Organizing digitally scanned data

Continuing in my series of posts on controlling paper clutter in the home, I want to tackle the issue of manuals and instruction booklets.

In my recent past, I have had an obsession with holding onto every manual that came with what I purchased. I can only think that this hoarding had something to do with a little voice at the back of my mind saying, “but, what if I need it one day…”

Our filing cabinet is not the world’s largest piece of furniture, so finding more available space in it was a priority for my husband and me. When we started on our paper reduction plan, we had more than 50 current manuals in our top drawer, and now there are none. Here is the plan that we followed to clean up the clutter:

The obvious first step is to throw out the manuals for products you don’t own. (I’ll keep my mouth shut about how many of these we had in our files!)

The second step is to set aside the manuals for all major appliances that will remain in your house if you ever sell it. I put these manuals in a magazine file and then stored them nicely on a bookshelf. Manuals in our permanent file include the refrigerator, stove, built-in microwave, dishwasher, water heater, furnace, washer, dryer, and security system. It’s kind to pass these manuals on to the next resident of your house so that he or she will know how to operate the equipment properly. In addition to storing these paper copies, you also may want to apply the fourth and fifth steps listed below to these manuals.

Most companies now have all of their product manuals on their websites. Noting this, the third step is to go online and hunt down .pdf copies of all of the manuals for your products.

Once you find the .pdf copies of your manuals, the fourth step is to download the files and organize them in a filing system on your computer. To help in this process, I suggest using DevonThink Pro, DevonThink Pro Office or Yojimbo for a Mac, and One Note for a PC. All four systems allow you to quickly and easily search and use the text from your manuals. A little less convenient option, but certainly one that works, is to set up a nested folder system independent of any program. (I need to say that I have no personal experience with One Note, but the reviews on numerous software sites are positive. For the Mac, which I do have extensive personal experience, I believe the DevonThink line is by far the best of its kind on the market. It is a little pricey, though, so the Yojimbo program is a solid alternative at a lower price point with fewer bells and whistles.)

The last step is to scan any manuals that cannot be found online and organize them into your DevonThink, Yojimbo, One Note or personal computer folder filing system. Again, I highly recommend the Fujitsu Scan Snap for the scanning process.

Visit the whole Paper Clutter Begone series:

  • Part 1 — Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter
  • Part 3 — Paper file organization systems
  • Part 4 — Shredding unnecessary paper

9 Comments for “Organizing digitally scanned data”

  1. posted by dana on

    I put my manuals (none were too thick) in those page protectors that hold up to 25 pgs each and clipped them in a BIG 3 ring binder – voila! can flip thru and find the coffee maker vs the ice cream machine, etc. The act of flipping thru also reminds me to purge as needed.

  2. posted by Marilyn on

    I have to confess that most of my manuals are in a junk drawer in the kitchen. 🙁 I like the idea of using a magazine file for them. I don’t think I’m ready to do .pdf’s yet.

  3. posted by bret on

    I know that DevonThink is very cool but lately i’ve been scanning with my cheapo scanner to Acrobat 8 Pro then using the ‘recognize ocr’ feature it has. Then I name the pdf ‘washing_machine_whirlpool_manual.pdf’. Now, I can search in Spotlight for any text in the pdf or if I want the manual proper I can just search for ‘whirpool’. So, using this metadata, I can through all my pdf’s in one bucket and not have to worry about organizing them…

  4. posted by Erin on

    bret … that’s a good alternative if you have a Mac and a full version of Acrobat. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there is a Spotlight-type program for the PC. Anyone??

  5. posted by bret on


    doesn’t google desktop do something like this for windows?

  6. posted by Phillip on

    Some great tips. Just as the huge skip arrives on my drive for a big life laundry session (we are vlearing our roof space over the next week). I’ll be able to get rid of some extra things with your tip of downloading the PDF version of the manual.

    Heres to a clutter free life!!

  7. posted by Julian Schrader on

    I found a great solution for the mac a few weeks ago:

    YEP organises PDFs in an iPhoto-like way, allows you to tag them etc.—but the killer feature: It even works with a scanner to import paper stuff into PDF.

    Now that’s great—put your papers into your scanner, tag the PDFs and you’re done…

  8. posted by Sarah L on

    There’s also Journler for mac. While it sounds like you should be writing your diary in it, (and a number of reviews seem to focus solely on that function), in reality it’s also a very nice organiser for files. It even opens PDFs in the internal viewer almost instantaneously so you have immediate access to the content of your pdf.

  9. posted by John V on


    In scanning manuals with thin pages, does the snapscan ‘bleed through’ the print on the other side of the page, making it hard to read? How do the scans come out?

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