File selection: Choose wisely when ‘cleaning house’

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

Our family decided to “clean house” on the computer the other day and found our documents folder filled with items we’d saved over the years that deserved to be thrown out. After a while, we found that dragging each file we wanted to delete to the Recycle Bin became tedious. Isn’t there a way to do this more effectively?

P. L.


Dear P. L.,

What you need is a lesson in selection. The trick here is to highlight (and subsequently delete) a group of files or icons so that you can make fewer trips to the garbage can. Windows provides a host of tricks you can use to highlight multiple icons at once. I’ll start with the basics, then move on to the fancy footwork (well, fingerwork) later.

For practice, start by opening your Documents folder and change to List view. You do this by tapping Alt, then clicking View and going to List. If single-click is turned on, you select a file by hovering over it with your mouse pointer. You open a file by single-clicking its icon. If hovering over a file doesn’t select it, it must mean you have the single-click feature turned off.

In that case, you select a file by clicking it once and open a file by double-clicking its icon. You can set the single-click option by tapping Alt, then clicking Tools, Folder Options and selecting “Single click to open an item” and “Underline icon titles only when I point at them.”

Now use whichever selection method applies to you to select the first icon in your Documents list. Suppose you wanted to highlight the first three documents. With the first document already selected, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard and highlight the third document in the list. The Shift key is the group selection key. When depressed, it instructs Windows to highlight all icons from the icon you first selected to the currently selected one. This lets you highlight a consecutive series of files.

But suppose the files you want to select are not listed consecutively. For that, you’d use the Control (Ctrl) key to select files at random. Let’s try it.

First, deselect all files by clicking anywhere on the white background of the folder window. Select the first file in the list in the normal fashion. Now hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard, and select the third file. You can repeat the process with the Ctrl key depressed to select additional files in your Documents folder. Incidentally, when the Ctrl key is depressed, the single-click-to-open feature is deactivated regardless of your Windows setting. As a result, if you temporarily prefer to click to select rather than hover to select, hold down the Ctrl key to do so.

The “lasso” method is an even easier way to highlight consecutive files. Once more, start by deselecting all files with a click on the background. Position your mouse pointer on the white space to the right of the first file in your Documents folder.

To start lassoing, click and hold your left mouse button and move your mouse down and to the left. Notice that clicking and dragging on the background in this way causes a rectangular box to appear. Files that are near this rectangular box become highlighted and are immediately added to the selection list. Try using the lasso method to highlight files one through five. Once you’ve highlighted the files, let go of the mouse button. So how would you add files 10 through 15 to the selected group? That’s right. Hold down the Ctrl key and lasso them using the same mouse technique.

Once you highlight the files you want to select, you can perform an action on the entire group. For example, drag one of the files to the Recycle Bin or simply press Delete on your keyboard and they’ll all be trashed. By the way, if you want to cancel a move in mid-drag, press the Escape key.

Select all of the files in the current window by clicking Edit, Select All in the menu bar or hold down the Ctrl key and press “A” for all.

If you select all or a group of icons and then want to exclude some, hold down the Ctrl key and select the icons you want to leave out of the group. That’s right, selecting a selected icon causes it to be deselected!

Had enough? I think we’ve pretty much beaten the selected icons into the ground.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm now in its 15th year of business catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. PC and Mac services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database, and programming. Call 625-7575, visit, or send email to [email protected]

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