
key when you delete a file in Windows Explorer. When you do this the
file is permanently removed.
So, do you need the Recycle Bin? Well, that’s up to you. If you
rarely make mistakes deleting files, or are thoroughly backed up, then
perhaps you don’t need it at all. As I said, it’s certainly not
On the other hand, and to address the second part of your question,
the Recycle Bin has very little cost. Moving a file to the Recycle Bin
is in most cases just as fast as actually deleting it, so there’s no
practical speed impact. The number of files or size of the Recycle Bin
also has no appreciable impact on the speed of deletion.
The only actual tangible impact of the Recycle Bin is disk space. By
default the Recycle Bin is allowed to use up to 10% of your disk space.
You can adjust this size, as well as turn off the Recycle Bin
completely, by right clicking on the Recycle Bin icon in Windows
Explorer or the one on your desktop, and clicking on
(By the way, if you do lose or remove your Recycle Bin desktop icon,
remember that you can always still access the Recycle Bin through
Windows Explorer if you’d prefer not to restore the icon.)
Naturally, you can also empty your Recycle Bin by right clicking on
it and selecting Empty Recycle Bin, which will free up
the disk space used immediately. Naturally, as long as the Recycle Bin
is enabled, it will once again begin to grow as you delete files until
it takes up its configured maximum allotment.
Is it worth it?
Well, I’ll put it this way: I rarely delete things by accident (anymore
), and in reality have
little use for the Recycle Bin. And yet, I leave it enabled. It costs
next to nothing, and it’s handy on the off chance that I screw up and
its safety net can save me.