Easy Cable Organisation

During the many years that I've worked in IT, I've collected and bought hundreds of cables of varying types, such as:

  • VGA & DVI cables
  • Numerous USB cables
  • Firewire cables
  • Ethernet cables of varying lengths
  • Headphone cables
  • RCA phono cables
  • SCSI 1-3 cables
  • RS232 cables of varying configurations

Some of these cables are rarely used anymore (SCSI anyone?), but they're useful to keep around as every once in a while, they're needed for an odd job such as relocating some audio equipment or running a data conversion off some old media. Although it's tempting to discard the lesser-used cables, obtaining replacements can be difficult, not to mention expensive in some cases.

Whilst having these cables as spares is very useful, storing them is a completely different matter - over the years, I've tried many different solutions such as cardboard boxes, cardboard "shelves" from stationery shops, and even carrier bags (not a good idea due to static electricity).

None of these previous storage attempts seemed to work well; cables don't fit neatly into boxes, especially the old wide SCSI cables that don't bend easily. After many years, I've finally found a solution that works - cloth draw-string bags:

Multi-coloured raw string bags

If you shop around on the Internet, you'll find companies that can supply these bags inexpensively and in a variety of sizes and colours. These bags are ideal since:

  • Being cloth, you don't have the same issues with static electricity as you would with carrier bags.
  • You can buy larger bags for large cables (e.g. SCSI) and smaller bags for smaller, more flexible cables, e.g. RCA phono connectors.
  • Since the bags can be purchased in the colours of your choice, it's easy to colour-code the bags for quick identification. You can also order the bags with different patterns on them (spots, stripes etc.) which makes sub-dividing the different classes of bag easy.
  • As the bags themselves are flexible, you can "store" a lot of them in large cardboard boxes or in the bottom of a metal filing cupboard. You can pack a lot of cables into a small space thanks to the flexibility of the bags.

Finding the right cable now is relatively easy - I just search for the appropriately-coloured bag and there they are, right at my fingertips. If the bag has so many cables in it that rummaging through would be difficult, it's easy to empty the entire bag out to find the one I want - refilling the bag is as easy as "throwing" them back in the bag and pulling the draw-string, about ten-seconds-worth of work. As you can see in the photo above, I leave a cable end poking out of each bag, to make identifying each bag even easier. I've been using this "system" for about a year now, and it's still working well - the whole set of bags cost less than £30 including delivery - money well spent.

Other Tips

A few words of practical advice - there are two situations that make organising cables slightly more awkward:

  • USB cables (the main culprit) that have varying ends and thus, make classification more difficult.
  • Proprietary cables that don't neatly "fit" into any category.

For the USB cables, I put all USB A-B cables in one bag as they tend to be quite bulky, and all the others e.g. USB->Mini-USB, USB->Micro-USB in a second mixed bag. Although this means searching through the bag of assorted USB cables, it's far easier than having dedicated bags for each individual type of USB cable - there would simply be too many to make this worthwhile.

For the "proprietary" cables that often come with digital cameras, MP3 players and Bluetooth headphones (for charging), I have an "oddball" bag where I keep all these cables, it's just not practical to segregate every single type of cable into its own bag.

Finally, I also have a separate bag for all the "wall wart" power supplies that I have - and more importantly, I also label each power supply plug with DYMO-style tape that states which device it is for. It's rare that a power supply gives any indication as to which device it is for, as they're usually made by generic suppliers, and it can be difficult to relate the device and power supply together. Labelling the plugs also makes identifying which items are plugged into a multi-way strip far easier, which is especially useful when unplugging your equipment from a bank of identical-looking sockets.

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