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Hillbilly Recycling

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Over the past couple of decades, recycling has become the right thing to do. It is both fashionable and responsible to reduce our consumption and waste. In areas where there is less cash for consumer goods, recycling has always been a way of life. Raised in southeast Kentucky by parents born during the Great Depression, I know a thing or two about recycling. I've never gone as far as to keep an overstuffed sofa on the front porch or swim in a truck bed, but I never buy something new if I can use something I already have.

Years ago, a local group offered me a yard sign for a referendum vote that I would never support, but hey, free sign! Good quality, too, made of plastic and metal. So I painted over the political message and used electrical tape for my own message. It's visible and effective if not artistic. I've used it over and over.

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After a recent room remodel, I saved the good long planks and pieces of old paneling from the scrap heap before the workers hauled it off. Along with leftover siding and various other things I'd stashed over the years, I had enough material to build my kids a playhouse. The story of how I did it is in this post.

The containers that paint or roof tar comes in become buckets. A bucket without a handle becomes a bin. A leaky bucket becomes an irrigation aid or a sieve. A leaky bucket without a handle becomes a flower pot. A worn-out broom becomes a porch broom -not good enough for the floors anymore, but fine for the porch, sidewalk, or for reaching cobwebs and insect nests. When it's no longer good enough for even that, it becomes a garden stake.

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Not too long ago, the legs on my coffee table gave out. A relative had an extra coffee table in storage, but the laminated top was in bad shape. So I removed the top, took the legs off my table, and glued the two together. The process was documented in this post. I never buy new furniture. Vintage or antique furniture is much sturdier at the same price, and leaves less of an environmental footprint.

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Large coffee cans became a set of custom canisters that match the kitchen color. A canning jar is great for canning, but when the food is gone, it's a container for leftovers or a drinking glass. Large jars are good for storing beans, rice, popcorn, or anything else that's clumsy in its original bag. Jars keep insects out, too. There's the joke about the matching set of bowls that say "Cool Whip" on them... believe me, I don't do that, since I have heirloom china (which is also recycling, ya know), but I do keep plastic food containers instead of buying Tupperware. Pint size cottage cheese cups are great for food storage in the refrigerator or freezer. I use others as scoops for cat litter, cat food, and liquid fertilizer (great for measuring the amount). In the spring, I cut the old ones apart. The top part becomes a collar for tomato plants to discourage bugs and act as a funnel for water. The bottom part becomes a seed tray.

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Most years, I set out 60-80 tomato plants and almost as many pepper plants. Tomato vines need trellises. I make mine from just about anything long and strong -tree limbs, tool handles, leftover trim, pipes, or slats. The horizontal bars are three pieces of 15-foot rebar and some L-shaped bracing leftover from some house construction. Shorter sticks are used for pepper stakes. I don't have time to hoe weeds all summer, so I use plastic sheeting that was leftover from my in-laws basement lining project for garden mulch. It's much stronger than the plastic mulch sold for garden use, enabling me to use the same sheets year after year. It doesn't last forever. I have to go back to the old newspaper mulch method for part of the garden now. The early garden isn't great to look at (flowerscan be a distraction), but it will grow on you. Literally.

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I don't buy newspapers, but I put them to good use after someone else does. First, I read them. Some are kept for the fireplace, since wadded newsprint is good for tinder and rolled up whole editions can be used for kindling. Newspapers are also used for garden mulch. You lay down entire sections at a time and cover them with pine needles (because it looks better and it keeps them from blowing away). I don't use the colored sections for the garden because of the toxic dyes, but those are good for the bottoms of our birdcages. At the end of the garden season, I rake up what's left and throw it in the compost pile. It's pretty well shredded by then.

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The compost pile is the ultimate in recycling. Almost anything organic goes into it. In this picture, you see one bin is overflowing with grass clippings because it's May. I was emptying out finished compost from the other bin to use in the garden. Grass clippings are the biggest component in the compost, but I also add autumn leaves, trimmings, peelings and food scraps (lots of coffee grounds), rotted wood, and fireplace ashes. Since I have room for two big bins and only remove compost once a year, I don't turn it often. The addition of compost has changed my garden from almost pure clay to fine topsoil over a few years. You may have noticed the compost bin itself was made from scrap lumber. It's in an area of my property not easily seen.

