How to Organize Instruction Manuals

I’ve been sticking to my goal to spend less time online and more time on my dreams. My dream is to write for a living, and that is always on my mind to some degree, but I also have a dream of a summer full of adventures with the boys. This is the last summer I have with Nicholas before he begins school. Come fall, I will no longer have a little one at my feet during the day. I want to suck up every last moment of this season in my life before it ends. My dreams of writing can wait until the fall.

Between the trips to museums, libraries, and camps, I haven’t given much thought to what I would do this week. I assumed it would work out, and that everything would come together as it always does. It did, of course. (Maybe I should take this attitude with everything in my life?)

A couple of weeks ago I bought an ipod/iphone docking station. I took it out of the box and set it up in the bathroom so I can listen to music while I get ready. The box stayed on the floor for a couple of days until I was sure I wasn’t going to return the radio. (I’m calling it a radio.) The manual stayed on the counter because it stayed on the counter.

I was on pinterest the day after Mikey’s party and stumbled across an ingenious way to store manuals. I’m sure I’ve seen and read about this method countless times before, but I never remembered it until I pushed aside a radio instruction manual to reach my hair dryer. With a wayward manual and a desire for a quick project to squeeze in between adventures, I set about organizing my instruction manuals in a centralized location. But first, I had to gather up all the manuals.

It took longer than expected, and I know there are more lurking around the house. This is a good start for this week’s project. I’m sure you know by now what I did. It wasn’t rocket science.

I put everything in a binder, though I should have bought a larger size. I had no idea I had so many manuals! I also used dividers, which you can’t really see since they don’t extend past the sheet protectors. Don’t bother with dividers unless you find the ones that are extra wide.

Do go all out on the sheet protectors. You’ll use them to contain booklets that are often thick and unwieldy. It makes sense to buy ones that are sturdy and able to take abuse. I bought ones with a top tab that folds over and keeps the contents contained. I also bought protectors with two pockets to a page. This was perfect for the half booklets that are so popular with small appliances and electronics. It seems like an extravagance, but it disperses the paper and gives you more room in the binder to store manuals. Otherwise, all those small manuals would sink to the bottom of a single pocket protector and stress the spine on your binder.

See? Fairly even, top to bottom.

You know, I was going to poke fun at myself for this project, because it seems like the sort of thing someone really, really particular would do while watching the Lifetime channel with their parakeet. But, you know what? It’s nice. I have everything put together in one spot, and I know where to put other manuals as they come in. I’ve tried file folders in the past, but it didn’t work for me. I have this vision of a tidy shelf of binders with manuals, important documents, repair and upkeep information/business cards, etc, so this binder will go in the office with all our other home binders. The home binders I have yet to put together, sure, but they’re coming.


This post was part of The William Morris Project, a weekly series that details the steps I am taking to create an intentional home. You can see more of my goals and completed projects here. To learn more about this project, start here.


Now it’s your turn! Feel free to share how you have lived according to the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Made a plan? Cleaned a drawer? Bought a sofa? Tell us about it with a link or comment. A few guidelines:

  • Please link to a specific post, not a general blog address.
  • Your post must relate to your efforts to create an intentional home. I have a delete button, and I’m not afraid to use it.
  • No links to giveaways, please.
  • Let’s use this weekly link up as an opportunity to gather inspiration and motivation. Click links. Discover new people. Say hi and good job. I know I will.

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  1. I have our manuals filed in the filing cabinet, but I want to do a Home Binder.
    Post about that so I will know what to do, kthx. πŸ™‚

    • I might keep the binders in the filing cabinets…but I’m not sure. Depends on how they fit. I used to keep the manuals in a file folder in the cabinet, but they took up too much room. We’ll see how this solution works long term.

  2. I love that you are actually DOING so many of the projects I’ve had on my list for ages and ages. This is one of them. Manuals will attack you and eat your insides if you open our filing cabinet drawer.

  3. So that’s what you do with them . . . I always assumed you just threw them in the office closet with all those extra cords. Huh.

    P.S.-I really do love your goal. It’s one I’m needing to adopt as well . . .

  4. I cut off all the Spanish and French translations in my manuals and found that I had only a half-full binder, whereas before cutting them off the binder was full.

    • I was going to post this same thing. When I donate things I like to include the manual but I figure it’s OK if it doesn’t have instructions in 8 languages! I also removed the recipes from all the kitchen appliances and those that looked good went in the recipe binder. πŸ™‚

        • Oh, I also tape the receipt on the manual and write down the date it was installed if it’s something like a water heater or dishwasher. We’ve actually gotten replacements of dehumidifiers and window air conditioners because I had – and could find – all the paperwork. It impresses the heck out of my husband and surprises even me when I actually have what we need to fulfill a warrantee.

          • That’s an awesome idea- thanks for sharing! Never thought about adding the receipt or writing down date of purchase. Usually I’ve been able to remember the dates and stuff… Ah, but the famous receipt!

