What do you do better than I do?
June 20, 2016 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I've recently made some changes in behavior that go against the grain of how I lived, or against my expectations anyway, previously and I'm the better for it. What are the, considered or automatic, decisions and actions that you take on a daily basis that improve your life with zero or near zero net additional effort? Optional snowflake info inside as well for those that like to read.

So, I was thinking about some of the changes I made in my life and how, had I not made them, I could very well have been none the wiser for lack of experience. That got me to thinking, what else might be out there for me to benefit from that I may be missing out on altogether.

Personal examples follow, but honestly if these tend to trend towards the hippy, nutty-crunchy side of things then I'd take that with a grain of salt. That is to say that I'm not just looking for Green or Frugal or *whatever* type tips, but those are the ones that I've most likely used based upon the inclinations my wife and I share. Grooming details included below but nothing too personal I hope.

Examples that I can think of just now:

-- No-Poo: I've went without shampoo for the last year and a half (maybe more) and it's been nothing but positive with a healthier scalp and actually improved grooming status. A bit of a scrub with something like this, a rough toweling off afterwards, and I'm good to go. Even apple cider vinegar has proved unnecessary for rinses/cleansing.

-- A switch away from aluminum gel deodorant to a salt and shaving routine: I used to use the prescription strength gel and got stinky by the end of the day. Now I just keep the pits shaved/trimmed down and apply this stuff (all over the body actually) and I'm much better off. Less odd gland swellings and that bar will likely last me for a year or more. My undershirts don't become oddly stained and stiff in the pit area and ruined because of that before they wear out elsewhere.

-- A switch from disposable razors/can foam to safety/DE/straight razors and traditional shaving brush/soap: I'm saving money and getting a better shave in the same amount of time (now that I'm practiced) with materials that last longer and are easily obtained with a bit of planning/online ordering. Easy win win.

-- Wool underwear, with a dash of synthetic, instead of cotton: Merino wool underwear has replaced my cotton briefs without a backward glance. Some synthetics are nice to have for super active days as well, but the odor controlling and comfort factors (even in the heat of the deep south, which is what boggles my mind) of merino wool briefs are amazing.

-- Raw denim jeans: I ordered a pair from Gustin, had the wife's grandmother professionally hem them, and have been amazed that I haven't had to wash them since I got them 6 or so months ago. Sure, I've been careful wearing them but not to the point of anything crazy. I've worn them around my 2 year old without a care and have cut some lumber for a woodworking project as well as walked it out on several outings with the family. They're still not feeling like they need to be washed, unlike the other pants I've owned in my life that I basically always wore once, twice, maybe three times and then washed. They're also so well built that I expect to keep them much longer than the price tag cost might imply in comparison to other $20 pants.

-- DIY laundry detergent: The wife is sensitive to detergents. So we started rolling our own powder with just soap flakes, washing powder, borax, and maybe some oxyclean if we feel frisky. Two tablespoons of that, combined with some drops of essential lemon oil in the wash and vinegar rinse/softener, is doing the job just fine these last few years, and that even includes...

-- Cloth diapers: Sure the upfront cost of diapers, covers, and wool soakers is more than a brick of disposable diapers from the store but they're really worked out well for us with a minimal learning curve and just an additional load of laundry every week or so. The fact that our daycare requires disposables (justifiably so) clued us in on how aggravating it is to have to 'go out' for diapers on short notice, we'd never experienced that with out cloth arsenal.

-- Silicon baby bibs with a pouch to catch dropped food: Oh. My. God. So. Amazing.

-- Neti-pot for allergy wars: I honestly would be several notches closer to depression if I hadn't developed a solid neti routine every evening. No I don't want to hear that continued use can lead to problems, my sinuses are happier than they've ever been in my miserable, sneezy, allergy plagued, short of breath, wheezy/gurgly, life. Pry it from my cold dead fingers.

-- Tongue scraper after toothbrushing: This plastic flexible strip has really, I think, helped with bad breath (that is probably tied to the neti pot helping with sinus stuff too) according to my wife.

-- No washcloths, just sponges: Sponges, even more so if we can get raw/scratchy ones from the ocean, really seem to do a better job for us than washcloths, loofas, or hemp mits.

-- Steam as a videogame delivery system > bootlegging games: Honestly, it's easy and quick and simply. Sure I'll pay developers and a company for that service.

