Readers' Tips

Decorating With Yard Sale Finds

It's absolutely possible. Just be patient, learn a little about how to use a paintbrush (great YouTube videos on that), and look for pieces that are multi-functional. For instance, a dresser can make a perfect buffet.
Bridget (via Facebook)

editor's note: Visit here for more on decorating with yard sale finds.

Kitchen Germs

My kitchen sponges always seemed like an invitation to bacteria and germs. I'd run them through the dishwasher, but they never really seemed clean. Then I happened to stumble on some wash cloths at a dollar store. When they get dirty, I toss them in the laundry. Since they're all white, I can use bleach or any other stain remover. And since they're reusable, I can have a fresh cloth any time I want one!

Kids Birthday Parties

When I was growing up, friend birthday parties were limited to "milestones" like turning double digits (10) or 16. However, I was always allowed to invite one or two close friends over to share the celebration with the family.

With my own three children, I have found a lot of parents spend outrageous amounts of money on parties. We do not. We do friend parties every other year and the budget is around $40, and their friends tell their parents that my kids' parties are "the most fun." We have them at our home and I bake and decorate the cake myself. I make a pinata from a regular balloon and newspaper. Instead of covering it with tissue paper, I'll often paint the theme on the balloon. Fill it with generic candy or toys and the kids have a blast breaking it open. Kids are so overscheduled that they really enjoy being at a friend's house with just a few typical games and simple play.

It is difficult to raise children and keep up with the Joneses. So we don't try. We are proudly "counter cultural" and must be doing something right because my 8-year-old said to us, "We're rich because we have people to love us and everything we need." Hang in there, Mary, it will be a struggle, but it turns out in the end.

Additional TDS Resource: More on overly expensive kids parties

Packing Hack

Our kids are going to be visiting their grandparents this summer. Last year, our four year old returned with a whole stack of clean underwear. He had worn the same pair all week! This year, I'm going to put each day's clothing into a zipper bag and mark it for them. That way, all they have to do is open the bag and it's just like I laid out the clothes for them.

Spider Control

To get rid of spiders, just put dryer sheets all around. I put Downy® dryer sheets behind pictures and all around in places that don't show. I did this about five years ago and haven't had spiders since. About once a year, I replace them with fresh ones. Before doing this, I had spiders all over.

Additional TDS Resource: More on controlling spiders

The Exact Right Color

We wanted to repaint our great room. I had a few ideas about color but nothing definite. So I collected a bunch of paint chips and taped them to the walls. I eliminated the colors I didn't like. Over a couple of days, I noticed that the chips looked different at various times of the day. Two days later, we had narrowed it down to a color that we both loved and knew would look good at any time.

Do I Really...

If you believe in recycling, you're likely to accumulate stuff that you "might use someday" and that leads to clutter! I always had trouble getting rid of the stuff that collected until I came across this idea. I ask myself if I would take the item from a "free table" at a garage sale. If the answer is "no," then I figure it's time to get rid of it. I was amazed at how much stuff I found that I could part with, and I've not regretted a single thing so far!

Inexpensive Landscaping

Buying landscaping items is expensive. This is especially true if you've just bought a brand new home with only minimal plantings from the builder. My son was facing this when I suggested that he should take some of the cuttings that I take from established plants. They take a little longer to reach full size, but they cost almost nothing! I've done junipers, hydrangea, pine, magnolias, viburnum, miniature lilacs, etc. from cuttings!

It doesn't take special equipment or knowledge. Use peat moss and mix it with a small amount of good soil. Pull all but a few top leaves off the stem and make a diagonal slice at the bottom of the small branch. Insert the branch into a container of peat and dirt. Water frequently and make sure that the drainage is good. You can transplant when the plant has taken root and has doubled in size. Some plants won't make it but keep trying. You'll be surprised how many do!

A Business Casual Wardrobe

A good way to build a basic "business casual" wardrobe is to stick to one neutral color of slacks or skirts and then add the visual interest with a few tops and a couple of jackets or cardigans.

The same basic black pencil skirt or slacks looks totally different when worn with various blouses. Pairing them with a finishing piece (maybe a jacket or cardigan) gives you even more variety and makes you seem more put-together. Don't forget accessories. One bag and one good pair of shoes in your neutral color and a few pieces of jewelry will suffice.

Spend your money on quality bottoms, which take the most wear and tear, and save on the tops. Search out sales, clearance, consignment shops, and thrift shops.

With just a couple of bottoms, five tops, and a couple of jackets, along with a few accessories, you have a good, basic wardrobe that you can always build on later.

Additional TDS Resource: More on building a business casual wardrobe

Free Water

Everyone can get free water. Just get some rain barrels and catch rainwater. You'll find them at gardening centers or on the web. They'll have a top so that kids can't fall in and drown. Some people don't like them because of mosquitos, but there are organic pellets that you can use to kill the larvae.

With a lot of places facing water shortages, it only makes sense to catch and use rain that would otherwise just go down the storm sewer.

Breaking Static Cling

Even during the summer, there are occasions where you have to wear hose and/or a slip under your skirt. I avoid static-cling by applying a liberal dose of hand lotion onto my legs even when I'm wearing stockings! Something in the lotion keeps the static from building up. If it's a long day, sometimes I'll add a little more lotion to my legs.

Washing Greens

Working in a grocery store, I learned to wash the greens in warm water before putting them out under the cool spray and refrigeration. My manager explained that it helps open the pores, so the lettuce soaks up moisture and helps the greens to become crisper. I do this at home now, too. After their hot/cold bath, I put them in my fridge.

Bug Bites?

My daughter is a magnet for mosquitos. I don't like spraying her with chemicals, so we were looking for a better way to protect her. We found that if she carries a fresh dryer sheet, most mosquitos will leave her alone. She just tucks it in her belt or waistband.

If she does get bit, we dab a bit of ammonia on the bite. Sometimes we'll reapply it until the itching stops. It works best if you can get to the bite quickly.

Additional TDS Resource: More on repelling mosquitos naturally

Nasty Drinking Glasses

To remove film on glasses, there are two inexpensive things that will work. These will not remove "etching" but will remove film. The first is a glass of vinegar placed in the wash load along with the glasses. Fill the glass with the vinegar and set in the dishwasher, so the liquid stays in the glass. Run the load as you normally do. The film should be much better if not completely off. The second solution is to fill the detergent cup with Tang and run the cycle with that instead of detergent. I was told about both solutions by a dishwasher repair man who noticed the film on my glasses.
Joan G.

Additional TDS Resource: More on cleaning stained glassware

Reading Ants

I've discovered that to get rid of ants, you need to have an idea of what type of ant you're dealing with. Large ants often mean damp rotted wood like you might find in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, outdoor sheds, and decks. Get rid of the rotted wood, and you'll get rid of the ants.

Smaller ants like sugar and other foodstuffs. To get rid of them, you'll need to keep counters, cupboards, and garbage areas spotlessly clean.

A Cheaper, Longer Lasting Dog Bed

My dog was continually tearing up her dog bed. I'd buy a new one and it would be shredded in weeks. So I had to do something. I decided to buy a 2" thick piece of foam like what's used in upholstery. I bought a piece about 2' by 3'. Then I took an old vinyl tablecloth and sewed it into a covering for the foam. On top of that, I put an old towel. She'll chew on the towel, which I can replace from the thrift store for a buck or so. The pillow stays unharmed.

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