Universal cell phone charger by 2012

Throwback Thursday: I had to laugh when I pulled this one out of the archives. Back in 2009, we expected all smartphones to charge with only one type of charger by 2012. That did not happen. And to increase confusion, in 2012 Apple ditched the 30-pin iPhone cable introduced the lightning cable to charge its newest iPhone 5 making some households even more cluttered.

Here in the future of 2019, more and more devices are being charged using wireless charging stations. It isn’t the cable-free technology as we had hoped for in our post below, but it is a step to uncluttering cables. Enjoy this peek into the past and let your imagination dream of a clutter-free cordless future.

 

News hit Tuesday that 17 phone manufacturers have agreed to use Micro-USB chargers on all phones by 2012. According to ZDNet, “Companies signed up to the initiative include Nokia, Motorola, Orange, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile, 3, Telefónica and Vodafone. HTC was not on the list of compliant companies in the announcement, but an HTC spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the manufacturer will participate in the scheme.”

I love the idea of a single charger being able to power multiple devices, but I worry that this announcement is a little too late. In three years’ time, devices like mobile phones might best be charged with cable-free technology, like “WITricity” or Powermats.

Another unsettling point is that many of the smart phone makers didn’t sign onto this agreement. Palm, Blackberry, and Apple aren’t among those on the participation list. I don’t see Apple changing their docking systems to Micro-USB in three years.

I definitely believe that this is a move in the right direction. A single power cord is a brilliant idea. However, I worry that Micro-USB may be an irrelevant standard in three-years’ times.

(Note: An astute reader pointed out that the image is a Mini-USB port instead of a Micro-USB port. Sorry for the confusion! There are so many standards, even I got confused. Ugh!!)

Power strips that work well with wall warts

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a few alternatives to traditional power strips that alleviate or reduce the space-hogging AC adapters (commonly called wall wart) problem:

First up is a surge protector that swivels. This one is good for extra wide wall warts.

 

Next is the pyramid power adapter. You can outfit it with many wall warts and it also has USB charging ports.

For those who like the traditional power-bar look, EZO makes one that has outlets that swivel.

The pivot surge protector can handle several adapters and circle around the leg of your desk to save space.

Remember, for safety’s sake, block off all unused outlets with plug covers to keep little fingers (and sometimes little cat claws) from going where they don’t belong.

Let us know of additional wall wart space hogging solutions in the comments!

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

Interesting way to hide powercords

Power cords are a necessary evil that ruin the aesthetic of almost any room in your home. Finding ways to hide them and get them into a manageable arrangement is always a struggle. One option is to use the “J” shaped cable organizer but they are only available in white or black which doesn’t always go with the décor. Nail-in cable clips are easy to install and can neatly hold cables against the wall but again, who wants to see that bright orange extension cord?

This rather unique and interesting way to hide your wire clutter I found over at the Boiler design site:

The Picket Fence adapts to older homes and cleanly manages the electrical necessities of the occupants. The baseboards have a certain thickness to them, typically much thicker than an electrical cord. By sticking these pickets onto the baseboard, a space is created between the wall and the picket points. This space serves as a track for routing all of the wires cleanly around the room. They can go wherever they like and double back as much as they need to, all concealed behind a picket fence. Because of the gaps between the individual pickets, a plug can jump out wherever it is needed.

Obviously this design isn’t for everyone, but I think it is creative and lends itself to different interpretations.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2007.

Reader inspired charging station

Reader Geek Novice sent us the following photographs:

A detailed explanation can be found on his blog here. His blog is written in Slovene, though, so we were happy that he kindly emailed us a few translations. In short, he purchased two meters (about six and a half feet) of pipe insulation from his local hardware store for about a dollar. He cut the foam tubing to his desired length, inserted a second slice, piled in the cords, and called it an uncluttered day.

We love this innovative, inexpensive, charging station. Thank you, Geek Novice, for sharing it with us!

