In this post, we make absolutely no claims whatsoever to be addressing anything serious. No solving life’s big challenges here! On the contrary, this one’s about all those fiddly little annoyances that are akin to a persistent fly buzzing about, despite copious amounts of near-miss swatting – things like pulling gum out of your bag, only to find it’s gotten squashed and sweaty. It’s still eminently chewable of course, but not exactly appealing - and, don’t get us started on how our headphones magically knot themselves up whenever we’re not using them.
The following is a list of ideas for solving just such little bugbears. We envision a lot of these items as little self-gifts to make your own life a tad bit easier (as, in many cases, they did for us) but you might also find a few are appropriate for loved ones experiencing one or more of these minor, day-to-day frustrations.
PROBLEM: DARK CLOSETS, CUPBOARDS OR CRAWL SPACES. Whether it’s under the sink, under the stairs, the basement storage unit, the clothes closet – if electricity isn’t wired there, chances are you find yourself periodically fumbling about in the dark or, marginally better, trying to accomplish whatever it is you’re doing with one hand while the other holds a flashlight. We had a couple of such spaces where either we couldn’t (or it would be too expensive) to try to run electric wiring. After a little research, we came across a wireless light that turns on when movement is detected. It’s not the most flattering light, but that didn’t matter – what mattered was that all of a sudden, we could see the clothes in our wardrobe and what we’ve stored in that box in the basement. As compared to some others on the market, we chose the OxyLED light because it’s easily recharged via a USB cable connected to our computer. Frankly, it’s one of the best investments we’ve made in recent months that made going about our daily business that bit easier.
PROBLEM: DISH BRUSHES FALLING INTO THE SINK. There are, of course, several ways to solve this problem. Lots of folks like to use a vessel of some sort to contain their dishwashing utensils – others use their disk rack or a window sill. However, if you have cupboards over your sink and are short on kitchen space like we are (or your sink is wedged in a corner), adhesive hooks might be the thing you’re looking for. Super cheap and easy to install, we’ve found they’re perfect to keep our dish brushes up and out of the way when we aren’t using them – an added bonus is that they dry out faster too!
PROBLEM: SQUASHED GUM AND TANGLED EARPHONES. To solve both of these problems, we spent a couple of dollars on a pair of small tins that now keep that pack of gum in pristine condition and our earbuds, if not always untangled, at least not tangled up with other things, and certainly more contained! For us, the gum situation and the earbud knot were the most pressing issues we wanted to tackle but, if you have other small things that keep getting mussed/scuffed in the bottom of your bag, there seems to be quite a selection of small tins and containers available from the same maker in a range of sizes so, chances are, you’ll find one appropriate to protect your small items.
PROBLEM: NOT ENOUGH SPACE FOR PICTURE FRAMES. Got a fridge? Boom. Problem solved. We ❤ magnetic picture frames and our entire fridge is plastered with photos of friends and family. Generally, we have a grin on our faces whenever we’re headed to the fridge, but that grin got 100x brighter the moment our fridge raids were met by a host of much-loved faces! The kitchen is often the heart of the home – where folks chat, gather, mill about, connect, relax and enjoy edibles together. We find a few photos only helps amplify it as the cheerful hub of the house. Bonus: these frames are easy to wipe down in case (ahem!) tomato sauce somehow gets splattered in that direction.
PROBLEM: NAVIGATING STAIRS OR FINDING YOUR CAR IN A PARKING LOT AT NIGHT. Some years ago, there was a tumble down some stairs. Fortunately, no bones were broken, but some pretty dramatic bruising was involved. The day after the fall, there was an immediate trip made to the hardware store to secure a light that looked just like these LED keychain lights. Years later, that little light is still going strong and is generally preferred to the smartphone flashlight, saving the phone battery and providing a more focused beam of light.
PROBLEM: EXCESSIVELY BRIGHT LIGHT OR A LACK OF AMBIANCE. To some extent, one can temper brightness levels via lightbulb choice. However, if you’d like to create an even more relaxing, candle-lit like atmosphere, or simply just want more control over the lighting in your room, we recommend affixing a dimmer to the light in question. You know how they dim the lights in restaurants as the evening progresses? Whether in the living room or the bedroom, we find slightly dimming the lights in the evening is both relaxing on the eyes and to the mind (especially when paired with some nice music and a glass of wine)!
