The Windows Learning Center

How to Manage Recent Documents History and Speed Up Your Computer

How to make your computer faster and protect your privacy by keeping Recent Documents clean is discussed

Windows keeps a list of all the recent documents that you have opened or used and over time the list can grow quite large. Since Windows checks the list at startup, a very large list can increase boot time. Also, you may not always want to have an easily available record of all the documents you have been opening for others to read.

The recent documents folder is handled differently in different versions of Windows. Here’s the procedure for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.

Cleaning the Recent Documents History in Windows XP

The Start menu in Windows XP contains an entry, My Recent Documents. By default, it displays the 15 most recent documents that you have opened or used. This provides a quick way to reopen recently used document. Another section below gives the procedure for changing the default number.

There are several ways to clear the list. The list is actually comprised of shortcuts that are stored in a folder named "Recent". it is located at \Documents and Settings\{User}\Recent\. Another way of writing the location of the Recent folder is %USERPROFILE%\Recent\. (Confusingly, the folder Recent actually appears as My Recent Documents in Windows Explorer.)

Here is a quick way to open the Recent file:

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Click Run
  3. Type “recent” into the box (without the quotes)
  4. Click the "OK" button
  5. When the folder opens, you can delete as many items as you wish.

Note that the number of entries in the folder may be much larger than the default number displayed on the Start menu. You can delete things by directly opening the folder or you can use the Start menu "Properties" dialog. Right-click the Start menu and choose "Properties" from the context menu. Click the button "Customize" and then the "Advanced" tab at the top of the window that opens. You will then obtain the dialog box shown below.

Configure Start menu

Click the button "Clear List" and then click "OK" twice to remove the entries in the Recent Document History. If you do not want to bother with the history at all, remove the check by "List my most recently opened documents" and click "OK". Please be aware that Windows will still store shortcuts to all your accessed documents in the folder called Recent. Automatically keeping this folder clean is the subject of the next section.


Automatically Clear Recent Documents at Logoff in Windows XP

I don't think that it is generally recognized how many shortcut files the Recent folder can accumulate over time. It can actually affect the performance of your machine, especially at logon. The ones that are visible on the Start menu are only the latest 15 entries. The actual folder %USERPROFILE%\Recent may have many more than that. Also not always understood is the fact that the this folder continues to collect entries even when "My Recent Documents" has been removed from the Start menu. You can prevent an ever-growing accumulation by periodically cleaning it out as previously described but housekeeping chores like this are often neglected by the average PC user.

Instead of doing the cleanup yourself, you can set up the system to do it automatically every time you log off. One way is with a Registry edit (the usual caveats about Registry editing apply):

  1. Back up the Registry
  2. Using Start-Run, open the Registry editor Regedit
  3. Navigate to this key:
    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer
  4. Create a DWORD value named ClearRecentDocsOnExit
  5. Give the new key a data value of 1.
  6. Close Regedit

Shortcut entries for "My Recent Documents" will still be collected during a login session but will then be cleared at logoff

Change the Number of Entries in Recent Documents in Windows XP

The default number of entries shown in the Recent Documents history on the Start menu is 15. If for some reason you would like a different number of entries, that can be done in Windows XP by editing the Registry. If you are experienced at Registry editing, here's the procedure:

  1. Back up the Registry
  2. Open the Registry Editor (Regedit)
  3. Navigate to the key
  4. Add a new DWORD and call it MaxRecentDocs
  5. Set the value to your desired number of entries
  6. Close Regedit

Cleaning Recent Items in Windows Vista

In Vista, the relevant section of the Start Menu is called Recent Items and the Run line is no longer displayed by default. The folder containing the Recent Items shortcuts is at:
\Users\{user}\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\ Recent\
It can be accessed from the Start Menu in this way:

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Enter “shell:recent” into the Start Search box (without quotes and with no spaces)
  3. In the listing that appears, click shell:recent
  4. In the folder that opens, delete as many items as you wish.

Cleaning Recent Items in Windows 7

In Windows 7, the recently used items have effectively been moved to Jumplists. There is still a folder with all the shortcuts and it is accessed in the same way as for Vista except that the Start Search box is now labeled “Search programs and files.”

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Enter “shell:recent” into the Search programs and files box (without quotes and with no spaces)
  3. In the listing that appears, click shell:recent
  4. In the folder that opens, delete as many items as you wish

Automatically Clear Recent Documents at Logoff in Windows Vista and Windows 7

The Registry edit that does this is very similar to that given above for Windows XP above. Here is the procedure:

  1. Open the Registry editor and navigate to the key:
    . The subkey "Explorer" may have to be created.
  2. In the right pane, right-click on a empty area and select New - DWORD Value [or DWORD (32-bit) Value in 64-bit machines]
  3. Name the DWORD ClearRecentDocsOnExit
  4. Give the new DWORD a data value of 1
  5. Exit Regedit