13 Ingenious Uses for Tension Rods

iStock
iStock

Tension rods are inexpensive tools for hanging curtains. But if you’re only using them to set up window treatments, then you’re missing out on a ton of other uses for these versatile DIY miracle workers. They come in a range of lengths and load-bearing limits, and can be installed in a minute or two. Snag a few different sizes of tension rods—which are cheap and removable for when your tastes change—and start experimenting with these creative projects.

1. INSTALL A HANGING HERB GARDEN.

You'll need a sturdy tension rod to fit your chosen window's width and a group of small hanging plant pots for this project. Place the rod within the window frame at the desired height, hang (or string) the planted pots along it, and ta-da—an instant, space-saving herb garden. This also works with your favorite sun-loving flowers or ferns. “You will never have to worry about the rod coming down, and the window placement will lend a lot of sun for flower and herb planters," Justin Krzyston, president and CEO of Stonehurst Construction and Design in Los Angeles, tells Mental Floss. "You can hang almost any kind of plant from the rod for a practical and fun way to garden indoors.”

Once your herbs are grown and picked, tie them into bunches with twine. Dry the herbs by hanging them upside-down from—you guessed it—a tension rod placed in a door frame. Dried herbs will last much longer than fresh.

2. ARRANGE YOUR ACCESSORIES.

Hang tension rods within your existing closet to corral scarves, necklaces, and small bags. “You can even hang S-hooks from the tension rod to separate your bracelets and smaller items,” Krzyston says. Hooks also make it easier to remove and put back items because you won't need to remove the rod from the closet wall to retrieve them.

3. STORE CLEANING PRODUCTS.

Annie Draddy, organizer and co-founder of New York-based personal organizing service Henry & Higby, likes to use tension rods for cleaning storage. “Use a tension rod under a sink to hang spray bottles and other cleaning implements,” she tells Mental Floss. Hanging the spray cleaners at the top of the cabinet leaves more room for other items, like sponges, towels, and buckets.

4. ORGANIZE KITCHEN CABINETS.

It’s difficult to keep all your trays and pans organized in your kitchen cabinets, especially if they’re all different sizes—but that’s where tension rods can help, Draddy says. She recommends installing a few tension rods vertically inside the cabinet and standing up flat items, like baking sheets and pans, cutting boards, pot lids, and trays, between the rods. The arrangement saves space and makes it easier to grab the pan or cookie sheet without dislodging everything else in the cabinet.

5. CREATE A BUNK BED SCREEN.

Kids who share bunk beds will love the extra privacy that tension rods and curtain panels can offer, Krzyston says. This project works best on the bottom bunk because the rods are installed between the bed posts. If the top bunk's posts extend to the ceiling, you can double this project for the top and bottom beds.

To make the world's easiest no-sew bunk bed curtains, you will need three tension rods that fit the head, foot, and side of the bunk bed; a measuring tape, scissors, four or five lightweight curtain panels depending on the size of the bed, straight pins, iron-on fusing web, and an iron. Then follow these steps.

First, install the rods between the bed posts and measure the height from the rod down to the platform of the bed (past the mattress)—this will be the curtain's length. Next, lay each curtain flat with the backside facing up. Measure the same distance down from the rod pocket, and add two inches—the extra fabric will be your hem. Draw a line with a pencil across the curtain at that length, or mark with pins, and then cut each curtain along the line. Lay a piece of the iron-on fusing web across the curtain, 3 inches from and parallel to the end. Fold up the two-inch hem over the web and pin in place. (Now, measure the sides of the curtain to make sure they're of equal length, and adjust if necessary.)

Iron the hem to fuse it in place, removing the pins as you go. Once the fabric is cool, install the curtains on the rods. “The sturdy construction of the bed will lend an easy place for the curtains to hang without worry of them coming down,” Krzyston says. Boom: super-cool bed fort!

6. KEEP TUB TOYS TIDY.

This trick works on tubs with walls on three sides. Find a tension rod roughly equal to the longer side of your tub. String an even number of shower rings on it and install along the wall side of the tub. Then, hang small plastic bins from the rings (two per bin, which keeps them level) for storing small toys, and you’ll never have to step on a Paw Patrol toy again.