-- Media center TV with combo HDTV / HD Home run device combined with internet guide and hard drive based DVR: a godsend for capturing PBS stuff for us and the kiddo, also Jeopardy (Curse you Trebek!), for consumption on demand.

-- Google Fi: It's working great for me and the wife might transfer over soon as well.

-- Flavoring our own yogurt instead of buying flavored. Mmmmmmm, honey or fresh berries.....

-- Good loose tea from Upton Tea Imports. Super Bergamont Earl Gray is so, so good.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head, and probably too many for the purposes of this question but I did want to contribute insofar as I'm also asking for help from y'all for the same.

Thanks for the responses, I'll back away for a bit and just watch the tidbits, hopefully, roll in.
posted by RolandOfEld to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Investing in quality tools that make tasks easy. Using those tools to make money. Using the money to pay off my debts.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:50 AM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Find a super-easy spaghetti sauce that you like to make and make that instead of jarred (and make a huge pot and freeze the rest). My simplest one is just some tomatoes, basil, and a Parmesan rind simmered together for an hour or so, then mushed up and dumped on spaghetti. So much better than jarred, and really easy to do.
posted by xingcat at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Use dish cloths instead of sponges, dish towels instead of paper towels, and cloth napkins instead of paper. Not only are they cheaper and more environmentally sound, I enjoy the experience of using them more than the disposable alternatives.
posted by mcduff at 8:57 AM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Don't buy those adult bathroom wipes. Waste of money. Buy cheaper baby wipes, use on adult butts. Just don't flush them (the adult kind aren't really flushable either, even if that's what the package says)
posted by INFJ at 9:04 AM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I installed a blue light filter on my phone so that it's not blasting me with it before bed. It took forever but iPhone finally put one out.

I started using my slow cooker. I get the most delicious tacos out of chicken thighs, 1oz taco seasoning on top and cover with 16oz salsa for 6-8 hours on low.

This is not for everyone, but I go to Goodwill/thrift boutique stores and look at men's shoes. I have insanely nice shoes that are new/almost new for pennies on the dollar. Well made shoes will last and you can replace the soles/shine them up if you need to. I have an insane dress shoe collection for the cost of a cheap pair of Aldo's.

A family I know swears by Amazon subscription for all groceries and their savings are nuts. I'm single and live alone so I haven't bothered.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:21 AM on June 20, 2016

One of these & a spare head or or 2 depending on how often you dust. I live in a 100 year old house that's plaster walls shed dust like crazy, the dusters keep me sane.

You can get similar products for floors if you have them too & they are amazing. You'll scoff everytime you pass the swiffer products at the supermarket.
posted by wwax at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ting rather than a traditional cellphone plan. Works just as well, and much cheaper. (Even with frequent calls to India I spend less than half of what I was spending with T-mobile.)
posted by Tamanna at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this is what wwax meant wrt scoffing at swiffer, but we love this washable spray mop. We mix up our own solution of soap/water/vinegar. Makes cleaning up after muddy dogs/etc. a snap.

I haven't done an analysis to see if we save money, but Amazon Prime saves me a huge amount of shopping stress / travel time and I can almost always wait two days for something.

Routinizing things for which you don't care about having variety helps conserve cognitive load for things you care about. E.g., I almost always eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch. But I've picked things I like, so I don't care.

An oldie but a goody: to-do lists, noise cancellation and semi-rigorous structured work methods like the pomodoro technique really do help.
posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect at 9:43 AM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

For some time I've been using the cold cycle to wash clothes that, according to the labels, should be washed on the warm cycle. They don't seem to be any less clean than when I washed them on warm.

Microfiber cloths for all kinds of things:
- dusting (no polish required)
- minor kitchen spills (fewer paper towels used)
- cleaning windows & mirrors (usually, just water is good enough; glass cleaner now used only for really tough spots. I do use smoother cloths for glass than the ones I use for other things.)
- small ones placed in half a dozen strategic locations for cleaning screens of electronic devices & glasses
- even light "mopping" (moisten microfiber cloth, shove it around the floor with your foot)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:00 AM on June 20, 2016

Make a habit of seeing whether things can be fixed when they break, rather than buying new things as a default reaction.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:19 AM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have this sort of policy where I try to make everything at least once to see how I like it. Some things I find I prefer when I make them myself, and some aren't worth the time and effort (soap, most car maintenance and repairs). Food has the highest permanent adoption rate for me. Almost any food is better homemade once you've got the basic cooking skills down, and unless they're usually worth the effort.

