Organizing Cords and Cables

If you've ever been inside a telephone central office or switching center or even just seen pictures of one, you can understand how the art/science of "cable management" developed. Telephone companies had to deal with literally thousands of wires and they developed techniques like raised floors, specially designed cables runs and multi colored cables to bring some semblance of order to the miles and miles of cable they needed to deal with.

While your home cable clutter obviously isn't quite what the telephone company has to deal with, the backside or underneath your own desk is quite likely a "rats nest" of power cables, computer cables peripheral cables, cable or telephone lines and many even some speaker cables thrown in for good measure.

This collection of cables is open to physical damage by crimping or breaking, potentially getting soaked with a coffee spill and even an accidental disconnect from getting kicked. If they are behind your desk and out of site, they've also probably got a good coating of dust on them. Not only is this mess unsightly, the dust can cause heat to build up in your computer equipment as well as being a source of allergens. Finally, that mess of cables is a potential fire hazard and could be dangerous to pets (or children) who might play under your desk. And here you thought if you just didn’t think about the mess it wouldn't be a problem.

Here are some ideas on how you can go about dealing with your own homegrown "cable clutter."

  1. Start by unplugging and disconnecting all the cables and power cords, then vacuum and clean them to get rid of any built up dust that might contain allergens.
  2. Figure out how many components you have that need their own AC power connection. A good idea is to get a couple of power bars (with surge protectors) for your components. These will allow you to physically group the pieces that need power (i.e. left side of your desk, right side of your desk) plug them directly into the power bars that can connect to different wall outlets. Try to group the components so you don't need to use extension cords to reach the power bars.
  3. Computer peripherals (printers, scanners, modems) all come with cords, which are sometimes longer than they need to be for your set up. Different lengths of cables are available at computer and other retail outlets. Replacing long cords with shorter ones can get rid of a lot of clutter.
  4. Since many peripherals now connect by USB cables, you may be able to get rid of a lot of the cables running back to your computer by installing a USB hub running back to your computer then plugging your peripherals into the hub.
  5. Alternatively, USB connections can be "daisy chained" so you might be able to actually plug some of your peripherals directly into each other leaving only one cable running back to your computer.
  6. Cable hooks that look a little like an upside down letter "T" (only with curved ends) can be fastened to the underside of your desk and keep cables up and away from your feet.

Once you've determined how to run your cables, your next challenge is to keep the cables themselves organized. Here you've got a number of options.

  1. Cable clips or cable ties that wrap around a group of cables. The cable clips can usually be opened up and then closed again so you can modify your set up over time. Most cable ties lock together for security and are designed for one time use, so would need to be replaced if opened.
  2. Reusable Velcro straps are similar to cable clips but may be easier for some people to open and close.
  3. Split tubing (just as the name says) is a tube about 1/2" to 1" in diameter that is split along one side to allow for easy insertion of cables. The split side allows for individual cables to be added or broken out in various locations, depending on your physical installation.
  4. Try not to run AC power cable in close proximity to other cables.

If your cable clutter is on top of your desk and not underneath or behind, consider drilling a hole in a back corner and installing a color coordinated plastic grommet for appearance. You can use cable wraps or split tubing to corral all your cables and run them all together to the hole rather than having them drape over the edge of your desk.

If all this sounds like a lot of work and not how you want to spend an afternoon, you also have the option of going wireless. Keyboards, mice and peripherals that don't require any cables to function are all readily available, and once you go wireless, you'll never have to worry again about "cable clutter".

Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer. His work has covered a wide range of topics, but he specializes in home maintenance and how to's. He has more than 500 articles published on the web, as well as print magazines and newspapers in both the United States and Canada.