One weird hack to rule them all
August 13, 2018 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Did you struggle for years with a particular problem, only to suddenly find a solution that made the problem essentially go away? Tell me about it!

Several times in my life I've had a persistent problem, which resisted all the usual solutions. But then I'd discover a technological solution or a new piece of information and this one added thing was enough to make the problem go away. Some examples (note: these are personal to me, YMMV - I'm interested in hearing your personal experiences):
My weight problem essentially went away once I discovered low carb - and I've been able to maintain the weight loss for years.
I struggled for years with biting my nails. No amount of willpower was cutting it, but someone told me about gel manicures fairly recently. For some reason, this is all it took - I don't bite my nails when they have a gel manicure on, and they last quite a long while. My nails look healthier and longer than ever before.
A WaterPik instead of trying to floss with regular floss - I don't dread flossing anymore and do it much more often. Before, my lack of flossing was my dentist's constant lament.
These are just a few examples, and I intend this question to be broad. Please, tell me if you've had any similar experiences so that I can figure out what other amazing solutions to life's problems that I'm missing out on.
posted by peacheater to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm -

I also use a waterpik, but I learned that having it attached to your showerhead meant no cleaning/refilling/etc. And you get to sit in the shower longer.

I spent a lot of time in the morning on my phone in the bed. The solution for that was to place my phone by the door and not check it until I get to work. Now I get to work at 8 instead of 8:45.
posted by bbqturtle at 9:48 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Did you see this MetaTalk on Friday?
posted by ellieBOA at 9:57 AM on August 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

this is more general, but man, has it helped me!

Learning the difference between solving a health issue and just avoiding doing those things that aggravate it. Part of this involves maturity, accepting that whatever invincibility that youth once seemed to offer, it ain't coming back. There are some things you just shouldn't do anymore once you're in your thirties-forties-fifties -- a list that keeps getting longer, needless to say.
posted by philip-random at 9:59 AM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Owning two sheets for our bed - now my partner and I can both have all the sheet we need! The only downside is you most likely will have to buy another full set of sheets, as most companies aren't interested in just selling a sheet.
posted by Dmenet at 11:02 AM on August 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

Ha I don't mean this in a flip way, but: realizing I was trans.

I mean, gender transition certainly not a panacea for All Of Life's Problems, and comes with its own issues. That said, I had an interlinked set of problems (constant stomach problems, getting sick all the time, nightmares every night), depersonalization in lots of situations (work, sex), etc. Once I started improving my relationship with my body and myself, and came out as a trans woman, I realized that I was operating in a state of hypervigilance and dysphoria all day every day. I went from literal nightly nightmares (I thought this was just what sleep was like) and getting fever-level sick at least 4-6 times a year to a couple of nightmares a month, and no fever in, wow, a couple of years (knocking on various wood objects).

And now that I have relief from the worst of hypervigilance and only deal with it at, like, 15% volume (which still requires resourcefulness and care -- thank you AskMeFi <3 ), I generally see this stuff for what it is: "oh I had a nightmare, maybe I shouldn't have eaten that Fig Bar less than an hour before going to bed" or "if I don't get enough sleep several nights in a row, I will probably get sick and that won't feel good." It's very very helpful.

(I kind of have a specific understanding of how this actually works. I don't think of my gender identity or transition as having "fixed" these things, so much the process I went through of improving my relationship with myself and my body happened to encompass/be inseparable from that realization, and my new set of much happier and more embodied everyday practices has helped me build a new foundation internally.)
posted by elephantsvanish at 11:23 AM on August 13, 2018 [14 favorites]

I agree with separate sheets if either one of you is a sheet stealer (I certainly am). Target sells single flat sheets.

Stop feeling guilty for saying no, especially to someone trying to solicit your money. They are trained to overcome objections, so a simple "no" without explanation is your best bet. It is really a kindness to them not to let them waste their time on you if you never plan to buy or donate. Just keep walking.
posted by soelo at 11:35 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Quite a few problems I struggled with; obesity, depression, low energy, general ill-feeling, lack of money, self-loathing, anxiety, etc-- miraculously improved when I quit drinking.
posted by The otter lady at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2018 [20 favorites]

I don’t know if this qualifies as “struggling” or even a problem but laundry day is much easier not worrying about folding sheets. Shove the top sheet and unruly fitted sheets, along with one pillowcase into the second pillowcase and plop it into the closet. Felix Unger would have a heart attack but it works in my house.
posted by The Deej at 12:33 PM on August 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is a less serious problem than many of the above, but I used to have trouble spelling words with As and Es. I'm generally a good speller, but somehow this class of words would mess me up. I find the sounds of A and E in words are often pretty alike and I could never remember where the As go and where the Es go. But look at me now. Words that would have tripped me up for sure, before:


Look, ma, no spellcheck!!! So what's my trick? Sound out the cognate word in Spanish. In Spanish the As and Es sound much more different and it's obvious whether something should be an A or an E.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:47 PM on August 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

I felt that I was somehow constitutionally unable to brush and floss daily (I don't have depression or other issues I just could not get this done) and suddenly when I started using a habit app (Habit Bull, it's ok) to make sure I did my physical therapy exercises for my shoulder, I found "adding" a habit wasn't that difficult . Now I have a few years unbroken flossing streak. A lot of my random tooth issues cleared up also.

