How do you delete something that doesn’t want to be deleted?

Dealing with things that don’t want to be deleted can be incredibly frustrating. Whether it’s stubborn files on your computer, contacts in your phone, or even relationships in real life, trying to permanently remove something that keeps coming back is a struggle many of us face. Though the specific solutions may differ depending on the context, there are some common principles and techniques that can help make the deletion process smoother.

Why won’t it delete?

Before diving into solutions, it’s important to understand why some things refuse to be deleted in the first place. Here are some common reasons:

  • Corrupted data: If a file or program is corrupted, it may not respond properly to delete commands. The corruption prevents proper deletion.
  • Retention policies: Some software and services have data retention policies to comply with legal regulations. For example, an email service may retain deleted emails for 30 days before permanently erasing them.
  • Accidental restore: The item may get restored unintentionally from a backup or archive, reappearing after deletion.
  • Subconscious attachment: When trying to delete relationships or memories, psychological attachments make it difficult to fully let go.
  • Access restrictions: You may lack the permissions or access required to fully delete something. For example, some files may be read-only or require admin access to remove.
  • Physical limitations: Tangible objects can’t always be deleted entirely, only destroyed or discarded to a degree. But remnants may remain.

Knowing what’s causing the deletion difficulty is key to targeting an effective solution.

Force deleting files and programs

When it comes to digital files and programs, deletion can sometimes require special tools or workarounds. Here are some methods to try:

  • Delete via Safe Mode: Boot your computer into Safe Mode, then attempt deletion. This eliminates other software conflicts.
  • Try a third party deletion tool: Programs like Eraser for Windows securely overwrite data for permanent deletion.
  • Delete via Command Prompt: Running specific delete commands via Command Prompt or Terminal may override GUI restrictions.
  • Wipe the drive: For extreme cases, wiping the entire drive ensures deleted files can’t be recovered.
  • Manual deletion: Browse to file locations and manually delete contents from folders as an override.

For stubborn programs, additional options include:

  • Using an uninstall tool like Revo Uninstaller to scrub program remnants.
  • Checking for background processes tied to the program and ending them.
  • Removing registry entries that may reinstall the program.

Combining these deletion methods can help dislodge even the most stubborn digital files or programs.

Removing contacts and accounts

On smartphones, social media, and other services that store contacts and profiles, deleting things you want gone gets trickier due to data connections. Some tips:

  • On phones, delete the contact, then remove it from any linked accounts like Google, iCloud, etc.
  • Check for contact backups stored on the device or cloud and remove it.
  • On social media, unfriend and block contacts so they can’t reconnect.
  • Temporarily deactivate accounts that retain deleted contacts so they can’t sync back.
  • If contacts reappear, change passwords to log out devices that may be restoring them.

Essentially, you need to scrub the contact from all linked data sources to avoid it creeping back into your virtual address book.

Letting go of relationships

Deleting someone from your life for good is much harder than tapping a delete button. Here are tips:

  • Remove them fully from social media and your phone to avoid digital reminders.
  • Avoid mutual friends and haunts that could facilitate reconnecting.
  • Resist viewing their social media activity or asking about them as this reopens the tie.
  • Make a concrete list of reasons for removing them from your life to reinforce it.
  • Fill your schedule with new activities and people to establish distance.

Most importantly, work on emotional detachment. This involves regularly reinforcing why you need distance, acknowledging positive aspects of removal, letting go of bitterness, forgiving, and focusing energy elsewhere.

Erasing physical objects

For physical objects, permanent deletion is challenging since matter can’t be erased. But to effectively remove them:

  • Destroy objects completely so no original form remains.
  • Dispose of any remnants in dispersed locations so they can’t be recovered.
  • Remove related objects that could trigger memories of it.
  • Avoid discussing or thinking about the object to dissociate.
  • Accept limitations of physical erasure while mentally focusing on moving forward.