PROBLEM: ALWAYS FORGETTING YOUR REUSABLE BAGS. This one’s for all our purse-carrying peeps (sorry, we don’t have a solution yet for wallet-carriers). If you often find yourself having a “d’oh!” moment when you get to the checkout counter, realizing that you left your reusable shopping bags in the car (yet again!), then may we suggest investing in a couple of Chico bags and tucking them in your handbag? We generally have one large Vita bag (great for slinging over your shoulder and toting home heavy items) and one of the smaller, original bags (useful for fruits, and other more delicate items) in our purse at all times. And, we don’t just use the bags for food shopping. Whether we’re at a clothing store, a bookstore, or popping in to pick up supplies at the pharmacy, out comes the Chico bag. A couple of added bonuses: if you are carrying something somewhere (e.g. a package to the post office), you’re not left with an empty bag to dispose of. After you’ve mailed your parcel, simply tuck the Chico back into its attached pouch and you’re instantly down a bag. The other bonus we’d highlight is actually non-carrying related – we’ve regularly used our Chico bag too as an impromptu sitting cloth when plonking ourselves down on slightly damp grass or dusty patch of earth. If the bag gets a bit dirty, absolutely no worries. We often run ours through the laundry, and they dry lickety-split! Side note: if you’re interested in getting several bags, a 4-bag pack is currently available on Amazon at a bit of a discount.
PROBLEM: LOTS OF MAIL AND/OR LOTS OF PAPER CUTS. When we headed out into the great wide world after college and started receiving more mail – of the junk, business and, (most enjoyably) personal variety – we were given a gift that hadn’t even crossed our mind: a letter opener. We probably all know they’re out there, but how often do folks actually think, “hmmm, letter opener, yes, that’s on my list of things I need to buy today.” We certainly didn’t which is why when we received one as a gift, we were pleasantly surprised – a) it was a lovely letter opener and b) it is something we use now on an almost daily basis that makes opening the mail that bit easier and, certainly a whole lot neater! Anyway, one to consider.
PROBLEM: SO MUCH PAPER FOLDING. Solution: a paper creaser. Yeah, we didn’t know that was a thing either until we started getting a bit more crafty – and, now we use it for all sorts of purposes, not just artistic ones. If you’ve dented in a corner on something, as long as that something is made of a flexible material, a paper creaser is ideal for poking it back into shape. Moreover, it’s a gem at doing its most basic, advertised function – creasing paper. It’s especially grand when you’ve got a lot of creasing to do – whether it’s greeting cards you’ve just printed, having a go at origami, pleating gift wrap, or tri-folding mailings and business letters. Give your hands a rest AND get extra sharp folds with this handy tool.
PROBLEM: WATER SPLASHING ALL OVER YOUR FACE WHEN YOU DRINK FROM YOUR WATER BOTTLE. If, like us, you or someone you know throws back their water bottle too fast when it comes time to hydrate and regularly ends up with an unintentional face full of water, you may wish to consider a Futurepace Tech water bottle. Rather than presenting with a big mouth, it has a smaller opening at top that is akin to the top of a soda or beer bottle, meaning you can easily get your mouth around it and prevent a deluge every time you want to take a drink. Side note: if you like to pack super icy drinks, we recommend the Arrow Plastic 00055 ice tray for cubes that will fit through the narrower mouth of the Futurespace water bottle. You do have to feed them in a bit, but it doesn’t take many to keep your drink cold, especially if you pre-game by storing your water bottle in the fridge until you need it.
PROBLEM: WHAT TO DO WITH LAUNDRY WHILE TRAVELING. In a pinch, and if they were available in the hotel we were staying at, we would use one of those the drawstring plastic laundry or shoeshine bags. Alternately, we’d give over one of our Chico bags (see above) for the duration of the trip as the designated laundry bag. More recently, however, we invested in a couple of affordable drawstring bags that take up almost no space in the suitcase, but mean there’s now a designated place to keep our dirty clothes separate from the clean while traveling. Moreover, the drawstring is great because we can hang it on a doorknob or bathroom hook, keeping our hotel room or the guest room (as the case may be) neat and tidy.
PROBLEM: SO MANY SMALL THINGS EVERYWHERE. Okay, so we imagine these were originally made with the intention of organizing all sorts of drill bits, nails and screws. But, we’ve found they’re extraordinarily useful for organizing all sorts of bits and bobs. What is it you ask? It’s the Stanley removable bin professional organizer. We have them in two sizes – the 10-bin and the 25-bin. The 10-bin is great for slightly larger things – from rubber stamps, to mini ink pads – while the 25-bin corrals all sorts of teeny tiny things, like googly eyes and beads. Important: we can vouch for the fact that, when properly closed, you can tote these organizers around without fear of the enclosed mixing together. For the current price, we find them to be very well made and excellent value. Perfect, wethinks, for anyone who would like to organize their bits and bobs too!
PROBLEM: DIFFICULTY CUTTING IN A STRAIGHT LINE. Anyone else? Hopefully it isn’t just us who can’t seem to cut a straight line whenever we’re trying to trim something down or finish something off. Our solution: a Fiskars paper trimmer (note: we bought the one accessible via the link but, when we did, it was decorated a bit differently). We regularly whip out this handy-dandy tool to trim off excess paper and get a straight edge at the same time. The blade might not be quite of the same quality on the fancy cutters with the arm that swings down, but the Fiskars trimmer was a great match for both our needs and our budget.
