Cable, Wires and Cords, Oh My!
July 21, 2005 6:41 PM   Subscribe

What do you do with the assortment of cabling and other electronic doodaddery (especially that not currently being used and not wanting to throw away!) that one tends to accumulate in the course of lifetime when you have a love of almost all things electronic?

My wife and I just moved from an apartment to our first house (yay us!) and the move confirmed my nagging suspicion that over the last 20 years of apartment living and roommate having I've collected a whole lot of cables, wires and cords (boo me!). I don't mind so much the ones that I regularly or continously use for my TV, DVR, Videogames, Stereo, Computer, Digital Camera, etc. but rather the ones that are NOT needed for anything at this particular moment but that I might need somewhere down the line be it next week, next month or next year.

I've got speaker wire, power cords, power supplies, coaxial cable, av cable, usb cable, cat5, power strips, phone cords, phone adapters, adapters for european quipment (both power and av), sets of computer speakers, dsl adapters and on and on. It seems like those all have a great similarity and could be stored in a somewhat organized fashion but I always end up getting annoyed, loosely sorting them, throwing them in some unwieldy cardboard boxes and hiding them away somewhere...until I need something akin the next time and either haul them out or just buy new.

I don't really want to throw them away as it seems like a waste.

I'm looking for an elegant solution be it something I may buy in a store or online or perhaps build or even a mindset or way of looking at and dealing with these necessary evils. My ultimate solution would allow me to easily access the cabling, identify what I have (so I don't keep buying more of something I don't need), note the length of each piece, and would allow me to store or organize it compactly so I can fit more than just 3 coils of co-ax in a box that could hold 10 times more in volume.

Whatever the method I'm sure a non-ugly solution would also win me points with my wife as well.
posted by dgeiser13 to Technology (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well here's what I do with them...I keep them in boxes and bags and old broken suitcases stuffed in closets. Then when I need a cable or wire, I go out and buy it because I can't actually figure out or find if I have the one I need. When the one I bought becomes less useful on a daily basis, I put it in a box or bag or suitcase in a closet.

This may not be the best system.

I would suggest labelling them, whatever you do with them. Stick a piece of masking tape around them and write something on the masking tape that will be intelligible in five years (for example, don't write something like "Green", which I promise, will only result in your buying another cable just like the one you have).
posted by duck at 7:02 PM on July 21, 2005

I have a separate junk drawer for them (and old diskettes, jaz and zip disks, etc)
posted by amberglow at 7:12 PM on July 21, 2005

I throw them away. Getting rid of the clutter is worth the chance I might possibly need one of them.
posted by smackfu at 7:16 PM on July 21, 2005

Throw them away. You'll never find that cable you want when you want it. Cables are cheap.
posted by mkultra at 7:24 PM on July 21, 2005

I have plastic cases on rollers from Staples stuck in little nooks. I throw the junk I need in there, and I throw the junk I don't away.
posted by selfnoise at 7:26 PM on July 21, 2005

Throw them away.

Buy a few spools of raw cable -- a box of speaker wire, a box of Cat5 -- and a handful of the appropriate connectors. Make cables as required.
posted by majick at 7:27 PM on July 21, 2005

I stuff single cables/adapters/cords/components in ziploc bags and jam them all into a tub.

They don't tangle that way, and they're easy to shuffle through.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:28 PM on July 21, 2005

I'm with Smackfu & Mkultra--

I just threw away three boxes of stuff like that and don't miss any of it. If I need a new one of what ever, I'll just buy it.
posted by thefinned1 at 7:31 PM on July 21, 2005

Yeah, one per ziploc bag, in a box or something. Having mad cables is great in the long run. An adapter I've had since grade school came in handy a while ago...
posted by 31d1 at 7:33 PM on July 21, 2005

I hang the cables in a spare wardrobe, as the beginning of a slow transition away from the 'boxes and bags and broken suitcases' approach. To be honest, it's not really working much better than the boxes, neatwise, but it is easier to find the cable I want.
posted by pompomtom at 7:34 PM on July 21, 2005

I stuff single cables/adapters/cords/components in ziploc bags and jam them all into a tub.

