Label Your Cables

Last time, I wrote about how to identify different types of cables so that you can get rid of any cables you don’t need and downsize what you have too much of. (See You Have Too Many Cables.) This time, I want to write about how to prevent the madness so that you don’t have too many cables in the future.

When you get a new device, take a few minutes to label the cables. If the plug is large enough, you can put the label on the plug. If the plug is too small, then put the label around the cable itself just before it runs into the plug. If the cable and plug are detachable, then I recommend labeling both items.

Even if you don’t have a labeler (like the Brother P-Touch that I own), you can use a sharpie with masking tape or colored tape. If doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs to be legible. If I am labeling the cable itself (not the plug), I wrap the tape around the cable just once so that it looks like a flag, and I label it on both sides.

This method will clearly reduce cable confusion in the future. But it can also help you out right away. I’m guessing that most of the time, you are plugging your cables into a power strip. (We have too many devices to devote an entire outlet to each one.) It can be confusing to look at a power strip full of plugs and know which device is which. Labeling your cables will enable you to better manage your power strips so that you don’t have to unplug every cable if you want to remove something.

And if you stop keeping this device plugged in permanently, having a labeled cable will ensure that this cable doesn’t end up in the Mystery Cables box!

You Have Too Many Cables

The type of work I do with clients tends to come in waves. Recently, I’ve helped several clients organize their drawers full of cables that were not in use.

I’ve written about cables before, most notably in No More Mystery Cables and Got New Electronics? The cable situation has gotten even more complicated with the emergence of the USB-C connector. There were already too many cable options; now there is a dizzying array.

Let’s cut to the bottom line. You have too many cables. The cables that you use all the time are already plugged in and either attached to a device or waiting to recharge a device. So what is that drawer full of cables, and what should you do about it?

The first step is to sort your cables by type. A good website for figuring out the different types of cables you have is here.

Most of your cables will have a standard USB connector on one end. The website linked above describes it as “a flat, rectangular interface.” This is the kind of connector that plugs into almost any charger plug. It’s what’s on the other end of the cable that will determine the type.

One popular type of plug at the other end of your USB cable will be a Lightning plug. That’s the plug that goes into most iPhones, iPads, and Apple AirPod cases. (The most recent iPhones, iPads, and AirPod Pro cases use the USB-C plug instead of Lightning. Oy.)

Another popular type of plug at the other end of your USB cable will be a micro-USB plug. Micro-USB looks like half of a fairly flat oval. It’s used for most non-Apple devices, such as Android phones and Kindle readers. (Recent Android models use the USB-C plug instead of micro-USB. Oy again.)

Less commonly used in recent years is the mini-USB plug. That looks like a small trapezoid. (If you’ve forgotten what you learned in geometry, look it up.) Digital cameras came with a mini-USB charger, so if you’ve still got your old camera around, you’ll have some of those.

Now, about those USB-C plugs. The USB-C plug looks like a hollow oval. It is used to charge many newer devices, such as iPhones, iPads, Androids, and Mac computers. Some cables have USB on one end and USB-C on the other, while other cables have USB-C on BOTH ends. Cables that have USB-C on both ends will plug into a charger plug that has a USB-C interface rather than a standard USB interface.

Now that you are slightly more educated, sort all of your cables into different types, based on what’s on either end:

  • USB to Lightning
  • USB to micro-USB
  • USB to mini-USB
  • USB to USB-C
  • USB-C to USB-C.

Once you have them sorted, see if you can match them up with your devices. If you can’t match any of them up with any of your devices, put them aside into what we will call the Mystery Pile.

Now look at your charger plugs. If you have any USB-C to USB-C cables, you should have at least one charger plug that takes a USB-C cable instead of a USB cable. Sort your charger plugs into USB and USB-C, if any.

You will likely discover that you have more cables than you have devices. It’s nice to keep an extra cable or two of each type, but not more than that. Put any excess cables in the Mystery Pile. Make sure you have one plug for each cable, and put the rest in the Mystery Pile.

