life in a tiny apartment.

August 22, 2016

organizing cables and cords |reading my tea leaves

Tip # 142 – Corral Your Cords.

I don’t usually go in for overly tech-y solutions to small apartment problems. But if someone were to come to my apartment tomorrow and tell me that every single cable and cord could be magically consolidated into one sleek (and tiny, and artful) package that I’d never have to wrestle with, I would sign right up. 

We don’t even have a lot of cables and cords. There’s no entertainment system to contend with. No desktop computer. No speakers. And yet cords and the plugs at the end of them feel like they’re in constant need of wrangling in my apartment. For me, the trouble is mostly related to the gadgets that bring us the internet.

When the company Plume came across my radar earlier this summer, I got very excited about what it could mean for the tangle that lives under my bed. And I might well be the first to sign up when they start selling their solutions individually this fall. But that’ll still only solve part of the problem and there are months yet to wait. As it is, we still have the same hulking wireless router that James owned when I first met him.

An aside: The first words I ever uttered to James were “I heard you have the connection.” I know, not at all awkward. But he did have the connection. The wi-fi connection. And I needed the damn password. The same ancient router that fueled our internet and romance that sticky Georgia summer ten years ago, now lives with the jumble of modem and bedside lamp cords beneath our bed. It makes for a pretty ugly mess, even on a good day. (For the record: Replacing the router of our courtship with something new and tiny would not be the slightest bit bittersweet. Let’s not take sentimentality too far.)

Here’s the thing: There’s no shortage of “cord solutions” out there. It’s just that most of them are terrible. They’re brightly colored and plastic. Or they’re bulky or ugly and in need of hiding themselves. Or, most often, they solve a very specific problem and not my very specific problem. (Don’t get me started on A/C adapters that take up two outlets worth of space in a surge protector.)

And while there’s no shortage of pretty cloth-covered outlets and extension cords these days, alas alack, other uglier cords still have to go into them. They’re kind of like the wire baskets of the tech world: pretty when empty but pretty messy when full. 

END GRUMBLING.organizing cables and cords |reading my tea leaves

Lately I’ve been on a mission to tackle our cords in new ways. To be clear: this is not the first time I’ve done this. It’s just that cord needs change, and co-habitants unplug your carefully wound cables leaving unfurled chaos in their wake, and solutions that worked for a while simply don’t work any more.

Here are few recent solutions that have helped our situation. (Don’t think of them as miracle workers; just think of them as somewhat helpful buddies in the fight against cord clutter.)organizing cables and cords |reading my tea leaves

For wrangling: The chief trouble with most cords is their length. There’s too much of it. Some amount of careful coiling is required. I used waxed twine that I had leftover from another project in my attempts to tame the beasts this go-round. Any twine will do, but waxed twine does have the added advantage of creating a little friction so that everything stays put. (This isn’t the moment for your finest silk ribbon.)organizing cables and cords |reading my tea leaves

For hiding: Sometimes you just need to hide the effers. Excuse my fake curse. I just hacked a little shelter for my enormous router et cetera. It makes the whole mess basically disappear beneath the bed, which is, precisely, what we’d all prefer. After wrangling the cords as neatly as I could manage, I cut the back off the pretty cardboard box that came in the mail last week and stuck everything inside. Cords, corralled. PS. If blinking and blue lights bother you as much as they do me, allow me to introduce the concept of a strip of black electrical tape. I’ve covered all offending blinkers on our router and modem and it’s made a huge difference.)

Care to commiserate? Got a genius cord solution? Please share!

Tiny apartment survival tips #1-141, RIGHT HERE.

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34 Comments

  • Reply Jessica August 22, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Often heard in this house…”they can make wireless internet; why can’t they make wireless electricity??”

    My husband and I work both work from home. He is a software developer. This involves three computers, three outsized monitors, and two servers….for now. We’ve stuck as much as we can to the undersides of our desks and run internet cables through the walls, but still. I will anxiously await the day for wireless everything.