Oooh, I think I have a new project.

Ziploc bags... is there anything they can't do?
posted by pompomtom at 7:35 PM on July 21, 2005

I wrap them up with twist ties and store them in stackable clear rubbermain containers that I got from Target. It cuts down on the clutter and you can see what's inside so ou don't have to open a bunch of different containers when you are searchign for the right cable or connector.
posted by mmascolino at 8:33 PM on July 21, 2005

Instead of throwing them away, you can give them to Goodwill. The Goodwill here accepts them for their computer store and you'd be helping out someone needing the cable. And if you need cables a 50ยข USB cable from Goodwill works just as good as a $24 one from Best Buy.
posted by birdherder at 8:50 PM on July 21, 2005

Keep one of each kind of connector you have (no more than 10) and get rid of the others in your preferred manner.

10 cables dont take up that much room.
posted by softlord at 9:11 PM on July 21, 2005

I throw them in a big rubbermaid tub, and write down what's in there and tape that sheet of paper to the top/side of the tub, so I can find things. I try to sort by type (video cables here, USB stuff here, et cetera).
Also, these people telling you to toss your cables are insane. You never know when you're going to need a USB-to-nonstandard-mini-USB-used-on-one-camera-once adapter or a a Sun 13w3 to VGA cable. It could be tomorrow.
posted by j.edwards at 9:18 PM on July 21, 2005

I hate you because you "just moved from an apartment to our first house" but out of Metafilter love, I'll go along with the gang and say; ditch 'em.

I have a wickerbasket full of cables. The only time when they've been helpful is when I've spliced them into other ends or taken them apart for the copper.

As for speaker wire, it's best to have continuous ones rather than spliced wires. Yeah, it's going to suck throwing all that stuff away (maybe a friend of yours might be happy to become the access-or to it?), but unless you're into it for the adaptors, the actual wires are pretty uselss and take up a lot of space.

As a compromise, cut the connectors and keep them in a shoebox (your wife should have some) so that if you really need to connect something old, at least you have the connectors; the wiring is trivial.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:27 PM on July 21, 2005

Donate to thrift stores instead of landfilling or oceandumping which is what happens to the things we throw out . If you havent used it in a year then, donate it.
posted by hortense at 11:12 PM on July 21, 2005

I have a large box filled with plastic bags of differing colors. Each bag holds a type of cable. These include a bag for power cables for each plug-type (Euro, UK, American), audio, video, computer, ac/dc adaptors. The cables are all bound with twisty ties.

I also have a collection of audio cables wound on cardboard, for easier location and retrieval. I learned this trick from a friend's band.

My problem is the total mess of cables I USE occasionally, mostly different power adaptors or USB stuff.
posted by Goofyy at 12:24 AM on July 22, 2005

I just went through this after a move. My solution is similar to Goofyy's; I sorted the cables into useful categories, coiled and tied each cable, and put each category in a labeled ziploc. (They now sell 2-1/2-gallon ziplocs, which are big enough for all of my largest category of cable.) Then I put the ziplocs in a big plastic bin in a closet. Now I can find any cable I have in a minute.

You'll never find that cable you want when you want it. Cables are cheap.
Not the ones I buy. If you have a system, you can find the cable you need.

at least you have the connectors; the wiring is trivial.
I suppose that's true if you have the appropriate pins and crimpers, or if you don't mind soldering a lot of little wires.

I don't keep a lot of Cat-5 cables or speaker cables; those are trivial to find and buy. I do save USB cables, A/V cables, printer cables, and the like. I would not enjoy either buying one of those not-cheap cables or solder-splicing the tiny wires in them.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:03 AM on July 22, 2005

i do as mmascolino
because you never know when you need a length of cable or wire, if nothing else.
but i use to have input adaptors in my car for no "apparent" reason.
and this uses the twist ties when i'm sick of used twist ties.
posted by philida at 4:14 AM on July 22, 2005

long cables in a box; shorter ones (less than 2 metres, say) hanging over the clothes rail in a spare cupboard.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:24 AM on July 22, 2005

I use milk crates. I managed to >ahem< , inherit a large amount of them. They're perfect for storing computer hardware, cables, knick knacks, paddywacks... They stack perfectly, they're small and you can make them look presentable with a can of spraypaint.
posted by jackofsaxons at 6:34 AM on July 22, 2005

Sounds like you and my husband need to have many conversations.

