2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide: Tech for organization

Do you have a tech-friendly organization devotee on your holiday shopping list? Then you are in luck because this is among the easiest, most fun groups to shop for. A tech geek — for lack of a better term — is always willing to try out a new gadget, system, or tool, just in case it’s an improvement over what she/he is already using. As a tech geek, I’m speaking from experience.

The following are several gift ideas that are likely to make the tech geek in your life happy:

  1. The Doxie Flip Scanner. The newest addition to the Doxie family of scanners (released just a couple of weeks ago), is a delightful little device. This portable (about 6.5 x 10 x 1 inches and 1 lb 7.3 oz.), battery-powered, flatbed scanner is perfect for scanning photos, books, sketches, manuals and so much more. It easily fits into almost any bag and saves scans to an SD card for easy transfer. Here’s a cool tip: If you have a wireless-capable Eye-Fi card, skip the middle man and scan directly to your computer over Wi-Fi.
  2. New Trent Travelpak. The Travelpak is a portable recharging device that can supply extra juice to anything that accepts a charge via USB. That means iPhones, iPods, iPads, tablets, cameras and smartphones of all kinds. It stores enough power to keep most smartphones going for a days under normal use. And, it’s barely bigger than a phone, so it fits into a bag or pocket easily. Useful and portable? That’s a winning combo to me.
  3. BookBook Travel Journal. This one is for the iPad-wielding traveler. The BookBook Travel Journal from Twelve South is a tidy, organized, and absolutely fantastic-looking carrying case for an iPad and myriad of accessories. You can store the tablet plus a charger (like the awesome PlugBug), set of headphones, keyboard case, stylus, notebook, and pen. Twelve South makes fantastic products (check out similar carriers for the iPhone, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air) and the Travel Journal is no exception. Tidy, attractive, and best of all, useful.
  4. CoverBot Dual USB High Output Car Charger. Here’s another wonderfully unobtrusive device that will keep all your favorite tech geek’s devices charged. The CoverBot Duo is a car charger with two USB-ready ports. Each is fully powered, so you can get two devices up and running at the same pace. As with the New Trent Travelpak, the CoverBot Duo works with any device that will accept a charge via USB.
  5. Philips HF3500/60 Wake-Up Light. Now this is just cool. The Wake-Up Light wakes you up by growing gradually brighter over a 30-minute period. This process, according to Phillips, stimulates your body to wake up naturally, as opposed to the jarring audio alert of most alarm clocks. Phillips sent us one to review and we’re glad they did. Additionally, once fully illuminated, it easily lights up a bedroom. Replace that lamp and save some space on your nightstand, too.
  6. BLaNKcraft Cable Manager. With two iPhones and an iPod in the house, I spend way too much time plugging, unplugging, replacing, or searching for cables. It’s worse when we’re traveling, as one pocket of my bag ends up holding a rat’s nest of white cable. The BLaNKcraft Cable Manager can rescue your tech geek from cable chaos. This handmade, leather strap is so simple and so clever that I just love it. Bind your cables with the snap, tuck it into a bag, pocket, or drawer and you’re good to go. As an alternative, the Cord Taco is another great choice.
  7. Tile. This clever little fob attaches to your valuables (up to 10) and lets you track their location with an iOS app. Lose the keys? Misplace a wallet? Don’t know where the kids’ backpacks have gone? You’re a tap away from solving the mystery.
  8. Automatic. This is among my top gadgets of the year. The Automatic is a little device that plugs into your car’s data port (check if your car is supported here) and shares a host of useful information. For example, if you car’s “Check Engine” light comes on, the Automatic will tell you what’s wrong via the companion smartphone app (iOS and Android). If it detects an accident has occurred, it notifies local authorities. It remembers where you parked and even helps you drive in a more economical manner. It even supports multiple drivers.
  9. The Quirky Plug Hub. Finally, here’s another great way to rid yourself of a rat’s nest of cables. Put a power strip inside and use the three holes in the top to thread six plugs through neatly. You don’t have to look at the ugly plug unit once it’s tucked inside. Take things a step further and add some labels to those plugs so you’ll know what’s going where.

Want more gift-giving ideas? Explore Unclutterer’s full 2013 Holiday Gift Giving Guide.

Ten DIY gadget charging stations

“Where can I plug this in?” is a dilemma of the contemporary age.

As phones and tablets become more popular, two problems arise. First, most wall sockets only accommodate two items each. That’s easily remedied by connecting a power strip. One plug becomes five or six, and you’re good to go.

