Embrace Serendipity: Discovering Old Notes in Obsidian

A picture of a key hidden in the grass.

Everyone has a different strategy when it comes to organizing their notes.

Some like a chaotic Zettelkasten.

Others like an orderly PARA.

Folders, tags, links, tables, you name it: there are numerous ways to organize your notes in Obsidian, and every method has its own strengths and weaknesses.

But no matter what organizational strategy you choose, you’re still limited by your brain. Eventually, whether you have 100 notes or 10,000, you’re going to forget about some of your notes.

Whether you have 100 notes in your vault or 10,000, the techniques below should help you keep track of your entire vault, not just the newest notes.

Resurfacing Notes

How do you resurface a note that you’ve forgotten existed?

It’s a tough problem, and the first thing to consider is whether it’s actually a problem or not. I find that I remember notes when I need them, and can usually find them through search or by checking my Maps of Content. If that’s the case for you, then you may not need the below techniques.

But if you worry about losing notes and want to resurface old notes from time to time, it can be helpful to embrace randomness. How do we do this?

Finding Notes via Graph View

One of the most important features in Obsidian is the ability to link notes together. If you do this properly, it has a huge number of benefits.

One benefit is that linked notes are easier to find than unlinked notes. Even if you don’t remember what you named a certain note, often times you can go to a note that is related to the idea you’re looking for, and find it via backlinks.

Or, to get a high-level overview of how your notes connect to each other, you can use the Graph View.

The Graph View is a core plugin in Obsidian. It’s enabled by default, so unless you turned it off, it should work in your vault.

You can open it either by clicking the “Open graph view” button in the ribbon menu, or by typing “Graph view” into your command palette. That should open up a view that looks something like this:

A screenshot of my graph view, with several thousand notes linked together.

This is my own personal graph: yours may be smaller or bigger!

All of your linked notes show up on this graph. On the graph, you can zoom and pan around to get a high level overview of your vault.

If you zoom in far enough, you can even see the titles of each note. If you see a note title that interests you or that you don’t remember, click on it and re-familiarize yourself. Or you can click on a node at random, and see what you see.

The graph view can also help you to stay organized: it’s usually easy to spot a note that has no links (an “orphan”) or a note with too few links.

I find it’s helpful to explore the graph view every month or two. You never know what you’re going to (re)discover.

Finding Notes via Random Notes

Another helpful technique is to embrace serendipity by pulling and viewing random notes from time to time. But how do we pull random notes in Obsidian?

The easiest way to do this is with Obsidian’s built-in Random Note plugin. Since it’s a core plugin, you don’t need to install it. Go to settings, select “Core plugins”, and turn on “Random note”:

How to turn on the Random Note plugin in Obsidian.

Once enabled, you can press ctrl+p (or cmd+p) to open the command palette. Type “random”, and you’ll see the Random note option:

Selecting the Random Note option in the Command Palette in Obsidian.

Click or press enter to select that option, and Obsidian will open a random note.

This works well for small vaults with a small number of notes. But can it work for big vaults?

Random Notes in Big Vaults

If you have a big vault—with thousands or tens of thousands of notes—then this might not work so well for you.

Big vaults often have sections of notes that you don’t want to review. Journal entries, metadata, project notes, etc. If that’s the case for you, then you might have to try a different solution.

My favorite solution is to use Dataview. I have a small DataviewJS script that selects five random notes from an existing folder or tag. Here’s what that script looks like:

let docs = dv.pages('');
var randos = (docs) => {return docs.sort(() => .5 - Math.random()).slice(0,5)};

dv.list(randos(docs).map(e => e.file.link));

Note: For this to work, Dataview needs to be installed and DataviewJS enabled. If you want to learn more about Dataview, see our beginner’s guide to Dataview.

If you copy this into your own vault, it should generate a list of five random notes from within your vault. If you want to pull tags from a specific folder, all you have to do is change the first line:

// pull notes from a folder. Notice the double quotes
let docs = dv.pages('"Path/to/a/folder"');

// pull notes from a tag
let docs = dv.pages('#tag');

To learn more about Dataview search queries, see limiting queries in Dataview.

Find Old Notes with Dataview

Note: Since publishing this article I have updated and improved this workflow. If you want an effective way to look at notes based on creation or last update dates, see Finding Old Notes in Obsidian with Dataview.

If random notes don’t work for you, there’s another option: you can ask Dataview specifically for old notes. If you haven’t used Dataview before, then see my Introduction to Dataview.

I find random notes are more useful for me, but you can ask Dataview to give you notes created X number of months ago. To request notes created three months ago, we could use this query:

LIST FROM "Path/to/a/folder"
WHERE file.ctime.month = (date(today) - dur(3 months)).month AND file.ctime.year = (date(today) - dur(3 months)).year

You can change 3 months to as many months as you like, and Dataview will do it. You’ll also have to update FROM "Path/to/a/folder" to the folder of your choice.

Unfortunately there are a couple of issues with this approach:

  • Dataview creation dates aren’t always correct. Many things influence the creation date, so it might not work for you.
  • If you create a lot of notes every month, this can create a large list, which might be overwhelming.

But it’s a good tool to have in your pocket in case you need it.


There are many ways to find old notes in Obsidian, including:

The methods above are a great place to start. If you haven’t tried these before, then try them out, and let me know how it goes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *