Here are suggestions for which manuals to keep, and how to organize them
What to keep and toss
Let’s be reasonable: It is not necessary to keep the paperwork that comes with a product such as a fan, hair dryer or coffee pot. If the item has an on/off switch and you know how it works, toss the paperwork.
Manuals and warranties for bigger (and more complex) appliances such as your dishwasher, clothes dryer, air conditioner and hot-water heater can be stored in labeled files and organized by category. Categories might include “Technology,” “Kitchen,” “HVAC,” “Outdoor” and “Miscellaneous Small Appliances.” Use category names that make sense to you, and keep your files current by throwing away old documents when an appliance is replaced.
If you are on the fence about items that fall in between something such as a fan and a major appliance, think about how often you might need the manual. For instance, you might want to keep a bike manual for occasional reference. It also may make sense to keep the manual for a kitchen appliance that you only use once or twice a year.
And there are some items for which you’ll want to keep the manual for as long as you have the item, such as a crib or car seat. Some baby and toddler items have important height, weight or age recommendations, and if you eventually give them away or sell them, it’s best to also pass along the paperwork.
How to organize hard copies
Before tossing a jumble of information into a file, sort through the paperwork that comes with your purchase. Keep the manual and warranty, and recycle all extraneous information. Also, write the purchase date and vendor on the front of the manual before filing it.
The files will be bulky, and you’re not going to access them frequently, so they don’t need to be stored with your other household files. Instead, Kacy Paide, owner of the Inspired Office, recommends keeping them in a secondary filing cabinet or in a clearly labeled box on a shelf in a closet or in the basement.
For some reason, binders with clear pockets have become a go-to tool for organizing product information. But Paide does not recommend going to all the trouble unless you’re already successfully using binders to organize other paperwork. It can be “overkill,” she says, and you still have to find a place to keep the big binders.
Regardless of how you choose to organize your information, just taking the time to do it will not only prove useful when repairs are needed, but also if you sell your home.
Ways to store electronically
It is true that most of us will rarely, if ever, look at the manual for things such as our washer and dryer or water heater, which is why some people reason that keeping the bulky paperwork is unnecessary.
Instead, some people opt to record model numbers, serial numbers and dates of purchase electronically, and then use online product manuals to find the pertinent information when necessary.
The key to making this work is to accurately and consistently record the relevant information. Some people will create a simple document or spreadsheet, while others prefer using a digital tool such as Evernote, in which they can type the essential information or upload photos of box labels or the front of the product manual. As with any organizing task, pick one option and stick with it.
Once you’ve recorded this information, and before you recycle the hard copy of a manual, Paide recommends taking the time to do an online search for your specific model’s manual to make sure you’re actually able to locate it. And when you do, save it in a labeled electronic file.
Whether you decide to keep manuals as hard copies or electronic ones, having a system in place will prove invaluable next time a battery needs changing or an appliance inexplicably starts beeping.