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 … it’s made so as to be very difficult to open.

Here’s the trick:  Soak the plastic top in 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.  Then you can dry it and re-fill it.  Once it’s refilled, to put the top back on, just press the top firmly onto the jar.

$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 ended up spending lots of time alone waiting for buyers if we’d 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.

Missed My Chance For a Free Mirror

door_mirrorFor quite a while I’ve wanted a mirror for the bathroom door.  I want a real mirror, one made of glass.  Not one of the cheap glassless mirrors that are sold at discount stores.  But real glass mirrors are expensive, so I’ve had my eyes open.  One afternoon, as I was driving through a residential neighborhood, I saw a pile of things on the curb that looked like they were garbage from a bathroom remodeling job.  And there was a large glass mirror!  It looked like just what I was wanting — and the price was right: free!  It was a beveled mirror without any frame that could have been easily mounted on a door.  I got out of the car to look at it and soon saw that one edge had a small chip missing, which created some sharp edges.  So, it was no good.  (Or so I thought.)  I left it on the trash pile.

Later, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that the mirror would have been usable if it were possible to cut an inch or so off the edge with the chip.  That would result in a mirror with 3 beveled edges and one flat edge.  That would be okay, though.  I could mount the mirror with the nice beveled edges on the top and sides and the flat edge on the bottom where it would be less noticeable.  Question was: would I have to take the mirror to a professional glass cutter? or could I do it myself?

A few minutes on youtube and I had the answer.  Several videos showed that DIY glass cutting jobs are easy with a few simple and inexpensive tools.  For the cost of a gass cutting tool (which is far less than the cost of a mirror), I could have a nice mirror for my bathroom door — and I’d have a new tool that I might be able to use sometime in future.

Live and learn.

I’m still looking for a mirror.

Free Scissors and Light Bulb

hair_cutting_kit.pngOne of neighbors moved away, leaving a huge pile of things on the curb in front of her house.  I took a look.  Saw an  old 1960s-era electric clippers hair-cutting set.  I didn’t see much point in taking it, as I already have one.  But it did contain a pair of scissors that were in very good condition.  There was also an old floor lamp, which I didn’t want, but it did have a light bulb in the socket.  I took the bulb home and it worked.  Scissors and light bulb.  Together worth at least a few dollars.  Not bad for about 2 minutes work.  On an hourly basis, that’s around $100 per hour.  That’s why I keep my eyes open.

Board Games

battleshipBoard games are a very low-cost form of entertainment.

Years ago, I got the classic “Battleship” game at the local Goodwill for $2.  My kids must have played it at least 100 times when they were young.  A penny per person for each time they played.  Compare that to the cost of going to the movies.

When my daughter went to college, she found some friends who liked to play board games.  She learned of a game called “Settlers of Catan”.  Because other people had purchased the other games that she’d played, she decided she would like to treat the group to the “Settlers of Catan” game. She asked if I’d get it for her for Christmas.  It cost about $40 (after a coupon discount).  Later I asked her about it and she told me her group had played it at least a few dozen times.  Even without buying from Goodwill, it was still a great value.  Assuming it takes 4 people a couple hours to play one game, that’s less than 20¢ for each person’s hour of play.  And that’s just while she was in college.  She still has the game, even after she’s graduated and started her first job in the big city.  The only thing that’s a better value than that is a walk in the park.


Don’t Throw Away That Old Calendar

mexico_2015_calendarThat old 2015 calendar?  You can re-use it in 2026!  You will have to wait until 2044 to re-use your 2016 calendar.  But you can re-use a 2017 calendar in 2017 calendar in 2023.  (Of course, there’s a When can I reuse this calendar? website.)

If you save a calendar every year, eventually you won’t have to buy any. Often you can re-use a calendar for a given year 11 years later, though sometimes it’s only 6 years later, and sometimes it’s 12, or it could be more.

Why can calendars be re-used?  Because there are only 14 different calendars.