7. CONCEAL CLUTTER.

Are your bookcases and shelving units packed with odds and ends? Disguise the clutter behind an easy-to-assemble screen. Pop a tension rod between the sides of the cabinet at the height of the stuff you want to hide. Then, hang a curtain or drape a piece of patterned fabric over the rod, and you’ll have a custom-made junk-concealer. You can even string clip-style curtain rings on the rod and clip on a fabric panel—the rings will make it easier to push the panel to the side when you need to retrieve items from the shelves. Try it anywhere you need to mask garbage bins, Costco-sized pantry items, or other unsightly necessities.

8. CATEGORIZE BOOKS.

Short tension rods can take the place of cumbersome bookends and leave you more space for storing and displaying actual books. Install the rods vertically within the bookshelf to corral paperbacks, hardcover titles, magazines, or notebooks. You can also organize and divide your collection by theme or subject matter by installing rods vertically between the sections.

9. SET UP A CLOTHESLINE.

Make your space-saving indoor clothesline by putting a tension rod in the doorway of your laundry room or in any unused corner. You can pin garments to the rod with clothespins or air-dry shirts on hangers. The rod can also serve as a finishing area for freshly ironed clothes. The best part: Pop out the rod when you're done, and it will look like laundry never happened.

10. MAKE A FORT.

You don’t need to buy anything fancy to provide kids with a few hours of fun. Insert a tension rod under a desk or table, in the hallway, or in a low-traffic doorway. Have the kids drape a sheet or blanket over the rod, spread it out, and weigh down its edges with pillows—instant hideway! Or build a "condo" with multiple rods at varying levels down an entire hallway. The special space will boost the kids' imaginations and spark creative games.

11. HIDE THE LITTER BOX.

Litter boxes are a fact of life if you have a cat, but that doesn’t mean her business has to be visible. If the litter box is sitting in a corner of a closet, you can conceal it and create storage space at the same time. Install a shelf on the wall above the box at your desired height. The shelf's width should be about the same as the closet, and its depth roughly equal to the litter box (you might want to turn the box so the longer side is against the wall, but make sure the cat can still get in). Install a tension rod just under the lip of the shelf and hang short curtains (use the curtain-customizing method in #5) or drape a piece of fabric over the rod. Now Princess will have some privacy, and you can store her food, litter, and other feline accoutrements on the shelf.

12. CAMOUFLAGE UNDER-BED CLUTTER.

Choose a longish tension rod and install it between the legs of the bed on its visible side. Cut an oblong piece of fabric that, when doubled lengthwise over the rod, will hide the clutter underneath the bed. Repeat the steps for other sides of the bed. You’ll never have to see the mess again, and you can change the fabric's pattern or color whenever your design aesthetic evolves.

13. CONSTRUCT A BLACKOUT COCOON.

City dwellers have to deal with bright streetlights seeping in their windows at night. Even with the curtains closed, the light pollution can disrupt sleep. Ensure restful slumber with this fast blackout hack: Slide a tension rod that is roughly the width of your bedroom window into the rod pocket of a blackout curtain panel of similar width. Then, install the rod and curtain inside window frame, allowing the curtain to closely cover as much window area as possible. Close the existing curtains for a virtually pitch-black boudoir.

11 Thoughtful Gifts for DIY Enthusiasts

iStock/ASIFE
iStock/ASIFE

It can be tough to find the perfect gift for the people who make everything themselves. Why not give them the tools and supplies they need to create works of art with their own personal touch? Check out these gift ideas for every DIY enthusiast on your list.

1. Prismacolor Premier Hand Lettering Advanced Set

DIY Prismacolor Hand Lettering Set on Amazon
Amazon

With this set of high-quality pens and pencils, your artistically minded giftees will have the tools to add a personal flourish to letters, signs, greeting cards, and more. The kit includes two graphite pencils, seven illustration markers, two dual-ended art markers for bold lettering, an instruction guide, and—perhaps most importantly—an eraser.

Find It at Amazon for $20 and also at these retailers:

2. Urban Cheesecraft Mini DIY Farmer's Cheese Kit

DIY Farmer's Cheese Cheesemaking Kit from Urban Cheesecraft
Urban Cheesecraft

Portland, Oregon-based Urban Cheesecraft’s DIY cheese kit will make three to five batches of homemade farmer’s cheese, a versatile kind that can range in flavor from light ricotta to funky feta. Instructions are included along with cheesemaking materials. Just add milk!

