Archives for Cable Clutter
The personal computer industry supposedly went “wireless” several years ago. But you’d never know it by looking at the back of most desks. It seems like the convenience of every Wi-Fi enabled laptop, smartphone and printer is offset by a corresponding cable or wire elsewhere in the office. That’s not counting old cables that are no longer in use due to age, condition or obsolescence. If you’ve got a drawer full of cables, or if you’ve ever played “unplug it to see what turns off,” this post is for you. I’ll tell you how to organize the cables you use and store those you don’t, plus a few cool tips and tricks.
Step one: know your cables
There are a huge number of cables available. Each performs its own job, though there is some overlap. Here, I’ve presented some of the most common household cables. This is by no means exhaustive, but should cover most of what you have at home. Learning to identify them on sight will help you find what you need more quickly, and will make storage easier, as I’ll explain later. Pictured above are:
- USB to mini USB You’ll notice one end is a flat rectangle shape and the other is a small trapezoid shape. These are often used with digital cameras and often short, in the 1–3 foot range.
- FireWire 800 These feature a squared-off end with a plastic “bit” in the center. FireWire 800 cables are typically used on high-end external hard drives and some video equipment. They transfer large files between machines and drives quickly.
- Standard USB One end features a flat rectangle and the other a square with once side slightly rounded. Many printers uses these cables, as well as some external hard drives.
- FireWire 400 Which, is also called “1394 cable” in some circles. Also used for storage peripherals like hard drives and some older video cameras. Transfer speed is slightly slower than that of its sibling FireWire 800.
- DVI These cables end with a wide terminator with many pins and two screws to hold it in place. You’ll find that many computer monitors and projectors use these. Length can vary greatly, but most are around 3 feet long.
The following are less common than the others, but still popular enough that many of you may have them.
- Apple 30-pin connector These are used with many of Apple’s mobile products including the iPhone (models other than the iPhone 5), iPad (except the iPad mini and 4th generation iPad) and iPod touch (older models). Apple has recently replaced them, as you’ll see, but there are still millions in circulation.
- Thunderbolt These are pretty much exclusive to Apple right now, but those who’ve bought an iMac or MacBook Pro recently could have use for a Thunderbolt cable. They connect very high-speed external drives to a computer.
- Lightning Apple replaced the 30-pin connector cable with the Lightning cable. It can be identified by the tiny little “nubbin” end. It’s small, thin and, unlike the old connector, doesn’t care if you put it in upside-down or not. The iPhone 5, iPad mini, newest iPad and latest iPod touch use the Lightning connector.
- HDMI Used with your HD television, some displays and the Apple TV. Easily recognized by the roughly trapezoidal shape on each end.
Now that we’ve got the cables identified, let’s look at a few ways to keep all of these things organized.
Call me picky, but a rat’s nest of unwieldy cables just makes my skin crawl. A beautiful workspace can be marred by a collection of cables flopping all over the place. Fortunately, solutions are plentiful and easy to come by.
- Cable management I use the Galant Cable Manager from IKEA. It screws to the underside of my desk and I run everything through it. That keeps the cables from hanging down and looking ugly (not to mention attracting the pets). Here’s a great idea from Michael Desmond at About.com. He ran several cables and an adapter into a nice-looking storage box, using standard office clips to keep the cables out of each other’s way. The box looks good and eliminates a mess on the floor. Speaking of binder clips, you can clip the large variety right to your desk to hold cables at the ready. Ingenious (and cheap!)
- Identification I love to label my cables. You can use color-coded twist-ties, bits of ribbon or even yard-sale tags. But I like Mark Brothers Cable Labels (pictured above). Aside from being cute, each features a spot that you can write on. That way, you know exactly where each one goes and what it powers. If they’re too cutesy for your taste, consider the Kableflags DIY variety. Much more utilitarian. Finally, consider color-coded tape. One piece on the device end, another down at the socket.
First, a quick rule: if it’s obsolete, worn or from a product you no longer own or use, throw it out! Unless you’re running a cable museum, or have a soft spot for wayward, abandoned wires, let them go. Remember: stuff that sits around serving no purpose is clutter. That SCSI cable from 1993 definitely counts.
I sort my cables by type into clear plastic bins. I use my label maker to create stickers that say “USB” or “Audio” and affix one to each bin. Before a cable enters the bin, I wrap it up with a rubber band. Now, I know what’s in each bin by reading the label and I can see how many of each type I have by peering through the clear bin. There’s no need to pull each out and open it to see inside the box.
When you wrap your cables up for storage, let each end stick out just a bit. That way, if you need it in the future for a job that doesn’t require its full length, you can access either end without pulling the whole thing apart.
