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Cordian Knot: Cables Gone Wild!

The other day, I needed to recharge a loaner cell phone to try out a feature. I unlocked the desk drawer in which spare review hardware lives and extracted the bizarre creature you see below.


This odd lifeform was the mutant offspring of at least three sets of headphone cables, four or so USB cables and at least as many power cords. Somewhere at the bottom of that drawer, these wires and cords had gotten wrapped around each other as I'd tossed other random gadgets and accessories into the drawer, then repeatedly rearranged its contents. In other words, I had discovered a more evolved example of what happens all the time to individual cables and wires when stashed in bags or strewn behind computers, TVs and stereos.

I was tempted to use a solution that worked for an earlier problem of this type, but that seemed a little too violent. So I tediously picked apart all these different cords and eventually liberated the power adapter and headphones I needed.

Then I spent another 5 or 10 minutes tidying up all these cables, so this wouldn't happen the next time. I used a bunch of spare rubber bands to wrap each cord around its original device, but there are many ways to do this -- I could have employed twist-ties, binder clips or the all-purpose remedy of duct tape, if I'd had any. What are your usual cable-management tricks? Share your recipes in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 18, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
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I cleaned out the mess last year....three zip locks...1) TV stuff, 2) Phone stuff, 3) computer stuff.I limited myself to one bag only of each stuff. BTW: just how many power units do we really need?

Posted by: tbva | May 18, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Blackberry uses a USB connector -- which we all already have. This is further eveidence of Blackbnerry's user-friendliness, a point that Rob seems immune to. Sure the menus are a little repetitive, but they can be used with less training and less mumbo jumbo to remember than those of other devices.

Posted by: danjose | May 18, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I use velcro cable ties. You can pay as much as you want to if they say "Belkin" or something on them, but I buy them in the Dollar Store and they're 6 for $1 or something like that. Then, like cables go together in a big ziplock, and power adapters go into a clear Rubbermaid box with a lid on it. It actually helps more if I remember to lable the whatever it is. I can tell the difference between and ethernet cable and a USB cable, but WHICH power adapter goes to which external hard drive?

Posted by: catester | May 18, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Having experienced the same issue numerous times I use zip ties - small (4") and large (10") which are pretty darn cheap in packages of 100 at Home Depot or Lowes. The power brick matching issue is solved with a metallic silver marker (think sparkly Sharpie).

Posted by: skipper7 | May 18, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Agree with CATESTER above. 8 Velcro cable ties for a dollar at Dollar Tree in Texas. Limitation to these is that there is only about 1" with hooks. The whole back of the strips have eyes. For this use, they are great.

Disagree with tbva above: one can NEVER have too many wall warts and cables. But, they need to be organized. I use some good-sized tubs with handle/locks on the ends of the lid after using the cable tie strips to corral the cords.

Posted by: RHMathis | May 19, 2009 12:11 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Pegoraro, the Post home page is no longer rendering properly on the lower portion using Pirefox. I guess I will complain to the Web crew but I expect they will just tell me to use explorer.

Anyway, as far as cable management tricks, I don't have any. I usually just "tediously" pick them apart as you have.

I have seen signs at airport security suggesting that people store cables neatly in their carry-on items to speed x-raying and identification. So, I do roll up those cables and put rubber bands around them.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | May 19, 2009 5:10 AM | Report abuse

Watch out for rubber bands. Many of today's imitation rubber ones will dry and crack but others will turn into sticky gummy stuff.

Of course solvents will get it off but some of those solvents will also melt the cable's sheathing.

Posted by: DickWexelblat | May 19, 2009 5:46 AM | Report abuse

Ziplocks or velcro for smaller cables. I use the left over tubs that you get CDs in to hold cables with wall warts. They stay closed and you can stack them.

Has anyone noticed the worst tangle offenders seem to be headphones/earbuds.

Posted by: wandoctor | May 19, 2009 6:55 AM | Report abuse

What happened to the front page? Lower right portion, with the "More Top Stories" section is a dark blue background.


