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.
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