PROBLEM: WHERE SHOULD I POUR THIS? In here, we say! In a 2-quart (8-cup) Cambro polycarbonate measuring cup. This one’s for all the folks who bake and would like one container in which to easily mix all of their wet ingredients – or, the folks who make a lot of punches, iced tea and/or mixed drinks and need a vessel in addition to their pitcher to make straining a piece of cake. It’s also for the folks who happen to want a measuring cup that can easily double as a watering can. Some might question getting a measuring cup of this size, but we can’t tell you how many times we’ve used ours. We think others will find it similarly useful. Final note: don’t you hate it when it seems like no one tested a teapot/measuring cup/pitcher to see if it could actually pour without dribbling all over the place? Feels like a mean prank, doesn’t it? No problems with that here – our Cambro measuring cup always pours without problem.
PROBLEM: PAGES TURNING IN THE BOOK YOU ARE TRYING TO READ WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY DOING SOMETHING ELSE. If you often cook recipes from printed cookbooks, or like to eat and read at the same time, you may have come across the age old problem of your book not lying flat and pages turning of their own accord, obscuring what you are trying to read or reference. There are a variety of solutions to this problem – grab something immediately to hand (the salt shaker or the sugar bowl are often pressed into service and we know from experience that heavy kitchen utensils also work in a pinch). Another solution is to invest in a stand that is specifically designed to prop up books for reading. They usually have a bar or clear faceplate that prevent pages from turning. Our solution, though, was to invest in a book weight. A book weight is essentially a small strip of leather (or rubber) with weights at either end, designed to hold down the two opposing pages you are currently reading. It takes up less space than a stand, and avoids the risk of toppling the sugar bowl or salt shaker all over the table.
PROBLEM: WRETCHED DANDELIONS/CRAB GRASS/WEEDS. We were recently gifted a hori hori knife and boy, oh boy, has it changed how we feel about weeding! What used to be a stubborn, difficult task (get those roots out!) is now almost a game in true Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Mary Poppins style. A hori hori is a Japanese gardening tool that is a bit like a knife and a bit like a trowel. As such, it makes easing under a weed super easy. Then you wiggle it just a little bit (singing the song while doing so is entirely optional) and easily pull out that invasive, roots and all! P.s. we also love the serrated edge along the side – extremely handy for trimming a handful of grass or sawing through a root that’s branching off in the wrong direction.
PROBLEM: A RIDICULOUS NUMBER OF STRAY BUTTONS. You know all those extra little buttons that come with suits/pants/skirts/blouses? Are they tucked into all sorts of funny places? Thrown into a drawer somewhere? Enter the button box. We got tired of rootling around in odd ball places whenever we actually needed to locate a button, so we made this cheery red box our button box. Unfortunately, it seems to have gone up in price a fair bit since we purchased it and, judging by the reviews, possibly down in terms of quality. Really, most any box will do, it’s more about having a designated spot to put your buttons. Side note: in addition to boxes, we think a nice vase would also work a treat - in fact, we have a small, round glass vase that would look quite cheery brimming with buttons!
PROBLEM: LOOSE PENS AND PENCILS. Mrs. Potts was referring to love when she sang about, “a tale as old as time,” but we think the dilemma of runaway pens and pencils is perhaps “a tale as old as doodling.” There is a huge selection to choose from when it comes to wrangling stray writing utensils, but we liked this clear propylene storage box – partly because we can see at a glance what we’ve got in there, but also because it snaps shut so neatly. If you have a number of favorite pens or pencils floating around, this might be a good way to organize them. And, if you like to travel and write (even if just to and from school/work), this box also offers sturdier protection from handbag-hefting, briefcase-bouncing, or knapsack-jostling than a pencil pouch might do.
PROBLEM: BITS OF STUFF IN YOUR DRINK. If, like us, you make gallons of iced tea in the summertime using loose tea leaves, you may also be familiar with the “particle problem” – straining your tea once it has steeped, but finding a swirling collection of tea leaf particles still remain. Not a serious problem by any means, but if you too are making a beverage – be it iced tea, a cocktail, milk punch or something else – and fancy a really fine final strain (but don’t want something as large as a chinois), we recommend checking out the CIA’s super fine strainer. It has a slightly shorter handle than we expected, but definitely does its job as advertised and, a pleasant surprise, it fit perfectly in the top of the Bormioli glass pitcher we use for our iced tea!