Essentially, physically deleting requires destruction plus active dissociation from memories. And it’s often limited, for example, by legal constraints on property destruction.

Managing data backups

Backups and archives on devices or cloud services often undermine deletion efforts by restoring removed data. Strategies include:

  • Searching all devices, drives, clouds, etc. to remove target files from backups.
  • Turning off automatic backup temporarily during deletion period.
  • Using backup software to permanently exclude and erase certain file types or folders.
  • Encrypting target data before deletion so backups retain only useless encrypted data.

Ideally, create a specific deletion process that scrubs backups and prevents automatic re-backup. The complexity depends on your specific backup systems.

When you can’t fully delete

In some cases, deletion may simply be impossible, for legal, ethical, or practical reasons. What then?

  • For retained digital data, move it offline into cold storage like external drives kept safely separate.
  • Use access restrictions like encryption, permissions removal, or physical disconnect to isolate it.
  • If you must retain it, commit to a specific limited time frame and conditions.
  • Acknowledge limitations, but don’t use retention as an excuse to “revisit” it.
  • Focus on your power to control your reaction to and use of retained data.

By quarantining and disengaging what you can’t remove, you regain authority over it. Accept what’s beyond your control, but assert yourself where possible.

When deletion fails…

Despite best efforts, unwanted contacts, files, and others things sometimes reemerge. When this happens:

  • Don’t panic or get emotional. Calmly re-evaluate the situation.
  • Determine where the lapse occurred – was it rebacked up? Reinstalled? Resynced? Figure it out.
  • Use this knowledge to improve your deletion process and cover lapses.
  • Perform another round of comprehensive deletion using your updated process.
  • Ask others to help verify successful removal if you need accountability.

With persistence, detachment, and improved technique, you can eventually delete anything that doesn’t belong in your life.

When you should NOT delete

While removing unwanted things can be healthy, deletion does have risks:

  • Permanently destroying files precludes recovery if you change your mind.
  • Cutting people from your life can isolate you if taken to extremes.
  • Attempting to suppress thoughts and memories can backfire.
  • Eradicating cherished childhood objects risks losing your past.

Before deleting, carefully consider if removal aligns with your core values and personal growth. Avoid deletions motivated just by anger or impulsiveness. Develop perspective on what’s truly detrimental versus merely uncomfortable before eliminating it.

With more constructive alternatives like limiting exposure, hiding, unfollowing, or mentally forgiving, you can remove things functionally without total destruction. So be judicious about what truly warrants full deletion.

When deletion helps

That said, deletion has benefits when used thoughtfully. Appropriate cases include:

  • Removing harassing, abusive, or exploitative contacts.
  • Deleting sensitive info that could be misused if compromised.
  • Erasing criminal or unethical files illegal to retain.
  • Discarding unhealthy items like drugs, malware files, etc.
  • Severing connections to addictive accounts or services.

When deletion aligns with growth, ethics, and well-being, don’t hesitate to use it. Just be strategic so you don’t lose something of genuine value.

Asking deeper questions

Before deleting, asking questions like these can clarify if it’s truly the best path:

  • Is this deletion for the right reasons or just impulsive anger?
  • What more constructive alternatives like boundaries or disengagement could I try first?
  • How might I regret this later once emotions cool down?
  • Is retaining this legal and ethical even if uncomfortable?
  • What meaning might I glean by keeping this as a learning experience?

Deletion is sometimes necessary. But profound personal growth often comes through reflection and integration, not just destruction. So pause to see if other options may lead to deeper maturity and self-knowledge.


Deleting unwanted things from life is a challenge anyone may eventually face. While frustrating, with persistence, care, and the right techniques tailored to each situation, the vast majority of unwanted data, belongings, contacts, and memories can be eliminated.

But proceed thoughtfully. Deleting should support ethics and well-being, not impulsiveness. By understanding what deletion can and cannot achieve for each circumstance, we can use it judiciously as one of many methods for maintaining order and meaning in life.