These examples barely scratch the surface of my recycling habits. Call it redneck engineering or southern ingenuity (there are worse terms), but habits like these save money, or allow me to do things I otherwise couldn't afford. And it reduces waste, which is the right and fashionable thing to do.

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How to Rescue a Wet Book
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Water and books don't usually go together. If you're one of the many sorting through waterlogged possessions right now—or if you're just the type to drop a book in the bath—the preservation experts at Syracuse University Libraries have a video for you, as spotted by The Kid Should See This. Their handy (if labor-intensive) technique to rescue a damp book features paper towels, a fan, some boards, and a bit of time. Plus, they offer a quick trick if you don't have the chance to repair the book right away.

The Kid Should See This also notes that literary magazine Empty Mirror has further tips on salvaging books and papers damaged by water, including how to clean them if the water was dirty (rinse the book in a bucket of cold water, or lay flat and spray with water) and what to do if there's a musty smell at the end of the drying process (place the propped-open book in a box with some baking soda, but make sure the soda doesn't touch the book).

Of course, prevention is the best policy—so store your tomes high up on bookcases, and be careful when reading in the bath or in the rain. (That, or you could buy a waterproof book.)

[h/t: The Kid Should See This]

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15 Common Stains and Easy Ways to Get Them Out
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There's a stain solution to nearly anything you've spilled, smeared, squirted, or slopped.

1. GRASS

Four people sitting on a bench with the photo cropped from the waist down. All of their denim-clad knees are covered in grass stains.
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Everyone loves a lush, green lawn—except when it’s smeared on your clothes. The next time you’ve got a Kentucky Bluegrass mess, just apply some pre-wash stain remover and let it sit for 15 minutes. You can also go the natural route and mix up a solution consisting of one part vinegar to two parts water. Then, use a old toothbrush or other small brush to work it in. Finally, launder as usual.

2. BLOOD

When it comes to bloodstains, look to the experts: ER nurses. According to them, the first step is to rinse the spot with cold water ASAP and blot it until you’ve gotten as much blood up as possible. Then, dab a bit of hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain and watch it magically rinse away.

If the problem is upholstery or carpet, you’ll also want to use the cold-water-and-blotting method, but this time, add a tablespoon of dish detergent to two cups of cold water. Carpet cleaner intended for pet stains may also work well.

3. KETCHUP

A blob of spilled ketchup on a white background.
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The next time you find yourself with this condiment running down your shirt, don’t despair. First, flush the spot with water, starting with the back side of your shirt. Pretreat the spot with a liquid laundry detergent and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse well. Repeat this step until you’ve removed as much of the condiment as possible, then treat with a pre-wash stain remover and launder as usual.

4. TOOTHPASTE

Dribbling Crest on your shirt before heading out the door to work is certainly annoying, but it’s definitely not the end of your apparel as long as you act quickly. Remove the excess goop first, then get a cloth wet with warm water and blot the area. Next, add a few drops of laundry detergent to the warm water and continue blotting. Blot with clean, warm water to rinse and allow the spot to air dry.

5. RED WINE

A glass of red wine tipped on its side. Some liquid remains in the glass, while the rest has been spilled out onto a white napkin and tablecloth.
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This solution almost feels like a science experiment: Find the affected area and stretch the fabric over the opening of a bowl, securing it in place with a rubber band. Generously sprinkle salt on top of the fabric, then pour hot water through the fabric into the bowl and watch the stain disappear. Finally, toss it in the washer as normal.

6. GREASE

Got a grease stain? There’s a good chance that the antidote is sitting next to your kitchen sink. Any petroleum-based dish detergent, like Dawn or Sunlight, is designed to cut grease. While you probably use it to get your pots and pans sparkling, it has a similar effect on clothes. Just saturate the grease spot with the soap, let it soak in for a few minutes, then toss in the washer.

7. COFFEE

A yellow coffee cup tipped sideways, sitting on top of a blue dress shirt. The coffee has spilled all over the blue shirt.

