Cable clutter is the scourge of the modern work desk. Sure, we are trying to go wireless as much as possible, but there are still plenty of cords snaking around our desks. Let’s organize them once and for all.
Naturally, computer cable clutter is more for a desktop PC than a laptop. That said, even a laptop can have quite a few cables: a power cord, a USB hub for additional ports, and so on. And then there’s the charger for your phone, and other odds and ends.
You need to attack the problem in five steps:
- Hide the power strip and plugs.
- Collect and tie the cables together.
- Shorten cable length.
- Hold unused cables in place.
- Identify the cables.
1. Hide the Power Strip and Plugs
A power strip is designed for functionality, not for looking good. Yes, you should use a surge protector, but the resultant mess of cables is an eyesore. That’s the first place to start your cable clutter management.
DIY Shoebox Power Strip
The simplest solution for this is to create a DIY box for the power strip out of a shoebox. The video below has step by step instructions to make a good-looking one. If you’re okay with a basic box, then just cut holes on both sides so that the power strip’s cable, and the cables of connected plugs, can come out from either side.
Cablebox and Cablebox Mini
It looks sharp and comes in a variety of colors. The Mini includes a surge protector too, so you don’t have to buy your own. It’s one of the best ways to deal with MacBook cables.
2. Collect and Tie Cables Together
Now that the power strip is out of the way, let’s deal with the myriad of loose cords hanging around. First, identify the cords that are going to stay there permanently or for a long time. Collect them together and bunch them up. There are two options for this.
A pack of 100 zip ties costs only $5 on Amazon, so get one for yourself and start zipping up cables all over your house. Make sure your cables are neatly separated first, then hold them together, and zip tie them. It’s best to add zip ties at multiple points, so they stay neat from the power strip up to the desk or PC. Once you secure a tie, use a pair of scissors to snip off the end. Zip ties are also excellent to organize cables inside computers to stop your PC from overheating.
Zip ties have some pros and cons. Taking a cable out of a zip tie means cutting them all, and fastening new ones again. That said, given how cheap zip ties are, you can create multiple bunches of cables, so you can remove and attach a collection of cords at the same time. And there’s always the option of spending a bit more for reusable zip ties.
I prefer cable sleeves to zip ties, for the simple reason that you can also add semi-permanent cables here. A zippered cable sleeve ($15) holds all your cords together, and you can easily remove or add cords. And perhaps it’s a personal choice, but I think it looks a lot better than zip ties, since you get a uniform color. Unless cost is a factor, I’d say cable sleeves are better to conceal computer cables.
3. Shorten Cable Length
With the power strip box and cable sleeves or zip ties, the under-the-desk mess of cables is now hidden. But the cables sitting on the desk are still an issue. You need them there, but you don’t need them taking up so much space. The solution is to shorten their length temporarily.
The no-cost DIY solution is the Cablebone from Instructables. You’ll need a rubber mat, a marker pen, a cutter, glue, and a drill. Draw small bone shapes on a rubber mat, cut them out, and glue two together. You need the resultant rubber bone to be roughly a quarter of an inch thick. Drill a hole at both ends of the bone, and cut it slightly so a cord can go one. Now just wrap the cord from one end to the other, coiling it around the bone to make it as short as you need. Clean and simple!
Quirky’s Cordlets are nifty accessories to organize your desk. Stick them anywhere on your desk, and run the cable through them. The Cordlet has a plus sign-like indentation, so the cable can coil through those grooves, or around the whole Cordlet. Coil as much as you want to shorten the cable. Manufacturer Quirky has officially discontinued the product, but you can still find it on Amazon or other stores.
4. Hold Unused Cables in Place
There are a lot of cables that you need off and on, but not always. Your phone or tablet charger, for instance, may not always be plugged into the device. And so it sits on the desk, adding to the clutter, getting tangled with other wires. Instead, arrange these unused cables in one place.
The all-purpose mouldable silicone putty Sugru has many geeky uses. Cable management is right at the top of this. As the video above shows, you need to only stick the Sugru ($12 for pack of 3) on your desk (or to its side) and make a groove with a toothpick. In a matter of hours, you will have as many custom cord holders as you need.
Similar to the Sugru, you can attach binder clips at the edge of your desk and run the cord through the opening. It’s one of the great geek hacks to repurpose everyday objects. The only issue with this is that your desk needs a jutting edge, and it should be thin enough to affix a binder clip.
For a no-work solution, buy a pack of adhesive cable clips. These gizmos are like a ready-made version of the Sugru hack above, in that they stick to the desk and you can run cables through them. There’s a wide selection of cable clips on Amazon, but make sure you pick something with 3M adhesive.
Magnetic Organization System (MOS)
The $12 MOS Organizer is a geek darling, especially among Apple users. It looks like a shiny piece of metal, and it sits proudly on your desk. Attach the packaged metal tie to any cable and it will stick to the MOS. Quite a few cables don’t even need the tie, since the port’s metal sticks to the MOS. It looks magical, and behaves perfectly. And if you don’t want to fork over 12 bucks, you can build your own MOS-like magnetic cable organizer.
5. Identify The Cables
So you have all your cables neatly arranged. But while you get rid of the mess, this bunching up lost the ability to easily identify which cable does what. Don’t worry, there are simple hacks to remember that.
The most popular solution is to use bread clips. Attach one to a cable, write out what it’s for. I’m not a fan of this though. Bread clips don’t work for thick cables, and the writing isn’t readable from a distance. Still, it’s free and simple.
The easiest way to identify cables is to wrap colored duct tape around the line, with a little bit jutting out. On the part that’s jutting out, use a sharpie or marker pen to write what the cable is for. And to ensure that the back doesn’t stick somewhere, put a piece of paper there and write the identification again. It doesn’t look great, but it’s the most functional choice.
By the way, while you’re cleaning up, you should also consider cleaning your keyboard.
How Do You Store Loose Cables?
These methods should take care of all your needs in managing cable clutter from your computer. But what about all the loose cables you have?
One of the smartest products to address this problem is the Recoil Winder ($27 for pack of three). It automatically coils any cord till you want to use it again.
Did you come across cables you had no idea existed and wondering what they’re good for? We explain it here in our guide to USB cable types.
Image Credits: Barnaby Chambers/Shutterstock