And this is more of a "why didn't I do it sooner" thing but I've had sleep issues forever and I just sort of suffer through them, but after a few nights of poor sleep I'd be really messed up and unhappy and stressed. I have occasional sleeping pills now (use maybe once every week or every other week, and I keep them on hand when I travel) and I find just having them available as a dumbos-magic-feather reset button keeps me from getting strung out and makes the traveling that I otherwise LOVE so much easier. Someone suggested it one day to me and I was like "Huh? It's that simple?"
posted by jessamyn at 12:52 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Not to be glib, but dating women instead of men. Overall, it's been pretty good.
posted by typify at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

This may be an outdated problem at this point, but in the past I had an ongoing problem with paying bills late because the combo of writing a check, finding a stamp, and dropping it in the mail was a constant headache and I'd procrastinate. Automatic bill-pay has made this a non-issue, overnight basically.
posted by JenMarie at 1:34 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Separate top sheets (we do two single sheets, so they fit pretty well, and many places sell them separately) And separate blankets under a single bedspread. A heated mattress pad with two separate sides.
posted by ldthomps at 2:02 PM on August 13, 2018

My chronic, debilitating exhaustion turned out to not be obesity or middle age or laziness, but pernicious anemia. The diagnosis was a huge relief but treatment proved to be a challenge (it's not well understood by general practitioners.) Realising I could treat myself and self-inject was literally life changing. Life. Changing. Best hack ever.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:25 PM on August 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

For the first decade of my adult life my lips were always dry and splitting and for that reason were my least favorite body part. Then my friend Annie mentioned that she had a habit of putting petroleum jelly (Vaseline or similar) on her lips every night before bed. So I started doing that—plus gently exfoliating them with my finger during my morning shower—and my lips have been soft and nice ever since.
posted by The Minotaur at 2:47 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

For a long time I was frustrated with pistachios that haven't opened completely in the course of the roasting or drying process or whatever splits most of them open in a clamshell-like fashion.

Then I realized that you have to turn them against each other: you can use one half-pistachio-shell like a crowbar to pry apart the incompletely-opened ones.
posted by XMLicious at 3:28 PM on August 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

Realizing I could borrow library ebooks on my phone has both dramatically increased the number of books I read and decreased the amount of downtime I spend half-heartedly flicking through the internet.
posted by eponym at 3:34 PM on August 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

I can think of three things that had this kind of enormous, positive impact on my quality of life.

1. Keto. Struggled to diet for years using standard dietary advice (low fat, whole grains, minimized red meat, lots of fruit and veg.) Found the work of Gary Taubes through a FPP on MeFi several years ago, one thing led to another, I cut out all starches and sugars, I'm down almost 100 lbs and have zero intention of ever eating that stuff again.

2. Physical therapy. I have a bunch of weird biomechanics in my legs, orthotics are required, mobility was getting worse and worse, exercise just wasn't making things better. PT was genuinely life changing.

3. Divorce.
posted by Sublimity at 4:25 PM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

My life-altering solution was to splurge on a mini-fridge for my mudroom (adjacent to my kitchen). 100% of my compost goes in a bucket the mini-fridge. Any waste at all that could smell goes in the mini-fridge. Gross chicken skin & raw bones & those diapers at the the bottom of the meat tray? In a bag in the the mini-fridge. The rest of the non-food garbage goes in a regular small pail under my sink and it doesn't freakin' smell bad. Ever.

I never, ever have to smell garbage. I never realized how much I hated the smell of kitchen garbage until I got my beloved mini-fridge. It's been two months and as you may well tell, the novelty and the joy has not worn off.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 4:31 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

I now manage my frequently debilitating/making it impossible to sleep osteoarthritis in my knees by taking powdered collagen (chicken cartilage) supplements and doing some very brief very minor stretching, and, most importantly for the night knee pain that had me taking 4 advil a night for years (sometimes supplemented by dermal pain patches), deep muscle massages in my thighs for a minute or two each night.

I started this all less than two months ago, the last time I took advil for the knees was a couple of weeks ago. The deep muscle massages seem to be the most important thing for the night knee pain, just a minute or two when I get into to bed when the pain starts. It's now to the point where I don't need to do the massages nightly.

The cartilage supplements kicked in a couple of weeks after I started taking them and worked wonders on the daytime/mobile pain. Then I google searched and found the miracle of releasing the muscle tension pulling the joints together (I've got bone on bone in three places, previously managed via viscosupplementation before the health insurance co's decided to no longer cover it) and it worked instantly. It literally changed my life in about two minutes.

I truly wish I'd just googled the same info a few years ago before subjecting my kidneys to all that ibuprofen.