I manage wall wart/cable problems by not having too many of them. Battery chargers for the cameras in the camera bag, the one for the cell on the table where I plug the cell in to recharge weekly, iPod plugs into the Mac.

Posted by: wiredog | May 19, 2009 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Buy a box of sandwich bags-about 100 for $1 or so. Just about everything you want to keep will fit in these bags.

For larger items keep a small supply of pint size or quart size bags on hand.

Once the item is safely tucked into a bag of some size then mark it with a marking pen.

You will probably end up with a drawer full of items you will never use again but at least they will be marked.

Posted by: gevenson | May 19, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Safari (Mac Leopard) is also no longer rendering the WashPost home page correctly. Disabling AD BLOCK fixed the problem.

Posted by: philwill1 | May 19, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Well, Rob, I think rubberbands are a terrible idea. When they're too loose or too wide, they may hold lots of cables, but remove one or two for use, and the others fall out. Smaller, tighter rubberbands are even worse, since they'll crimp a good cable or bend it so hard, it changes its "identity" and gets frayed inside.
I use these $3-$4 self-adhering cable loops from something like 3M. The adhesive backing mounts firmly but safely to the wall. They're easy to remove gently if you ever have to move, and comes with extra adhesive backing strips, just in case. On the front are these gray, rubber loops, the top of which is loose and locks/slides into a plastic piece at the top. You wrap a cable, run the rubber loopy thingie thru it, then lock the rubber loop into the top of it. I have 4 of these [comes in packs of 2 or 3, depending on size] mounted to the wall next to my computer at home: one for audio cables, one for FW, one for USB, and another for assorted stuff [cell charger, eSATA, MIDI, etc] So they're safe, cleanly stored, out of a drawer and at eye level where I can refer to them instead of digging around somewhere, they're in reach, and since I work from home, I think it just looks cool having them sorta hanging there on the wall, like some object d'art. 'Cuz I'm functional like that.

Posted by: dude11 | May 19, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I have the same problem with the blue background at the bottom of the home page and I have to put my cursor over the links to be able to read them.

I use Firefox.

Posted by: solsticebelle | May 19, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Home Depot: CableCuffs .99 cents!

Posted by: crjco_2 | May 19, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

One lesson I have learned from experience: put a label on every power transformer IMMEDIATELY. Otherwise you have a collection of "what was this for/from??"

Otherwise echo above: rubber bands, NO, velcro YES, ziplocks & sandwich bags (with labels/comments enclosed where applicable) YESYES

Posted by: icyone | May 19, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Regarding the blue background on the Post's homepage that others have noted when using Firefox. I had the same problem; it turned out to be an incompatibility with AdBlocker Plus. I made an exception for and the blue background disappeared.
So was this intentional on the part of the Post webfolk in order to block AdBlocker?

Posted by: davidhilfiker | May 19, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Jeesh! Some really, really AR readers.

Posted by: ibjunior | May 19, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

My solution are gallon and quart zip-lock freezer bags. I put everything, wires, transformer, instructions, manuals, copy of the receipt; everything in the bag. Loose software is put in a plastic case and stuck in the bag with everything else.
The manuals identify the object. If the item is small, like walkie-talkies, they go in the bag. I fold over a 4 inch piece of duct tape on the transformer cord and label it, and include the charging time. Some stuff charges fast and some slow.

I have 4 Rubber Maid gray Bus Box trays, 7 inches deep about 18 x 24 inches used in food service. I put every single manual for everything I own, each in it's own a bag and in one of the trays. I have keys for small safes that I don't use, the keys go in the bag with the manual. If I need instructions, I know right where to go. The trays allow rummaging around. There is no order, just four categories, one per tray. I have a set of shelves in a small broom closet and keep it locked. It works about right for someone that is not anal. It helps looking for stuff like transformers or a manual for something you bought six months ago. The boxes are full, time for two more.