But the solution to the first problem begets problem number two: the jumble of cables and wires is just ugly. Plus, they get tangled, swapped, and misplaced. You could spend money on a decent-looking solution or whip up your own home charging station. The following are 10 great examples I found while poking around the Internet. Each charges several devices simultaneously and looks a lot better than a power strip and a rat’s nest of wires.

  1. Hidden in a drawer. I first saw this solution on Pinterest. It keeps everything out of sight completely by placing the whole lot inside a drawer. The setup is simple: drill a hole in the back of the drawer, thread the power strip cord through and plug it in. You might want to fasten the power strip to the bottom of the drawer to keep it from wobbling around with double-sided tape or velcro.
  2. Converted storage box. This rig was inspired by ribbon boxes that store the ribbon inside and feed it through a small hole. Here, holes were cut into a storage box that you can find at any craft store. The holes were reinforced with oval bookplates, held in place with small brad nails. From there, the power strip was placed inside and the device cables fed through the new holes. It looks great and there’s really no need to open it.
  3. Night Stand recharging station. This one wins the prize for most dramatic before-and-after photos, as an upturned cardboard box is replaced by a nice-looking end table. Holes will drilled in the rear of the unit and the charging cables fed through. Just don’t look behind it, though. I fear there’s an hidden rat’s nest against that wall.
  4. Super easy plastic bin. This one isn’t long on looks but it’s probably the least expensive solution here. Plus, it gets the job done. Small holes were cut into the rear and lid so that cables could be fed through. Sure, you can see inside but it’s still nice to not have to deal with what’s inside.
  5. Vintage case. Here’s a solution that is long on looks. Ryan at Weekly Geek, who put this together, describes his love of de-tangling electronic cables: “Jaws clenched and temples throbbing the world silently fades as my focus gets narrower and more fierce. That mess is broken, and I have to fix it. Why won’t they let me fix it?” His vintage-valise-as-charging-station is a thing to behold and not for he feint of heart. You can review what’s required here. The results, however, are very nice indeed.
  6. Converted IKEA storage unit. I’ll admit that I love IKEA. Even those little meatballs in the cafeteria are good. In this example, an enterprising soul at IKEA Hackers converted the company’s Estetisk storage unit into a nice-looking charging station. Holes were drilled into the back and the “cubbies” were outfitted with custom plywood inserts. Well done.
  7. Re-purposed plastic bottle. You got me, this only charges a single item. But look at how cute and convenient it is! By deftly cutting a plastic lotion bottle and applying some decoration, Ashley at Make It & Love It has a great-looking holder that hangs on the charger itself and corrals the phone and its cable. Very nice.
  8. Old books. Some of you will balk at the idea of chopping up an old book, but the rest should check this out. Yes, it’s a single-device solution again, but it’s very nice-looking. There are several available in this Etsy shop, but I’m sure you could figure it out for yourself with an X-Acto knife and some time.
  9. Converted shoe box. Here’s another quick-and-dirty solution that works well. This is similar to the storage box – you’re cutting holes in a shoe box, reinforcing them with grommets and feeding the cables through – but less expensive. Plus, since you’re starting with a shoe box, do some decorating to get it looking nice. Time to break out the Mod Podge.
  10. Vintage breadbox. Finally, a converted vintage bread box. This one requires the most work and some basic carpentry skills (and the right decor) but you’d never guess there’s a jumble of wires and charging electronics inside of there.

I hope you found this list inspirational. You do have to charge your gadgets but the process needn’t result in a jumbled mess. Go forth and make a great little charging station.

Organize, store and buy computer cables wisely

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.

Here’s another cool trick from Sharon Harris on Picasa that makes use of toilet paper tubes. Hair clips work, too. I love it!

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.

Buy Wisely

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.

  1. The Cable Turtle is very cute and keeps a variety of cables tidy.
  2. 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.
  3. Likewise, there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap a video cable. Over/under is the right way.
  4. Instructables has posted a tutorial for inexpensive, under-desk cable management.

Return of the console television

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?

Ask Unclutterer: Organizing electronic accessories and conquering Mount Techmore

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.

Hide cables in rain gutters

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.)

Workspace of the Week: Cable cleanup

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.

Assorted items for July 14, 2010

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.

Assorted links for June 15, 2010

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:

Signum for cable management

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.

Thanks to Lifehacker for bringing this organizer to our attention. Oh, and beware: There are at least seven products named Signum at Ikea, which is confusing.

Hiding cables in plain sight

Unclutterer Forums member mpoush found a creative solution for concealing cables in plain sight:

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.

As seen on Lifehacker

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.)