No-tech secrets?
February 5, 2019 3:08 PM   Subscribe

What are your day-to-day no-tech life tips? I'm looking for things like the knuckle rule for cooking rice, or that the perfect amount of salad dressing is just enough to coat the serving bowl. There must be lots of these things--incredibly straightforward and always foolproof. Can be cooking related or not; super low-tech, like using the mesh bag that onions come in to scrub pans, is also okay!
posted by stillmoving to Grab Bag (35 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Freedomboy at 3:40 PM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

You can clean a food processor by putting some soapy water in it and running it (carefully).
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:19 PM on February 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Buy garbage bags that are too big for the can, but leave the extra in the bottom of the can (rather than pulling the top edge over and down further). That way when you inevitably stuff your garbage bag full to overflowing, once you pull it out, the trash will go into the extra space in the bottom and you'll have enough room at the top to tie it off without difficulty.
posted by brook horse at 4:31 PM on February 5, 2019 [23 favorites]

If you drop a small part, don't try to catch it. You'll just fling it across the room. Watch it until it stops.
posted by ftm at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you have animals and a canister vacuum that gets fur stuck in it, a chopstick from your local takeout works like a charm.
posted by Ufez Jones at 4:33 PM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

For small estimates of time, adopt the rule that There is No Time Period Less Than 15 Minutes.

Think something will take five just minutes? Give it 15. You're probably underestimating and not allowing buffer for problems that might come up.

Think something will take 20 minutes? Give it 30 (which is 15 + 15).

Once you start thinking in time blocks, you'll never be late for anything again.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:39 PM on February 5, 2019 [61 favorites]

A typical “coffee scoop” is about 3 grams of loose tea. I steep 12g in about 1L if boiled water to make a concentrated tea I drink as 1.5-2L ready tea all day.
posted by tilde at 4:40 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

There was an old TV show called The Cookin’ Cajun that taught me that if I cup my palm, it holds a teaspoon of dry ingredients. Since I can’t show you this, I’d suggest measuring once to see what it looks like. I use this to measure salt.

I was also taught in home ec to use the second joint of the finger closest to my thumb to measure how far silverware should be from the edge of the table because it’s about an inch. I use that whenever I need to roughly measure inches.
posted by FencingGal at 4:49 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Use baking soda to clean coffee stains and makers: use black coffee to clean other kitchen gunk.

A bit of citrus rind is great for cleaning in-sink disposals, just drop in penny-sized chunks and run it; smells good too. A citrus rind can clean and polish naturally finished wood furniture.

You can tell if most batteries are dead by how much they bounce.

Red at night: sailor’s delight. When you see all undersides of leaves on trees flipped up/out, it’s about to storm. Most folk weather lore for forecasting the next day is pretty solid on average, though of course there are no guarantees.

I feel like you would like things like ask Heloise, Farmer’s Almanacs, or the big Book of Country wisdom and Know How
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:14 PM on February 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

The ol’ clean-your-microwave-by-microwaving-vinegar trick is a nice one
posted by ejs at 6:55 PM on February 5, 2019 [8 favorites]

Buy garbage bags that are too big for the can, but leave the extra in the bottom of the can

Additionally, store garbage bags in the can, up to a point. I keep three or four in the bottom of the can. Take out the trash? Hey there's a bag right there, not in a closet somewhere.

There is No Time Period Less Than 15 Minutes.

Similarly if there is something you know, from experience, takes less than five minutes, do it when you think of it and don't queue it for later. So my corollary here is "Anything less than five minutes rounds to zero" things like filling the birdfeeder or emptying the dish drainer.

This is the book that I like which has a lot of examples. From the 80s so there's not a lot of "life hacks!" talk and a lot more sensible things.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 PM on February 5, 2019 [13 favorites]

When putting cutlery in your dishwasher basket, separate it into three groups: knives at the back, forks in the middle and spoons in the front. This makes it a lot simpler to take the clean cutlery out and put back in the drawer, as the cutlery is already half sorted.
posted by lemonpearl at 7:30 PM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Red at night: sailor’s delight. When you see all undersides of leaves on trees flipped up/out, it’s about to storm. Most folk weather lore for forecasting the next day is pretty solid on average, though of course there are no guarantees.