    • Reply Danielle August 22, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      On the chance there are other techie work-from home folks on… in our new-to-us home, we are planning wall-mounted monitors only, just to get some of the cords into the walls (well, into conduit in the walls). Of course, since we can’t run everything on VPN and actually have to use work laptops, the only other option for the multi-connected wire nightmare was to purchase docks for our laptops, and switch to wireless mice and keyboards. If I had my way, my computer would sit in an access panel in the wall, all neatly connected to wall-mounted monitors and a wireless mouse and keyboard, and you’d never see a wire at all. I just need to convince my company that an Intel nuc or similar computer is a better idea, and move away from the laptop thing. Someday. 🙂

  • Reply Mary McDaniel August 22, 2016 at 10:02 am

    It’s not my living room that kills me (our router actually lives on top of our fridge and it’s cords are quite out of the way) as much as my son’s room does. He just turned one and oh how I would love to make his room wire free! Our house is just large enough that a baby monitor is essential. And you know, lamps. I’m looking to amp up the baby-proofing in his room a little in preparation for him being out of a crib but have yet to come up with a solution to the problem of the cords.

  • Reply Caroline August 22, 2016 at 10:17 am

    I am so confused! How do you still have the same router from 10 years ago? Do you have to buy it separately? In the UK your internet company provides your router so every time you sign a new contract you get a new one. Not great from a zero waste perspective but it does mean our router is only 6 inches by 4 and less than an inch thick.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 22, 2016 at 10:28 am

      Yes; same router. In the US you usually receive a new modem with a new internet connection, but not a new router. Unless of course, we’ve just ignored offers of free routers unawares!

    • Reply Alix August 22, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      I am a fellow hater of all cords, but we’ve learnt to tolerate our Apple Express Router because it is quite tiny and all white with only one blinky light. Unfortunately, our cable connection is in the middle of our living room, so no way to hide underneath furniture!

  • Reply Rachel August 22, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Thank you, I’ll have to try this. I still have a box tv, DVD player, laptop and modem all connected to a power strip. I’ve wrangled all the cords together in a neat pile, but that pile is just sitting on the floor, ugly. It needs to be hidden.

    I just used black electrical tape last week to cover the modem’s blinking lights and all LED lights on everything else. Works like a charm.

  • Reply Stephanie August 22, 2016 at 10:32 am

    We put our pile of cords, extension cord, and router in a large wicker basket with a lid. The lid is open a bit in the back where the cord peeps out, but I still like the look of it best. We got the basket at the thrift store.

    • Reply Kim B. August 22, 2016 at 12:52 pm

      This sounds like a GREAT idea! Thanks!

  • Reply Varsha August 22, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Wow I am definitely giving this one a try. I have mine sitting in my living room under the couch and most times I just change the angle of my chair so I don’t have to look at it. On another note and maybe I missed reading it on your blog but I would like to know your take on toothpaste , sanitary napkins and bathroom cleaning agents and brushes. Any safe, chemical free options out there that you have tried out ?

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 22, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Good luck! We generally just use Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. Here’s a big post about period-related stuff, and for bathroom cleaning, there’s a chapter in my book, but I don’t do anything too crazy: baking soda or borax, vinegar, and an all-spray made with Castile soap are my go-tos.

  • Reply Kaelie August 22, 2016 at 11:22 am

    I thought of a pretty decent solution when I lived in an awesome Victorian apartment with thick plaster walls. I needed a whole seperate item other than the “wireless” router/modem combo to project the internet all the way to the other side of the house through the thick walls, and another still to be able to back up my computers wirelessly, so in all there were 3 giant things and all their cords living in my apartment. I used an old wooden trunk from an antique store, really old, and pretty small, it amazes me that it used to be luggage. I drilled several holes in the back of it for ventilation, and one hole just big enough for a plug, and another just big enough for the internet cable that had to plug into the wall. Then I carefully zip-tied all my cords into manageable lengths, and stored all the things in the trunk, and closed the lid. Nothing ever over heated, thanks to the hidden vent holes, it was always very inconspicuous, and matched my apartment very well. I could also set things on it; one winter the cat decided it was his personal heated sleeping spot. The box under the bed might be the best solution to your particular spot, but a box in general, especially a pretty one, has got to be the best solution because we know, wireless things are never wireless.

    • Reply Jill Palumbo August 22, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      I did something similar to this with an old wooden crate. I just set it upside down over the mess I wanted to hide and with it’s various slats and knot holes, there is plenty of ventilation.

  • Reply Rylie August 22, 2016 at 11:39 am

    This is a constant challenge in my little apartment. I am the minimalist-leaning, only-if-it’s-pretty wife, and he’s the techie, display-it-in-the-open-so-I-can-find-it husband. It’s a work in progress 🙂 I have most of our cords hidden a shoebox, it’s such a simple fix with a big impact!

