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The Non-Expert

Life Hacks for the Rest of Us

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we explain the well-traveled secrets and tricks that really can make your life a little bit easier, even while they fail to improve you in any way.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.

 

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Question: How do I get red wine out of a cotton shirt? —Pete

Answer: That depends on the color of the shirt and whether the stain has dried. We’re assuming it’s dry (because there’s no way you sent in this question and we got it and answered it and the wine is still damp—ha!) and that the shirt is light in color, that it’s not red or anything darker than red (because then you wouldn’t care—again, ha!). If it’s an entirely white shirt then you can bleach it, and if it’s not then you can bleach it anyway and maybe apply a colorfast bleach or some special product from that one corner of Bed, Bath & Beyond…

The truth is, we don’t know. Like many people out there, we’ve directed our attention to a lot of other things—useless things, you see. We don’t know how to get a red wine stain out of a shirt, the best way to organize a linen closet, or how to really nail down that new note-taking system—knowing such things would be useful, even handy—and yet we still don’t know. Yes, we know how to use a semicolon; no, we don’t even know what “colorfast” means. There are, however, people who do know such things, such useful bits of knowledge, and they kindly trade them to each other in a grand effort to improve their own and each others’ lives, and they call these points of information “life hacks,” because…well, it has something to do with computers.

But what about those of us (you, me, etc.) who maybe aren’t interested in the general improvement of ourselves? What about those of us who are merely happily getting by? Or scraping by, as the opportunity so often arises? In fact, forget about “those of us”—we’re talking about most of us.

Yes, for most of us there’s an entirely different set of tips and tricks, though their helpfulness does vary…




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When washing drinking glasses by hand, create your own dishwasher by squeezing a little soap into each glass, then set each one in the sink and let a constant stream of hot water fill each glass and overflow until the water runs clear. The glasses won’t be as clean as if you had scrubbed each one, but it’s a lot easier on your hands and elbows.

 

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If a recipe calls for diced onion (or any other solid, round fruit or vegetable), first slice the item in half, from root/stem to tip, then lay each piece down flat on the side you just cut. Now, holding the root/stem in place and leaving enough room for your fingers to hold it, make lengthwise slices all the way through to the cutting board. Then make a lateral slice straight across the middle of the item (watch your palm!). Finally, along the width, make multiple slices all the way through to the board. Voila…your item is evenly diced!

Also: When trying to describe an intricate cutting procedure, consider using an illustration.

 

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Hey home entertainers! Do you have candle wax dried in your rug or carpet? Spread a sheet of newspaper over the wax and go over it a few times with a hot iron. The wax will free from your carpet and stick to the newspaper.

Hey sexual deviants! Do you have candle wax dried to your feet? First, you’ll need some newspaper…

 

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Superglue is a quick and easy way to fix a broken fingernail. Superglue is a quick and easy way to reattach the clip that snapped off your cell phone. In fact, many things you might think unfixable can be repaired using only superglue, so keep it in mind the next time you’re tasked with fixing something. It’s not professional, but as long as it’s something superficial, it may do the trick.

 

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Have trouble tying tie knots? Leave an already-tied tie hanging in your closet. Whenever you need to wear it, simply loop it over your head and tighten the knot. Or, if an ascot is more your speed, wrap a washcloth around your neck and tuck the ends into the top of your shirt.

 

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If you have a fake I.D. or an assumed identity, learn the astrological sign that pertains to the birthdate on your documentation. It’s a common question asked by suspicious bouncers or private detectives.

 

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Carry a 3x5 index card with you everywhere. When you go to the laundromat, you can use it to jimmy coin-operated washing machines by slowly sliding it under the coin slots as you push in the drawer.

 

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Avoid the hassle of separating your recyclables by slipping them into the center of non-recycling garbage bags that are brimming with food refuse. No way will your landlord or any sanitation worker want to paw around in there to see if you snuck anything by.

 

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If you claim to have read all the books on your shelves (but you really haven’t), when somebody asks you what a certain (um, unread) book is about or what you thought of it, say “I’ll let you find out for yourself,” and pressure them to borrow it from you.

 

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You can open beer bottles using the metal end of most car seatbelts.

 

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Whenever you get wildlife stamps from the Audubon Society or other organizations, save them. If you run out of postage stamps, they’ve been known to sometimes pass.

