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I have a lot of devices. Appliances, tools, watches, cameras, instruments, vehicles. You name it, I got it. Most of them come with paper manuals, of all different shapes and sizes. The worst are the computer foldouts, those are these gigantic, poster size things folded up in some unintuitive way... and the small books: manuals that are like 3" x 4" square and an inch thick. Incredibly inconvenient sizes. How can I organize these things?

One thing I have used are Itoya presentation binders, but they really only work for thin, pamphlet like manuals that are 8.5"x11" or smaller. Any other form factor does not fit. Three ring binders don't work for similar reasons.

I have a boat, which, as you can imagine, has dozens of different manuals of different shapes and sizes. The manufacturer's solution was to dump all the manuals in a small duffel bag. So, now I am freakin Santa Claus pawing through this bag looking for a manual. Ridiculous.

I would like some kind of consistent physical manual storage system, so I can have all the paper manuals in one place, organized in such a way that I can find any particular manual quickly.

DO NOT SUGGEST "SCANNING" THEM. This question is about organizing PAPER manuals.

  • How often do you look through this bag of manuals? Do you retrieve some manuals more than others? Do you only need them for certain pages, such as some appendix of arcane error codes or function numbers applicable to a one-line display on some controller module? – Caius Jard Jul 6 at 6:06
  • Tyler, Thank people for their contribution and move on. You do not need to editorialize, chastise, belittle, reject, or pontificate. We are attempting to help you with your issue. If this is not to your liking, kindly accept that we tried. – Stan Jul 6 at 14:35
  • After looking through your inventory, there certainly are going to be some 'anomalies' in size depending on their source and restrictions imposed by packaging or other factors. Please update your question to elaborate on what you mean by 'consistent physical manual storage system' and your ideal location for this. You have suggested in comments that you use your references outside. Must the computer foldouts appear identical to the small books by some criteria—please elaborate. Can items be grouped? Can items be put in different positions—flat, rolled, vertical, horizontal? More detail wanted. – Stan Jul 6 at 23:55
  • You are describing the function called a Library: libguides.ala.org/library-definition, "A library is a collection of resources in a variety of formats that is (1) organized by information professionals or other experts who (2) provide convenient physical, digital, bibliographic, or intellectual access and (3) offer targeted services and programs … Now, you could pile all the references on the floor; but, maybe there's something more convenient. I wonder what that could be. – Stan Jul 7 at 12:49
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I believe this question is ultimately about balancing conveniences;

  • convenience of storage
  • convenience of access
  • convenience of searching/info retrieval

If you have seldom used manuals, keep them in a box or bag as you currently do; you seldom use them so looking through the box once a year for the water pump manual to find out how to reset its "filter clean" light isn't such a hardship. You'll probably eventually write "reset = hold A+B 3 sec" on the pump, next to the light, with a sharpie

If you have regularly used manuals where you need pretty much the entire manual, consider attaching the manual to the appliance to which it relates; this could be via a taped-on plastic folder, a riveted or screwed on wooden/metal pocket etc - shape the pocket so the manual can sit in it, spine easily accessible (the edges of the pages will get ragged if the manual is inserted spine first). If the appliance gets really hot or generates steam/fumes directly over the only good place to site the pocket, consider somewhere else near the appliance such as the back of a cupboard door adjacent

If you have regularly used manuals where you really only need one or two pages of reference material, such as how to program the oven timers for its 3 different "beep after X minutes"/"finish cooking after X minutes"/"finish cooking at time", copy the information out by hand or photocopy and tack/glue it to the appliance in a convenient place


I know you said no scanning, but it makes a lot of sense especially if you have a low power device like a Kindle (that could even be charged with a hand winder device or solar, if you're on a boat and electricity isn't readily available) and can find or easily put the manuals to e.g. PDF. Having electronic versions makes searching a lot easier, and storage; the only detractor is "all eggs in one basket" of losing or breaking the device, plus lack of power for it. If nothing else, scanning would allow you to tuck the duffel bag away somewhere and provide you with something more convenient than a Santa Claus rummage, but not rob you of the useful backup a paper copy provides

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  • -1 for bringing up scanning even though I specifically said this was about storing printed PAPER manuals. Please don't guess my use cases. Saying oh you don't really need to organize them because you don't use them much is not an answer. I am looking for organizational solutions not (incorrect) editorial guesses about how often I use manuals. I use my manuals all the time, outdoors, in bright light and need them organized in paper. How clear do I need to get about this. It's really annoying to get annoying XY non-answers when I have a problem I have struggling with for 30 years. – Tyler Durden Jul 6 at 11:12
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    And with an attacking attitude like that I get the feeling you might struggle on for a bit longer. Even in your disparaging comment you introduced new information as to your requirements, information that should have been part of the question. To then use it as a basis to launch into someone over why their suggestion doesn't meet this unstated goal isn't particularly endearing or paint your character in a pleasant light. – Caius Jard Jul 6 at 13:37
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    +1 for a cohesive thoughtful response to a belligerent rigid-minded person. – Stan Jul 6 at 14:31
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Following the additional information in comments – that any paper manual might be needed at any time, no matter how old – I offer a hack from a neighbour who was a courier in the days before satnav.

Almost every day he would arrive in a town where he had never been, so he would buy a map. His problem was how to keep this expanding store of maps easily accessible and locatable. The ingenious solution was to use a

  • supermarket shopping basket

The maps would be stored in alphabetical order, and because the basket has angled ends, the stack will easily flip one way or the other to find the right map (or quickly see there isn't one). When the basket became full, he obtained another, and so the library of maps grew and he found a perfect solution to his storage problem. If you are short of space, you can stack one basket on top of another (keep them alphabetical).

