Dear Lifehacker, Every time I buy a new piece of tech, it seems to come with more extra crap than I know what to do with—manuals, CDs, cables, and other assorted accessories. What should I keep and what am I better off just throwing away?
The rest of us tech geeks feel your pain. It seems like each time you open a new box, it comes with the gadget you ordered and a bunch of bundled stuff who's only goal is to mess up your house. Of course, it's all stuff you "might need later"...and thus we're often afraid to throw it away. Here are the things you'll want to keep, the things you can toss, and how to keep it all organized.
I almost never throw these away. You never know when one of your other cables will break, when you'll get a new TV that requires a different input, or whether you'll just lose a similar cable on another device (seriously, you can never have enough Micro USB to USB cables). Example: My TiVo's HDMI port just stopped working one day, and instead of going through the trouble to get it fixed, I grabbed an old Component cable and used that instead. I didn't need to go to RadioShack or buy a new cable on Monoprice; I had my TiVo up and running again in minutes, all with a cable that came with some other piece of tech (frankly, I have no idea what).
However, keeping oodles of cords can obviously get messy. The best solution I've found for organizing them is to just keep a box full of cables in my closet. Any time I find a cable in my house or get one with a gadget that isn't plugged into something, it goes in the box. Then, whenever I need a cable for something, I head to the box and see what I have available. 90% of the time, I've found what I wanted. If you want to get really organized, you can use some of those old toilet paper rolls to turn that overflowing box into a serious cable organizer.
Software CDs or DVDs
The CDs or DVDs containing software installation programs are among those things that are more useful to keep. I don't need to tell you why it can be important to keep these around—lots of software may be downloadable these days, but larger programs and operating systems may come on CDs or DVDs, and especially for the big stuff, it's good to keep these around. That way, even if you can redownload it, you don't have to wait around for that big download to finish—you can just pull out your CD.
To solve the "lost CDs" problem, I put every software CD I own into one of those early 2000's-style CD cases. Even if it's a CD I burned, like an Ubuntu CD, I burn it and put it in the case. Then—just like the cables—whenever I need a CD, I can check my case to see if it's something I already have. If you have the room on your hard drive, I also recommend keeping any ISOs you download somewhere in your Documents folder—that way if you DO somehow lose a CD, you can just re-burn it without having to download the whole thing again.
Toss them. Toss them, toss them, toss them. Driver CDs are almost never useful; not only do they often install bundled crapware you don't want, but they almost never contain the most up-to-date drivers. Instead, head to the manufacturer's web site and download the latest drivers from their support page. You can download just the drivers you need for your machine, without any crapware, and you'll always get the latest version.
The only exception to this rule: Keep the driver CDs related to Ethernet or Wi-Fi. If you do a clean install of Windows and Windows doesn't recognize your Ethernet or Wi-Fi adapter, you obviously won't be able to connect to the internet to download the latest drivers. To avoid this Catch-22, you can either keep motherboard, Ethernet or Wi-Fi driver CDs in the aforementioned CD case, or you can always use a secondary computer to download the drivers, throw then on a flash drive, then install them on your main computer. I usually opt for the former.
Manuals are another item that are tempting to keep but that you may never actually use. Like driver CDs, physical manuals aren't really necessary, since you can get most of manuals online. However, you may want to double-check and make sure you can get a PDF version before you recycle your dead-tree copy.
Check the manufacturer's web site first; as they often post manuals in the support section for easy download. If you don't see it there, you can check UserManuals.com or use this Google search trick to find a PDF for your particular device. Once you've found a PDF copy, download it and store it in a "Manuals" folder somewhere in your documents (or in your Dropbox folder)—if you aren't starved for space on your hard drive, there's no reason not to keep a local copy around for whenever you might need it.
Lastly, if you've ever built your own computer, you've probably noticed you still have a whole mess of parts left over after your done, like screws, brackets, and small cables. I always keep everything. You never know what you'll need to make an upgrade in the future, or what your friend might need when they build their next rig.
When I'm done building, I just put all of my leftovers in the motherboard box. Then, I just throw that box in a closet somewhere. Whenever I need an extra part or cable for the internals of a computer, I just check that box and I'll have every screw, bracket, and other piece of hardware I didn't use. The next time I build a computer, I just throw all of its extra parts in the motherboard box from my first build. There's no reason to have multiple "parts boxes" floating around, since one regular motherboard box will probably hold the leftover parts from many different builds.
If you aren't planning on tinkering at all with your setup once it's built, you may be able to get rid of some of the leftovers, but it's still a good idea to keep a small baggie of HDD screws, mounts, and whatnot around.
How About You?
This probably doesn't cover every type of "extra accessory" you may encounter, but it covers some of the most popular things you'll run into, and should help you keep everything a bit more organized. Got a common offender to this problem that we didn't mention? Share it (and your organization solution for it) in the comments.