 

This post has been updates since its original publication in 2007.

Gadget ‘gas station’

Anthro, an office furniture company, has a product for sale that appeals to both my techie and minimalist sensibilities. The eNook is a “gas station for your gadgets that has channels for you to plug in and charge all your gear.”

Not only does this look like a fantastic docking station, but could easily be used as a fold-away desk. In its compact state, it sticks out only 7″ from the wall. In my mind, this would be perfect in a studio apartment for a traveling consultant or in a busy family’s kitchen.

 

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Organizing and storing cords and cables

Jeri recently wrote about how cords and cables can be a source of clutter. Reader Juli commented and asked how best to label and store useful cords.

There are many different answers to that and it really depends on what types of cords you have, how you use them, and available storage space.

A small carrying case works well for organizing smaller cords (like those for laptops and smart phones), and fits nicely in a desk drawer. It’s also easy to pull out and take with you when you travel, even if the only travelling you do is to the local coffee shop.

Reader Lucie suggested folding or rolling cords and placing them in cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls if the cords are longer. This is a great option for extension cords and larger cables that connect audio-visual equipment.

Johncanon commented that he stores cables on a rotating necktie organizer (probably similar to this one) that attaches under a closet shelf. He bent each of the 12 hooks upward to hold more cables so that in one square foot in a closet, he can store and quickly find over 100 cables. An under-shelf mug rack would also hold quite a few cables as would this sturdy necktie holder designed to hang on a closet rod.

For those that want to wrap or roll their cords, Velcro-type hook and loop tape straps are ideal for tying them up. These are also useful for keeping the cords for small appliances and power tools from getting tangled in drawers and toolboxes.

Reader Alex Q places cables in appropriately sized Ziploc bags. He labels each bag near the top so when the bags are placed in a box, it is almost like a filing cabinet — easy to flick through the sealed bags and to find the one needed.

For frequently used, long extension cords, a storage reel is ideal. It is easy to wind and unwind the cord whenever you need to use it. H-frame reels are great for strings of holiday lights.

There are several different options for labelling cords and cables. Reader Lucie suggested using the plastic tabs from bread bags or an address label folded over the cord and stuck to itself.

The Cord ID Pro system allows you to label and colour code your cables to match with your audio/visual equipment making it easy to set up your system. The Cord ID Pro parts can be reused if you wish. Another option is to use self-locking cable ties with built in label. They attach securely to the cables and are one-use only — ideal if you’re worried about losing a label.

Thanks for your comment Juli. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.

Organizing video games

I really enjoy video games. My favorite one is, “Where am I going to put all this bulky junk?” Wait, that’s real life and it’s far from being a fun game. Along with playing video games comes games boxes, consoles, controllers and more cables than you’d ever want to see spread like locust around the TV, the entertainment center, and the house at large. If you’re a gamer, the following advice may help you to tame the swarm and organize your video games and accessories.

Game boxes

Games sold on physical media (that is to say, not games downloaded from a digital app store) typically come in decorative plastic boxes. They’re stackable, uniform in size, and clearly labeled with the game’s title. Still, finding the one game you want can be a hassle. Here’s what we do at home to keep things straight.

  1. Put all game discs in their proper boxes. It’s so easy to grab a disc and pop it into the nearest box, saying, “Eh, I’ll put it in the right box later.” In my experience, “later” never comes. Take the extra few seconds to store the game properly. Make sure you eject any disc in your console/computer before you begin this task.
  2. Spread out all of the boxes on a large table or even the floor.
  3. Sort alphabetically. Put all games starting with “A” in one pile, “B” in another and so on. And then again within each pile, “Marvel Nemesis” precedes “Medal of Honor.”
  4. Find a home for the alphabetized lot. In our house, we line them up on a shelf like books, but you might find it easier to put them in a box or drawer based on your space.

