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Cut out the cable clutter

Cut out the cable clutter
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First Published: Tue, Mar 08 2011. 09 00 PM IST

Operation clean-up: Learn to manage the cable mess under your desk.
Operation clean-up: Learn to manage the cable mess under your desk.
Updated: Tue, Mar 08 2011. 09 00 PM IST
I hate clutter. I’m often accused of being obsessive about it, but yes, I like things in an order.
Operation clean-up: Learn to manage the cable mess under your desk.
My desk at home has—from left to right—a wireless router, a cable modem, a monitor with a webcam, a keyboard and a mouse, two speakers, a multi-USB hub (or splitter), an external hard drive for backup, a landline phone, a desk lamp and a printer. Then there is the MacBook Pro, the iPad and the cellphone that are kept there for charging at various times of the day or night.
Now, this is the situation on top of the desk. Imagine the mess under the desk—the plugs, cables and assorted power strips lying on the floor. Heaven help you if there is no sound in the speakers or if you can’t get on the Net and you need to check if the router plug has come loose. Sifting through the jungle under the table can be a nightmare.
Even if you are not obsessive about clutter and are perfectly happy with the maze on the floor, you still need to vacuum the dust (and dog hair) once a week or fortnight. And as you lift the cables and the power strips from the floor to clean underneath, they get into even more complicated knots.
Over the years I have tried many things to keep the place tidy. I have put colour-coded stickers on each end of a cable under the desk—one on top near the gadget and the other near the plug. I have tied the cables into neat little knots with colourful ribbons (the kind you use to wrap gifts) and labelled the plugs: “modem”, “printer”, “light”, and so on. I have even tried plastic flexi-pipes, but then the floor started to look like the extension of a washing machine.
On travels abroad I have bought substantial quantities of plastic zip ties (they were quite cheap and are now available here, but the downside is you need scissors to cut them open) and Velcro tapes that are reusable. And although we get good, branded power strips these days—which means we no longer need separate ones for flat and round-pins—there’s still a mess on the floor.
I read rave reviews of Cable Turtles that look like rubber yo-yos and can hold up to 5m of wire, but some five years ago they were $5 (around Rs225 now) a piece and I would require at least a dozen. Apart from their cute and ingenious design (they were featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s Design Collection), what’s nice about them is they require no installation. But I checked the price recently and they are still not cheap ($17 for a set of three plus postage at Cableorganizer.com).
And then, a few months ago, I stumbled upon the near-perfect solution to my obsessive tidiness—a simple, stainless-steel rack called “Signum cable management” made by Ikea, the Swedish company known for its stylish and minimalist design. It looks like a bathroom towel rack and costs only $15. I say “only” because it’s less than the price of a good power strip.
It’s easy to install: You screw the rack to the bottom of the desk, put your power strips in its wide tray, plug in all your cables and tie the excess around its edges. I have never had a tidier floor under my desk. Even the heavy 220-110W convertors fit nicely on the rack.
The sad part is Ikea does not sell the rack on its online store, but in case you decide to buy it from one of its shops abroad or convince a friend (like I did) to bring one, it weighs less than 1kg and fits very easily into a suitcase.
Purely by chance I recently discovered what I feel can be a good, local option: an ordinary bathroom towel rack with hooks (stainless steel or chrome finish). Screw it on the wall under the desk and it can double up for a cable organizer. I got the idea when I was getting one fixed in our bathroom, and trust me, it can be a good substitute for Ikea.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at thesmartlife@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Mar 08 2011. 09 00 PM IST