  • Reply Cordelia August 22, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I am so excited about this! We have a fairly large mess of cords and blinking blue lights that are going to feel the wrath of electrical tape and a backless box! YAY!

  • Reply Dalindcy Koolhoven August 22, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Yeah, I need something like this in my life. My chords is lying EVERYWHERE. It’s a constant challenge and it makes the room look messy even if everything else is tidy. Definitely giving this one a try.

  • Reply Jen August 22, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Please dont put a lid on that box and make sure the router and modem can stay sufficiently cool in there or all that work will be for nothing!

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 22, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      Yes! The reason why there’s no lid and no back. Plenty of breathing room.

  • Reply Kaolee August 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    I like this box idea. After reading Marie Kondo’s book, I realized we kept too many cords. Cords for things that we don’t own anymore. I really need to go through all of them and toss them out. But this is a nice way to keep them hidden.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 22, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Oh dear. Definitely pass along those unused cords! These are just the necessary ones!

  • Reply Kristiina August 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Do you shut the wireless net off for the night/ when you don’t need it? For this purpose I wanted to have an extension cord with a button that shuts down all the cords attached to it, and I connected the modem to it (and hid all this ugly mess underneath a very low wooden cabinet so they’re not seen. This way it is very easy to shut the wireless down for the night to make the space calm. I am very wary about the huge amount of all kinds of wireless networks we are constantly enclosed to. Especially in a block house all the households have an own connection and they add up; the net doesn’t stop on walls. There is not yet much research on the affects of the wireless nets to living creatures in the long run (which makes this era an huge human experiment!) but the few ones existing do not suggest it’s anything good. Especially children not be all the time in a space with wireless net.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 22, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      All of these are also on the same surge protector, so easy to shut off. (Though I admit I don’t have a nightly habit of powering everything down.)

      • Reply Kristiina August 22, 2016 at 2:53 pm

        Yes now that you mentioned, I saw all the things connected into one in one of your pictures. What a blindeye I was 😀

  • Reply Lauren August 22, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Wait now I’m so curious why those were the first words you said to James?! I’m trying to think of those in a context of first meeting someone. Maybe singing “The Rainbow Connection”?

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 22, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      I needed the internet connection! And he had the password!

  • Reply Seska August 22, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you for the suggestion of black electrical tape. I need a very dark room for a decent night’s sleep. Normally that means no electronics in the bedroom but I’m now in a studio apartment and I see the blue glow even with my make shift covers.

  • Reply Kate August 22, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for this tip! The cords under out bed drive me crazy, but we still need to access them from time to time, maybe a box on each side. Thanks again!

  • Reply Lori Narlock August 23, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Fabulous concept. But, I would suggest using a non-flammable container and/or checking the various components to make sure none get hot enough to light the cardboard box on fire.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 23, 2016 at 9:17 am

      No risk of overheating. There’s a ton of breathing room!

  • Reply Alexis August 23, 2016 at 11:02 am

    I like the concept but as a dispatcher I know firsthand anything electrical stored in cardboard and used in cardboard is a fire hazard. Routers and mediums thereof need air circulation around all sides and they emit heat. I have taken calls of house fires started by overheating mediums stored in boxes. The strip cords need 6 inches around them all sides and cannot be stored on anything flammable as do routers and modems. As the electronic mediums work they emit heat and surge heat throughout the day. Additionally older routers are a terrible fire hazard. They are not meant to be used for years. The price has dropped on them and the technology improves every year. I love my new one that is small and has a fireproof case. I switch it out yearly I do the strip. Newer is safer. . My fireman told me rule is 6 inches of breathing space on all sides and not to put them near or in anything flammable. I bought a nice small solid wood tv cabinet and store the offending wireless contraptions behind the TV. on top with lots of breathing room and fits everything else inside to corral all my laptops and movies as storage . Always good to switch off the strip at night. Living in a tiny 240 square.foot studio I have to have them off at night.

    • Reply Erin Boyle August 23, 2016 at 11:13 am

      Thanks for your concern. The conundrum continues…

  • Reply Bri August 23, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Your posts are so timely. Sometimes I think you must hear my thoughts! Hah!

  • Reply Katie August 24, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    I keep the cords for our TV, antennae, and my husband’s various beloved gaming systems, along with the surge protector they plug into, stashed in a decorative linen storage bin. The cords are all threaded through the handle in the back and sit behind the TV stand–out of sight and out of the reach of little dogs and children!

  • Reply Laura September 2, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    omg you are so so funny. i love you.

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