Those with a lot of games may want to sort by category. For example, after step two above, sort games by type: shooter, racing, educational, etc. Then do the ABC sort. Next, make labels for wherever you store the boxes so you can jump right to the category you’re searching and so it’s easier to put the discs away after use.

Game controllers and accessories

This is most likely where things get messy in your home, at least it’s that way in mine. Controllers are bulky and vary quite a bit. Some have wires, some don’t. Many have replaceable batteries, others don’t. Certain models must be charged regularly and/or require protective cases.

Storage

Video games are often played by kids, so a kid-friendly shelf is a good way to go if this is the situation in your home. An easily accessible shelf puts devices within reach and also out of the way. (A basic, no-frills option on Amazon, if you’re interested.) I also like wall-mounted models, as they’re one less thing on the floor and can hide cords more successfully than a shelf.

There are personalized game controller tubs on Etsy, which are cool, and look great while keeping unwieldy controllers in one place. Additionally, Instructables has a tutorial for wall-hanging your controllers, which is well done.

Charging

As nice as these solutions are, they don’t account for devices that need to be charged. A hidden drawer is a great way to go, as you can charge up the devices without having to look at them in the meantime. You may need to drill a hole in the back of the drawer for cables, if there isn’t enough space to run the cables currently. A converted storage box is another great-looking and effective option.

Game consoles

Xboxes, Playstations, Wiis, and other gaming towers are usually bulky and are stored on a shelf of the media center. There aren’t many options when it comes to disguising them while keeping them useful, however, there are some things you can do to keep them from being an eye sore.

First, keep them clean. A game console is just a powerful computer, and as such they give off a lot of heat. Make sure they’re stored so that all vents are unblocked. Additionally, dust them periodically as a build-up will hinder heat dispersion.

Keep cords in the rear separate. Twist-ties work very well here, and labeled ties are even better for keeping your cables organized.

Try to keep them clear of areas with heavy foot traffic or bounding pets. Gaming systems really don’t like to be suddenly flung onto the floor.

Really, the best thing to do is to get all of the gamers in your house into the habit of cleaning up after saving the universe, offing a zombie, or rescuing the princess. It only takes a minute and is a lot more fun than playing “Now Where Did I Put That?”

A tidy and useful tech bag

A messy tech bag is a nasty thing indeed. You’ve got expensive gadgets bumping around and cables getting tangled, knocked about, and covered in who-knows-what. But there’s no need to fret — you have several options for keeping your tech bags nice and tidy, as well as a few setups for various purposes.

Before I delve into what to put inside a tech bag and how, let’s consider the bag itself. Of course, there are limitless options to make the decision-making process confusing. To limit the field, I prefer something simple with no more little pockets and compartments than I’m going to need. (Less temptation to fill them with clutter.) Where pockets are concerned, it boils down to:

  1. A place for my laptop
  2. Two pockets — one for my laptop’s power cable and a charger for my phone
  3. A spot for headphones
  4. A pocket for a mouse

Envision your bag like a small home: where there is a place for everything and everything has a place.

Comfort is your next consideration, and I love a good shoulder strap. That way I can keep both hands free while I’m moving about.

A quick note! Before I look at individual bags, I’ve got to mention an item that deserves a spot in every setup: cable wraps. Cables love to get tangled up, and for some reason they see the inside of a bag as the prime opportunity to do so. It’s as if they say, “We’re in a bag! Quick, form an impossible rat’s nest!” These simple Velcro models are inexpensive and reusable. I know Erin is also a fan of the Grid-It Organizer, which is different but provides the same results.

The student bag

Students have more to carry around then tech goodies, but the gadgets are often essential. To manage the weight of a laptop and books, I recommend a large and well-made backpack-style laptop bag. Look for one with a padded laptop sleeve.

The traveler

Again, a backpack-style laptop bag is a good choice for travelers, but often you won’t need something as big or bulky as what a college student might use. Ogio’s Covert Shoulder Bag for 13-Inch Tablet/Netbook fits the bill, as it’s tidy, small, and easily carried from bus to plane to train. Add a laptop, charger, map and tickets and you’re all set.

