Clean up your messy cables with these 9 simple tips

The typical office, entertainment center, utility closet, or junk drawer houses a tangle of wires and cables. These rat nests are not only unsightly, but also create obstacles. You can never tell which device connects to which outlet. Finding the cord you need in storage becomes a real chore. Heaven forbid you accidentally unplug something important while it’s running an update. Organizing your electronic cables not only makes your space cleaner, but also keeps everything running efficiently.

Surely the easiest way to simplify your cord and cable situation is to go wireless whenever possible. To do this, you will need a good router.

Try as you might, however, you will never cut all the cables. Take control of the ones you need by streamlining them. Attach them to the back of your desk or along baseboards so they don’t hang all over the place. Make them easier to access and label the most important ones.

You also don’t have to waste a whole paycheck buying trinkets from an organization store to get the job done. Most of the supplies you need are already at home. At most, you could drop a few dollars online or at a hardware store. (Support your local hardware store!)

Here are some of my favorite ways to organize cables and cords.

(Picture: pixabay)

1. Secure the cables to the walls with coaxial cable clips

When cable or internet technicians log on to service, they typically drive dozens of coax cable staples into your wall. These small fasteners have a few names: coaxial cable staples, nails or clips; cable ties; plastic or polyethylene coaxial staples, etc. They run cords along the baseboard or wherever wires need to go, such as up and around doors and window frames. Coaxial cable clips hold cables securely and neatly in place. There’s no reason you can’t use them for your own storage projects.

The going price is around $3 for a pack of 20. They usually come in black or white. Use them on any surface where you don’t mind driving in a few nails (see next tip for a nail-free option). Think not just of the walls, but also the underside or back of a wooden desk or media center. These little clips are a great solution when you’re sure you know exactly where the wires need to go and they’re unlikely to move anytime soon. Point: Remember to remove the clips and wires from your walls if you are going to paint them.

A Command brand hook designed to secure wires in place held in one hand with wires inside for demonstration, with a pack of Command brand sticky hangers behind.

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

2. Guide cords along delicate surfaces with command strips

I move often, and because of that, I’m a big fan of 3M Command Brand products. The company makes hooks that stick just about anywhere and won’t damage the surface when you remove them (well, nine out of 10 come off cleanly). You can use them the same way you use coaxial cable ties, but without drilling holes in your walls or furniture.

Buy some hooks in cord clip style that are the right size for your cables. Then stick them along the underside or back edge of a desk, the back of a media cabinet, or anywhere you need to guide cords and keep them out of the way. Another reason Command hooks work well is that you can easily pull cords out without removing the hooks, which you can’t do with coax cable nails. Command-branded ones are more expensive than nail-on clips and cost between $8 and $9 for a pack of four.

Zip ties securing a wiring harness

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

3. Secure Cable Bundles with Zip Ties or One-Wraps

Zip ties, sometimes also called cable ties, are your best friend when you need to quickly control a mess of wires. They’re essential for media centers with a bunch of cords all coming out of the same drain protector or snaking around the back of a TV. When a cable is much longer than the others, you can loop it around itself once or twice before tightening it with the cable tie.

Be careful not to create knots in your cords when tying them off as this could damage the wiring inside.

An alternative to zip ties, which I use all the time, are Velcro One-Wraps. These are small strips of hook-and-loop fabric that you use to bundle or organize cords the same way you would zip ties. The advantage of One-Wraps is that they are reusable. They are also ideal for packing small cables that you might take with you, such as a phone charger.

You can find packs of 20 to 100 cable ties in a variety of colors and lengths at hardware stores or online, from $1.99 to $5.99. We usually think of zip ties as plastic, but you can also find metal zip ties that hold up better outdoors. Velcro One-Wraps come in a variety of size and color options, but expect to pay around $4 for a pack of 5 for the size that fits household electronic cords and cables.

Painter's faucet on the back of a piece of furniture holding a cord

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

4. Use painter’s tape in a pinch

When you’re out of cable ties or One-Wraps and need a short-term solution to organize cables, painter’s tape or masking tape can help you tame them. Use painter’s tape to hold cords against the back of a desk, a wall, or the underside of a table without worrying about damaging the surface. The only problem with painter’s tape is that it doesn’t last forever. Depending on the type of surface, its cleanliness and humidity, the tape can last for weeks or only a few hours. If you’re nervous about a surface that has a delicate polish, press and pull a length of tape off your skin several times before using. The natural oils in your skin make the tape less sticky.

A power strip and surge protector showing multiple loads plugged into it

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

5. Configure enough power strips

You can’t organize all your electronic equipment and their cables in one area if you don’t have enough room to plug everything in. Power strips and surge protectors are must-haves for keeping cords tidy. Consider mounting them using double-sided mounting tape or Velcro strips under a desk or the back of a hutch to keep them neatly out of sight.

I like surge protectors that come with a kill switch so I can completely turn off all my gadgets to be a bit more eco-friendly. This reduces so-called phantom loading: the low-level powering of LEDs and other non-essential electrical components when devices are technically off but still consuming power. Even better, you can now buy a smart power strip and turn it off remotely.

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A label saying

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

6. Label your cords

Use a label maker to identify your cables. A perfectly good one for home use only costs around $30, although you could easily spend hundreds of dollars on something high end. The labels are handy for all types of electronic devices, especially in large households or for people who attend many conferences, where identical laptop chargers and phone cables are easily mixed up.

When entering text into the label maker, add a long blank space at the end so that when printed you can fold the two ends around the cord and tie the sticky sides together. One side will have your text and the other side will be blank. Or enter your text twice with a double space in between so it appears on both sides.

Breadbag tags attached to cables entering an Ethernet card;  labels have handwriting on the market indicating the destination of the cable

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

Here’s a great DIY/reuse solution: save bread bag labels and use them to label cords and wires for your modem, Wi-Fi routers, or cluttered surge protector. To be honest, I’m not crazy about this solution because it looks cheap. It’s practically free, though, and if the threads you want to tag aren’t in public view, that’s fine.

A shoe rack above the door to neatly store cord and cable bundles

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

8. Store unused cables in a shoe rack

In garages, utility closets, etc., use a hanging shoe rack to store your unused wires, cords, and cables. Each pouch is the perfect size for a coiled length of cord you’ll find in a home or small office. You can fill the extra slots with other small DIY equipment, such as nail containers or even light tools.

Cords and cables coiled into bundles and secured inside a paper towel roll, and four more in smaller toilet paper rolls

(Photo: Jill Duffy)

9. No shoe rack? Bundle cords in toilet paper rolls

This trick keeps your cords neat and tidy when not in use and prevents them from getting tangled. When you have finished a roll of toilet paper or paper towel, keep the cardboard roll. Then roll up your cables loosely (tying them too tightly can damage the wires inside) and slide them into an empty roll.

Toilet paper rolls work well for shorter cables, and paper towel rolls work best for larger, longer cables, like extension cords. Now you can store the cords in a box, bag or anywhere else.

Safety first

Whenever working with electronic devices and power sources, keep an eye out for potential fire hazards. Watch out for solutions that put too much strain on the cords, which could break or fray them. For example, do not run cables under carpet and never wrap or bend consumer cables repeatedly or too tightly. Also, do not place paper or other flammable materials too close to a power outlet. And unless you’re a certified electrician, don’t bother with your home’s electrical circuits; this article only refers to consumer cables and cords, not electrical wiring.

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