DIY Washing Machine Lint Trap

It’s a good idea to prevent lint from going down the laundry-sink drain.  You can get lint traps that attach to the end of your washing machine’s discharge hose.  They cost around a dollar each, if you buy them at your local grocery store, hardware store, or big-box home improvement store.

However, you can get them a lot cheaper (per unit) if you buy them in bulk (e.g., dozens) from a big online retailer.  That’s by far the best way to do it.  They’re a good value and worth using, considering that you’re likely to have a clogged drain if you don’t.


I’ve used the store-bought lint traps for many years and been pretty happy with them.  Recently I had one that was completely filled with lint, ready for the garbage, but I didn’t have any new ones in the house.  I wondered if I could create a DIY substitute out of something I had on hand and I though of the mesh produce bags that onions and oranges (etc.) are packaged in.

I noticed that the mesh pattern of the produce bags is more widely spaced than that of the typical lint trap, so I doubled up by putting one mesh bag inside another.  Instead of using a cable tie to attach my improvised lint trap to the discharge hose, I cut a strip off the top of the mesh bag itself and twisted it into a cord, then used that to tie the bag to the hose.  You could also use a screw-type hose clamp and keep re-using it indefinitely.

The results:  The DIY produce-bag lint probably doesn’t catch as much lint as a purpose-made lint trap.  It might work better if it were tripled or quadrupled with three or even four bags.  On the other hand, it’s free.  Overall, I think it’s probably best to buy lint traps in quantity and get them for a good price.  In a pinch, though, the DIY version is definitely better than nothing.

Btw, check the internet: there are lots of DIY projects that use mesh produce bags.  I am certainly not the first person who has looked for re-uses for them.


Telephone Handsets from Goodwill


I visited the local Goodwill to buy a short-sleeved shirt, something summery and tropical looking.  I found the perfect shirt, and it cost just $5.  Easy.  So with some time to kill I decided to look around the store.

Among the various computers and televisions, I saw two cordless telephone handsets with their plug-in chargers that were exactly the same as the kind we use at home.  Yes, we still have a landline.  I plugged them in, turned them on, and they seemed to work fine.  Of course, I couldn’t make a call because they were still “paired” to a base unit that was nowhere to be found.  I didn’t need a new base unit anyway.  But a couple new handsets would be useful.  For one thing, we’ve never had a phone in the basement; more than once I’ve been doing laundry or working on my computer in the basement (the only one for which the kids don’t know the logon password) and heard the phone ring upstairs but wasn’t able or willing to go upstairs to answer it.  Well, that’s why we have an answering machine.

In deciding to buy the two handsets, I was making the bet that I’d be able to “register” them to the base unit in my house.  That’s the problem with a used cordless phone: cordless phones need to be registered to the proper base unit, meaning that they communicate with that base unit and forsake all others.  (If we didn’t use this system of cordless phones being registered to their base, then they would simply connect to whatever base is nearest or has the strongest signal, which might mean your neighbors’ phones connecting to your base or vice-versa.)  In order to use a cordless phone that has been registered to another base, the existing registration has to be erased and the phone needs to be put into “ready to register” mode.  That doesn’t happen automatically.  It requires some button pushing!  Would I be able to accomplish this phone-tech feat?

O Wonderful Internet!  In about 5 minutes online I found instructions on how to “deregister” the handsets from their original base unit and register them to mine.  They both work perfectly and will probably provide many years of service.  Pretty good deal, for about $9 for both.

Super Magnets from Old Computer Hard-Drive

Inside computer hard-drives are one or two super powerful magnets.  Probably worth a couple dollars, potentially useful, or just fun to have.  Inside the hard-drive, the magnets are usually glued to metal brackets that have holes in them.  You can put screws through these holes to attach the brackets to a wall, and then you’ve got a wall mount for any metal object, such as a tool, that you want to keep handy.

You can find instructions online that tell you how to take apart a hard-drive.  It’s easiest if you have a set of Torx screwdrivers.  Helpful hint: hard-drive manufacturers often hide some of the screws under labels or in other hard-to-find locations.  Getting the magnets out of a computer hard-drive is a fun project to do with a kid.

Buttons and Bolts

Eventually, you’re going to need a button.  Or a bolt.  It’s a pain to have to make a special trip to a store to buy the one button you need to fix the shirt you need today.  Likewise, when you find you need a bolt or a screw for some minor repair.  It’s especially frustrating to have return to the same hardware store that you had been to just 2 hours earlier because you need one more bolt to finish your project.

buttons_jarIf you have a jar full of buttons, there’s a good chance you can find one that’s close enough to do the job.  A jar full of bolts and nuts, screws, and similar hardware is also very useful.

This is more a matter of saving time than money, but your time is worth a lot of money (isn’t it?).  When you’re throwing away old clothes or old furniture or anything that has buttons, bolts, screws or any other kind of fasteners (and when you see these things that other people have thrown away), take a look and see if you can salvage some of those useful fasteners and add them to your home store.