The conference attendee

I love this post from iMore’s Serenity Caldwell, which details exactly what, how, and why she packs for an extended stay at a tech conference. Not only is it an interesting look at how a tech journalist preps for work, it’s a useful description of why.

The remote worker

I occasionally get to work remotely, and it’s great. In my laptop bag I include the usual stuff, but also: some money for the coffee shop, a power strip for sharing an outlet, water for hydration, and a “trash pocket,” usually big zip-to-close plastic bag, for wrappers, etc. should I not find a bin.

There you have a few options for a tidy and useful tech bag. Keep your expensive gadgets safe and organized, folks. And don’t forget one of the most important step in all of this: clean out your bag immediately, every day, upon returning home.

What to do with old unwanted cables

Technology improves at a rapid pace and the devices we love today are the outdated clunkers of tomorrow. Who’s got a VCR sitting around? I do. And although you may have a plan to replace, donate, or properly dispose of unwanted hardware, you still might have a pile of cables on hand. Fortunately, this often-overlooked pile of clutter is easy to handle.

I recently read an article on MacObserver that’s full of suggestions for managing unwanted cables. Writing for MacObserver, Kelly Guimont begins with practical advice:

Start by making sure your friends and family all have what they need too. Perhaps they need extras for car charging or computer bags or whatever.

The cable you don’t need might be exactly what a relative or friend wants. Gulmont continues, describing various options for recycling: Best Buy and Staples have free programs and “… 1-800-Recycling and the National Center for Electronics Recycling will hook you up with the appropriate local facilities.”

I will add schools and scouting groups to the list of possible cable donation recipients. Many have STEM programs that are always in need of donations, and the cables they need often aren’t the latest and greatest.

Other suggestions: Be sure you know your devices well to know exactly which cables you need for your devices. When you donate or recycle your equipment, include the appropriate cables with the device in your donation — especially duplicates. Also, check with your local municipal and/or county recycling centers to learn where to dispose of the cables so when it is appropriate to trash them (such as broken and unsafe cables) you know the location to drop them off and the process.

Cables are insidious things that love to congregate in homes and never leave. The good news is there are several options for finding them a new place to be. Happy organizing!

Unclutterer’s 2014 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Technology gifts

It used to be that I’d ask if you have a techie on your holiday shopping list before beginning a gift-giving post like this, but the truth is, almost everyone is a techie these days with devices, gadgets, and gizmos as part of our everyday lives. Now, you can buy an uncluttered tech gift for nearly everyone.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the the ScanSnap iX100 and it did the impossible: it made me fall in love with a scanner, of all things. This small, portable, fast, and wireless scanner fits on my desk or in a bag. In my continued and extensive testing I have found that its battery holds a charge for a long time and it lets you export your scanned image to a huge array of sources, from your desktop to a shared folder to Evernote and so much more. Gone are the days of cranky flatbed scanners the size of a 1970 Ford Galaxy 500.

The Magnetic Organization System or “MOS,” is one of those why-didn’t-they-think-of-that products. If you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for effective ways to combat cable clutter. Sure, you can take the DIY route, but I encourage you to consider the MOS. The attractive, metallic pad sits on your desk and holds unused cables in place with magnets. It comes in black, silver, and white, so you can find one to accommodate your other hardware. My favorite part: if you have cables that won’t be held in place by a magnet, just use one of the included, magnetic cable ties and you’re all set.

Finally, if you want to use it to store something other than computer cables, have at it (see the image above right).

The Kanex GoBuddy+ is unobtrusive and a brilliant multi-tasking cable organizer that I love. First it has two cables attached — either a USB and a Lightning cable, or a USB and a micro USB. Both tuck out of the way when not and use, and unfold to connect your smartphone or tablet to a computer or USB-based AC adapter for charging. Best of all, it’s got a built-in bottle opener. Yes, please! It comes in black or white.