PROBLEM: STRUGGLING TO GET BOOTS ON AND OFF. We know some folks (cowboys, cowgirls and equestrians, we’re talkin’ to you!) are already in the know on this front, but we gather word has not yet spread to all corners of the world that there’s actually a reason for that little loop of leather or fabric at the top of your boots: it’s there so you can use a boot pull. Wiggle your boot pull into the loop, stick your toes in, and a good old heave-ho to that hook – et, voilá – your boot slips on with minimal effort! No hook, you say? In that case, we suggest a good lengthy shoe horn. We have this 7.5-inch horn but you may need something a bit longer if you fancy knee-high (or higher) boots. As for taking your boots off at the end of the day/night, a boot jack is what you’re looking for. No more needing your roommate-friend-partner-spouse to tug off your boots – just wedge your heel in and pull with that leg, while pressing down on the jack with the other. Done and dusted.
PROBLEM: THE KNIFE DRAWER IS A MESS. We’ve seen knife drawers that almost feel like they’ve been set up as some kind of dare, or test of courage: stick your hand in here and see if you don’t get cut. No, thanks! There are a number of solutions to this problem – among them are knife blocks and drawer inserts, both of which allow you to slot your knives in an organized fashion. The latter might be ideal if you have children in the house, and you may wish to look for cork inserts (rather than wood) as possibly a bit easier on your knives. That said, what we prefer to use instead of either of those options is the Chicago Cutlery magnetic knife storage strip affixed to our kitchen wall. It’s easy to see what we’ve got up there, trapped moisture is not an issue and cleaning is easy (one of the concerns we’ve read about using a knife block or inserts is that it can be difficult to clean the knife slots over time). You’ll still want to make sure your knives are dry when you put them away but, at least if you accidentally missed a spot, chances are it will air dry lickety-split. Some critics of magnetic strips indicate that there is an increased likelihood of knife nicks. We’ve never had this problem ourselves, but do recommend that when you are putting your knife away, lean the spine of the knife in first so the cutting edge is the last part of the blade to touch the magnet. This simple trick should keep them in fine shape.
PROBLEM: RUNAWAY RINGS AND/OR CUFF LINKS. Whether it’s at the end of the day, for a stint of gardening, or simply to wash up – where do you put your ring(s), cufflinks, watch, and the like? If you’re a road warrior and find yourself traveling a lot, we suggest tucking a travel tray into your bag. These are genius because they pack flat, taking up virtually no space, but snap into action both literally and figuratively when you need them. We received one as part of a farewell gift from co-workers when finishing up at a job several years ago and it has a place of pride on our bureau, keeping several necklaces corralled, while also reminding us of a great group of people. The one we were given is no longer available but it looked much like this travel tray available from Leatherology. Another option, especially if rings are your jam, is a ring holder – they usually come in either pyramid, tree or finger-like shapes and are dedicated places for dropping your rings when you’re not wearing them. Put one by the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink and/or on your bureau to make sure missing rings are a thing of the past. Purchase note: a lot of great options are available on Etsy - personally, we’ve given a couple of white ceramic ring cones from ZebraWingStudio. You can see them in the picture at the top of the post - we thought they were awfully lovely!
PROBLEM: TOOTHPASTE LEFT IN TUBE. Enter the tube winder! In fact, this handy dandy little winder can be used for all sorts of tubes – from ointment, to lotion, to toothpaste. No more acrobatics to get out the last bit of that paste/lotion/cream/unguent - just slot on that winder and you’ll be good to go. Side note: note convinced? Check out M. Erb’s Tidy-Tube review video on Amazon - that’s what initially convinced us to give the winder a go.
PROBLEM: COORDINATING PHONE APP FUNCTIONALITY. One app to rule them all - is that a thing? Well, we think IFTTT (short for “if this, then that”) comes pretty close. Choose from among tons of recipes or “applets” that combine app functionalities in handy ways or expand their capabilities. For instance, we use one that pops up an alert on our phone whenever rain is forecast for the following day. Examples of other applets out there include: automatically adding songs from videos you like on YouTube to a Spotify playlist, or automatically backing-up any photos you post on Instagram to Box…. So many time savers, right at your fingertips! Literally.
PROBLEM: ORGANIZING DEVICE CORDS WHILE TRAVELING. Phone charging cable, your camera’s USB cord, normal earbuds, maybe those new iPhone earbuds, or that little adapter dongle – what else are we missing? If your list continues on, you may wish to organize all your cords and cables with the help of a travel cord roll. Confession: we just came across this cord roll online so can’t vouch for it personally, but we wanted sneak it onto the end of this list as we thought it might help one or more of the frequent fliers out there!
Well, that’s the round-up folks! We hope you find an affordable little something that will help make one or more of life’s minor annoyances vanish for you – or for someone you love. As always, please do not hesitate to chime in with any suggestions you’d add to the above list!
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