Clearing Items from the Recently Used Documents List

by Barry Dysert
(last updated April 20, 2015)

The documents you work with on your system tell a lot about you. Windows helpfully keeps track of which documents you've recently used so that you can easily call them up again, but you may not want this list to be visible. You may have privacy concerns, or perhaps you share your computer with others. Whatever the case, you may want to clear items from the Recently Used Documents list.

The Recently Used Documents list maintained by Windows is often referred to as the MRU—Most Recently Used list. It appears if you've customized your Start menu to display Recent Items. It contains a list of recently used files. The Start menu's MRU list is different from the applications' jump lists, which are discussed in a separate tip.

Unlike in previous versions of Windows, clearing items from the MRU list is now built into the operating system, and there are a few different techniques you can use.

Clearing the MRU and Jump Lists on Exit

One way to ensure the MRU list is cleared is by setting up Windows to automatically clear the list upon exiting Windows. Note that this will also clear the jump lists' MRUs. This is accomplished by taking the following steps:

  1. Click the Start button.
  2. At the bottom of the Start menu, type gpedit.msc and press Enter. This displays the Local Group Policy Editor.
  3. Using the controls at the left side of the dialog box, navigate to User Configuration | Administrative Templates | Start Menu and Taskbar. (See Figure 1.)
  4. Figure 1. The Local Group Policy Editor.

  5. In the right pane, double-click on Clear History of Recently Opened Documents on Exit. Windows displays the policy window for this setting. (See Figure 2.)
  6. Figure 2. The policy window for the Clear History of Recently Opened Documents on Exit setting.

  7. Click the Enabled radio button.
  8. Click OK to close the policy window.
  9. Close the Local Group Policy Editor window.
  10. Restart your computer.

To revert the system back so that the MRU is not cleared on exit, follow the above steps, except click the Disabled radio button in Step 5.

Clearing the MRU and Jump Lists One Time

You can do a one-time clearing of the MRU and those of the jump lists without the need to restart Windows. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Start button and select Properties from the resulting Context menu. Windows displays the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Start Menu tab is displayed. (See Figure 3.) It should be displayed by default.
  3. Figure 3. The Start Menu tab of the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box.

  4. Uncheck the Store and Display Recently Opened Items in the Start Menu and the Taskbar checkbox.
  5. Click OK.

To revert the system back so that it does remember recently opened items, go through the same process but select the check box in step 3.

Immediately Clearing the MRU

If you want to immediately clear the MRU without also clearing the jump lists, first click on the Start button, then right-click the Recent Items link that appears in the right half of the Start menu. In the resulting Context menu, click Clear Recent Items List.

 This tip (12116) applies to Windows 7.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...

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