Now that all of your cables are sorted by type and downsized, get some clear plastic bags. Write a type of cable on each bag (such as “USB to Lightning”) and put those cables in the bag. Put the charger plugs in a bag, too. If you have USB-C charger plugs, they can go in the same bag as the USB-C to USB-C cables.

What about the Mystery Pile? Put it them in their own bag, or in a box if there are too many to fit in a bag. Label it “Mystery Cables” and put today’s date on it. Anytime you want to use a device and don’t have a cable for it in one of the other bags, see if it’s in the Mystery Cables bag.

A year from now, toss the Mystery Cables bag. If you haven’t needed those cables in a year, you can safely toss them.

With Ziploc Bags, Size Matters

When people ask me what my favorite organizing product is, I think they are surprised by my answer: Ziploc bags.

I’m actually brand-agnostic, so I use the term Ziploc to mean any sealable, transparent bag. One of my favorite things about them is their transparency. When we store things in opaque bags or boxes, we think we will remember what is inside, but much of the time, we just don’t. I can’t even count the number of times a client has been surprised by the contents of an opaque container.

I keep four sizes of Ziploc bags in my kitchen: gallon, quart, sandwich, and snack. While I use them all with food, I use them for many other things as well. Most of my clients have one size in their homes, maybe two. I find that having a variety of sizes will ensure that you can store things most efficiently.

When I’m helping clients organize a pile of stuff, I frequently ask them to bring me a Ziploc bag of a certain size. Here are some ideas for what you might use them for:

  • Gallon: good for keeping the manual and cables together for a specific device.
  • Quart: good for keeping note cards and envelopes together.
  • Sandwich: good for storing open packages of hardware, such as picture hooks or nails.
  • Snack: good for storing business cards.

Many brands of bags have a white strip on which you can write the contents with a marker. If your brand doesn’t have it, add a piece of masking tape or a label if you need to identify the contents. For example, if you have a lot of electronic cables, you can sort them by type, put each type into its own bag, and label the bag (such as “USB-C to Lightning”). Next time you need a cable, it will be easy to find the one you need, rather than wading through a drawer of tangled cables.

Just today, I found a Ziploc bag very handy. I had a dentist appointment scheduled right after a client appointment to which I had brought my lunch. Not wanting to go to the dentist with food in my teeth, I brought along a toothbrush and a package of floss. It turns out that a sandwich-sized bag was the perfect size for these items. They stayed clean in my backpack and the bag prevented my backpack from getting wet.

If you don’t have multiple sizes of bags, you can always store things in a larger size than what you really need. But this creates a lot of extra bulk and becomes a deterrent to using a Ziploc bag when one would be the best solution. I guarantee that if you start keeping multiple sizes, you will find a use for all of them.

The iPhone Graveyard

Ten years ago, I wrote a blog post called The Computer Graveyard in which I describe the phenomenon of getting a new computer but not being ready to get rid of the old one. So the old one sits on the floor until you get another new computer, and then the one you’ve been using goes on the floor next to the older one, and . . . well, you get the idea.

Now that smart phones have become so prevalent in our lives, I’ve discovered a new phenomenon: the iPhone graveyard. And I was shocked to discover it in my very own home.

I have a couple of drawers in my home office designated for small tech. One is for chargers (cables, plugs, power banks, etc.) and another one is for headphones. This kind of stuff comes into our homes relentlessly, so it’s handy to have a specific place for them. It keeps down the clutter and helps me find one when I need it.

I was cleaning these drawers out to get rid of anything too old or non-functional. That’s when I discovered my very own iPhone graveyard, which had accumulated in the headphones drawer. Apparently each member of my family got a new iPhone in the last few years, and I stashed the old ones in that drawer. I had a few other items to take to electronic recycling, so I decided it was time for these old iPhones to go. I wanted to clear all of the data off of them first, but I encountered three hurdles.

