Why compressing files to save space is like stuffing pillows into a suitcase

KerryAThompson.com Blog: Creating .zip files is like stuffing pillows in a suitcase

When you have limited disk storage (such as the free 15 GB of storage you get with a Google account), it's important to know how to store files in a way that takes up the least amount of space. When someone asked me the other day about what it means to create .zip files to save storage space, it occurred to me that the process of compressing files into a .zip file is like storing pillows in a suitcase.

Storing files in a folder is helpful for organizing and finding files, but it doesn't do anything to reduce the amount of space they take up on your computer or on a Google drive. It's like deciding to store all your pillows in one linen closet. You know where to find them, but they take up the same amount of space as if you had strewn them all over your house.

Stuffing pillows in a suitcase to save space

But if you stuff all those pillows into a suitcase, not only are they stored together where you can find them, but by compressing the air out of them, they also take up less space. And then when you zip the suitcase up (see where I'm going with this?) and store it in the linen closet, you still have room for the pillowcases and sheets that go with them.

The process of compressing files into a .zip file can be done in a few different ways. With Windows 10, you select the files you want to pull together in a compressed format, right-click the group of files, then select Send To > Compressed (zipped) folder. There are also programs you can buy, such as WinZip, that do the same thing and offer additional features. On a Mac, you select the files and select Action > Compress Items. The group of files is then "zipped up" (compressed) as a single file that takes up less space than the combined sizes of the individual files.

Finding a file in a .zip file later

If you have houseguests coming and need a pillow from the suitcase, you not only need to open the linen closet, you need to open the suitcase too. So, in exchange for the space-saving convenience, you end up with a two-step process. The same applies to retrieving a file from a .zip file. You double-click the .zip file first to open it. That unloads all the files that are contained in it, so you can find and open the file you need. After you finish working on the file, you can select the group of files again and zip them up again, just like zipping the suitcase back up.

Taking advantage of the built-in capabilities of file compression doesn't need to be intimidating. Do it a few times and you'll be zipping along with your file management techniques in no time.

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