Every household in America owns, on average, 25 electronic devices. I think I have about 23 within arm’s reach of my couch (and that’s not counting the six speakers lining the living room or the laptop that calls my coffee table home). The cords and wires I can see make me crazy; the ones I can’t are a tangled mess.
I’m sure your home is no different: Americans spent almost $1,400 on electronics per household last year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That equates to even more cords, chargers, cables, and plugs—and the health and safety hazards they pose.
Clutter raises stress levels—particularly in women, according to a recent study—which can lead to forgetfulness, irritation, even weight gain. Frayed or damaged wires cause fires or electric shocks, and how many times have you tripped over a loose cable or extension cord? Here’s how to pull the plug on all your cord clutter and keep wires in place and your home safe.
From movie and music players to gaming and sound systems, your entertainment center is a hot spot for cord chaos—and fires. Televisions and stereo equipment are on the short list of appliances most involved in home electrical fires, which kill 500 people and injure 2,300 others annually, according to the US Fire Administration.
Check to make sure wires aren’t frayed, nailed to baseboards, or hiding under rugs—all of which can lead to fires. Replace damaged wires (just visit a hardware store for new ones or call your handyman or electrician), then take this opportunity to untangle those cords. For those that are still in a snare:
Coil too-long wires. The back of an unorganized media center can look like a knot of spaghetti, with cords all over the place. Pulling a single cord through that snarled mess to unplug it could damage both the wire and the plug at the end.
The solution: Loosely loop and fasten individual wires with twist ties or Velcro straps to keep them from knotting up.
Keep wires undercover. Use plastic tubes such as Wiremold Cordmate Kits ($15 to $30; amazon.com) to conceal wires instead of stapling or nailing them along the baseboard or molding, which can puncture the cords’ protective insulation. You can even paint the tubes so they blend in with your decor.
Color-code your cords. Ever go to unplug your DVD player and accidentally cut short your son’s Super Mario Bros. game? Avoid the guesswork (and potential temper tantrums) by using colored electrical tape, sticky file-folder labels, or snap-on customizable identifiers from Dotz ($8; cordotz.com) to tag the top of the cord and just above the plug so you know what you’re cutting power to.
Label cables and accessories. Your digital camera comes with at least an A/V adapter, USB cord, and battery charger; your iPod has its USB cord, charger, and earbuds. To keep track of everything, write on the adapter plugs with a metallic Sharpie to identify what belongs to what. Store it all together in an extra drawer or a cable basket so you don’t lose anything, says Lauren Halagarda, a professional organizer and the owner of the Organization Connection in Virginia.
Look in your purse—there’s a cell phone, BlackBerry, iPod ... and that’s just you. Add your husband’s and kids’ portable devices, and outlet space in your house is a hot commodity. Aside from the sheer frustration of finding your laptop battery dead because your daughter unplugged it to juice up her MP3 player, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all those cords. Don’t lose your temper or your charge.
Tuck devices away. Convert an extra side table with a drawer into a charging station, Halagarda suggests. First, drill a hole in the back of the drawer big enough to accommodate a plug. Then place a power strip inside the drawer, run its cord through the hole, and plug it into the closest outlet. Or buy a charging station and keep it on a small table near your entryway. “That way it serves as a landing spot for electronics when you walk in, and you won’t forget them on your way out,” Halagarda says. Try the IDAPT (starting at $35; idaptweb.com), Sanctuary by Blue Lounge ($130; bluelounge.com), or Kangaroom ($30; kangaroomstorage.com).
Keep cords wound tight. Some charger wires are 6 feet long, leaving you with 5 feet just waiting to twist up, be damaged, or trip you. Control the extra cord footage with the Cableyoyo ($5; blue lounge.com), a spool that can keep 6 feet of small wire wrapped in place, or the Driinn mobile phone holder ($7; driinn.com), which hangs between the plug and the wall socket. Wrap the charger cord around the holder and place your cell phone (or MP3 player or PDA) on a platform that’s suspended off the floor.
Many home-office electrical accidents, including burns and electric shocks, can be blamed on the misuse of extension cords, power strips, and surge protectors, reports the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Extension-cord injuries, such as burns from short-circuit fires and fractures and sprains from trips, send about 4,000 people to the ER yearly, says the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Plus, with so many office electronics, it’s the spot where stress-inducing cord clutter is worst, says Scott Roewer, a Washington, DC–based certified professional organizer.
Eliminate extension cords. Some home offices are trickier to navigate than an obstacle course: Cords dangle from desktops, trail across walkways, and hide under rugs. If your electronics outnumber your outlets, call a licensed electrician to install more outlets.
Make cords disappear. Run cables snugly down the back or leg of your desk with cable clips—they stick to furniture and keep cords in place. Try 3M Command Clips ($5 to $15; command.comfor stores). Under your desk, house the power strip or surge protector and excess wires from devices inside a closed container: Take a photo storage box or plastic bin and punch a hole in each end, Roewer suggests. Place the power strip inside the box with the cord coming out one end; the component cords go out the other.
Make your next purchase wireless. When you’re in the market for new office electronics, shop for cord-free versions, such as eFax machines, Bluetooth keyboards and mouses, and wireless printers, speakers, and phone jacks.