Hurdle No. 1: they had all lost their charge and I couldn’t even turn them on. Luckily, I had already cleaned out the chargers drawer, so I was able to pull out three functional iPhone charger cables and USB plugs and get these phones plugged into various electrical outlets in my apartment.

Once the phones were charged enough to be able to turn them on, I encountered Hurdle No. 2: I needed to enter the passcode for each phone. I knew mine and my husband’s, but not my daughter’s. I texted her, and luckily she remembered the passcode for that old phone, which was two phones ago.

I went into Settings and found the option “Erase All Content and Settings”. That’s when I encountered Hurdle No. 3: I couldn’t erase all content and settings without providing the Apple ID and password on each phone. Again, I knew mine and could look up my husband’s, but I had to reach out to my daughter to find out hers. Now I was ready to reset all three phones and take them to Best Buy for recycling.

In the rush of our daily lives, it’s easier to just stick an old phone in a drawer when we get a new one. But the amount of trouble I went through to get these items ready for recycling reminded me that everything is easier if you do it when it’s current, rather than putting it off.

Controlling the Cords – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about my efforts to minimize the cord clutter in my redesigned home office (see Controlling the Cords.) My readers really enjoyed the product recommendations. So I thought I would showcase the cord-control products I am using in the rest of my living room.

When I decorated my living room,  I placed the sofa in the middle of the room instead of against the wall. That allows space behind it for my home office, but that isn’t why I did it. It’s because of the shape of the room, which is one big square. I wanted the focal point of the room to be the fireplace, and I didn’t see any other way to make that happen unless I floated the sofa.

My Living Room

Wiremold Floor Cord Management Kit

In order to put the sofa in the middle of the room and have reading lamps behind it, I needed a way to run an extension cord from under the sofa to the nearest electrical outlet (on the same wall where my home office equipment plugs in.) Until I ascertained the existence of low-profile cord covers, I wasn’t certain I could set up the room this way. A visit to my local hardware store determined that such a product existed! The brown rubber cord cover that I purchased has been walked over — and stepped on — for 19 years, and it is still going strong. The one I bought locally looks very much like the Wiremold Floor Cord Management Kit, which comes in four neutral colors and three lengths. On the far right of the photo, you can see the extension cord emerging from the cord cover and into the D-Line Cable Management Box that I wrote about last time.

Bluelounge Cablebox on floor

There is a lot of serious cord control going on around the fireplace. As I mentioned last time, I’m using a Bluelounge CableBox organizer in one corner. It covers an unsightly power strip into which are plugged my Sonos speaker and my landline (yes, I still have a landline), both of which you can see on the left, as well as several pieces of equipment on top of my file cabinet on the right — my cable modem, my router, and my business landline (yes, I have TWO landlines!) The equipment on top of the file cabinet is hidden the old fashioned way: behind family photographs, with the cables hanging behind the file cabinet.

Another one of my favorite products is in use in this setup. It’s the plastic white cord cover that hides the wires as they drop from the shelf down to the floor. I have this in use in several places around the fireplace. I purchased it at my local hardware store, but here’s a brand on Amazon that looks the same. It can be trimmed to the size you need, and it also has adhesive on one side in case you want to attach it to the wall.

Here is the full effect:

Hiding equipment with photographs

Command™ Clip

On the other side of the fireplace, I’m using another product in conjunction with the cord cover. As you know, I am obsessed with Command™ products. I have another Sonos speaker hidden behind my television. Here I am using a Command™ Cord Clip to keep the Sonos power cord flat until it enters the white cord cover. I can’t find this white clip on the Command™ website anymore, but you can still get Command™ Clear Flat Cord Clips, which do the same thing and have the benefit of being clear.

I put a lot of thinking into how to make my living room look warm and homey in spite of all of the lighting, entertainment, and electronic equipment in use.