Smaller documents can be stacked in a basket arranged across its width. Larger documents can be arranged lengthwise. The basket is angled both ways, making it truly versatile.

enter image description here

If you want something more boat-friendly I suggest using

  • stacker boxes such as these.

enter image description here

There are deeper ones available, shop around.

Postscript: I don't scan manuals, but almost everything technical that I buy has an online manual available, which beats paper storage in modern times.

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  • Would recommending a supermarket shopping basket be advocating theft? – Caius Jard Jul 8 at 8:39
  • @CaiusJard where do I do that? You can buy them, as the smallest shred of research will tell you. This isn't a shopping site though. – Weather Vane Jul 8 at 12:41
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If you really want to keep them as paper, use file organizers: enter image description here

These work for all shapes and sizes that'll fit inside: a Letter size organizer can also contain smaller booklets and leaflets.

This allows you to group the files in a way that makes sense to you. Label the front of the organizer with a list of all the manuals it contains.

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I'm not sure how helpful this is for your use case, but I will detail my own method in the hope that you might be able to cherry-pick the helpful bits.

First, I perform surgery on the manual, removing all the pages I don't need. I just keep the English pages and any diagrams that are often in the front/back.

I then staple the remaining pages back into some form of booklet. Not pretty, but functional.

I use a hole-punch to punch right through in the most convenient part of the resulting booklet. I used to worry that I might be removing some vital piece of information with the hole-punch, but it has never happened yet.

It then gets filed into an A5-sized 2-ring-binder, grouped in a way which is logical for my needs and labelled on the spine. I have "Electronics", "Tools", "Bikes", "Toys", "Electricals" etc. I also have an A4-sized binder for the (thankfully, rare) manuals which are too big for an A5 file. Some A4 manuals are folded in half, punched-through and filed as A5.

Anything which is physically too small to have holes punched in it, that goes into a clear plastic A5 wallet with the holes for going into the folder. This is not great, if I'm honest, but I've yet to find a better solution. If it's possible, I sometimes just open them out so they are big enough to accept the 2 holes from the punch.

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I have been using the perfect hack for your problem for years.

It is called a shelf and it is available in different shapes, sizes, materials, colours, configurations. There is a variation to suit any aesthetic or technical requirement. They can be closed or open, free-standing, hung, or leaning against a wall. They can be combined into room dividers. They can be lit for ease of visibility.

A whole industry supports the concept. A number of professions also use these wacky contraptions. There are whole buildings full of these things to accommodate a variety of printed paper products in various sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. Libraries, they're called, can organize their publications by relevancy, and size.

Try 'em. You'll like 'em.

(Although this was meant as tongue-in-cheek and rambled on, The implication is that it's not a complex situation that you find yourself.)

Good luck.

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  • I think you underestimated the question Stan, it's not a sarcastic topic. Some people e.g. China live in a 10 square meter room (or less). – pnz Jul 5 at 22:47
  • -1 for sarcasm and non-responsiveness – Tyler Durden Jul 6 at 11:08
  • From the complexity of the question, I suppose that the questioner knows that what is a shelf, and what is it for. He probably looks after alternative solutions. E.g. store the papers somewhere (third-party), sell the boat with the papers, buy a new one with PDF manual etc. – pnz Jul 6 at 14:35
  • @Stan Have a rest. – pnz Jul 6 at 14:47
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You can often get an electronic version of a manual without resorting to scanning. Many companies put their manuals on their website in PDF format. There are also manual aggregation sites.

Finding a manual online is a matter of minutes. Afterwards, you've got a collection of PDFs that can be easily stored anywhere, and is searchable. There may be a few manuals you can't find online, keep those as paper. Making this pile smaller also helps making the remaining ones easier to find.

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    The question is about organizing paper manuals. When I need your help organizing the thousands of electronic manuals I have, I'll let you know. – Tyler Durden Jul 7 at 8:00
  • Then you should have sad that in the question. You mentioned you wanted to avoid scanning, not that you want to avoid electronic formats altogether. – Hobbes Jul 7 at 8:31
  • It says in the question in bold, capital letters organize PAPER manuals. In fact, it says that 3 different times. It also says specifically that the question is about organizing "physical" manuals. – Tyler Durden Jul 7 at 8:35
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    The best way to organize paper manuals is to throw them away and replace them with digital files. – Hobbes Jul 7 at 8:37
  • You know that's what the 25-year-old that works for me thought too. Then after spending 4 hours trying to install a mower deck on a tractor under the hot sun using his phone he figured out that maybe electronic files were not such a good idea and he asked me for the paper manual. – Tyler Durden Jul 7 at 8:40
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Maybe you're simply looking for products for organizing materials and supplies to use for printed matter.

One such source for ideas is Shelf Organization Products

Another source of ideas for your references is Organization Products and supplies

These and many other sources can supply useful, efficient, and attractive ways to organize and display your manuals and guides.

Good luck

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In their book "Universal Principles of Design," William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler, tell us that there are five different ways to organize information. The acronym is LATCH. They refer to the five hat racks principle which asserts that there are a limited number of organizational strategies, regardless of the specific application.

  • Location: refers to organization by geographical or spatial reference,
  • Alphabet: refers to organization by alphabetical sequence,
  • Time: refers to organization by chronological sequence or timeline,
  • Category: refers to organization by similarity or relatedness,
  • Hierarchy: refers to organization by magnitude using a common measure.

Depending on who needs access to the information can make all the difference. You alone can choose what makes sense to you. There is no wrong answer. If you must share the resource, the organization strategy must be understood by all the users for optimal efficiency.

Order and clear labeling are necessary to preserve the usability of the resource. Other answers here mention a variety of ways to label and display the various references in your collection.

Good luck.

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