Whenever I throw away an old shirt, I remove all the buttons and put them in the button jar.  If I have several matching buttons I sometimes keep them together on bit of string or thread.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve added to my nut and bolt collection by just taking a few that are easy to remove from furniture that my neighbors have thrown away.  I’ve also taken knobs from drawers and cabinets that I’ve found on the curb.  And some hinges.  And many of those cool IKEA fasteners and the little dowel rods.  (It’s good to have carry a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool for this sort of thing.)

Keep stocking your home store with buttons and bolts that would otherwise end up in a landfill and it will serve you well.

Almost-Free Iced Coffee

iced_coffeeAt a church meeting I recently attended, someone made a pot of coffee.  When the pot was empty, another pot was made.  After the meeting was over, the coffee pot was still about 1/3 full.  No one wanted another cup.  I don’t normally drink the stuff.  (What kind of person, I wonder, would take beans from some plant, roast them until they’re nearly burnt, grind them into powder, pour boiling water onto that powder, then drink that water?)   I had my own water-bottle, filled with iced tea, which I had finished.  Before someone could dump the unwanted coffee down the drain, which was about to happen, I quickly rinsed my water-bottle and poured the coffee into it.  As soon as I got the coffee home, I put it in another container and refrigerated it.  I wanted to minimize the risk of the water-bottle I use for iced tea being ruined by the coffee taste, so I washed it as soon as it was empty.  The next day I had all the iced coffee I wanted, for nothing more than the cost of some ice and milk.

The moral of the story is that if you look around you can always find things that people are getting rid of that can be of benefit to you if you do the work of obtaining them and re-purposing them.  Get in the habit and you can get lots of things for free.

Re-Use Pepper Grinder

pepper_grinderIt’s damn annoying that some of the “disposable” pepper grinders (the kind made by spice manufacturers and sold at grocery stores) can’t be easily opened so they can be refilled and re-used when they are empty.  I recently found myself with an empty disposable pepper grinder at the same time that I couldn’t locate my salt grinder.  I thought I could wash it and fill it with sea salt, but … the grinder top is designed to be very difficult to remove.

Here’s the trick:  Put the empty grinder container in a cup full of very hot water.  Near boiling is good.  A cup of water microwaved for a few minutes works fine.  Soak the plastic top in this very hot water for several minutes.  This makes the plastic just a bit more flexible, which should allow you to pull the plastic top off the glass jar.  Just hold the glass jar in one hand and the plastic top in the other and pull them straight apart.  Make sure everything is clean and completely dry and then you can re-fill it.  To put the top back on, after you’ve refilled it with peppercorns or sea salt or whatever, just put the jar on the counter and press the top firmly onto it.

$100 From Morning Yard Sale

yard_saleOn Friday, on the spur of the moment, my wife decided to gather a minivan full of things we don’t need, and, the next morning take them to a local church that was renting tables at their church yard sale.  We paid $40 for the use of 2 tables, which we filled with our used children’s books, kitchen gadgets, dishes, and plates, Christmas decorations, and assorted other items.  Our rule was that we were only taking things that we no longer needed or wanted.  These things would be sold at the yard sale and if unsold would end up donated to Goodwill or put in the trash.

We priced things to sell.  An entire table was filled with items that we initially priced at $2 and after we passed the sale’s halfway hour, we reduced them to $1 each.  Later we sold the remaining items 2 for $1 and in the final 15 minutes we sold them 4 for $1.  Parting ways with these things was the goal.  We filled the other table with things that were priced between $3 and $10.  Some people were happy to pay the price we asked, but many times we accepted offers that were a little lower.  When someone made an offer on an item that had gone unsold after it had been seen by dozens of people, we were ready to accept it.  We also had a box of small odds and ends (kids arts and crafts supplies, paper goods, small items) that we gave away for free.  Kids liked looking through the box, which kept their parents looking at what we were selling.  There was also a girl scout leader and a couple of grandmothers who appreciated the free items.  At the end of the day we gave several books away to kids who seemed happy to get them.

The point of packing everything in the car and taking it to the sale was to get rid of things.  We tried not to put much stock in our own opinion of how much a thing was worth.  Something is worth what someone is willing and able to pay for it.

When the sale was done we had more than $100 (after deducting the $40 we paid to rent the space).  You might say that’s less than $10 per hour considering the time it took.  But money isn’t the only thing we got.  We had some very pleasant conversations with neighbors and old friends.  My wife networked with some people in the same line of work.  We bought a couple items at very good prices.

One consideration was whether we were better off renting a table at the local church, which cost $40 — or should we have held the sale in our own yard, for free?  My opinion is that the $40 for the space in the church parking lot was worth it.  The church is on a busy corner with lots of traffic.  The parking lot full of people and tables overflowing with things for sale certainly attracted attention.  We had potential buyers looking at our tables during most of the sale.  Our house is on a side street with little traffic.  It’s easy to imagine that we would have spent a lot of time alone waiting for buyers if we had held a solo sale in our own yard.  The people organizing the church yard sale advertised with street signs and online announcements, which we would have had to do ourselves if we held our own sale.  Overall, I’m happy to have spent the $40 in order to make > $100.  It feels good to convert a lot of stuff we don’t need into money.