02 August 2011

Organizing product manuals: download and store PDFs in your e-book reader

Amazon: Banker's File Box, 12-pack BoxAnd I thought I was doing OK by throwing my old product manuals in a shoe box.

From Steve:

Something I’ve been doing to reduce the amount of stuff our family saves is replacing all hard copies of product manuals with digital copies and organizing them with the free Calibre e-Book Management software. So far I’ve been able to find a PDF version of all our manuals online and Calibre makes storage and retrieval a breeze.

This hack would work with any software able to store and index PDFs (including your computer's hard drive and built-in search function).

HOWEVER: this may be one of those rare times when one can be too organized. I can recall only a few occasions I ever needed to refer to a product manual (usually, for electronics, cameras, etc.). Surely, knowing they are online, I can look them up when I need them rather than downloading and storing them "just in case."

Another argument for paper (and something I mentioned during a past conversation on organizing product manuals): you can staple the receipt to the manual and file it away (or throw in a shoe box) in case you ever need to take advantage of many products' long quality guarantees...something usually forgotten in the mists of our overcrowded brains.

Thoughts? How do you manage product manuals?

Your comments

Does putting them all in one file count as organizing? :-)

We recently lost both vehicles, our garage and all of its contents in a fire - having the manuals (either hard copy or PDF) REALLY helped us to determine the produt specifications (engine size, etc.) of many of our lawn and garden equipment as well as power tools. This really helped to ensure that our insurance company was paying for a similar replacement model rather than shortchanging us with a lesser quality/size model. So -whether it is hard copy or pdf, it doesn't matter - just HAVE it somehow in case you're ever in the situtation that I found myself in.

I, too, simply find product manuals online when I need them. To do so quickly, I type into Google Search the exact product name (and model number, if I can find it on the product), "manual" and "PDF". I usually land directly on the page with the manual. This is MUCH easier than trying to follow rabbit trails through a manufacturer's website or digging through my own paper piles.

I throw them away, and google for them when I need them. I've always been able to find them quite quickly when I've needed too.

Great Tip! A quick way to get started organizing the manuals is to separate by "Appliances", "Electronics", "Equipment" and "Other." Store in a box or file so it will be easy find.

I cut off the non english parts (since I only speak English), and then put them all into a file we keep on top of the fridge. Comes in real handy when your oven starts beeping and the read out says F31!

An excellent detail I hadn't thought of. What a tiresome exercise you must have had to go through, Tracy.

You can also save them off onto google docs and then you have them available wherever you have web access without having to look for long out of date ones on manufacturer sitess.

I'm a professional organizer here in Portland (www.respacedpdx.com) and I always tell my clients to toss the manuals, because they can always find them online if they need them (and after the first year, most people don't look at them again.) If they absolutely have to keep them, then I tell them to simply file them in a folder labeled "manuals."

Tracy's story is chilling, though, so I'm going to think about how I can incorporate that knowledge and pass it on to clients.

www.warrantyelephant.com/. Is a great site for warrentys and it is free. No more faded and unreadable receipts if you make a copy of the receipt right away AND scan the receipt to your crossed referenced receipt file. Putting camera/video manuals in a program like Dropbox if you have a tablet allows you to pack(remember to pack in my case) one less book that you can't find quickly enough or left in the hotel room , when you need to look up that one setting you remember reading about once.

[My first attempt vanished into the ether, so apologies if it's double-posted]

I use the iBook app on my iPod Touch to store PDFs of the product manuals I have. As soon as I get a new item, I find the manual and drop it in. That way, whenever I have to remove the front panel of the washer to check on its supports, or find out the location of clips on the car's bumper fascia, I have it in my handy-dandy device. This way, I never have to print pages of manuals based on "I might need that today". Insead, I don't need a tech session on the computer BEFORE diving into the task at hand.

Some manuals are pretty sparse, so I also keep PDFs of some product brochures, which explain all the features you originally got it for. :)

I've had some trouble finding manuals on-line for older equipment. I think it is wise to download the PDF of the manual while it is still relatively easy to find on the manufacturer's website. Plus as Darryl said, it saves the hassle of having to both search for the manual as well as perform the repair or maintenance.

One file per manual, labelled with the name of the product you most commonly use. (So don't label it "GE Range and Oven Unit" label it "Stove"). It takes like 1 second to make a file... and then 1 second to find it if you ever do need it. I like having hard copies so I can pass it along when I pass along the item itself.

Giant 3-ring binders with sleeve protectors. When I get something with a manual, I slip the manual and the receipt (to prove my date of purchase for any warranty issues) into a new sleeve protector in the binder. They aren't actually organized within the binder, but it doesn't take very long to flip through and see the thing you are looking for, especially if you know you bought Y item after X item, but before Z item (since I just put the most recent addition in the back). For many years worth of stuff (and I keep every single manual receipt for anything with a warranty - also useful for when I go to sell something on Craigslist or consignment), I only have two 3-inch binders.

Evernote is perfect for this. Free, synchronizes to your mobile device, does OCR (you can search within files) and is accesible via the web as well. http://www.evernote.com

Ditto Heather's hack: they all live in a huge binder, divided loosely into groups like Appliances, Toys, Tools, etc. One benefit of keeping the hard copies is that there is a surprising amount of value associated with them at resale -- whenever I sell something on eBay etc., mentioning that it comes with the original manual gives the impression that the item is in very good condition. I'm guessing that potential buyers think, "Anyone anal enough to keep the manual AND produce it to go along with the resale is pretty likely to keep things in great condition." While that's not always true, I find myself having the same reaction online or at garage sales. All other things being equal, wouldn't *you* choose to buy a used freezer from someone who included the manual than someone who didn't? Weird, but true.

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