I’m going suggest something that sounds pro-clutter, but I assure you it’s not. If you travel often, buy doubles of some of your cables. For instance, when I worked in an office I had an iPhone cable and wall charger that lived at my desk. Yes, that meant I had two to take care of but it also meant I could keep my phone charged during the day without having to remember to bring one cable back and forth. I did the same with the charger cable for my laptop.
When buying cables, skip the big box stores. You’ll typically find much better prices on sites like Amazon and Monoprice.com. I recently needed an DVI-to-HDMI adapter cable. A local big box electronics store wanted $50 for one. I found another online for under $3. It works perfectly.
Cool Tips and Tricks
OK, now for the fun stuff.
- The Cable Turtle is very cute and keeps a variety of cables tidy.
- Learn how to braid an extension cord. Technically it’s not a cable, but this is a fantastic trick. I store all of my extension cords this way.
- Likewise, there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap a video cable. Over/under is the right way.
- Instructables has posted a tutorial for inexpensive, under-desk cable management.
This week, Ikea announced that it will be selling a new television with an attached cabinet that has DVD and BlueRay players and stereo speakers built into it. It’s called the Uppleva:
The purpose of the Uppleva is to get rid of the cable mess and lack of visual uniformity that often comes with televisions and components today. The cabinet also can be configured to include additional space for more components, like a digital cable box. And, it comes with a universal remote.
The new television has been referred to as “groundbreaking” and an “amazing all-in-one television” since the announcement, but I’m going to shy away from both of those phrases. To me, it’s simply the reintroduction of the console television with modern components. It’s attractive and effectively hides all the cable mess and visual distractions. It’s certainly an uncluttered entertainment center and it’s nice to see companies creating streamlined products.
According to Reuters, the system will be “in five European cities in June, throughout seven European countries this autumn, and in its remaining markets [such as the USA] in the summer of 2013.” The electronics were designed specifically for Ikea by China’s TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings (they create the brands TCL, ROWA, Thomson, and RCA). Prices for the Uppleva system have not yet been announced.
What do you think of the Uppleva?
Reader Katie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
How do you handle tech clutter? I have an underbed storage box full of old wires, chargers, manuals and remote controls I’ve never used. First, I need some guidance about how to sort through Mount Techmore: I don’t want to throw out adapters for gadgets I’m still using, but I can’t always tell what goes with what. Then I need a strategy for handling new gadget clutter as it comes in. I like to keep the old device around for a bit until the new one is running smoothly. But then I forget to purge the old one until two years later when it’s really no good to anybody anymore. What do you suggest?
Unfortunately, I think everyone reading this post has a Mount Techmore. In the electronic age, it’s difficult to avoid this unpopular storage destination. I’ll explain what we do in our house to keep Mount Techmore from erupting, but be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.
New products. A few years ago we realized we had to be diligent with marking cords, adapters, and other electronic accouterments the minute we unwrap an item. We have to do it immediately or we wonder for years what device goes with what peripheral.
If we plan to regularly use the cord that comes with a device, we’ll adhere a cable identification tag to it. If the item has a wall wart, we’ll stick a printed label on its bulky back. If the wall wart is black, sometimes we’ll even just write directly on it with a silver Sharpie. If we plan to store the cable/charger/whatever until we donate the device to charity or sell it, we stuff it inside a zip-top plastic bag and write on the bag with a black Sharpie what is inside and what it belongs to.
All manuals for items we plan to sell or donate go inside a plastic sheet protector of a three-ring binder. If we don’t plan to get rid of the item and simply keep it until it breaks, we go online, find a .PDF of the manual, and link it to a spreadsheet. If the manual isn’t online, we’ll scan it, save it as a .pdf, and link the file to the spreadsheet. Once we have access to a digital copy, we recycle the print version. Learn more about the spreadsheet method in our 2007 article “Organizing digitally scanned data.”
Old products. When we started labeling our new stuff, we took a couple hours and sorted through all the old stuff in Mount Techmore. We labeled everything we wanted to keep as described above, and ultimately got rid of a good amount of electronic accouterments we no longer needed. Do a little each day, or tackle it in one afternoon, but it is important to figure out what all the old stuff is and if you really need it. If you’re like us, you’ll be surprised by how many USB cables you own.
Storing. We store Mount Techmore exactly the same way you do, but we use a Rubbermaid Footlocker because we have so much electronic equipment in our house and for our company. We have zip-top bags grouped into bins inside the footlocker based on type (all cords in one, all adapters in another, all chargers in yet another) and the manual binder is in there, too. There are also hard drives and electronic repair tools in it.
I’ve seen people use over-the-door shoe storage organizers and put a printed label on the pocket, which seems to work very well. I also like when people use drawers for cable storage and use a sock drawer organizers for each cable. I don’t think there is a wrong way to store these things, as long as everything is well marked and can easily be found.
