I used to have piles of manuals for various gadgets. Often they'd disappear when I need them most (how do you change the battery in the thermostat?). I'd go through them and find items that I no longer own and the clutter was very annoying. So one day I decided I was going to find a better way to store these things. Sure I could have just thrown them away, but what if I needed them? I wanted to have them but not have them. What was my solution? The digital copy. I'd already done that with my Home Management Binder, what else could I transition to a digital format? Lots of things, actually.

With Evernote

Since reducing paper clutter, I have moved to a completely paperless set of manuals for all of my devices, gadgets and anything that comes with a manual--and I've done it without scanning a single document, because we all can't own document scanners. I have a flat bed scanner and there was no way I was going to scan each page. Here's how I did it:

  • Collected all my existing paper manuals into a single pile.
  • For each manual, I went to the manufacturer's website and located a PDF version of the manual.
  • Add the PDF file to a new note in Evernote and tag the note "manuals"
  • Repeat for the rest of the manuals in the pile.

For every new item I get that comes with an instruction manual, I do the same thing as soon as I open the box. Then I trash or recycle the paper manual that came with the item.

Finally, I created a Saved Search called "Manuals and User Guides" that looks for anything tagged "manuals". I think I have about 20 or so right now and I no longer have piles of manuals sitting around the house. Better yet, when I need to know how to use the auto cleaning feature of my Keurig coffee machine, I can pull out my phone or tablet, open Evernote, click my saved search and instantly find what I'm looking for without getting up from the couch.

By the way, another thing I do is snap a picture of the product label with the model number/serial number info. It's often a pain to go look at that if you need it. The picture can go in the user manual note, or in a notebook for Product label pictures.

Something I found while researching this post is an amazing addition to my suggestion above, if you have a tablet or phone with a camera.

  • Create a Note Link to your note with the manual for your thermostat
  • Paste that Note Link into a QR code generator (like this one) and get a graphical QR code you can stick to your thermostat
  • Print the QR code onto labels and place on the item.
  • When you need to change your thermostat battery, point your device with a camera at the sticker and RTFM (Read the Fine Manual).

With Cloud Storage

If Evernote seems to confusing to you, then you can always use Cloud Storage. Cloud storage is a drive on the internet that is accessible from any device you own with an internet connection. Google provides over 15 Gigabit of free storage for anyone with a Google account. Adding your manuals to the cloud is a pretty easy process.

  • Collect all existing paper manuals into a single pile.
  • For each manual, Go to the manufacturer's website and locate a PDF version of the manual.
  • Upload the PDF file to a folder in Drive marked "Manuals"
  • Repeat for the rest of the manuals in the pile.

Google makes it easy to search your files in Drive using their search bar at the top center of the page so you can quickly and easily find what you are looking for. As with Evernote, you can access Google Drive from any device that you have the app installed, and you can add it as a virtual drive to your Desktop or Laptop.

Other cloud storage solutions such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud are just as easy.

 Do you like this idea? What other documents and papers can you think of that would work as digital copy instead of causing paper clutter?

Come back tomorrow when I cover using Google Calendar to set routine maintenance and seasonal maintenance reminders.