Remote controls, designed to make life easier and more convenient, have become so numerous in many homes that keeping track of them is a challenge all its own.
There are often separate remotes for the TV, DVD player, cable box and sound system. And if you've got a more sophisticated set-up, or have retained your old VCR machine, you may well have a few more (gaming consoles, light dimmers, air-conditioning units, etc.).
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Remotes tend to be annoyingly similar in size, shape and color, and have a pesky way of slipping between couch cushions, walking to various parts of the house, getting chewed by the dog or just -- poof -- vanishing.
To help restore order, cable companies and professional organizers offer some suggestions:
Find a container
Caddies made for remote controls come in a huge range of prices and styles. There are clear Acrylic organizing cubes (US Acrylic), non-skid rubber with voluptuous curves in impossible-to-miss primary colors (J-Me Cozy Remote Control Tidy), faux-leather organizers in staid brown and black that rotate for convenience (Cosmos) and wooden organizing boxes with NFL team logos. For those loathe to park one more thing on an overworked coffee table, some caddies hang saddle-bag style over a chair or sofa armrest (Ikea).
"Whatever you get, make sure it's not the type of thing that will get tipped over by a stretching cat. Trays or low baskets are perfect, and drawers are terrific if you have a grabby toddler. Oh, and definitely don't store it beside the TV," said Liz Jenkins, a professional organizer in Franklin, Tennessee. "As with everything in your house, you should store it closest to where you'll be using it. So it really has to have a home near your couch or chair."
Kevin Hall of Clutter No More, Inc. in San Diego says that keeping track of remotes is a chronic problem.
"Our top idea is putting a strip of Velcro on the back of a clipboard, then on the back of each remote, and keep the board by where you usually sit," he said.
He also suggests putting color-coordinated dots on each remote and its corresponding device, and urges clients to keep any directions and customer numbers in a clear plastic sleeve in the room where they watch TV.
Can you retire some of these remotes?
"When it comes to organizing anything, whether it's shoes or china or remotes, you need to evaluate how many things you have and how many you really need. Are you using all of these machines? If not, the remotes don't all need to be there," Jenkins said.
If arranging your collection of black and gray remotes in a monotone high-tech bouquet doesn't appeal, a well-chosen universal remote can narrow it down to one. Universal remotes are designed to work with all your technological gizmos, and range in price from around $10 to several hundred dollars.
"When you have a big pile of remotes, my top advice is to get a universal remote and find a 12-year-old to program it," said Jenkins.
Hall cautions, however, that programming a universal remote "often just leads to more frustration. That's why we go to the clipboard. If the person is a techie, a universal remote would work. For most people though, that's too much technology to deal with."
Get smart (phone)
For the technologically savvy, new apps have been created to turn your smartphone into a remote. Popular apps include Dijit, Roomie, Re, iRule, Zsmart, Commandfusion and Openremote.
In addition, many TV manufacturers and cable providers (including Sony, Comcast, Optimum and Verizon) have created their own apps, some voice-activated, to replace remotes. Comcast says its Xfinity TV Remote app has been downloaded 10 million times.
"Many of my clients have designated iPads or smart phones that function as a universal remote," Jenkins said.
Buy a replacement
If you've lost a remote, ask your cable provider to come to the rescue. Providers are accustomed to requests for additional remotes, and replacements are ubiquitous online and in stores.
Go back to the future
Television existed years before remotes became commonplace. An old-fashioned TV with an actual channel button, if you're lucky enough to find one, bypasses the need for remotes by forcing you to get up, cross the room and change the channels. This is cumbersome and unpleasant, to be sure, but provides some exercise.
If all else fails, there's always the option of going screen-free. Take a walk, read a book or have coffee with a friend.