If it’s a really fresh stain, you might be in luck (and also scalded). Running the stain under cold water from the back of the stain just might do the trick. If that doesn’t work, rub liquid laundry detergent on it and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. For old stains, soak the garment in cold water after you treat with detergent, then rub the fabric every 5 minutes to loosen up the stain. If it’s still stubbornly hanging on after about 30 minutes, soak it in warm water for another 5-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, try a gel stain remover, which does a good job at getting into the fibers of the fabric.

8. DEODORANT

Even if you’re extremely careful, putting on your shirt after you’ve already put deodorant on can be a tricky affair. But you don’t have to find a new shirt after those telltale white stripes show up on your shirt. Rub the smudges with pantyhose, knee highs, foam rubber from a padded hanger, or a dryer sheet. If you don’t have any of those things available, you can even rub the fabric of your shirt against the stain to loosen the residue.

9. MAKEUP

Various circular and square pans containing liquid and powder makeup, with brushes dipping into some of them.

If it’s concealer, eyeliner, blush, eyeshadow, or mascara, just use a little prewash stain treatment and wash as usual. Lipstick or lip balm may be a little more stubborn. If stain stick followed by laundering doesn’t work, try sponging the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent and washing again.

10. SPIT-UP

When the baby douses your shoulder with the remains of her lunch, you’re better off if she's breast-fed. Simply wash your clothes in normal detergent, then hang to dry in the sun. The sun’s bleaching properties should do the trick if the detergent didn’t.

Because of formula’s chemical makeup, formula stains are another matter entirely. After scrubbing at the stain with a stiff brush to remove as much of it as possible, sprinkle the entire stain generously with baking soda. Then pour club soda over the stain and let it soak until the mixture stops fizzing. Then, launder as usual, air dry, and cross your fingers.

11. MUD

The ankles of a pair of mud-splattered blue jeans hanging in front of a washing machine.

First, resist the urge to work on the stain while the mud is still wet. Most of the time, it pays to work on a stain while it’s fresh, but wiping at mud is only going to smear it around and make the stain bigger. Once it’s dry, shake off the dirt or vacuum it up. Then rub liquid detergent into the stain and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Rub the stained area with your fingers every few minutes to loosen the dirt. If the stain remains after 15 minutes, apply some stain stick, gel, or spray, and let it sit for five minutes. Wash with detergent as usual.

12. PAINT

Remove as much of the paint as possible with a paper towel, or, if the paint is dry, scrape it off with a dull knife or spoon. If the paint is water-based, all you have to do is rinse the stain in warm water until the color has run out, then wash as usual. If it’s oil-based, you’ll need to treat the mark with turpentine first, then rinse and launder.

13. INK


A pen in the pocket of a white dress shirt, with a blue ink stain starting to form in the bottom of the pocket.

The ink removal method will depend on what type of fabric you’ve marked with ink, but in many cases, rubbing alcohol or a solution of vinegar and dishwashing detergent will take care of it. Better Homes and Gardens has a quite comprehensive list of fabrics, from cotton to velvet, including detailed instructions for each. Your ink stain doesn’t stand a chance.

14. MARKER

Just because it’s permanent marker doesn’t mean you’ve got a permanent problem. Get the stain damp first, then spritz it with a non-oily hairspray. Blot at the marker stain with a paper towel until you see the color transfer from the fabric to the paper towel. You can also try the same method with rubbing alcohol, putting paper towels underneath the stain to absorb the color.

If you’re up for a bit of an experiment, soak the affected area in a bowl of milk and watch the marker ink change the milk colors. Repeat with a fresh bowl of milk until the stain is gone.

15. FRUIT JUICE

A clear glass tipped sideways on an off-white colored carpet, spilling red juice out onto the rug.

Contrary to most of the other advice for stain removal, you don’t want to get liquid detergent anywhere near a fruit juice stain—it will only set it. Instead, use white vinegar to blot the stain, then rinse with cool water. If the stain persists, try a digestant enzyme paste (unless your fabric is silk or wool) and let it dry for 30 minutes, then rinse.

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