He has purchased several clear plastic bins in which he stores the vast collection of cables and other AV or electronic "necessities" he has acquired over the years. His cables are all neatly coiled and tied. He has grouped similar components and stores them together. The clear boxes lets him see at a glance what's in the box. If the supplies can be stored in the garage and survive the temperature changes out there, then that's where they're at. For some items, like the projector (or two?) that do not tolerate big temperature changes, we've agreed to them being stored either in his closet or the upper reaches of mine where I don't put stuff because I am too short to reach it.

Over the years, I've wanted to chuck this stuff. However, he accesses those boxes frequently enough that I've seen their value and don't even mention it any more. They're also out of my way and that keeps them out of mind.

I would not advocate tossing these things if you do find uses for them. I don't restrict that to your own household either. Many times, my husband has used his stash of cables to help friends with their AV needs.
posted by onhazier at 6:54 AM on July 22, 2005

Since we've pretty much exhausted this, how about a twist- what do you do to organize all the cables that are actually plugged in to your computer? Underneath my desk is like a jungle.
posted by mkultra at 7:11 AM on July 22, 2005

I throw out the ones I know I'm never going to need again (SCSI cables, ugh), keep a few of the rest, throw away the excess. Keep anything that goes with any bit of gear you are actually using, so you'll have it in case you later sell it. I always keep all my standard audio cables, too, as audio and video gear today tends to come with exactly one fewer cable than you need to hook up the device. The cables get coiled up and secured with twist-ties, then they go into a Rubbermaid bin in the closet. Or two of them, in my case. (Yes, even after throwing most of my cables out, I still have two bins full.)

A related bit of advice: Always, always, label the AC adapters immediately on any gear you buy. Use a label on the wall wart itself so you can know when you've found it in your cable bin, plus a second label attached to the end that goes into the gadget, so when you're fishing for it behind the desk you know when you have the right one.
posted by kindall at 7:24 AM on July 22, 2005

Definitely take them to a thrift store, for the following advantages:
- Clears the cruft from your house
- No landfill pollution
- Satisfies the packrat urge with the justification, "Someone else might have a use for this someday."

Live Preview is freaky.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:18 AM on July 22, 2005

I keep 'em coiled in boxes, loosely subdivided by their intended purpose (a/v equipment, video games, computers). It's not an ideal solution, but it works well enough.

The 'cables are cheap' crowd must either have a lot more disposable income than I do, or they don't have a very large collection of digital audio cables, component video cables, etc. Many of those are disturbingly pricy. (Also, consider, for example, Model M keyboard cables, nonstandard USB cables or Dreamcast VGA adapters. While these things might be cheap nowadays, they probably won't always be easily available.)

And, to repeat earlier posters, don't throw them away! Give them to Goodwill. Goodwill will put them on a shelf, someone will come along and buy them, and, when you need the obscure cable you casually discarded, you'll be able to find one on eBay. It's all part of nature's, y'know, cycle.
posted by box at 8:23 AM on July 22, 2005

Another vote for ziploc baggies. Works great, especially if you take a moment to squeeze out as much air as possible. Blew my mind when I figured out just how many cables and associated crap I could actually store neatly in a small amount of space that way.
posted by djwudi at 8:38 AM on July 22, 2005

Since we've pretty much exhausted this, how about a twist- what do you do to organize all the cables that are actually plugged in to your computer? Underneath my desk is like a jungle.

