this thing's incredible

The Best Fidget Toy Is a Cable Tie

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer

A little over a year ago, I moved to New York, into an apartment that might generously be described as “compact.” With no space to spare for a proper desk, here is a list of everything I keep on my nightstand:

• My phone
• My personal laptop
• My work laptop, stacked on top of my personal laptop because there isn’t enough surface area for them to sit side by side
• A hair straightener
• A glass of water, because I like to live dangerously

Because most of these devices require regular battery replenishment via charging cord, for many months the floor next to my bed resembled a snake pit, literally and metaphorically. After a rather harrowing incident in which I tripped over the tangle and nearly rendered myself and my electronics, uh, out of order, I decided it was time to embrace an organizational concept known as “cable management.”

Cables: managed. Photo: Kitty Guo

The world of tools designed to wrangle your cables into submission is vast and varied, with options ranging from insulating mesh sleeves to stylish decorative boxes to heavy-duty under-desk racks. But I wasn’t dealing with a home-office setup or a triple-monitor gaming arrangement; I just needed to shorten some trailing cords so they wouldn’t pose such a potent safety hazard. A plastic zip tie or a strip of Velcro would have done just fine, if such fixes weren’t so lacking in the aesthetic department.

Conveniently, I found a better-looking alternative while getting a key copied at Lowe’s: I moseyed over to the “Chains, Ropes, and Tie-downs” aisle, just to survey the selection, and ended up picking up a variety 12-pack of Nite Ize gear ties. They tickled my fancy thanks to their eye-catching colors, from cobalt blue to lime green to traffic-cone orange, as well as the wide assortment of sizes ranging from three inches to 18 inches long. Similar to a paper twist tie, the gear ties are threaded with a flexible steel-wire core that holds its shape and can bend every which way, but their exteriors are sheathed in a thick, grippy rubber ensuring the ties can be reused for years to come. At the very least, I thought, some light color coordination would help minimize the time I spent pawing through the jumble in search of the right plug, so I took them home, bundled my cords into four hasty loops, secured each with a gear tie, and voilà — my issue was resolved. Now … what to do with the eight ties I had left?

I left them languishing on my trusty all-purpose nightstand for a couple weeks. But then one day, during a particularly dull Zoom call, I picked one up and started to fiddle with it, twisting and coiling the tie in my hands. As it turns out, they’re the ultimate fidget toy: far superior to any spinner, popper, or other gewgaw that’s expressly intended to keep your hands busy.

In middle school, I went through an intense friendship-bracelet phase, braiding together colorful strands of embroidery thread for all my friends, and I soon found myself slipping into the same soothing, repetitive motion with the gear ties whenever I was watching Netflix or trapped in a meeting. Since I had used all the three-inch ties for my cables, I was mostly playing with the 12- and 18-inch ones, which have a slightly thicker diameter; there’s something about the smooth, fluid motion of the wire, which has a pleasing, just-right level of resistance, and the feel of the textured rubber that makes them addictive to the touch. I would wrap them around my fingers, curl them around my wrist, or twist them into a striped candy cane before unraveling them and starting all over. Plus, since the ties are completely soundless (unlike, say, a noisy pop fidget), no one in those meetings was ever the wiser.

Bent into an S-shape, the gear ties can act as makeshift hooks. Photo: Kitty Guo

Eventually I discovered even more functions for the gear ties: When I ran out of chip clips, I used one to keep my half-eaten bag of salt-and-vinegar fresh and crunchy. When I couldn’t find a pants hanger to air-dry my good underwear, I bent a couple into an S-shape and hooked them over a regular hanger. When the zipper pull on my tote bag broke, a gear tie made for a fine replacement. (Plenty of outdoorsy online reviewers report that they’re also perfect for securing water bottles to backpacks and anchoring tents to stakes; as I am not someone who sleeps on the ground voluntarily, I cannot personally attest to their efficacy within these contexts, but I have no doubt they are as handy and reliable as the reviewers claim.)

If you suffer from fidgety fingers, wring your hands over tossing single-use twist ties, or suspect that the Gordian knot of cables on your floor is gaining sentience, get yourself a pack of Nite Ize gear ties at once. I promise they can tackle any and all problems you’re facing — including ones you didn’t even know you had.

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The Best Fidget Toy Is a Cable Tie