  5. Oh my goodness – I’m in love with this idea and your finished product. We have paperwork scattered all over everywhere, some for things that are long gone from our house, I’m quite sure. I’m already thinking about all those lovely binders at Target…oh la la!! πŸ™‚

  6. So, that’s on pinterest. I did this with my manuals a couple of years ago and it’s great–though I had to make an extra run to Staples to upsize the binder. It is 3″ and full. I hadn’t thought of dividing the protectors in two, strangely enough, so that’s a great idea.

    You didn’t say what you categories for dividing them up were–I found that challenging and just went with the room they were kept in. Rather arbitrairily, I decided that personal stuff went into the “bedroom.”

    • I might have to upsize the binder. It depends on how many more manuals I find. It’s not a problem, since I will need the binders for the home and family sections, too. I divided them according to type: Large Appliance, Small Appliance, Electronics, Furniture.

  7. I (finally) have all our manuals in one place and it is so convenient! No more searching through piles and piles of paper when something stops working or needs to be donated.

  8. I don’t have a parakeet or watch Lifetime, but I am fairly particular which might be why I’ve done this and love it. Yeah, you!!

  9. I’ve always just thrown all of mine into a file folder–and felt pretty good about it because I can find one when I want it. So your post has me wondering about how far we go with these kinds of things. I found myself with binder-envy, reading this post. I love organized binders, with tabs and labels. And then you kicked it up a notch with protector sheets and I was ready to jump in with both feet…but what I’ve got is working fine for me. And I rarely consult a manual. Which all ties into your opening, about figuring out how to use our precious time. Much as I love your project and would love to have such a binder, I’m guessing I probably won’t do this one myself.

    Love the food for thought. Always feel full after stopping by here…thanks. (Oh, and wasn’t really planning to link, mostly because I had some other things I wanted to write do/write about that feel more truly William Morris-y and didn’t–but then you said, “Bought a sofa?” and so I guess I have to! πŸ™‚

    • You go as far as it feels comfortable and doesn’t seem like a waste of time. πŸ™‚ I’ve always kept (most of) my manuals in a folder in the office–that red one in the second picture. It worked okay for me, though it took up a lot of space since everything settled at the bottom. I have this vision of everything I need that is house related inbinders on one organized shelf. It’s not for everyone, but it’s one of my goals. I think you brought up something important in that we have to determine what is right for us, and what isn’t. Doing stuff for the sake of pretty isn’t going to work in the long term.

  10. I keep our manuals in a filing cube, along with all of our home inspection information, and it takes up about 20″ of space – not sure I could squeeze all of this into a pretty binder. I do like grouping manuals in folders by type – ours are separated into categories like major appliances, audio/video, computer, cooking, outdoor, pets – and I also staple the receipts for the items inside the manual so if something breaks I can check the date to see if it’s still under manufacturer warranty.
    This is probably why I have so much paper … we have pots and flat ware that have 10-year or lifetime warranties … but you need the receipts! So far they’ve come in handy when I needed to return a few pieces of flat ware to Pottery Barn because of discoloration on the finish. Warranty and receipt = not a problem!

    • I tape the receipts of my shoes on the inside lid of the shoe box. I started doing this because I was always losing the receipt and running into trouble if I had to return them at a later date or exchange them for a different size.

      I have my receipts in the binder, too. The binder is actually taking up less room than the manuals did in the filing cabinet. It’s because the little manuals are now spread out in the pockets, rather than settling at the bottom of a hanging file. It’s funny how many people have had success keeping their manuals in files, and mine just ended up being an aggravating mess! To each his own! πŸ™‚

  11. I’ve been meaning to do this same idea with our take out menus! They’re all in a big Ziplock bag right now, but mysteriously, the menu we’re looking for is always at the bottom of the pile. I have visions of being so organized that they’re classified by country: Mexican food, Chinese, etc.

  12. Salivating. I didn’t even know that those types of protectors existed (with the top flap). It’s simple but genius. I need to do this stat. I just noticed a few rogue manuals in my my own bathroom that have nothing to do with the bathroom and I KNOW my husband isn’t reading them, he never reads the manual.

  13. Like Rita, I have all the instruction manuals {that I can find} in a file folder…or is it two…BUT, I like the idea of a binder simply because I should be able to find what I am looking for without making a huge mess digging through the file folder. I think there will be a shelf designated just for home binders of different sorts in my storage room, whenever I get around to dealing with it. πŸ˜‰ Thanks for another lovely post, Alice

    • I like the idea of a binder simply because I should be able to find what I am looking for without making a huge mess digging through the file folder

      Yes! I guess you and I are the only ones who made more of a mess with the file folders. Mine also took up a lot of room with everything settling to the bottom and made the other files in the cabinet all wonky. I definitely want a shelf of home and family binders all lined up like soldiers. Hah!

  14. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself because I’ve been doing this for YEARS! Yeah me. I’m super OCD and anal about stuff like that though. πŸ˜€

  15. I love the binder solution- so tidy looking. I wanted to share my manual storage which is based wanting to be organized but not having the follow through to get it all into a binder. I fit mine into cardboard IKEA magazine holders. I just shoved the plastic sleeve the manuals came in, sometimes with the allen wrench, in the magazine holders. The few times we need to consult a manual, we just fish through until we find what we need. I really like having all the paper that came with the item, installation instructions, etc. I have the two magazine holders stored in our utility area…we have a small office so this makes sense for us.

