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I live in a college dorm during the school year, and I have tons of cables. USB cables, printer, power, headphones, everything. And, because of my college-ness, I am often packing these cables up in boxes, storing them for the summer, and bringing them home. Oh, wait, I need my USB cable, let me get that out of my dorm box. Time to move back to school, let me throw my equipment into a box and take it back to the dorm. "Oh yeah, I have an extra cat5, let me get it out..."

In all of this, the cables are continuously getting tangled, as they're just thrown into a box, and it is a serious pain to manage.

How can I organize these? Should I roll them up into coils, and then twist-tie? That is really time consuming. Is there some (inexpensive) thing I can buy?

And when things are connected, obviously I can't purchase Joel-esque cable-managing hardware, and I can't really drill holes in the walls. I don't have much space in my room anyway.

What are peoples' thoughts on cable transport and storage options? What are good ways to easily take my computer mouse from my desk to class and back without cords dangling everywhere?

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@Jeff, ah, I should have CW'd this in the first place, sorry about that! –  rascher Jul 3 '09 at 16:39
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14 Answers 14

I wrap all mine up with those ties you get wrapped around cables with some products. They have a metal spine and a plastic outer coating.

They twist together and are very useful.

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Rubber bands work well too. –  Matthew Scharley Jul 3 '09 at 2:28
    
Those are twist-ties. –  Laurence Gonsalves Jul 3 '09 at 2:31
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Zip ties

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oh god no. Zip ties make everything look professional, neat, and tidy -- right up until you realize that in order to add/remove/change just one wire you will have to cut and remove 75% of the zip ties. –  David Mackintosh Jul 3 '09 at 4:30
    
@David: Matter of taste really. If you don't mind the extra work (and the small cost), it keeps everything professional, neat, and tidy as you say. :) –  grieve Jul 6 '09 at 20:13
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One should always mind extra work when it gets you no functional benefit. Actually, zip ties give you less functionality. The only way zip ties are better than velcro straps is they are stronger, but if that much force is applied to your cables, then you have bigger problems. –  Bribles Mar 1 '10 at 20:48
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Cut up a big sheet of Velcro and form those mini strips that cost 10x's too much!

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You can get spools of velcro cable wrap that you cut to length; I like those a lot better than zip ties. They sell the exact same thing in green instead of black or grey in the gardening department for a lot less.

Roll them into rolls (properly, alternating the twist for each loop) and use some kind of ties to keep them tightly bundled. You might also want to label by length and keep the same length cables together.

We use some peg-board (like you might use to hold tools in your garage) to hold cables in the storage room next to our data center. That seems to work reasonably well for small amounts of a lot of different kinds/lengths of cable.

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It sounds to me like you have far too many cables - but that's another topic.

Hang them on a coat hanger and hang that in your closet/wardrobe. Simple, cheap and fully functional.

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Most of the cables we buy come in ziplock bags, so we always re-use the bags. You're asking more about personal storage (I'll get to that), but we have 3 bankers boxes for misc network cables (short, med, long). We only have short crossover cables, and they're a distinctive colour, so they're in the short box. Inside each box are all the different spare cables, each in a ziplock. We have a box of serial cables (9, 25, male, female, various adapters), a box for fiber patch cables, and a box of usb and firewire cables.

At home, I also have a ton of cables, and use ziplocks taken from work to store them in. I have a box of everything but network cables (usb, serial, sata, etc.), and then a box with all my network cables, gender changers, etc.

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If you aren't expecting to use them soon box them coiled and secured with zip ties. If you are, hang them up on hooks to keep them from tangling.

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My method is easy, relatively cheap, takes less time then rolling things with zip ties or velcro. I simply buy a box of cheap zip-lock bags from the store and put a cable or two in each bag.

  • I find wrapped or rolled cables can get loose or still can get a little tangled.
  • The zip-lock bag solution is useful if you need to store say a USB hub with its associated power supply. Just shove the cable and hub into the baggy and set it in your box. Just wrapping them up and putting them in a box may lead to that device and its power supply becoming separated.
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I have exactly the same problem: I lived away at university and frequently returned home with portable computers that needed hooking up.

This may sound impractical, but if you shop around cunningly, it really isn't. I simply have two of everything: I have an RJ45, used Dell mouse, keyboard, hub, UPS, and even a VESA-mounted monitor with attached VGA cable sitting at both locations. When it's time to move, I just take my laptop and power adaptor and walk away.

This has the added benefit of reducing the number of things to forget. I can't tell you how many times I've arrived somewhere saying "Oh, damn, I need my X to be able to use my computer effectively". (The only reason I don't move my power adaptor is that I'm afraid of voiding the warranty, and can't justify buying a second one).

Now, if you're worried purely about cable management, get stick-on cable guides with snaps at your local hardware store for cheap. Peel off the wax paper, stick them to whatever you have to to manage your cables, and when you leave, just unhook the cables from the snaps, leave the guides on the wall.

I do this as well, because I have 5 external hard drives, USB hubs, firewire audio input equipment and all sorts of other gadgetry connected to my home machine, and I really didn't like the cable chaos.

When packing and transporting cables, avoid sharp bends! Always coil your cables at as large a radius as your can reasonably fit in your bag/box.

PS Having done many network cabling installations: only ever use zip ties for something you expect to be permanent. That's what they're for: permanently securing a cable to a bulkhead, a pipe, etc. They are not meant for temporarily coiling a cable, unless the coil is going to be sitting behind a wall or in a suspended ceiling for years as a future allowance. My 2 ¢

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My cable storage is freezer bags (not sealed, but thinner so more space-efficent), combined with putting them in boxes groups by general function (ie, one box for cat5/6 and Fibre, one box for general PC, one for 240v power, one for wall warts & low volt power)

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We use the cable mounts at the bottom of this page (I wanted to post a picture but am not allowed to yet.) in our server room. They are really useful, have to be mounted to the wall though.

Also, seconding Velcro strap spools.

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Go to a department store and ask to see their selection of tie hangers. They hang in a closet, on a door, on a wall, wherever and are wonderfuly well suited to storing cables.

I use them to hang ethernet cables, oscilloscope /meter leads and pretty much everything else.

Some of them are "travel" friendly, i.e. they can be rolled / zipped up like luggage. That makes it easy to transport them from place to place.

I feel your pain, even with a bunch of cable management gizmos my lab still looks like an angry bowl of spaghetti.

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If they're fairly short ( less than 12 ft ), I just grab both ends, fold them in half, and I continue to do that until it becomes difficult to fold them in half any more. I Then wrap a twist tie, or some spare wire, or some spare string, it doesn't really matter. Then I put them into a box, that has similar materials. I didn't really specify what goes together, because that actually changes quite frequently.

Right now I have Audio, and video cables in one box but as I collect more of them, I will at some point separate them into their own boxes.

If they're long, I'll loop them, and just wrap a twist tie, or something around the loop, near the ends.

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I generally fold in half until small enough and secure with a rubber band. With ethernet cables (and this would go for fibre too), it's better to coil. If I have them, I'll use ziplock bags for easier handling. Velcro straps are even better than rubber bands, but rubber bands are easier to come by for free.

After that, it's a matter of organizing and grouping similar cables. Separate internal cables from external cables. Separate power cables from data cables. Whatever works for you based on volume. Ideally they get stored in boxes that are labelled, and perhaps also clear so that you can see into them. (Anybody living with you might object to clear though.)

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