Find It at Etsy for $14.

3. Olfa Rotary Essentials Kit

Olfa Rotary Essentials Kit on Amazon
Amazon

Perfect for paper crafters and scrapbookers, this kit includes two rotary cutters (in 45-millimeter and 18-millimeter sizes) and a self-healing mat. These tough tools will cut paper as well as leather, cloth, vinyl, film, photos, wallpaper, and more.

Find It and Amazon for $38 and also at these other retailers:

4. MoMa Design Store Crepe Myrtle Bonsai Growing Kit

MoMA Design Store Crepe Myrtle Bonsai Growing Kit
MoMA Design Store

Coax a Lagerstroemia indica from seed to tiny tree with this made-in-the-U.S.A. kit. In its second summer, this fast-growing crepe myrtle will bloom with mini pink and red flowers, then drop its leaves to reveal its distinctive gray-on-red branches. After five years, the tree will sport a pretty crown of deep green leaves and red blossoms in season.

Find It at MoMA Store for $36.

5. Impressart Metal Stamping Kit

ImpressArt Metal Stamping Kit on Amazon
Amazon

This slightly intimidating kit contains everything a crafter needs to stamp impressions into metal jewelry or objects. Along with the 1-pound hammer and small steel anvil, the Stamp Straight Tape helps you make impressions in a straight line and keep letters evenly spaced. The stamps themselves feature the letters of the alphabet (upper and lower case kits are available) and special characters.

Find It at Amazon for $113.

6. Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit

Make Your Own Hot Sauce Kit from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Your bestie will be weaned off Sriracha when he concocts his own sauce with dried guajillo, chipotle, and arbol peppers. The kit contains the essentials (like gloves and bottling materials), plus all the ingredients needed for six custom-made bottles of the hot stuff.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $35.

7. Solar Photography Kit

Solar Photography Kit and photo examples from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Popularized in the 1840s by Anna Atkins, the first female photographer, solar photographs (also known as cyanotypes thanks to their blue color) use sunlight to develop images on chemically treated paper. Just lay a photo negative or object on the paper, place it in the sun for a while, and voilà. This kit includes six sheets of photosensitive paper, a light-proof storage envelope, and instructions. Fabric kits are also available.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $15.

8. Churchmouse Yarns Lykke Indigo Interchangeable Needle Set

Lykke indigo interchangeable knitting needles set from Churchmouse Yarns
Churchmouse Yarns

Your lucky giftee can take her knitting to the next level with this set of solid birch needles. Dyed an elegant indigo blue, the needles range in size from US 4 to US 17 and come with five cords in different lengths, two cord connectors, four keys, and four stoppers in their own denim-look carrying case.

Find It at Churchmouse Yarns for $138.

9. Southern Bourbon Stout Beer Brewing Kit

Southern Bourbon Stout beer brewing kit from Uncommon Goods
Uncommon Goods

Why fight the drunken hordes at your local craft brewery when you, or your gift recipient, can brew your beer in the comfort of your home? This artisanal kit includes the hardware—a fermentor jug, racking cane, funnel, and more—and malt extract, specialty grains, fresh hops, and yeast to make one gallon of homemade brew. This particular formula relies on oak chips soaked in bourbon (booze not included) to add woodsy vanilla notes to your beer.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $45.

10. Cavallini Flora and Fauna Rubber Stamp Set

Cavallini flora and fauna rubber stamp set from Amazon
Amazon

Create woodland scenes on mail art, gift cards, holiday decor, and more with these rubber stamps on wood blocks. Vintage designs include an owl, songbird, deer, dogwood flower, and other forest friends. The stamps come in an attractive tin with a high-quality black ink pad.

Find It at Amazon for $25 and also at these other retailers:

11. The Chart of Hand Tools


PopChartLabs

Your favorite tinkerer will always know which equipment to enlist for their next home improvement project, thanks to this detailed graphic of 300 hand tool illustrations, organized by use case.

Find It at PopChart Labs for $40.