  16. This is honestly genius. I keep all of ours in an oversized shoebox, but it can be irritating trying to dig through for the right one.

  17. I have organized our manuals in binders for years. Two thoughts to share to keep your binder up to date : 1. Don’t forget to pull the manual for any item you are tossing.
    2. Don’t forget to pull the manual and include with any item that
    you are donating or giving away.

  18. I just keep mine in a folder in the filing cabinet, but will concede that they are kind of a mess. Your way looks neater.

    My mom made me a takeout binder that I love though…each folder is separated by category. Very handy.

  19. I find the manuals in PDF online and save them to a folder on my computer. I don’t have room for paper storage, and how often do those things get looked at, anyway?

  20. Put me in the Lifetime and parakeet camp.
    I am BINDER QUEEN! My husband makes fun of me, but he is damn impressed when I can pull something he randomly needs, outta nowhere- from a binder!
    I have a manual binder, house binder (including room specific paint chips for paint touch-ups) , art idea/inspiration binder (pre-Pinterest), birthday card binder (divided by monthly folders for people specific b-days, stamps and return address labels), and garden binder for details of trees and plants planted, inspiration ideas and many DIY’s. All black, with plastic sleeves, with tabs and neatly lined up on a shelf. My inner OCD freak is smug. But I love it.

  21. I loved this post so much that I went out over my lunch hour yesterday to buy supplies to do the same thing at my house! I’ve been so frustrated with my system of filing the manuals and they’re taking too much bloody room in the wee drawer I have for everything! Thanks for motivation to make a change. I look forward to your William Morris posts every week.

  22. Why have I never thought of this?! The hardest part will be retrieving all the manuals scattered over three floors of this house!

  23. Genius! I began storing all of our manuals in one place (in a box on top of the toaster) but it never dawned on me to store then in a handy-dandy notebook. Thank you! I will get on that right away. πŸ™‚

  24. Nice job! We have WAY more manuals than will ever fit in a binder. I have ours all inside a small IKEA book box and sorted by type, much like yours. I do like the binder idea though. Perhaps I’ll switch to it at some point since I’m sure it would go faster than rifling through all of them in a box. Will have to look around for those divided sheet protectors though — those are really smart!

  25. This is a great idea! Whenever possible, I try to get manuals through companies’ websites, and then I just have them all in a “manuals” folder on my computer. But for all the ones I still have paper copies for, I’m definitely going to do this (as well as that really cool receipt trick above).

    • I’m usually of the “do what works for you” mentality, but since you asked….

      Have you ever had to access a manual online? It’s not as fast and painless as it seems. I doubt I will ever toss out manuals or rely on the computer to store my paperwork.

      I read manuals frequently, especially with my fish tank filters. The troubleshooting guides in the manuals have been lifesavers for me. Twice I thought something was broken when all it needed was an adjustment. As for manuals being online, it’s not the time saver everyone claims it is. It may be fast to access if the product is recent, but how easy will it be to access your camera manual 5 years from now when it isn’t new? Two months ago I spent 20 minutes looking online for a manual for my HP printer that isn’t 2 years old. Then I had to sit at my computer, which is in a separate structure, so I could read the manual on how to troubleshoot the printer that was nowhere near me. It’s not like I could print it out and sit next to the printer because, hello, the printer wasn’t working! It was a total PIA, but there I was, annoyed, because I tossed out the manual figuring if anything ever went wrong, I could just get it online. Never again.

      • I couldn’t help having the same thought that Karinny expressed here, but with a slight caveat. I actually DO use manuals, and I DO keep them…just not the paper copy. I agree that finding an old manual can be difficult, but the current ones are always easy to find, so before I recycle the paper copy that comes in the box I go online and download the PDF. Then I drag it straight into an Evernote notebook called “user manuals” before I can loose track of the file. What’s great about Evernote (or Dropbox…I’m not trying to plug a particular software, I just happen to really like the former) is that because it syncs with an online account, I can access that same PDF from my iPhone, iPad, or even the web on someone else’s computer.

        That said, I am also of the “do what works for you” mentality, and I think your binder is a great solution! And I had no idea that there were protective sleeves with tabs that fold closed. I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for those!

        And I love this series, and the sentiment behind it. It’s something I aspire to myself, although I’m a bit bogged down in “stuff” right now. Time to take action!

  26. Not sure if you covered this somewhere else and I missed it, but what do you do with all the extra parts and pieces (extra mounting screws and such)? That is what is throwing my system off right now.

  27. i totally appreciate the usefulness of this project. just be sure that the system for organizing things you need is simple enough to maintain without complaint. if you need to make labels for each category will you repeat this every time you get a new manual? it seems cumbersome. and also there’s the extra pieces to contend with as other posters have pointed out. we use a shallow drawer in the bottom of a chest in the kitchen. not everyone has one but an accordion file does well too to hold all the notes and bits.
    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, no simpler.” – AE
    “In pursuit of extreme organizing, simplicity is lost” – JL

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