One thing that jumps out is you mentioning yogurt. It's really easy to make yogurt, and you can adjust your formula to exactly what you want. You can make it low, no, full, or extra fat, and with whatever kind of milk you choose. The one adjustment I make from standard yogurt recipes is that I add some powdered milk to the regular milk for a more custard style yogurt, because default recipes end up more pourable in texture. And once you've made your own yogurt, you can strain it for an hour or two to turn it into Greek yogurt, or for longer than that to make labneh. (Add some salt and maybe herbs before straining for the labneh.)

If you ever find yourself looking for some specific type of furniture or clothing or something, consider whether you could make it yourself, either from scratch or by modifying something you already have. I've got a fair amount of bespoke furniture in my house that I built just because I needed something to fit in a specific spot or fill a weirdly specific purpose. I'm not an especially skilled woodworker, but I can design and build simple shelves and tables and stuff. Same with knitting and crocheting, and even with sewing, which I suck at and don't enjoy, sometimes it's easier to make something than it is to go out and buy one.

Also, third party firmware, in my experience, is almost always better than the locked down, manufacturer controlled firmware your devices come with, because it lets you control your data and your device much more than the commercial versions. So Cyanogenmod instead of Android, CHDK instead of your camera software, DD-WRT instead of your router firmware, and if you use a music player, Rockbox instead of whatever is on there. And Linux is almost universally better than Windows, and I put this in at the end of a paragraph because I have a policy of avoiding the topic and I'm trying to sneak it in all covert-like.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:43 AM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

All these have been great! Keep them coming.

A few personal comments on a few relevant things folks have mentioned, in some semblance of order:

-- Quality tools: Yes please, I'm even kinda done with battery operated tools because they can't compare with corded and/or human powered tools in most ways.
-- That spaghetti sauce idea is excellent. Doubly so for vegetarians like us.
-- Washcloths/napkins vs. Paper stuff: Yea, we already do that, it's great. Exactly the type of thing I meant.
-- Amazon Prime is already a mainstay for us. We haven't used Pantry much but aren't against it, it just doesn't have brands/things we consume at prices that kick the store's butts.
-- I'd never heard of Ting but my Google Fi bill ends up being between 20 and 30 bucks a month so I can't complain with that enough to justify another move.
-- Fixing as opposed to buying new is ingrained in me down to my soul.
-- We make our own yogurt. We're getting better. The texture part is right on.
-- I'm currently making our next bedframe based on a design in The Anarchist's Design Book by Schwarz (do recommend btw).
-- Alternate firmwares, I like the idea and have used them before. This comes to you via a DD-WRT Linksys router running something 3rd party. It's bombproof. I'm a bit more hesitant these days to take on something that also might require me to remember how the firmware works to troubleshoot any problems but I can't argue that the results are usually much better than the factory versions.

Other points: wipes roomba

-- We don't use moist wipes for TP purposes but are somewhat interested in a bidet attachment, maybe in the next place we move to in a few weeks.
-- I'd like to add our Roomba to the list. WIth 2 dogs and a kid, it's a lifesaver that has been worth every penny that we finally decided to invest in it. Doubly so since we bought from hammacher schlemer and, as far as I can tell, will be covered by their satisfaction warranty for, basically, ever...
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:54 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Regular purging of stuff you don't need. It really helps you hone in on what works and doesn't work for you. I get caught in the dangerous end of the DIY mindset sometimes - i.e. "oh I want to make/fix/modify this someday so I can't throw it away yet..." and I end up with too much junk that I just don't have time for. Make sure you have a plan or a purpose for the things you keep.

Seconding freezing things in the correct serving size for a family meal. Sauces and soups freeze especially well.

Brushing your animals regularly is a great way to give them the attention they crave and potentially keep some of the fur off of the furniture. Maybe this is something most pet owners do, but a lot of my friends never groom their animals.

Check out local CSAs for in-season vegetable subscriptions.
posted by stompadour at 11:17 AM on June 20, 2016

When in doubt, throw it out.

If the only answer you have is guaranteed to make it worse, just do nothing. Yes, it is hard. But watching it burn while you wonder what might help is vastly better than putting out the fire with gasoline.
posted by Michele in California at 11:33 AM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Automated deposits into my retirement and emergency savings accounts.