7 Packing Tips for a Basic Economy Flight

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

Booking a basic economy flight can be a smart way to save money if you’re traveling light. But if you’re planning on taking an extended vacation or a long trip home for the holidays, it could end up costing you more in the long run. Some airlines limit basic economy fliers to one personal item that fits under their seat, which means if you show up to the airport with a full-sized carry-on, you’ll have to pay to check it. That shouldn’t be an excuse to skip the cheapest options when shopping for plane tickets. We spoke to some travel experts, who explained how to pack everything you need for a long trip into one personal bag.

1. Choose the right bag.

For a basic economy flight, you need to start with the right bag before deciding what to pack and how to pack it. Most regular-size luggage won’t fit under an airplane seat, so look for a quality purse or backpack instead. Size is an important factor, but according to Matthew Kepnes of the travel site Nomadic Matt, you should also find a bag that helps you stay organized. “Bring something flexible and with lots of pockets so you can better organize your things,” he tells Mental Floss. “Ideally, your bag will also have outer pockets so you can take advantage of the space outside your bags for things like flip-flops or a water bottle.”

Hitha Palepu of the travel site Hitha On The Go recommends two of her favorite bags as your personal item: the metro tote from MZ Wallace, or the bento bag from Nomad Lane.

2. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane.

Bringing heavy clothing on a trip is necessary if you’re traveling someplace cold for the holidays. Instead of wasting valuable real estate in your bag, set aside the items that would take up the most space and slip them on before heading to the airport. “I try to wear my bulkiest items—the heaviest shoes, a coat, chunky sweater,” Palepu tells Mental Floss. And if you start to get hot beneath all those heavy clothes, you can always strip off a layer and use it as a pillow on your flight.

3. Take a minimalist approach.

When packing for basic economy flight, look at each item before putting it in your bag and ask yourself if you really need it. If you hesitate, set it aside and move on to the next thing. Having a minimalist attitude is the only way to leave the house with a personal bag you can fully zip closed. “We often get overzealous when it comes to packing for your trip, thinking we will need this and that when the truth is, we usually don't,” Kepnes says. “Don't plan for every contingency and bring your whole wardrobe. Keep it simple.”

4. Pack your most versatile wardrobe staples.

Instead of sacrificing your personal style on your next trip, stick to a few basic clothing pieces that are able to do a lot of work. According to Kepnes, versatility is key. “Bring clothes that all go well together so you can make up more outfits and not only have specific clothing combinations,” he says. “Just try to get the most mileage from each item.”

5. Plan to re-wear clothes.

There’s no trick that will help you fit two weeks' worth of clothing beneath your seat. The only choice is to pack as much clothing as you can fit and plan to re-wear those items—which, according to Kepnes, isn’t the end of the world. “You can always do laundry at your destination, too, so don't worry about running out of clothes,” he says.

In order to stretch her travel wardrobe as far as possible, Palepu packs essential oils so she can refresh pieces between wears. You can also fill a tiny travel-size spray bottle with Downy Wrinkle Releaser to smooth and freshen your clothes before and after wearing them.

6. Don't waste money on vacuum-sealed bags.

Using a space-saving vacuum bag may seem like an appealing option if you’re struggling to fit all your stuff in your backpack, but both Kepnes and Palepu say not to bother. “If you're careful about what you pack, you don't need a vacuum sealer or packing cubes to conserve space,” Palepu says. Instead of a special folding strategy, she’s conserves space by being mindful of the order she packs her items in. “When I pack, I pack the heaviest and bulkiest items first and my smallest, most flexible items last so I can fit them in the small nooks and crannies left by the bigger items.”

Kepnes also doesn’t endorse any special folding methods, but he sometimes uses packing cubes to stay organized. “If you still don't have enough room in your backpack, that just means you've got too much stuff!” he says. (He recommends his favorite backpacks here.)

7. Buy what you can at your destination.

There’s no reason to buy travel toiletries and gifts for your host on the way to the airport. If you need something that you’ll only be using at your destination, wait until you arrive to pick it up. “Keep your packing to a minimum and just aim to buy a few things upon arrival,” Palepu says. “That will keep you within the size limits but still allow you to have everything you need for your trip.”

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