On that note, when cows gathered under a tree or sitting together not under a tree, it's going to rain.
posted by jgirl at 7:56 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

When someone asks to borrow money, give them half and tell them it is a gift. You will lose half as much and have twice as good a chance of getting it paid back.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:02 PM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

I saw Graham Haley on PBS long ago (Haley's Hints) show how to polish silver with just boiling water, salt, and tin foil. It's insane how well it works. His method includes water softener powder but I've never bothered and it works just as great. My pro-tip is to also wear dish gloves.
posted by belau at 8:24 PM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Useful for measuring things with your body:

When you spread out your arms as far as they’ll go, the distance from fingertip to fingertip is equal to your height.

Your forearm (elbow to top of wrist) is the same length as your foot. (Really — put one ankle up on your knee and try laying the sole of your foot along your forearm.)


When laundering the duvet cover, if it has a zipper or buttons, fasten them up before laundering. That way, you won’t get socks, pillowcases, etc. balled-up in the corners.

If you use only a portion of a non-resealable bag of food, put the open bag into a zip-top freezer bag and seal the freezer bag. (Seems obvious, but it took me well into adulthood to figure this out for packages of bacon, bags of frozen peas, blocks of cheese, etc. I kept trying to fold over or twist up the loose packaging, but it never stayed.)
posted by snowmentality at 9:01 PM on February 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

When I have to hold on to an empty food wrapper (like on an airplane before the crew comes by for garbage, or in my purse because I'm snacking away from home), I like to fold it longways (parallel to the seam) 3 or 5 times, then tie it into a knot (the knot should make a pentagon shape). Keeps crumbs from falling out everywhere.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:22 PM on February 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

Touch your index finger to your thumb and hold it there, just touching. Using your other hand, feel the firmness of the palm-pad at the base of your thumb. That's the texture of rare steak (your basic grilling cut). Now open your hand, and touch just your middle finger to your thumb, and feel the same spot. It's firmer-- that's med-rare. Do the same with just your ring finger and thumb. Same spot-- that's medium to medium-well steak.

That's a rule of thumb (ahem) for determining the doneness of steak by the texture. In the long run you're better off using both your fingers and a thermometer, so you can teach yourself the texture, but this is a measure that'll do you right, most of the time.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:34 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

It's really handy to know the approximate size of a few bits of your body. EG: my outstretched arms span a couple metres (I have freakishly long arms so this is quite a bit more than my height). Also from the end of my thumb to the end of my middle finger is ~8". Know that allows me to "measure" things my inch worming my thumb and finger along what ever I want to know the size of.

If you make fists with your hands and then bring them together with your thumbs touching (but not using your thumbs for this trick) the pattern of bumps (31) and valleys (30) correspond to the number of days in a month (either short or long).

IE: the 1st knuckle/bump is January therefor 31 days; the valley in-between that knuckle and the next represents February (with 28/29); the next knuckle is March with 31; the next valley May with 30; etc. all the way to the knuckle on your right ring finger representing December and 31.

lemonpearl: "When putting cutlery in your dishwasher basket, separate it into three groups: knives at the back, forks in the middle and spoons in the front. This makes it a lot simpler to take the clean cutlery out and put back in the drawer, as the cutlery is already half sorted."

On the other hand mixed up cutlery doesn't allow spoons or forks to nest together meaning less chance those utensils will come out dirty.

A flat green scrubby pad cut to the size of the bottom one of your dishwasher's silverware basket's divisions will allow you to put sharp items like steak knives business end down and there by prevent pokes and cuts when being removed.
posted by Mitheral at 10:38 PM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Put all of your keys - house keys, car keys, motorcycle keys, whatever - in one place right inside the door. Mine are in a blue ashtray on a shelf inside the front door. There are similar bowls there for change, for quarters for the laundry and lip stuff. Even when I drive and go out the back door I always know that I have to walk to the front door to get that stuff.

