Now where is that instruction manual? Lifestyles of the Organized

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Sound familiar? Perhaps you need to program the clock on your DVD player after a power outage…or maybe you forgot how to use that fancy food processor you received as a gift for your wedding years ago…or perhaps you just need to figure out how change some settings on your bathroom scale. Whatever your need may be, you probably have to consult the instruction manual. But where is it?

When my husband and I moved into our new house after our wedding, I quickly realized that we had many new fancy appliances and electronics that all had their own box complete with a sizable, multi-lingual, and often complicated instruction manual. I knew I needed to figure out how to organize them all because even though we only rarely have to consult a manual, when we need one, we really need it! In this post I’d like to outline a method I use to organize those necessary evils.

Initial Disclaimer
Let me explain early on that the types of instruction manuals I’m talking about organizing here include manuals for devices like kitchen appliances, exercise equipment, bathroom appliances, and most electronic devices (like DVD players and such). At our house we have a special place for all our computer-related instruction manuals, boxes, and installation CD’s. We have chosen to keep them separate from everything else for easier access and because of their sheer volume. When you decide how to organize your instruction manuals, you will need to think about such things first. We’ve done it this way because it suits our particular needs. You may choose to just include your computer-related manuals with all your other manuals, and that’s fine. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to it.

My first attempt
My initial plan was a failure, to say the least. I decided to save all the boxes from our new wedding gifts and thought perhaps I should just keep the manuals inside for easy access. After our first water disaster in the basement (where we stored most of the boxes), I realized I needed a new system. This of course came in addition to issues with the boxes being in large, hard-to-reach towers, not to mention the fact that they were big space-stealers. So I ditched most of the now ruined boxes and moved on to Operation Organize Instruction Manuals Phase 2.

Operation Organize Instruction Manuals Phase 2
My next idea was better, but still not ideal. I decided to arrange the manuals into stacks in various places in the house. I kept kitchen manuals in the kitchen, electronic manuals in the office, and large appliance manuals in the mudroom. At first I thought I had a good plan, but we still found it hard to remember which stack contained the manual we actually wanted since some appliances didn’t really fit well into any of the categories. And of course there’s the fact that rifling through a stack of 20 manuals to find the one you actually need is not anyone’s idea of a good time.

Third time’s a charm?
Always looking for ways to make a system even better, I decided to tackle the instruction manual problem one more time. This happened yesterday. I was reminded of the flaws of the present arrangement when my husband asked me where the treadmill manual was. Apparently I had filed it with the kitchen manuals because I didn’t know where else to put it. I decided I needed to make some changes. So I gathered up every manual I could find and made a big pile on my kitchen counter. And so began the organizing. Here’s what I did:

  • Assess the big picture. Before I decide how to organize anything, I try to see the big picture by studying it all at once. It’s a lot for the brain to take in, but I think ultimately I have an easier time coming up with good strategies that way. So in this case, I just allowed my eyes to wander around my big messy pile of manuals until ideas came to me.
  • Think about potential arrangements. As I was looking at the mess of manuals on my counter, I began to come up with possible ways to organize them. First I thought I could keep all the manuals together and just arrange them alphabetically. That idea quickly got shot down as I realized I don’t even know what some of my strange kitchen appliances are called. Next I thought I could divide the manuals up by function, like cooking appliance, recreational equipment, electronic device, etc. I quickly discovered, however, that some items fit into more than one category. I also noticed that some items are stored in very different places so it didn’t really make sense to put them in the same category. This thought gave me an idea.
  • After choosing a strategy, start sorting. I ultimately decided to categorize my manuals based on where the respective devices are located in the house. This way there can be no cross-over because every item has a place where it is stored. I chose the following categories: Kitchen, Office, Living/Family Room, Bathroom, Bedroom, Mudroom, Basement, Garage, and Outside/Home Exterior.
  • Finally, decide on a method of storage. This last step is highly flexible. I had an old accordion file folder lying around, so I decided to use it for storing the instruction manuals. After labeling each pocket with my categories, I filed all the manuals. Where you ultimately keep the organized manuals is entirely up to you. I decided to put them in our office closet for now, in an easy-to-reach place.

Think outside the box
We live in the age of the Internet and I’m always looking for ways to go digital for reasons of efficiency and saving space. In this case, you might consider relying on online manuals as a source since companies are increasingly offering instruction manuals for products on their websites. You could then organize your manuals via bookmarks or PDF documents right there on your computer.

Reader Reflection
It took me three tries to find a good solution for organizing my instruction manuals. How do you organize yours? I’d love to hear your creative ideas.

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