You Should Throw Out These Cables You’ve Been Hoarding

You Should Throw Out These Cables You’ve Been Hoarding

We all have a shameful, dark secret: We have a bunch of cables in a drawer that we’re only keeping because we think they might be important, but we’re not sure what they’re for. I recently had to sort through mine, I get it.

But which ones should we keep in case of emergencies and which ones are destined for the big USB port in the sky?

Here is a guide to a bunch of different common cable types, what they’re used for and a checklist for whether or not they’re worth keeping.

Eenie, meenie, miney, mo. Image: iStock.

What’s that cable?

We’ll start with the easier ones:

Different flavours of USB Cables

USB-A 2.0

A few years back this was the most common type of USB cable, so you probably know this one. This is the type you can’t plug into a Mac anymore, it’s the most common connector for USB keys, and just about all PCs and consoles from the last 20 years will have one of these inputs.

USB-A 3.0

This is like the USB-A 2.0, but it’s faster. Usually the inside line will be blue. It’s backwards compatible, and generally the best USB-A cable.


USB-B. Image: Alice Clarke.

This one is the least common of the main USB types. Sometimes there will be little screws on the side, sometimes not. It’s for PC peripherals like a printer, or even electric drum kits.


This is the new standard for USB cables these days. Almost every new device you have will use USB-C. You definitely will need a few of these. They also look exactly the same as Thunderbolt 3 and 4 cables

USB Mini B

For a brief moment, this was the standard port for phones, toys and headphones. It’s still used on some cameras, but it’s not really used on new products.

Micro USB

Micro USB. Image: Alice Clarke

This was introduced to make some devices even thinner than Mini B would allow. For a few years you could find Micro USB on everything, it’s still on bike lights and cheaper toys.

USB 3.0 Micro-B

This is like if the Micro USB connector brought a friend along for the ride. It’s mostly used for hard drives, but it’s also on some other kinds of devices. It’s not as common now, but it’s still on a lot of portable drives.

Apple Cables

Note: not all of these were purely Apple cables, but they were all used more on Apple devices.

30-pin Dock Connector

Remember this from iPods and old iPhones? Good times. It’s been dead for 13 years. Unless you still have an iPod, it’s time to let it go.


Lighting Cable. Image: Alice Clarke

This was the sequel to the 30-pin Dock Connector and (secretly) I think it’s a better port than USB-C and I wish it had become the global standard instead. It didn’t, and now it’s just used on the iPhone 4S-14, AirPods older than last year, and Apple keyboards and mice.

Thunderbolt 1 and 2/Mini DisplayPort

From the ashes of the Mini DisplayPort rose Thunderbolt 1. They also look the same as the Mini DisplayPort, but aren’t friendly in both directions. The Mini DisplayPort was, as the name suggested, used for external displays.

Thunderbolt 3 and 4

Thunderbolt. Image: Alice Clarke

These look the same as USB-C, but are not the same and are better. This is the current standard.

AV Cables

We could really get into the weeds on this one, so let’s just look at the most popular ones for now. Most of them look pretty similar to these, so even if yours isn’t here exactly, it should give you the gist.


Fun fact: This kind of cable was first introduced in the 1940s, and RCA stands for Radio Corporation of America. These are used for audio (the white and red cables) and video (yellow). Old TVs, VCRs, and vintage consoles need these.


This is an analogue video cable for SD video. It’s the next step above composite video, but is below component video.

Component cables/YPbPr

These are similar in appearance to RCA cables, but all three are for video, and give a better picture. They’re still analogue, and will be found on TVs and consoles that are newer than TVs that use composite, but still older and less good than HDMI.


This is an older style port for PC displays.


HDMI. Image: Alice Clarke.

This is the current standard for connecting TVs to other stuff, like consoles, DVD players and laptops. There are a tonne of different HDMI standards, but all the cables look super similar (so it’s worth labelling which are your HDMI 2.1 cables, etc, when you get them so you know what you’ve got).


This is a fibre optic audio cable that conveys truly excellent audio quality.

3.5mm audio cable

3.5mm cable. Image: Alice Clarke

This is the type of port that Apple called itself “brave” for removing. These cables are generally for audio (but can be used for other purposes).

Watch Charger Cables

Apple Watch charger. Image: Alice Clarke.

There are heaps of different types of smart watch charger, but lately most of them have evolved to look more like the Apple Watch charger, a thin-ish, round, magnetic disc.

Laptop Chargers

Image: Alice Clarke.

There are heaps of different ends for these, but you’ll generally recognise them less by the end and more by the power brick. If you have a good, first party laptop charger it should have the brand written on there. If not, just go around trying to plug it into your laptops until you find the right one, like the prince looking for Cinderella.

Phone Chargers

Diving back into the hell that was ye olde phone chargers really makes you grateful for USB-C and the European Union, because that was a disaster. Remember when each new Nokia needed an entirely different charger, but they all looked almost identical? You ended up with all these multi-cables that looked like the kind of thing they beat Jesus with. If you have a bunch of these, good luck.

Ethernet Cables

Image: Alice Clarke.

There are a bunch of different types of ethernet cables, which convey different data speeds. Most Ethernet cables will say on them whether they’re Cat 4 up to Cat 8, the higher the number, the faster/better the cable. If it’s not written on it, then look at how many pairs of wires are in there. Four pairs and above is ideal, but Cat 4 cables still have their purpose.

Other Proprietary Charging Cables

There are so many types of these for Fitbits, fitness headphones, lights, smart blinds, etc, etc. All of them are stupid, and I hope anyone who unnecessarily insists on using them for the products they design stubs their toe every time they pass a coffee table. These are only useful if you still have the device that uses them. Otherwise, they’re just e-waste.

Image: iStock.

OK, but which ones do I need to keep?

First things first, I would say you need at least one spare Ethernet and USB-C cable, and all the chargers for your current devices. The questions that helped me narrow down the rest are:

  • Do I know what this cable belongs to, and how many of that type of cable do I need?
  • Have I used/looked for this cable in the last three years?
  • If I don’t instantly know what the cable belongs to, can I find something in my home that it will plug into?
  • If I don’t currently have something that uses this cable, is this type of cable still used, and am I likely to get something else that will use it?
  • Would it be difficult to replace if I did need it after all?

When I was going through my cable drawer recently, and couldn’t find what a certain cable plugged into, and the idea of getting rid of it gave me anxiety because I had a feeling that it’s important, I put it into a container in a visible place and gave myself a month to find a use for it. It gives you a passive task, allows you time to let go of the anxiety/find the object, and then you can give yourself permission to let go of it.

OK, but is this cable I don’t need valuable? Could I sell it for profit?

Almost certainly not. Most people have drawers of cables they don’t know what to do with. But if a cable is old yet in good condition, or it looks like a particularly fancy cable, then absolutely look it up on eBay or similar just to double check before you let it go.

Image: iStock

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