There would only be 7 different calendars, like this:

  • the first day of the year is a Sunday,
  • or a Monday,
  • or a Tuesday,

except for the extra day on February 29 that usually occurs once every 4 years. Given the more-or-less quadrennial extra day, there are actually 14 different calendars:

  • the year starts on a Sunday and doesn’t have an extra day,
  • the year starts on a Sunday and has an extra day,
  • the year starts on a Monday and doesn’t have an extra day,
  • the year starts on a Monday and has an extra day

Once you collect all 14, you’re ready to stop buying calendars!

For more information:

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Why That Front-Loading Washing Machine Was on the Curb

At first, when we got that washer and dryer off the curb, we wondered: why would someone throw out such a nice washer and dryer?  They were only a few years old, very clean (well, mostly, as we later discovered), and in good working order.  We initially thought that whoever got rid of them must be such fancy-pants people that they couldn’t stand having a three-year old washer and dryer and had to get rid of them so they could get the latest models.  Keeping up with the Joneses!

washing_machine_moldAfter I looked more closely at the washer, I soon developed another hypotheses.  There was a bad case of mold and mildew* on the rubber gasket that seals the washer door.  This is a known problem with front-loading washers. The problem:  Dirt, detergent, fabric softener, lint, socks, water and who-knows-what-else gets into the various folds and tight-spots in the gasket, and stays there, creating the perfect environment for mold and mildew and other nasty stuff odor-causing bacteria.  Clothes come out of the machine, freshly washed — but smelling worse than when they went in.  Mold and mildew in front-loading washers is so common, it’s called the “stinky washer” or “smelly washer” problem.

Some people never have any mold or mildew problem with their front-loading washers.  Other people’s machines quickly develop mold and mildew.  And once it starts, it only gets worse.  I wonder if the washers that never develop a mold problem are used only a few times a week (maybe in a one- or two-person household), thus giving the machines time to dry out between uses.  And maybe washers that get moldy get that way because they’re used more often (like in a household with lots of kids) and they never get a chance to dry out.

There are many things you can do to kill the mold and prevent it from coming back.  Which of these methods you need to use and the extent to which it is needed depends on the severity of your stinky washer problem.  The basic idea is to keep the machine as clean and dry as possible.  Mold lives and thrives in high humidity.  I’ve listed them in order or ease of implementation.