Here’s one that’s for you and/or the kids. The dreamGEAR Nintendo Wii Induction Power Base Quad adds a rechargeable battery to the Nintendo’s Wiimotes. When the gaming ends, simply plop the controller back into the base and it begins charging. You can either plug it into a wall or make use of that mystery USB port on the back of your TV (what is that for, anyway?) to save a slot on the wall socket. I have one of these at home and love it. The kids never ask for batteries for the Wiimotes anymore.

Last year I recommended the BookBook Travel Journal, and thought I would never fine something I like just as much. Well, I have. The Better Together Note Pouch is a zippered carrier that can accommodate a tablet or a laptop plus a myriad of pens, notebooks, labels, and a host of other things. It comes in several colors.

The Anker® 40W 5-Port High Speed Desktop USB Charger doesn’t have the sexiest name in the world, but it’s great for multi-device families. Once connected to a wall socket, this puppy can charge up to three USB-based devices. Not only that, it eliminates the clutter of “Where’s my cable?” and “Where’s my charger?” I recommend paring it with these great cable labels so everyone knows exactly whose is whose.

Last but not least, a handy little stocking stuffer for the techie on your gift list. The DCI 4-Port USB Power Strip fits into a bag (it measures just 1.1 by 4.4 by 0.75-inches), accepts up to four USB devices, and even has colored covers for each port so you needn’t worry about debris getting inside them when not in use. I’d give this to the tech-friendly traveler, as a full-sized charging station is too unwieldy to pack easily.

Feel welcome to explore our past Guides for even more ideas: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Organize wiry earbuds

When not in use, they’re unwieldy and messy. Even when tucked in a drawer, they tend to sprawl out and take over the whole thing. But, even though they create a mess, I still prefer to have them.

I’m talking about earbuds.

When you buy a new smartphone or digital music player, you often get a “free” pair. They don’t usually fit well, so you buy a cheap pair from the drug store or the mall. Perhaps you’re an audiophile, which means you likely ignore the default pair for something you really like. Next thing you know, all your earbuds’ cables are tangled and messy and all over the place and you’re longing for a clutter-free solution.

The starting point, of course, is to give away all your unused pairs. Some folks know they’ll never use the set that shipped with their new device. If that’s the case, don’t even unwrap them. Perhaps there is someone among your family or friends who would love to have them. Ebay and other online auction sites are an option, though you shouldn’t expect to get a lot for them. Freecycle is easy, too.

For the earbuds you choose to keep, having a cable organizer is a must. I recently received a Cord Taco from This Is Ground and I love it. This super-simple circle of leather and closes with a button (it’s pictured above). Once you’ve got the things wrapped up, you can pop them in a drawer or on a desk, tangle-free. They sell in packs of five on Amazon for less than $30. You can keep them all for yourself or keep one and give the rest as gifts to family and friends who could use them.

If you’re the DIY type, your options are many for earbud control. A good, old-fashioned ID clip works in a way that’s very similar. It’s not as pretty as a Cord Taco, but it does have the added benefit of a clip.

There are numerous other options you can buy from online retailers or your local electronics’ store if you’re keen on wrapping up your cables when you’re finished using them. Erin swears by her LG Bluetooth headset, which gets rid of the cable completely, but is significantly more expensive than most earbuds.

Of course, earbud cable management is an excellent opportunity to get tinnovative. The term tinnovations refers to the practice of repurposing or hacking an Altoids tin in a fun, useful way. It’s quite simple to rig up an earbud holder with a tin. You can even make a nice little speaker if you’re up to it.

Finally, lets say you don’t want to buy extra hardware or make something that will itself clutter up the joint. If that’s the case, check out this super clever way to wrap up earbud cords into a tidy package that’s sturdy yet just as easy to take apart. I like this technique.

There you have several ways to tidy up these insidious little things. Now get to it, and enjoy the look of your earbuds for a change.