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.
Sony has come up with a clever television stand that is composed of speakers. It has right, left, center, and subwoofer speakers integrated into the stand. The concept cuts down on cable clutter and doubles as a place to set you television and a few components.
The concept serves multiple purposes, but I’m not sure replacing the tv stand with this speaker set up is advisable. If one of the speakers are damaged or malfunction, the whole unit would have to be replaced, leaving you without a tv stand or speakers.
The Sony RHT-G500 is not on the market as of yet and pricing has not been released, but it is an intriguing option for people who want a simple home theater that won’t add unwanted wires and cables to your living room. Is this yet-to-be-released speaker-laden tv stand something you find useful? Let’s read your opinions in the comments.
Wire and cable clutter is a real pet peeve of mine. Here at Unclutterer we have an entire category devoted to getting wires and cables in order. The good folks over at CNET have a feature highlighting just about everything you can think of that is available in the wireless world. From CNET:
More and more gadgets are letting us cut the cord. From home theaters and headphones to routers and radios, wireless tech simplifies all kinds of connections. This month’s feature tackles the wonder of wireless, looking at how far off we are from a fully wireless home, along with a gaggle of gadgets that can ready your home for the wireless way, starting today.
If you are in the market for a new gadget, you may want to check out what is available in a wireless option. The less wires you have the more uncluttered your space will be.
The contest is called “What’s Under your Desk” and that mess under your desk can qualify you to win a dinner with Peter Brady, er, I mean, Christopher Knight.
The contest is sponsored by Green Plug.
Green Plug’s mission is to sign up electronics manufacturers to use its chip that would go into power supplies. With the chip, consumers would be able to plug any device into a hub to power multiple devices. Software, which the company intends to make available for free, will be able to read exactly how much power a device needs.
Here at Unclutterer, we have made it our mission to rid your workspace or entertainment center of that wire monster that may be lurking under your desk. The wire monster is incredibly pesky and hard to control, but with some tips and the right plan of attack the wire monster can be conquered.
Products that are wireless immediately gain my attention. Monster’s new iSoniCast is now shipping and it allows you to stream your iPod wirelessly to your home stereo. It also makes your iPod into a remote control so you can select what you are listening to on your stereo. From Monster:
The Monster® iSoniCast™ turns your iPod into a wireless jukebox, so you can easily enjoy all your iPod music on your home stereo system. With the iSoniCast, you use the iPod itself to control playback with full access to all the familiar iPod controls! You don’t need to turn on your TV to view menus or use a clunky separate remote to control your iPod. Even better, the iSoniCast is also incredibly easy to hook up and no batteries are needed: the smart low-power consumption lets you listen for extended periods.
I currently use a Y-Cable for my iPod listening needs. It adds a wire to the mess that lurks behind my receiver and it doesn’t allow me to change tracks remotely. This wireless gem will set you back $100, which isn’t bad for a brand new iPod accessory. Additionally, if it gets rid of another cord, I’m interested.
Cable clutter is a scourge all to its own. The tops and back sides of desks are usually wrapped in a web of cables and wires. Here at Unclutterer we have a whole category dedicated to this pesky problem.
Bluelounge has a new product which tackles the wires and cables on the top of your desk. The SpaceStation creates a nice tidy area to confine this desk top mess. From Bluelounge:
Hovering just 5mm above the desk, cords are free to enter or exit the hub at any point – on the side to connect a scanner, the front for an iPod, the back for a laptop or camera. An internal 4-port USB 2.0 hub will keep all peripherals connected. One USB plug exits the station right where needed to connect a laptop. Just tip the front of the SpaceStation up to access the hub and cords.
And here are before-and-after photos to see what the SpaceStation can do for your workspace:
The blog Royal Pingdom knows how to make an Unclutterer’s heart go pitter patter. Their post, When data center cabling becomes art, sent me into a blissful tizzy gawking at the well-organized cables. Swoon. Here’s a teaser to entice you to click through to the site:
Photo courtesy of Jef Newsom
Walking around with an earbud cord that is too long can hinder your range of motion and get in the way. People come in different shapes and sizes, but earbud wires are all one size, which is usually super long. Why not take some time and easily make yourself a little earbud caddy to neatly wrap up that extra wire?
Over at wikiHow, you can easily follow the steps and have yourself a cheap do-it-yourself solution made from material you may have around your house already. Or, if you’re not feeling handy, you can just purchase the one pictured with this article for $2.
The Wii remote control is quite an amazing development in game console controllers. The Wii remote is wireless, but not completely so because there is a wire that connects to the nunchuk to the controller.
Nyko, a third party supplier for gaming accessories, now has Wii owners covered with the wireless nunchuk. But what about the Wii owners who already have all their controllers purchased and don’t want to buy new wireless nunchuks? Well, Nyko has you covered there, too. You can purchase an adapter for your wired nunchuk and the wire will be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the adapter won’t be available for another month.
Wires are one of my biggest pet peeves and I dream of a life without them. Every year, the Consumer Electronic Association holds it’s International CES Convention and I follow it closely to see if any companies are unveiling wireless electronics. At the convention, consumer electronic companies trot out their new innovations and try to create some buzz for their products.
One new innovation that I have been reading quite a bit about is Wireless HD. Belkin is unveiling their FlyWire box that sends uncompressed 720p and 1080i or compressed 1080p signals up to 100 feet “with the same quality as HDMI cable.” Also, according to Engadget, Westinghouse will debut their Wireless HDMI HDTV at the convention.
WirelessHD will serve as the first and only wireless digital interface to combine uncompressed high-definition video, multi-channel audio, intelligent format and control data, and Hollywood approved content protection. For end-users, elimination of cables for audio and video dramatically simplifies home theater system installation and eliminates the traditional need to locate source devices in the proximity of the display. Also, the technology will support the development of adapter solutions that will be capable of supporting legacy systems.
With the quick advances that have been made over the years in consumer electronics, it was only a matter of time before companies started to tackle the wire issue. Here’s to an uncluttered, wireless future in HD entertainment!
Hiding cables is one of the reasons, if not the reason most people come to our site from search engines. As a result, we are always on the lookout for creative solutions to this problems.
Today, we share reader Greg’s solution for how to hide power strips and cables under your desk. And, because Greg is fabulously organized, we also share the link to his step-by-step instructions for how he did it from Instructables. We want to note, though, that we recommend using a solid plastic basket as an alternative to avoid accidental electrocution.
Also seen on Lifehacker.
Eye-Fi is an SD memory card that wirelessly uploads your photos to your computer without the need for an extra wire or stand alone card reader. This little 2 GB card will make those wires and cables obsolete. Here at Unclutterer, we are always on the lookout for products that conquer the wire beast that lurks around your desk or entertainment center.
Unfortunately, the folks over at Engadget have thrown cold water on the Eye-Fi by giving it a marginally poor review. It’s at least a step in the right direction, and we look forward to future generations of this wireless SD card.