Out with the old. When we replace an item, we dump the old device and all of its accompanying stuff into an electronics recycling bin that we keep in our laundry room. The device and its stuff usually sits in the bin until the bin is full and we have to decide if we want to sell, donate, or simply recycle the items in the bin. The bin we use isn’t very big (it’s kind of like this one, but in navy blue), so we go process it four or five times a year. Since we don’t immediately get rid of the items, we have a crossover period in case the new device doesn’t work. And, if we offer the old device to a friend, we know exactly where it is when the friend comes around to retrieve it.
Even doing the one-in-one-out method, we still wind up with obsolete cables, duplicates, etc. lingering in our footlocker. Because of this, we still go through it once or twice a year and pull out anything we no longer need.
Thank you, Katie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope something I wrote above will help you. And, again, be sure to check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers for how to conquer Mount Techmore.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
Reader Geogriaberry tipped us off to a terrific cable clutter solution by Jonathan Crossman. Crossman reclaimed wood to build a desk, and then outfitted the desk to specifically hide cables. He drilled “access points” (notches) to feed cables through and then attached a rain gutter to hold the cables and feed them down toward the legs.
From Crossman’s website:
In the final photograph, you can see how he lined up the leg of the desk with the outlet so all of the cables are out of sight:
Rain gutters can be purchased at any home improvement store and most stores will even cut the gutters to your specified length. If you wish to match the color of the gutter to your desk, be sure to purchase paintable gutters and the appropriate spray paint. Finally, to drill notches into your desk, you can use either a jigsaw or a sharp speed bore bit or a hole saw.
Check out Crossman’s website for more pictures and a more detailed account of the work he did to complete his desk.
(Images by Jonathan Crossman.)
This week’s Workspace of the Week is Kraemer’s media center cord control:
Okay, so this week’s selection isn’t necessarily an office, but it is a beautiful example of cable management. By using hardboard pegboard and plastic cable ties (which are insanely reasonably priced at less than $4.00 for 100), Kraemer turned a possible rat’s nest of cables into a work of art. Something like this would work beautifully under a desk, behind a media center like Kraemer’s, or in a garage or basement workshop. Thank you, Kraemer, for submitting your image to our Flickr pool.
Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.
Some interesting things to share:
- I’m recording an interview about uncluttering for Renew You that should be available this Friday through next Tuesday. Renew You 2010 was a conference that occurred earlier this summer, and every few weeks the organizer of the conference sends out links to new interviews to conference attendees and people who register for the mailing list. The interviews are targeted toward women, but the information I’ll be giving is applicable for anyone. The e-mail list is free, but there are pay-to-listen areas of the site that have some cost associated with them. You shouldn’t have to pay anything to hear my piece on uncluttering. The interview should be about an hour long, so sign up if you’re interested in hearing my talk.
- “TV business kisses HDMI goodbye” on the THINQ site leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m glad multiple manufacturers are coming together and establishing a standard cable, but it means we will all have to buy new cables. Not sure it’s simplifying anything.
- Author Harlan Ellison decided to purge and auction off the majority of his book collection, including a signed birthday present from Neil Gaiman. The following link includes a profane word or two, but is still an interesting read about uncluttering your bookshelves: “The Great Ellison Book Purge” on the AV Club.
- Have many errands to run at once? Lorie Marrero recommends the “optimal route planner” Route4me to determine the shortest route to take.
- The website FreelanceSwitch offers terrific project management advice in its post “The Swiss Cheese Method of Project Scheduling.” The article is geared toward freelance programmers, but is applicable to anyone budgeting her time.
A number of really cool things have moved across my desk this past week, but none of them are necessarily large enough for a post all their own. Enjoy exploring these uncluttering and organizing tidbits:
- Much like the Lifehacker Pack of free downloads for Windows that we linked to on June 3, we now can link to the “Lifehacker Pack for Mac: Our List of the Best Free Mac Downloads.”
- Lifehacker also had a great post about a creative way to display a collection in a small space.
- ThinkGeek featured a Universal Network Cable to make patching for rolled, crossover, straight-through, ATM/loopback, and T1 as simple as turning the dial on a single cord. The select-a-cable idea is uncluttering genius.
- SwissMiss’s photo gallery of the amazing use of space 505 square foot apartment literally made my jaw drop.
- Also on SwissMiss, a pretty cool storage stool and coat rack in the article “Cutter Stool and Wardrobe.”
- I may end up writing a full post on this next item, but since I have yet to install it, I don’t feel qualified enough to do more than share a link right now. The program Papers for the Mac allows users to manage files and create groups similar to the way iTunes works. I’ve been looking for a document manager exactly like this, and am really excited to give it a try.
- We all know about reusable grocery bags, but did you know you can get reusable produce bags, too? Amanda at Metrocurean introduced me to the Produce Stand Collection of vegetable bags.
- More suggestions for how to get rid of relationship clutter post-breakup from the wonderful D. Allison Lee.