Keep your reusable grocery bags in the same place. I walk to go get groceries every day and I know that my "First Lady of Fabulous" (Michelle not Melania) grocery bag is right where I left it. On my kitchen floor but always in the same place.

Order stuff you use all the time from Amazon. I use it for toilet paper, Sonicare heads, Oil of Oldlady, soap, mouthwash, etc. I'm now able to be a person who has extras of all those things in my bathroom and isn't running to the gas station at midnight because I've run out of TP.

When I start making coffee I pull the coffee and the milk out of the fridge. While the coffee is brewing I pour some milk into a pint glass to take my morning meds. I always set the milk carton down in front of the coffee machine so that I remember to put it in the fridge before I can pour my coffee.

To clean my bathtub/shower I'll spray the cleaner onto it in the evening and let it sit overnight. The next morning when I get in the shower I pick up the brush and spend a minute or two scrubbing.

I have a phone case that holds my driver's license, my debit card, and - when I was working - my badge. My phone is always in my pants pocket which I pat repeatedly to make sure it's there. I rarely take or need to take, a wallet with me anywhere.

Like my mom does, I always keep a toothbrush in the silverware rack of my dishwasher. I think it's for cleaning little nooks and crannies but I don't quite remember. It's just there and ready for anything.

It's better to spend a little extra money on something that makes your life easier. In the interest of not buying a new one, I had an old round wastebasket jammed into the narrow space between the toilet and the wall. It was always a hassle to pull out and was a constant minor irritant. I spent $12 (?) on an oval-shaped wastebasket at the hardware store and it just removed a tiny bit of stress from my life. I found another spot in the house where I could use the round wastebasket and it all made sense.

Get an external battery for your phone and bring it with you. I play a nerdy game that uses a bunch of battery life and involves walking around a lot or sitting in bars a lot and the battery is a lifesaver. Even if you don't stress out your phone that much a $30 battery is still a good insurance policy.

I have many more of these kinds of ideas. I'll post more when I think of them.
posted by bendy at 12:48 AM on February 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

The best way to fold socks is to grab the heel between your thumb and forefinger, only one layer of fabric, and fold the sock in half along the crease this creates. Fold the toes of the sock to where your shin would be. You can fold further into thirds if needed. Socks folded this way have the seams in the right place when you put them on and won't get twisted.

When I switched to socks with toes this became a necessity because rights and lefts are not interchangeable. I was surprised that this technique actually makes a difference, but it does.
posted by cotterpin at 1:41 AM on February 6, 2019

One of my favorites is "Don't go back to the truck empty-handed."
posted by Glomar response at 5:09 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just saw this in an adjacent thread in re: repotting a plant - "1.5 gallons soil per foot of plant height"

credit: Rust Moranis
posted by Glomar response at 5:34 AM on February 6, 2019

Before you buy any electronics, download the owner's manual first (almost all are available free on-line). Gives you a way to fully dig into what you're getting and if it has the features/compatibility you want.
posted by Twicketface at 6:48 AM on February 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Regarding salad dressing - I always use James Beard's recommendation to apply dressing by hand (clean hands, mind you). Put a small amount of dressing on the salad in a large bowl. Toss with your hands, add more as needed until all lettuce/greens are evenly coated.
Do this and you won't end up with a puddle of dressing in the bottom of a bowl. Oh, and it only works if you've dried your greens. To do that, after washing and spinning in a salad spinner, I use an oversized napkin/tea towel (we have a few from garage sales for this purpose), lay leaves on, fold the towel over, more leaves, etc, then roll up and put into crisper drawer in fridge for at least 15 minutes. Afterwards, you'll have perfectly dry, crisp, cool salad - perfect for taking on dressing.
posted by dbmcd at 7:34 AM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Pouring yourself a glass of water in the dark - hold the cup so one finger is inside the cup against the inner side. When it gets wet, stop pouring.
posted by Mchelly at 8:09 AM on February 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