1) Look at what cables are going where. Which components can be moved? Which cables are crossing? How can you reorganize your computer equipment to minimize crossing (think Planarity).
2) Rewire everything.
3) After everything's plugged in, coil all the extra lengths of cable and twisty tie them. Or, collect wires going to the same location and wrap tape around them to make one big wire
4) Optionally, leave just enough slack to duct tape the extra wire to the bottom of the desk.
5) There are commercial solutions.
posted by muddgirl at 9:39 AM on July 22, 2005

At work I deal with this constantly. Talkin' cubic meters of cable. Mostly power, vga, and parallel.

We regularly recycle large boxes of computer power cables when we accumulate too many. Boxes are not a solution, they are the problem. When you've got a ton of cables, hanging them is really the only solution.
posted by blasdelf at 10:52 AM on July 22, 2005

When you've got a ton of cables, hanging them is really the only solution.
OK, where can I get a hanger that will support a ton?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2005

"(Also, consider, for example, Model M keyboard cables, nonstandard USB cables or Dreamcast VGA adapters. While these things might be cheap nowadays, they probably won't always be easily available.)"

Model M keyboard cables don't fail, EVER (and if they do, they're dirt cheap on eBay). So they should remain attached to the Model M. Nonstandard USB cables should be kept in close proximity with the nonstandard USB device that uses them (otherwise discarded). Dreamcast VGA adapters should remain attached to the Dreamcast, unless it's a MadCatz VGA box, in which case it should be hurled against a wall repeatedly and then burned.

There really should be no such thing as spare cable around the house. "Component video" cables can be built to suit from a spool of shielded/braided. If you do component video installations often enough to need spare cables around all the time, you do them often enough to want to cut custom lengths anyway. Speaker cables can be constructed from copper braid and some banana plugs. Coax, Cat5, 4-wire RJ11 mod, and so on can all be pulled from spools and crimped in short order. 1/8" mini to dual RCA adapters can be made by hand pretty easily.

There's no such thing as a spare VGA cable. Choose a philosophy: one per output device, or one per signal source. Keep attached or coiled nearby.

Likewise suffer not an excess of power cables, both of the OD and PC varieties.

If you need more than one or two Centronics parallel cables, well, I'm sorry.

Serial cables can be made out of a handful of 4-wire to D sub connectors, and the aforementioned spool of two pair wire plus some RJ11 tips.

Fiber's a pain in the ass to work with, so I can understand not wanting to make your own optical cables. I kind of loathe making SVideo cable, too, so okay, fine, have some spares around. However, I doubt you need so many of those that they need to be organized.

That huge collection of cut and twist floppy cables? Shitcan it. Likewise all those cheap IDE ribbons that have been accumulating over the years. Ditto those spare CDROM analog audio cables for soundcards long gone by.

Seriously, if a household has more than a small drawer-full of spare cables and a little box of wallwarts, the problem isn't one of organizing. The problem is teaching yourself not to packrat this crap and to cut cable on demand.
posted by majick at 8:06 PM on July 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Cables are not cheap. Go through and get rid of excessive amounts of one cable (unless it's cat5, because I hate crimping), coil and tie the rest. You just moved into a house from an apartment; you should have more room, and in our day and age, the most you can do is make sure they don't get tangled up.
posted by angry modem at 8:08 PM on July 22, 2005

|= There is such a thing as a spare VGA cable. The last ~750 CRTs bought by my employer have removable VGA cables. Adding to that, every non-Apple flat panel comes with both detachable VGA and DVI cables. So I've got over 150 spare VGA cables, along with an untold number of spare DVI cables (They're in a box, still in their wrappers).

|=When you've got hundreds of pounds of copper Power and VGA cables to hang, you hang them from 1/2" thick lag bolts attached to heavy steel shelving, which is itself bolted into the 2' thick concrete walls of your dungeon lair.

I work in a dungeon lair. Really. With more collected computer detritus than you can imagine.

With a hundred old computers, and any new ones coming through for processing and OS builds. Earlier today I was riding a megolamaniacal high as I had two iMac 20" G5s, three top-of-the-line dual 2.7 Ghz G5s w/ 20" screens, and three Compaq AlphaServers on my workbench.
posted by blasdelf at 11:27 PM on July 22, 2005

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