Non-automated deposits of a few bucks each when I'm carrying cash into a mason jar in a dresser drawer for tight weeks or small treats in the future.

A more proscribed version of the money jar. Variants include decreasing amount order, in an actual bank account so you can't raid, etc.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:07 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Set bedtime leads to set awake time leads to better sleep. Combine with bedtime routine.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:05 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Add ammonia to your laundry; add a few glugs in the "bleach" tray (but don't use it at the same time as bleach). Great for getting out odours and sweat (and I think it keeps my whites whiter) and it rinses completely away without any residue.
posted by porpoise at 1:17 PM on June 20, 2016

Make your own kombucha- can make your own kombucha starter too, starting from high-quality store-bought kombucha.

Make your own seitain - so much cheaper and tastier than from store.

Re: napkins/cloth stuff. Start a rag bin. Use oldest rags as disposable wipes for nasty stuff. Learn how to do/make things with rags.

Make shrub. Mix it in with your kombucha, or mix it booze for nice old-timey American cocktails.

posted by SaltySalticid at 2:12 PM on June 20, 2016

Multiples of things in rooms where they're needed. For example, I keep cleaners, scissors, pens, and lint rollers in multiple rooms. It's much easier to keep on top of things when what you need is right there when you need it.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 2:54 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Bake your own breads!

Cast iron skillets.
Electric tea kettle.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:11 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have replaced all of my light switches, except bedrooms with motion sensor switches. I never have to turn lights on or off. Bedroom lights/ceiling fans all got an IR switch that is remote controllable. I don't have to get out of bed to turn the light off or to adjust the fan.

I also really love my bidet. They are very easy to install.

I created travel sets of all of my toiletries and other travel items (chargers, cables, etc). One set for long trips and a second set for short trips that only includes TSA carry-on acceptable sizes. The only things I have to pack now are clothes and shoes. I have been considering putting together 2-3 complete clothing sets too so I wouldn't need to pack for a weekend trip at all.
posted by Shanda at 3:21 PM on June 20, 2016

I've mentioned this before several times, but I can't say enough good things about how helpful controlling blue light before bed has been for me, as someone who would happily stay up until 6 am if I had my choice.

There are apps and what not that you can get for some phones/computers (and now apple added that to more recent iphones and ipads), but what I find works best is putting on these blue light blocking glasses, at least an hour before bed. Under $10, and they work like a charm. I also got a bedside lamp that I put an orange bulb in that I switch to before bed, and I covered all my bright, blue light emitting appliances with orange transparency sheets. I also got nightlights with red bulbs.

Here's a more in depth answer with additional links to products I use. It may seem fussy, and it will seem a little bit weird to have everything be orange for that hour before bed, but once you get everything in place, it's super easy to follow, and so so helpful. And if you don't want to do everything right away, just get the orange glasses.
posted by litera scripta manet at 3:25 PM on June 20, 2016

Not sure this is exactly in the category you're asking but: I have found that a one time investment in getting closets correctly tricked out and organized bears dividends for years. Elfa is expensive, but you can do almost the same thing with Closetmaid/Rubbermaid shelves and brackets for cheap, and the difference it makes to have a closet that is designed for the purpose it serves is amaaaazing. So much less stress, both for keeping the space neat and for finding what you're looking for.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:09 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Splurge on a good shredder and a good document scanner. Scan everything and then shred it. More space = efficiency = more time. Disk space is so cheap compared to physical space.

I will recommend my doc scanner (fanTASTic, btw), just memail me.
posted by bendy at 10:12 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Moka pot for super easy espresso. Get decent espresso coffee or grind your own. Make sure you start with got water, if you start with cold the coffee burns and adds bitterness.
posted by pyro979 at 7:49 PM on June 21, 2016

Key pad lock, I don't even carry keys anymore. It's awesome.
posted by pyro979 at 7:51 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Following on this: Multiples of things in rooms where they're needed.

I keep a separate set of cleaning supplies in each bathroom - rags, toilet brush, small broom/dustpan, and a complete set of any cleaners like Windex, mildew spray, toilet bowl cleaner, etc. Makes it much easier to get going when I've got the urge, rather than going downstairs to find everything.
posted by CathyG at 11:28 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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