Posted by: Beacon2 | May 19, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Velcro cable ties 50/about $4 at Home Depot. I also use them to neatly bundle the wires going into each computer in the rear. When I need to unplug a computer, I no longer worry about dropping the cables behind the desk, and having to crawl underneath to retrieve them. The cable attaches with a loop to the power cord, then I wrap it around the bundle.

Posted by: rpfix | May 19, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

For labelling the cables, I've found metallic sharpies and other pens have a tendency to smear or melt. I use a small labelmaker which wraps around most cables pretty well. If for some reason it doesn't want to stick - a little scotch tape does it.

Posted by: Gonzai | May 19, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Velcro straps. They come cheap in a roll at Home Depot in gray and black. They can also be found in colors (more expensive) if the cables need to be color coded. Both stay on the cable and don't get lost. Better than rubber bands which break and get lost.

Posted by: mugoretz1 | May 19, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

You people are some sad fraks if you have to lock up that mess.

Give me an address and I'll donate several drawer-fulls of various cables and power supplies.

And yes, they're all functional. I don't save junk.

Posted by: spamsux1 | May 19, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

davidhilfiker is right. The lack of readability with Firefox occurs when using Adblock Plus.

The Post is sabotaging users of Adblock Plus. I protest, and will continue my protest in the comment sections until the Post restores full functionality.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | May 19, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

If you want to learn how to deal with cables, hang out with pro-audio guys. We/they have to set up and tear down studios full of expensive, delicate cables every day.

Coiling: Cables have a "grain". Those soft, rubbery cables want to be coiled without being twisted; Google "over-under wrapping" for videos on how to do it. Do NOT wrap them up around your elbow! (The stiff, plastic cables usually are beyond hope, so just fold them up the way you always do.)

For temporary coiling: Home Depot carries some type of Velcro-like cable straps. I forget the brand, but it comes in a package with two rolls: one black, one gray. It's far and away better than anything else; they don't fray, fuzz up, or get caught on each other like most Velcro straps. NO rubber bands or tape; rubber bands dry out, and tape oozes.

For cables that are staying put, you need three things:

1. 7" and 10" nylon zip ties
2. Cable tie mounts. Google MB4ASHA for an example. These screw into (or stick on) your furniture.
3. A ratcheting cable-tie gun. It automatically tensions the cable tie and cuts it flush. (it's FUN.) Don't get the cheap plastic kind; spend $40 on a metal one. Panduit, Hellerman Tyton, Paladin all make good models.

Then: Run all your cables, one at a time, and divide them into "lanes" that make sense to you. In audio, we have to keep signal and power separate, but for PCs, just do whatever you helps you keep them straight. Keep everything at right angles, and use the cable-tie mounts to create "corners". Coil up any excess length, and mount that coil somewhere out of the way.

I had a small studio with maybe 50 pieces of gear, and I never had tangles behind the desk.

Posted by: JayL1 | May 19, 2009 8:28 PM | Report abuse

HA HA - I was about to post that "roadies never have Cordian Knots" and JayL just explained why!

Audiophiles and stage staff are not allowed to have messy cables, so storing our electronic toy cables just comes naturally.

Posted by: lquarton | May 20, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget for best sound and pix you must use the proper devices to keep the cables properly separated and up off the floor. Seriously folks to this.

HDMI 1.3 makes life so much easier one cable from FIOS box and Blu Ray etc to HT controller or receiver and then one out TV or front projector. No more toslink digital and component cables or lets try to connect a S video cable in the dark.

Posted by: sheepherder | May 20, 2009 6:56 AM | Report abuse

This may be the most helpful bunch of suggestions ever! (Well, or at least for this month.) Thanks, folks...

- RP

Posted by: robpegoraro | May 20, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I would add that using a Casio or Ptouch label maker, making the labels extra long to attach to the wires/adapter wires helps, but the backs of the labels have to adhere to each other; and silver Sharpies on black boxes.

Two q's: What does AR mean: Assault rifle? Anal retentive? Ambiguous racket? Even Urban dictionary didn't help me here.

second one: What is a WALL WART?


Posted by: howardstuff | May 20, 2009 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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