For years I’ve struggled with my product manual organization. Actually, struggle is a strong word because I mostly didn’t think about them all that much. I just didn’t have a cohesive organizational system for storing them. I had two cardboard boxes out in the garage and the newer manuals were stored in a file cabinet. The ones in the garage had been sitting untouched for years. And the fear of critters kept me from looking through them even when I needed to search for something.
Recently, I decided to finally get my act together and organize my forgotten manuals, purge the ones for items we no longer have, and establish a better way of storing them so they were more accessible.
(This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.)
Most Common ways to Organize Your Manuals
After doing some research, mostly on Google and Reddit , I found three common methods people use to organize their manuals: in binders, as digital files, and in file cabinets or boxes. I go into more detail about each method below.
If you have a reasonable number of manuals, this could work. You can use page protectors to hold each manual and this would allow you to store the receipts for the item as well. You can also use tabs that will help with creating categories. Categorizing by item type, room or date purchased could make things easier to find. Bridget over at sunshineandrainydays.com has a pretty comprehensive post on how she organized the manuals in her home using binders which I would recommend if you’re considering this method. Binders allow flexibility and you can neatly categorize and arrange your manuals in a way that makes sense to you.
However, there are some cons to using binders. If you have lots of manuals you may end up with a massive binder or you may need to use more than one. In addition, bulky binders can become unwieldy. I’m also not a fan of this method because using plastic binders and sheet protectors isn’t all that environmentally friendly.
Do we really need to keep physical manuals? The simple answer is no. When was the last time you looked for a printed manual? If you’re anything like me, when you have a question about an appliance or gadget you probably Google it. The search results will either include the manual you have stored somewhere in your home or a forum discussion that answers your question. Either way you got the information you were looking for.
Even if your manuals are organized neatly in a box you’re probably not going to go through the effort of looking. Finding what you need online is just easier. If you’re interested in setting up a digital system CNET has a helpful article on how to go about it.
This method is also great if you have limited space and don’t want manuals taking up valuable real estate in your home.
One of the downsides with this method is that sometimes (it’s rare but it happens) you can’t find the manual or information about it online.
Another con may be laziness. I could look up manuals for every item I own but who has time for that? Taking my manuals and sticking them in a box or file cabinet takes less than a minute. I may never look at them again but there wasn’t much time invested in putting them away either.
RELATED POST: HOW TO STORE KIDS’ SCHOOL PAPERS
This is the method I went with because my aim was to have all my manuals in one place, I didn’t have room for binders, and didn’t want to set up a formal digital system.
Another good reason I didn’t go digital is because sometimes the manuals come with extra parts. If I have to keep the extra parts I may as well keep the manual too.
I’ll be storing my manuals in a file cabinet but if you use a box you’ll need many of the same supplies and will be following the same process.
Supplies You’ll Need
Using hanging file folders will make life easy. You also want to use plastic file folder tabs to keep track of your categories. Usually the tabs come with labels you can write on and slip into said tabs. I decided to use my Brother label maker and stick the label to the front of my plastic tabs. I have an ancient version of the Brother P-touch which I highly recommend. And if you’re using a box you’ll need a larger label to label the box itself.
If you plan to keep the box in a non-temperature controlled space, it’s a good idea to use a container that offers at least some protection. Plastic bins with snap-on lids are a good option. I made the mistake of putting cardboard bankers boxes out in my garage and they warped over the nine or so years they were out there (see image above). I also found evidence mice had decided to use my manual boxes as a cozy hiding place.
If the box will be stored in a closet then using something like a bankers box is fine, however, cardboard boxes don’t hold up as well over time as plastic ones.
Unless you get a plastic bin with grooves to hang file folders you’ll need to get creative. But something like this freestanding file frame could work with a large enough plastic bin you already have.
Step 1: Purge
You’ll have to look through all your manuals and decide what stays and what can be recycled. Depending on how you look at it, this may be a tedious chore or a satisfying task that will allow you to get rid of things you don’t need anymore. I’m not going to tell you what manuals to keep because that’s a personal choice. I’ve actually found myself referring to manuals for small appliances that I never thought I’d need a manual for, so you do you.
As predicted, the boxes out in the garage had mostly older manuals for things we no longer owned. I ended up keeping less than a quarter of those manuals. And the manuals in the file cabinet were mostly ones for items we still have so most of those were keepers.
Step 2: Create categories
You’ll also need to decide how to categorize the manuals you have to make finding them later easier. My plan was to create folders for different types of items. I ended up with only a handful which included appliances, cleaning, electronics, gym, kids/toys, kitchen and, of course, miscellaneous.
Step 3: File the Manuals
This part should be easy if you’ve created good categories.
A Few More Helpful Tips
- Create a schedule for going through your manuals periodically so you can get rid of manuals for things you no longer own. This will also make space for new manuals that you may need to add. Once a year or once every few years should work.
- If you’re using a box, you’ll want to put it in a spot that is easily accessible. Don’t put other boxes on top of it because that’ll make it harder to get to.
Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program
Now that you know where everything is you can go back to ignoring your manuals until you get rid of them some day. Follow the steps above, purge on an as-needed basis and you’re done.
Did you enjoy this? Feel free to share it.