Also: The farther south you are from the Canadian border, the easier it is to slip Canadian pennies by store cashiers—they rarely check for them, and especially if there’s a long line behind you. (Given the current downward spiral of the dollar, though, maybe the real hack here is to start saving Canadian pennies.)

 

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If you’re moving out of an apartment and want to recover as much of your security deposit as possible, fill in any holes left by nails or thumbtacks. If you don’t have any spackle on hand, white toothpaste works just as well—though it can attract bugs, so you shouldn’t use it as long as you still intend to live there.

 

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If, while speaking, you accidentally use a word you don’t know the meaning of, just use the word again in that same—possibly incorrect—way. Your listeners’ self-consciousness will take over and they’ll doubt their own knowledge of the word’s proper usage, believe your knowledge of the word is superior, or possibly both.

(Note: This is probably how “concepted” got started.)

 

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If telephone solicitors won’t let you get off the line, hang up. It was rude of them to call during Blind Justice, so consider yourselves even.

 

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Cut down on swearing by using abbreviations for your most commonly used profanities. For example, if you’re cut off on the highway, shake your fist (don’t flip the bird, like you normally do) and yell one of the following phrases:

—F. You, M.F.!

—You G.D. M.F.!

—Die, M.F.S.O.B.!

There—you’ve defused the situation, and they’ll have no idea what you meant, unless they’re aware of your “secret language”! Or they can spell.

 

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If, while out with a friend, you run into someone you’ve met before but whose name you can’t remember, launch into conversation by introducing the friend you’re with, like so: “Hi! This is my friend [person you’re with].” The other person will invariably reciprocate, and reveal their name: “Nice to meet you, I’m [so-and-so],” thus reminding you whatever their name is too.

If, however, you’re without a friend when you run into this person whose name you can’t remember, instead feign that you don’t know them at all. After all…you really don’t, do you?

 

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If you have difficulty remembering how to spell the word “mnemonic,” limit its use to face-to-face conversations. (Hint: ne-MON-ick)

 

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Have a headache you can’t seem to shake? Follow the advice of the worldly Larry Darrell, who in W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, shows his friend Gray an easy way to cure his persistent headaches, handing him a Greek coin and telling him:

“Hold it in your hand.” Gray took it. Larry glanced at his watch. “It’s thirteen minutes past eight. In sixty seconds your eyelids will grow so heavy that you’ll be obliged to close them and then you’ll sleep. You’ll sleep your six minutes. At eight-twenty you’ll wake and you’ll have no more pain.” Neither Isabel nor I spoke. Our eyes were on Larry. He said nothing more. He fixed his gaze on Gray, but did not seem to look at him; he seemed rather to look through and beyond him. There was something eerie in the silence that fell upon us; it was like the silence of flowers in a garden at nightfall. Suddenly I felt Isabel’s hand tighten. I glanced at Gray. His eyes were closed. He was breathing easily and regularly; he was asleep. We stood there for a time that seemed interminable. I badly wanted a cigarette, but did not like to light one. Larry was motionless. His eyes looked into I knew not what distance. Except that they were open he might have been in a trance. Suddenly he appeared to relax; his eyes took on their normal expression and he looked at his watch. As he did so, Gray opened his eyes. “Gosh,” he said, “I believe I dropped off to sleep.” Then he started. I noticed that his face had lost its ghastly pallor. “My headache’s gone.”

So that’s 1) drachma, 2) presto!

 

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In the workshop, one screwdriver can do more than just turn screws; it can hammer in nails, slice open packages, puncture leather, create holes for inserting molly bolts, and more.

In the kitchen, one knife can do more than just cut things; it can smash garlic, stir pasta, lift and turn meat, and more.

The lesson? Those weekend trips to Restoration Hardware and Williams-Sonoma aren’t making you any more productive.

 

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Have a goal you keep telling everyone you’re trying to attain but haven’t yet found the energy or willpower to achieve? Write something that alludes to it (e.g., a plot timeline for your “novel”) on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall. When your friends see it they’ll assume you’re striving, which, as we just noted, is half your battle.

 

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If you have trouble remembering something, try tying a piece of string around your finger. If looking at the string reminds you of what you were trying to remember, then it worked! If not, untie the string and tie it around the next finger. Repeat until you remember whatever that thing was… what was that thing?
 

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Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack