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Don’t let tangled — or too many — cords create chaos at home

Attach cord holders to furniture to keep chargers easy to access.
Attach cord holders to furniture to keep chargers easy to access. (Kacy Paide)

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps many around the world at home, people have had to set up workspaces where they usually sleep, eat and socialize. As the office moves into the living room or bedroom, so does the threat of creating the same clutter that exists in the cubicle, including too many messy cords for computers, phones and other necessary work devices.

“A bunch of little cords creates physical clutter that turns into mental clutter,” said Bea Copeland, a freelance professional organizer and video producer in New York.

But there’s no need to rush out and buy coordinating containers or other fancy fixes. Here are tips from professional organizers to tame the cords in your workspace.

Everything you need to know to set up a home office fast

Start with cords you need

Although she is working remotely with clients now instead of in their homes, Kacy Paide, a professional organizer in Silver Spring who specializes in office spaces, said she typically crawls behind desks and unplugs everything before starting to organize. “We always realize there are a couple things back there that lead to nowhere,” said Paide, founder of the Inspired Office. Decide what you need in each space, what can be stored and what can be purged.

“Get brutal, because all of us are busy and don’t have time to sort through 25 cords in a bin to find the one we need,” said Nancy Castelli, founder of San Francisco organizing company Balance. Don’t keep too many duplicates of common cords that are easy to replace, such as chargers and USB cords. Hold onto specialized or very specific cords, such as printer or phone accessories, that would be harder to find. If there’s a cord you can’t identify, she said to put it in a separate bag, date it and store it for six months or one year; if you haven’t identified its purpose by then, toss it.

Think about the items you reach for the most; phone or computer chargers probably get daily play and should be easily accessible. Others can be gathered neatly using Velcro strips, ribbons or twist-ties and put in a receptacle such as a drawer, box, bin or even a freezer bag.

Copeland likes over-the-door pocket organizers, especially for gamers who have lots of consoles, cords, games and accessories to store. Within that box or bag, use pouches, bags or even toilet paper rolls to store the labeled coils.

Label your cords

Many cords look similar, and it’s annoying to unplug your monitor when you meant to unplug your phone charger. Labeling cords, even while they’re in use, makes it easy to know which one is which. There are plenty of products for this specific purpose, but Copeland said you can also use what you have at home; she suggests ribbons, colored tape or masking tape.

Castelli labels cords at their plug-in point in her own work area. Labels are also important to identify cords you’re storing.

The post-pandemic workplace will hardly look like the one we left behind

Use power strips and bundles

Centralizing your cords so they’re coming from one place helps keep them handy and organized, Copeland said. “Power strips are going to be your best friend so you can create a hub,” Copeland said. Many power strips have indentations and brackets that can be used to mount them to walls and furniture; for a less permanent solution, tuck them under or behind furniture.

Dedicating a strip for each “zone” keeps everything in one place and creates a clear boundary between work and home. “Turn off the power strip, and there’s your commute home,” Castelli said. She uses this method in her own home.

Once you have several cords coming from one source, you can wrap or coil them to prevent tangles. Carolyn Rogers, founder of Neat Nerd Solutions in Atlanta, likes bunching cords together with Velcro ties to create one manageable package. “It doesn’t look like a big jumbled mess of cords, but everything is getting where it needs to go, and it keeps them from tangling,” she said. She suggests placing a strap every few inches or so and leaving slack so the cords remain straight but are bunched together. Castelli, Rogers, Paide and Copeland all recommend Velcro ties, because they’re reusable and adjustable. They don’t pick up dust, they come in numerous colors and sizes, and they’re soft enough not to damage cords. Ribbons or twist-ties from the grocery store work, too.

Secure loose cords

Dangling cords and cables are annoying and could pose a tripping hazard, especially if you’re sharing space with pets and children, so unplug cords from the wall when they’re not in use or hide them behind furniture so others won’t step on them. Too-long cords can be shortened by looping part of the cord with a zip tie or Velcro strap. “It’s tedious because some cords are tiny and some are thick, but if there’s any way you can securely place a cord behind a drawer or in the back of a desk in a way that it’s not just hanging down, that helps,” Paide said.

To prevent cords from falling off a desk and out of reach while you’re using them, use binder clips or cord clips to hold them in place. Thread the cords through the metal loop on a binder clip and then attach the clip to the edge of a desk or table, Copeland and Castelli suggest, to create a centralized place for cords next to your devices. “If you need to set the table for dinner, you can just unclip it,” said Copeland, who uses the method on her own desk.

There’s no need to buy a pricey charging station or box to cover cords or devices; Paide found that her clients don’t use them, and Castelli said they could be outdated quickly as technology changes. “Gadgets travel, and they’re on your person, and it’s human nature to just plug stuff in where you need the object to be working for you,” Paide said. She suggests instead using multiple chargers and keeping them where you will probably use them. If it’s important to you to hide the appearance of cords, Paide suggests running them along baseboards or behind or under furniture.

Wireless devices can help — if you know how to use them

Wireless devices are increasingly common and help mitigate some of the issues that arise with cords. But both Rogers and Castelli say to consider your technological fluency when weighing whether to switch. “You need to be tech-savvy enough to deal with it when it’s not working properly,” Rogers said.

Small items such as wireless keyboards and mice are easy to troubleshoot, but larger appliances such as televisions might be more complicated. Consider the reliability of your Internet connection, and don’t buy all new devices just to eliminate cords; Castelli said to switch if you’re replacing outdated pieces.

Be safe

Devices and appliances are probably getting more use while whole households stay home. Brianne Deerwester, communications coordinator at Electrical Safety Foundation International, a nonprofit that works to educate consumers and professionals on electronics safety, and Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service (which has more information on its blog about fire safety while under stay-at-home orders), encourage exercising caution to prevent fires and shocks.

Don’t overload power strips: Power strips don’t provide extra power, just more outlets, Piringer said. Adding multiple extenders to outlets and connecting extension cords can overload power points and cause fires or short circuits. If you’re running out of space and need more outlets, Deerwester and Piringer instead suggest moving closer to empty wall sockets, using longer cords and unplugging items when they aren’t being used.

Piringer advises only using power strips that have UL safety certification, which means they meet basic safety standards. (Check the device or its packaging for a seal.) If you use extension cords, Deerwester advises unplugging them when they’re not in use to avoid fire and tripping hazards. Appliances such as toaster ovens, irons or hair dryers typically use more power than laptops, Piringer said, but using every spot in a power strip could overwhelm it.

“If you’re filling up the whole power strip, your home needs more electrical receptacles,” Deerwester said.

Look for cord damage: Cords and cables are coated to cover wires, so check periodically to make sure they don’t have any exposed parts or other damage. Don’t wrap cords too tightly, and be careful when bending or moving cords to prevent wear and tear.

Don’t put them under rugs: It may be tempting to hide cords under rugs, but Deerwester and Piringer said it could be a fire hazard, and stepping on the cord could damage it.

Unplug when you can: Anything that’s plugged in still gives off heat, so Piringer said to unplug devices and strips as much as possible.

“Even though it might be minute, [devices] can still be drawing power,” he said.

An earlier version of this story misquoted Pete Piringer, chief spokesperson for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, as he spoke about unplugging devices and power strips. He said plugged-in devices can still draw power, not heat. This version has been corrected.

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