- After the “The mess he made: A life-long slob decides it’s time to get organized” article ran in The Washington Post, there was a live online discussion with Mike Rosenwald and Randy Frost “Hoarding intervention: A life-long slob gets organized.”
- Finally, after our controversial post on Simplified Spelling earlier this month, a reader sent us a link to a really fun YouTube video of Ed Rondthaler (he’s 102 in this video). It’s a lighthearted critique of English spellings, but maybe not safe for work in one short spot mid-way through the video. Best to watch it at home.
Over the weekend, Lifehacker posted a great cable clutter solution from Ikea that I wanted to bring to your attention.
This Signum Cable Organiser is a black polyester pouch with two steel clips that can hook to the side of a workspace that has a 2″ or smaller edge. The clips are also convenient to remove, which means that you can have the Signum work double duty as cable carrying case. The case is 19″ long, and at just $5.00 it is a relatively inexpensive way to keep your computer or electronics cables under control.
We just moved our office into a larger room that does not have a phone jack. That means running wire from the other room for the modem and phone. Two ugly black cables hanging down were not the ideal, however. So I painted them dark green, and made some paper flowers on green pipe cleaners, then wrapped them around both cables, so it looks like a flowering vine. It’s still there, but now it’s decoration instead!
While flowers and pipe-cleaners may not be to your liking, this technique demonstrates how sometimes the best way to draw attention away from unsightly things is to draw attention directly to them.
This past week, I encountered two fantastic articles on Lifehacker I wanted to share with you.
First, the article and its corresponding image “Creatively Display Your Cables When Hiding’s Not an Option” made me gasp with delight:
I want to do this someplace in my house right now. Small, adhesive Cable Clamps would be perfect and quick for this project.
Second, “Google Navigation is a Total GPS Replacement–As Long as You’re Connected” is an extremely thorough review of Google Maps vs. a traditional GPS device. I have a Garmin Nuvi and love it with a passion, but it’s good to know that I won’t need to replace it if something happens to it. If you’re in the market for a GPS, you should definitely read the article — you may already have a decent GPS you didn’t know you had.
(Image from Maisie Maud Broadhead.)
I spent nearly twenty minutes wiping coffee off my computer monitor yesterday after performing a Danny Thomas spit-take while watching this amazing video of a proposed design for a United Kingdom 3-pin electrical plug for a laptop.
I really hope this product eventually makes it to the manufacturing stage, as it’s one of the best examples of space-saving industrial design that we’ve ever seen.
Maggie Mason’s recent post on WePC.com “If I Were In Charge: A Docking Station Wishlist” has me thinking about charging stations for electronic devices. For the most part, PC laptop docking/charging stations are unattractive and cumbersome. It’s one of the reasons that I use a second monitor with numerous USB ports instead of a traditional docking station. Maggie describes what she would like to see in these devices in her article:
… I don’t want a mass tangle of wires — there should be individual drawers with gratifying slots for all my gadgets. And like GBear’s idea for a streamlined dockbook, my dream docking station would connect to my laptop via a single, elegant plug.
Simple and clutter-free to the eye, my docking station would also have muscle, with heavy peripherals like DVD burner/player or secondary processor all built directly into the station, which means my laptop can be ultra light, petite, and purse-friendly.
I agree with her ideas and would add that I would also love a back up hard drive dock. What would you like in your dream docking/charging station? Tell us your ideas in the comments.
An excellent post on cable clutter from The Closet Entrepreneur has been making the rounds this week. It shows how to use a monkey braid (or chain sinnet) to shorten cables so they stay out of the way and don’t get tangled.
I tried it out with a particularly annoying 25′ 13-pin MIDI cable I use frequently and it works just as advertised. Sometimes the best things in life really are free.
While re-watching The Incredibles this past weekend, I noticed something particularly interesting about Bob’s cubicle workspace at Insuracare, where he worked as a claims adjuster. If you look at the back of his computer monitor, you will notice about 20 different cables coming out of the back. It’s amazing how such a small detail really adds to the feeling of bleakness in his job situation.
If you’ll remember, the film was released over a year before Disney’s 2006 acquisition of Pixar, while Steve Jobs was still the Chairman and CEO, which almost leaves me wondering if the shot was some kind of subliminal attempt to sell us on the merits of the iMac and its single power cable (at least when used with a bluetooth mouse and keyboard).
Can you think of any other scenes in movies where the disorganization of an environment is purposefully used to create a particular mood or sense of anxiety?
I really like the cord identifier straps and the cord identifier buttons for labeling and controlling the mess under your desk or behind the television. Pre-printed labels come with each package, and you can also print your own labels with their DIY sheet. A pack of 10 buttons or straps sells for $10. Oddly, to purchase the items, you need to click on the “locate” tab on the homepage.