  • Ventilate.  Keep the washer door and the detergent dispenser drawer open when the machine is not in use.  You might want to completely remove the dispenser drawer and set it aside to dry.  When I remove mine and place it standing vertically in the laundry sink, and when I do that there are always some water that drips out, which would otherwise be in the machine keeping it humid.  If you can’t leave the door open between uses (because you’re afraid a child or pet might climb into the machine, for example), then maybe a front-loader isn’t right for you.  Getting completely dry between uses is the easiest and most effective way to prevent mold.
  • Remove clean laundry from the machine as soon as it’s done.  Don’t leave damp clothes in the machine overnight — or even for an hour.  Always strive to allow the machine time to dry completely between uses.  Check the drum and gasket area for small items (e.g., socks).
  • Use less detergent.  If your clothes aren’t really dirty, you can probably get good results using only a fraction of the amount of detergent people typically use.  Experiment to determine the smallest amount of detergent needed.  You might be surprised how little detergent is required to get your clothes clean — especially if they aren’t terribly stained or covered in dirt.  It might be as little as 1/10 of the amount you’re used to using, or even less.  Various blogs report good results using just water, plain water, and no detergent at all.  (However, chances are good that the first time you don’t add any detergent to a load of laundry, you will still see lots of suds and there will be plenty of detergent in the water.  This is detergent in your machine and in your clothes from all the previous washings. You may have to do many loads of laundry to get all of the old detergent out of your clothes and your machine.)  A good rule of thumb is that if you see suds, you’re using too much detergent.  The more suds you see, the more detergent you’re wasting.  Especially if you see suds in your final rinse water.  When you use too much detergent, it doesn’t all get rinsed away and the innards of your machine and your clothes are coated with detergent.  Pay attention to what you’re doing:  Don’t just pour and pour and pour the detergent into the dispenser drawer.  Use a plastic measuring cup and carefully measure how much detergent you use.  Reduce the amount to the minimum needed.  Detergent is biodegradable, which means that it’s actually good for mold.  If you don’t want to grow mold, use less detergent.
  • Use hot water, at least for some loads.  Washing in cold or lukewarm water saves money and is good for your clothes, but hot water kills mold.  If you never use hot water, you’re not using one of your best defenses against mold.  So wash your bring colors in cold water, but use use hot water for your whites.
  • Use bleach.  Like hot water, bleach kills mold.  So make that, “use hot water and bleach for your whites”.  You whites should be the last load of the day so your machine will be less hospitable to mold as it awaits its next use.
  • Don’t put detergent in the dispenser drawer.  Yes, I know that’s what it’s for, but … Whenever there is detergent in the drawer some of it will get splashed out of the drawer and onto the slot that the drawer slides into.  And you know what means: a good environment for mold.  Instead, once you’ve used your plastic cup to measure the minimum amount of detergent you need (see above), place the cup in the drum along with the clothes.  If you’re worried about straight detergent coming into direct contact with your fancy duds, then add some water to the cup before you put it into the machine.  With some experience you can position the cup so that it fills with water as your machine starts.
  • Use the dispenser drawer for bleach, vinegar, or ammonia.  (Use them one at a time; combining bleach or ammonia with each other or with other cleaning products can be dangerous!)  Bleach, vinegar, and ammonia are mold killers, so a bit of splashing in the drawer slot is okay.  Bleach and detergent should not be used at the same time.  Clothes get cleaner if washed first with detergent and water and then bleach and water.  The dispenser drawer will add the bleach at the proper time in the cycle.  I often use vinegar in the final rinse, instead of fabric softener (place it in the dispenser drawer’s fabric softener compartment).
  • Don’t use fabric softener in your washer.  Like detergent, fabric softener residue in the washer helps create a good environment for mold.
  • Clean the machine.  Use a clean paper towel to wipe the folds and creases of the rubber door-gasket to remove the dirt and lint that accumulates there.  You may have to do this weekly, depending how many loads of laundry you do.
  • Clean the machine.  An occasional (say, monthly) empty cycle with bleach or ammonia (not together!), or vinegar and baking soda, or borax will help kill mold and remove the built-up detergent residue and other gunk that creates a good environment for mold.  Check your manual for instructions.  There are also packaged machine cleaners that may be of use.
  • Dehumidify your laundry room.  Get a dehumidifier.  The best way to install it is to place it over a drain and run a hose from the dehumidifier to the drain.  That way, you don’t have to constantly remember to empty the bucket (and when the bucket is full, the machine automatically turns off and isn’t dehumidifying).  If you leave your washer door and drawer open and it still doesn’t get dry, then your laundry room is too humid.  This is especially likely in a basement laundry area.  A dehumidifier will not only help dry your washer, it will be good for your dryer (the machine has to work harder to dry your clothes when it’s pulling in humid air), in fact, it will also be beneficial to your entire basement.
  • Circulate air with a fan.  With the washer door and drawer open, any kind of fan — a table fan or box fan — aimed at the washer and running on low will help dry the washer’s interior much more quickly than just leaving the door and drawer open.  A small rack fan that attaches to the vent at the back of the washer is also an option, but it’s much more expensive.
  • Clean the pump filter (check you manual or search the internet).  A clogged filter prevent the pump from removing the maximum amount of water from the machine.  This needs to be done periodically, perhaps every couple years or so, depending on use.

I’ve done all of these things and am happy to say there’s no more mold in my machine.

* I am not expert enough to know if it was actually mold or mildew.  I’ve used the terms interchangeably and eventually settled on “mold” to avoid having to repeatedly type “or mildew” throughout.

Free Washer and Dryer (and How to Disassemble a Front-Loading Washer and Dryer)

washer_dryerSome months ago our washer and dryer both stopped working.  The washer, a front-loading model, had a catastrophic break-down — the drum came loose and rubbed against some interior part, making lots of noise.  Then it just stopped.  The dryer, which was stacked on top of the washer, stopped producing heat.  It would turn and blow lots of air out the vent, but no heat.  That was probably a minor repair, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy the same brand of washer (Kenmore) in order to be able to keep using its matching dryer.  So we’d been going to the laundromat, marveling at people who need to use a laundromat but able to afford expensive cellphones, and getting sick of going to the laundromat while we considered buying a new washer and dryer.