For photographers: The Sunny 16 Rule
posted by matildaben at 8:17 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like homemade dressing. I don't like dirtying up several bowls to make salad. If I make dressing in advance in a jar like you're advised to, I invariably forget about it, tire of it before it's over etc. So now I just make my dressing in the main salad bowl. As long as you remember the basic ratio of 2.5-3 parts oil to one part acid (vinegar or lemon juice), you can go wild. At this point I just eyeball it. Then I add other stuff (mustard, herbs, mayo etc), season with salt and pepper. I whisk everything together - this is key. Then I add salad ingredients and toss together by hand (as dbmcd mentioned), adding more salt and pepper or oil if needed. It takes a bit of practice but I've gotten very quick at this process now.
posted by peacheater at 9:17 AM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

determining the doneness of steak by the texture.
Sadly this one only works if your hands aren't gnarled wads of callous from manual labor.

Heat your pan to the desired temperature before adding oil.

Buy spices whole, in bulk when possible, and toast and grind them right before you need them. Whole spices stay flavorful longer, and if it's convenient to buy them in bulk, you can only buy as much as you're likely to need for the next couple months, so you don't end up with flavorless stale bay leaves, for instance. Especially useful for cumin, nutmeg, peppercorn, and coriander seed.

Most modern cars have a little arrow next to the gas gauge symbol that tells you which side the gas tank opens on.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:08 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Emergency $20! I have a scan of my driver's license, a spare AAA card, a spare insurance card, and a $20 in my car all clipped together behind the visor. This way if I somehow forgot my wallet and wind up in trouble, I have the documentation I need. Cops don't love it if you hand them an expired license (I am a middle aged white lady in Vermont) but often they just want to be able to look you up in the system and this at least lets them do that.
posted by jessamyn at 1:19 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

For things in the bathroom and kitchen which I buy semi-infrequently, but also often buy multiples of so I don't have to buy them so often (or just because there's a buy-two or buy-three sale), I keep a Sharpie in those places and mark them with a "countdown" number. E.g., if I buy three tubes of toothpaste, I mark them 2, 1, and 0. Use them in that order, and then when the current one is running low, you'll know whether there are more in the cabinet (the number tells you how many more), or if this is the last one and you need to buy more. (The one currently in use when I bought those three, previously marked "0," gets re-marked as "3.")
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:42 PM on February 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

The salad bowl rule sort of applies to making perfect popcorn:

-Measure enough popcorn in the empty, oil-less pot to cover the bottom of the pot one kernel deep
-pour those kernels into a bowl or cup and set aside while you heat the pot and oil:
-add oil and one or two test kernels of corn
-heat oil til the test kernels pop
-NOW pour your reserved measured container of popcorn into the hot oil. Pop til it mostly stops popping. You probably have the correct amount in there for the size of your pot and not too much, and the oil is definitely the correct temperature to pop everything quickly.
posted by twoplussix at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

The pillowcase trick where you turn the case inside out and use the bottom of the case to grab the pillow, then pull the case back around the pillow while still holding it through the case.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:52 AM on February 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and opening cans with the opener at a right angle to the top of the can.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:52 AM on February 7, 2019

When I remove the flash card (to transfer files) or battery (to recharge) from my digital camera, I leave the little port door open until both are back in the camera. This way it's impossible to forget about the card or battery / accidentally take the camera out without power or storage. (Okay, this is related to a tech item but I think it qualifies as a no-tech tip.)

I keep a Sharpie/permanent marker pen in my bag. If I get takeout or have leftovers after a meal at a restaurant, I'll use the pen to write labels on each of the containers if it's not obvious what's inside. Usually I'll write what the food is, but if I'm dining with other folks and there may be a possible mixup later, I'll write the names of the people the food belongs to. Makes it much easier to ID the food later, especially if the containers end up in the fridge. The pen comes in handy for other reasons, too.

> A bit of citrus rind is great for cleaning in-sink disposals

If I have citrus fruit with a meal, such as an orange, or lemon for tea -- after the meal, I use the leftover rinds to wipe down the plates before washing the dishes. Excellent to remove oils.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:01 PM on February 7, 2019

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