I related more info about this in response to a recent askme.
posted by newpotato at 4:34 PM on August 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Like the comments about the sheets, we got two blankets. No more struggling for blanket coverage on cold nights!
posted by vignettist at 4:35 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Password manager.
posted by juliapangolin at 5:30 PM on August 13, 2018 [13 favorites]

The right tool can change an hour of frustration into a 1 minute job. Get the right tool!
posted by SemiSalt at 5:54 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

* A password manager.
* Keeping my compost in a tupperware bin in the freezer.
* Setting up solid backups using Dropbox, in addition to my NAS. When my computer was stolen out of my hands last month, I only lost two or three files that hadn't synced while I was offline.
* A pStyle has profoundly changed my camping and bike touring comfort.
* Lightweight Eagle Creek packing cubes for travel.
* Using Todoist (and in my case, also a Hobonichi) for organizing projects and ongoing responsibilities.
* Setting my transit card to autoload. Setting up an automatic minimum payment on all my credit cards, just in case I forget to pay on time.
* A Kindle, permanently on airplane mode so library books never expire.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:15 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

A few things.

I tried all kinds of shampoo for dandruff and gave up and figured I had some impossible problem, then I went to the doctor for a dermatologist referral and he was like, you tried Nizoral already, right? and I was like ha ha of course I have don't be silly, but it turned out I hadn't, and I used Nizoral like once and it eliminated a lifelong dandruff problem.

I hated running for my entire life, and then I discovered running sandals. It turns out I kind of like running, I just hated wearing sneakers.

Relatedly, upgrading from Hanes to these completely eliminated every problem I'd ever had with underwear (chafing waistband, riding up, etc.) and this bra did something similar for underboob sweat and body glide for wearing skirts.
posted by phoenixy at 6:20 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also a sleep discovery - finding out I had sleep apnea, and acquiring a CPAP machine. I can literally count on one hand the number of bad nights' sleep I've had in the last four years.

And with better sleep comes more enough energy to exercise, which puts me in a batter mood, so I sleep better without lying there worrying, and then I have more energy so I can exercise...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:01 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd struggled to with the cheap power tools I'd inherited from my dad. It was hard to find a workable way to configure them in my tiny shop, to set them up accurately, and they made a lot of noise and dust. Also, I was terrified of losing fingers. When I LEARNED TO SHARPEN (chisels, planes, hand saws, drill bits) it changed everything. I eventually got rid of every power tool.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:18 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, yes: sharpening my kitchen knives regularly.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:53 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Eating sweets during the day disrupts my sleep that night. Seriously. I have cut sweets out of my life almost entirely and sleep better than I ever have before. If I indulge (pie!), I take a sleeping pill that night. After years of insomnia, I am sleeping better than ever. Small price to pay.
posted by eleslie at 6:16 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

litter genie has turned litter box duty into 20 seconds of meh, from a task i would put off for days (much to the chagrin of the cats).
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really like this question given the idea that something can be a positive catalyst first captured my attention when I read about the debt snowball on Get Rich Slowly. I wasn't in debt so that didn't apply, but the idea that you are just missing a technique, or piece of information or equipment to fix something that has eluded you for ages is a hopeful one. My own contributions:

* I had a complete inability to maintain a running routine because I was never able to follow C25K or similar from paper. I'd go into a cardiovascular trance and forget how long I'd been running and resist stopping, or I'd lose track of the lamp posts I was supposed to have been counting, and I'd attempt far too much as a beginner runner. I remember thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if you could just run to music that played along with a recording in which someone told you when to run and when to walk again?" I had to wait years until the development of apps, but now I do run regularly thanks to Get Running.
* Related to the above and touching all available wood, since doing a Chi Running workshop in 2007, I've never had a running injury (and I am bold and don't stretch).
* Also somewhat related, I had wanted to do a Total Immersion swimming workshop to improve my freestyle for about a decade but none were being held anywhere near my country. I finally got a chance recently and my suspicions all along that its philosophy would work better than the lessons I had taken over the years proved correct: I swiftly went from being able to swim two lengths of freestyle before having to recover to swimming a kilometre now and feeling I could keep going. (Losing the sixteen beat kick helped...)
* The Fast Diet works for me when I want to lose some pounds and it suits my temperament. No amount of exercising or healthy eating was working for me prior.
* 'The Shallows' by Nicholas Carr has gotten me reading again to the extent I used do as a child. He made an excellent and convincing argument for its benefits, so now instead of feeling I'm dossing off, reading feels like a contribution to being healthy. I'm on my sixty-sixth book of the year whereas I was really struggling to read consistently previously.
* The debt snowball concept actually got me flossing which was a peculiarly random side effect.
posted by Lilypod at 10:57 AM on August 14, 2018 [7 favorites]

My Roomba makes a world of difference for me. I have gone from sweeping 4-5 times a day to about once.

I buy net scrubbies at the dollar store and make little net bags out of them by tying knots in the end of the tubes.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:13 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a very broad problem with a very broad "solution" - but I became 100% less high strung/ anxious when I internalized what "not my problem, no point worrying about it" meant, and learnt to compartmentalize any anxiety that came with it, put a timer on it and a mental note to "check with person meant to solve it in X hours".
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 6:49 PM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm lucky enough to work in a job where I got raises for the first few years of my career. I was unable to save loot, because my brain is bad at that. I took half of each raise - forever - and put it into long term savings. This was... a win.
posted by talldean at 7:42 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

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