Given the problems we’d had with the old washer and dryer (there had been other repairs, and there’s the mold and mildew issue that’s associated with front-loading washers), I was thinking of going back to the old kind of top-loading machines that I my parents had when I was a child.  But, in a small house, a stacking washer-dryer is an efficient use of space.  Also, I had made a new hole through the wall for the stacked dryer’s vent (and I had plugged up the older hole that was for a top-load dryer that was in the house many years ago.)

Luckily we have a friend who watches craigslist.com and other things-free-for-the-taking websites.  She knew of our washer-dryer woes and took pity on us.  Even more lucky: her husband has a pickup truck!  One evening she called us and said there was a stacking washer-dryer available and she and her husband would get them for us.  The next evening, he delivered them.  Fantastic!  This keeps at least $1000 in my bank account.  We placed our “new” washer and dryer on the back patio while I tackled the next problem: how to get the old washer and dryer out of the basement.

When you buy a new washer and dryer from a store, a couple guys in a truck deliver them to your house.  They remove the old washer and dryer — no problem; they know what they’re doing and they’ve got the muscles to do it.  I had a good hand-truck and wasn’t worried about getting our “new” washer and dryer into the basement, because I would have gravity on my side.  But getting the old ones up out of the basement was a different proposition.  Here’s what I’ve learned (remember, in this case, I was disassembling front-loading machines):

The best way, probably the only way, to singlehandedly get a washer and dryer out of a basement is to disassemble them.  All you need is some screwdrivers and a socket set.  Before you do anything: make sure everything is unplugged and water is turned off and disconnected.

The dryer is the easier one to disassemble: you can remove the door, the back panel, the top panel, the motor, and the power cord and these can be taken away piece by piece.  At this point, what remained was light enough for me to take up the stairs and out the door with the hand-truck.  If I had continued, I could have taken the drum out of the frame.

The washer is much heavier and takes more work.  I removed the door, the back panel, the top panel, the power cord, and the hoses.  Then I took out the motor or at least part of it.  It was still too heavy.  Guess what?  Front-loading washers have concrete weights attached to the drum to prevent it from vibrating too much.  Who knew?  I was surprised to find them and soon had them unbolted and outside.  Even with the weights removed, I could see that the drum and the interior frame was still too heavy for me to get up the stairs.

The drum was suspended from the top by two large springs and attached to the bottom by four shock-absorbers.  The shocks were easy to twist and pull off.  The springs … not easy.  The drum was too heavy to lift and thus allow me to unhook the springs.  Cutting through them with a hacksaw seemed a possibility, but there were lots of things in the way, making it awkward.  I decided to turn the whole thing upside down to take the weigh off the springs.  That worked, they were easy to unhook, but turning the washer upside-down created a new problem.  As soon as it was upside-down, a thick red fluid oozed out of the machine and pooled on the floor.  For a second I thought it was blood!  Had I hurt myself?  No.  Transmission fluid?  It sure looked like it.  I guess a washing machine has a transmission, so it has transmission fluid.  Is it supposed come out if the machine is turned upside-down (or did I crack something as I disassembled the machine)?  Beats me.  Luckily, my basement floor is part ugly broken tile and part ugly exposed concrete, so nothing was ruined and clean-up was easy.  If your machine is on carpet, I recommend caution.

Disassembled, everything was relatively easy to get out of the basement.  It sat on the curb for a couple of days before someone took it away for scrap, before the garbage truck could get it.  Looking at Youtube, I discovered that out-of-service front-loading washing machines can be converted to electrical generators, which might be good to have if there’s something handy to turn the drum (like a stream of water flowing down a steep hill on your property).

Getting our “new from craigslist” washer and dryer into the basement wasn’t hard.  Set-up was as easy as connecting the hoses and plugging them in.  Manuals are online at the manufacturer’s website, if needed.

Bottom line: lots of money saved, well worth the few hours of work.