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!

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.

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.

More than a tv stand

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.

(via Unpluggd)

CNET’s guide to wireless products

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.

That wire mess can win you a prize

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.

(via Crave)

Wireless iPod streaming

iSoniCastProducts 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.

(via Crave)

Bluelounge’s SpaceStation helps with cable clutter

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:


SpaceStation Before


SpaceStation After

Make your own earbud caddy

cable tidyWalking 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 wireless Wii nunchuk

Wireless NunchukThe 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.

(via Engadet)