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How to avoid the pile-up of "miscellaneous" items

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  • How to avoid the pile-up of "miscellaneous" items

    I have a great filing system for the "usual" stuff: tax-related information, health-related information, information on my cars, pets, etc. But, I inevitably come across several pieces of paper every week for which there simply is no logical "home" within my "system." These items tend to pile up on my desk because I don't know what to do with them and don't put a very high priority on deciding what to do with them. I also don't have much confidence that I'll remember how I filed them should I actually need them later (did I file it under the exact product name? The brand name? The general type of product that it is?) You all know what happens next. The mere site of that pile on my desk causes stress until I'm forced to deal with the problem.

    An example of the type of item that typically stumps me is the owner's manual or warranty for small, inexpensive products that can't be lumped into a file with other products. I've actually considered just tossing them into the trash with the mindset of "as little as that item costs, I would probably just buy a new one rather than put forth any effort into having it repaired/replaced under warranty if anything should happen to it."

    I'd love to hear how you all deal with these types of items.

    Thanks,
    -Charlie

  • #2
    Scan to Evernote

    This is where a cheap scanner (e.g., Scansnap) comes in handy. I have mine set up to scan stuff straight into Evernote, which turns the document into something searchable, so I don't have to get it "filed" perfectly. I can search for a few words that appear in the document and Evernote will find it.

    Speaking of manuals, I often search online to see if I can find the digital/PDF version instead of scanning in a hard copy, which may or may not work well, depending on how the manual is stapled together as a booklet. I can then import that PDF into Evernote.

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    • #3
      Agreed with upstairs. I always throw away user manuals. I can always google it when in need.

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      • #4
        I have a dedicated reference setup called 'Equipment' that handles manuals, warranty papers, and my simplified instructions on how to operate the equipment. It's both hardcopy and electronic.

        I have a receipts expanding folder with one divider per month. I put all the receipts for equipment and stuff I've bought but isn't important enough to keep the receipt long term. Like the gift I bought for mum and I want to keep the receipt in case she doesn't like it. I fill up a year, and then the next year just before january starts I check to see if there's any I want to keep long term, otherwise throw them all out. If I keep them long term they go in the Equipment reference folder above. It's quick to file but takes a bit to find stuff, but doesn't matter because it's rare you go back to the receipt, and if you need to you usually only go back a few months and am able to find it.

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        • #5
          Make the trash can a default "home".

          Originally posted by cppoag View Post
          I have a great filing system for the "usual" stuff: tax-related information, health-related information, information on my cars, pets, etc. But, I inevitably come across several pieces of paper every week for which there simply is no logical "home" within my "system."
          If you cannot find a "home" for something put it in the trash can. Definitely.

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          • #6
            Thoughts:

            - You could create a "misc manuals" folder, for the specific example that you give.

            - You could throw the manuals out.

            - You could create a "Not worth filing" folder, for that plus other cases. When it gets fat enough to require "Not worth filing 1" and "Not worth filing 2", you could go through it and try to find patterns that justify real file folders--or you could just allow a 1, 2, and 3. This at least transfers the heap from your desk to a less intrusive location.

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            • #7
              There is a tradeoff between ease of storing and ease of finding. The usual "one alphabetic system" approach is middle of the road. 30 seconds to store something, 30 seconds to retrieve it. However, there are a lot of items that you want to store but will seldom need to look up, if ever. For these, a simple "bucket" that you throw them into is perfect. Here is how I manage a few of these kinds of items:

              Receipts: At the time of purchace, they either go into my wallet or the bin. Periodically, all the ones in my wallet get transferred into a box (one box per year). I don't even look at them or order them in any way. They just go in. It might take 10 mins to find a receipt but that's fine. I almost never need to.

              Letters from companies: Unless there is already a folder they belong to, they all go into a box as they arrive (so they are in chronological order). I periodically throw out ones older than a year.

              Fliers from local businesses and tradesmen: They go in the bin. I'd rather look for a recommendation from someone I know or use a site like rated people.

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              • #8
                I find personally this is one of those "think long, think wrong" subjects, to steal a rubric from poker. My first thought about "what is this?" is almost always the one worth running with. "This is the warranty for my cellphone adapter." Okay, into a file named "Cellphone Adapter". Maybe it'll take me a couple tries to find it the next time I need it, if ever, but that's a risk I'm prepared to incur.

                On a very general level, I would suggest that the vanilla reference system suggested in GTD is optimized for fast-write, not fast-read, but that's sort of a subtle point. Might be worth chasing down someday, though.


                If for some reason that doesn't help, sometimes I'll punt and just shove whatever it is into the Bring-Forward file for next month. That'll give my subconscious a bit of time to chew it over. Again, some risk, but marginal enough to be below my notice.



                Cheers,
                Roger

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by cppoag View Post
                  An example of the type of item that typically stumps me is the owner's manual or warranty for small, inexpensive products that can't be lumped into a file with other products. I've actually considered just tossing them into the trash with the mindset of "as little as that item costs, I would probably just buy a new one rather than put forth any effort into having it repaired/replaced under warranty if anything should happen to it."
                  If you really wouldn't file a warranty claim or have any need for the manual then tossing it is an option. OTOH many times I need a manual with no Internet access so I can't depend on google to find something when I need it again. Rural internet connections are tricky at best. So I tend to keep all manuals until I get rid of the item.

                  For the small things I try to make folders for groups of stuff So I have a folder Hand Tools where the manuals and info for things like the saw and various drills and so on live. I also have a folder for clocks and watches. Larger tools like the loom may have their own separate folder. That corrals the stuff fairly well and keeps it accessible.

                  I am considering scanning all my various manuals to store them electronically but I'll still keep the files in my own disk/computer system.

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                  • #10
                    These are all VERY helpful suggestions and I thank each and every one of you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

                    -Charlie

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                    • #11
                      I prefer to tape the receipt or manual to the object itself, maybe on the bottom so it's out of the way until needed; or tape it to the wall near the object. I also have a file folder called "appliances" where I store receipts and manuals; I also sometimes label it with the year, e.g. "appliances -- 2014". If I can only return the item within 30 days and I'm likely to return it, I leave the receipt in my wallet or taped to the item. If I'm not likely to return it, I put the receipt in my "scard" pile, thrown out from time to time when they're older than a certain amount, similar to cfoley's systems. Thanks for the ideas, cfoley; that might help me fine-tune my systems.

                      When I file things at work, I usually type an entry into a text file telling what it's filed under, listing as many keywords as I think of, so I can find it later with a text search. If I did that with "appliances" I might have something like: "Appliances 2014: Washing machine, washer manual, (manufacturer name) receipt; printer ..." etc. so I could search later on for any one of the keywords and find out that the manual for that item is filed under A for Appliances and which year.

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                      • #12
                        No problem. I actually got the receipt box idea from an article about decluttering. The gist was that it's wasted effort trying to make storage and filing perfect. Just try and make it good enough. I think that principle resonates through all aspects of GTD.

                        I like the separate folders by year of purchase for instruction manuals, especially for small electronic items.

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