13 Ingenious Uses for Tension Rods

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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.

6 Books You Didn’t Know Were Originally Self-Published

jtyler/iStock via Getty Images
jtyler/iStock via Getty Images

Though the wild success of a few self-published books—like E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey—has created a wave of DIY authors, it’s not a novel idea. Long ago, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, and Walt Whitman decided to go their own way for some of their most famous works. Here are six well-known books that were originally self-published.

1. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets //  Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane is perhaps best known for traumatizing generations of elementary schoolchildren with grisly, gory depictions of the Civil War in his novel The Red Badge of Courage. Before that, he financed the publication of his first work, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, an equally bleak examination of poverty, prostitution, and alcoholism in 19th-century New York. Just 21 years old at the time, Crane released the novella in 1893 under the pseudonym Johnston Smith and even devised a clever strategy to publicize it: He paid four men to read it on a New York elevated train. “It fell flat,” he said later, according to The New Yorker. But Maggie did pique the interest of fellow writers William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland, which helped Crane gain confidence and momentum for his next works.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit // Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Peter Rabbit original edition
Carl Court/Getty Images

While Stephen Crane’s Maggie was hitting shelves in 1893, British author Beatrix Potter was beginning to write what would become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The six publishers who received her manuscript insisted on publishing it as a large book so they could inflate the price, but Potter refused—she wanted it to be small enough that a child could easily hold it. So in December 1901, Potter dipped into her savings to print 250 copies herself. Its overwhelming early success convinced one of the original prospective publishers, Frederick Warne and Co., to change its tune. In October 1902, they released an edition with Potter’s specifications that sold more than 20,000 copies by that Christmas.

3. No Thanks // E.E. Cummings

E.E. Cummings had already published several poetry collections to widespread critical acclaim when he submitted what would eventually be titled No Thanks to New York publishers in 1934. All 14 of them declined the collection. One reason was that the Great Depression had made it difficult to sell already-successful books, and publishers were rarely acquiring any new ones. Another reason was that Cummings had ruffled feathers with EIMI, an experimental travelogue of his trip to Russia. Many writers thought it disrespected socialism, which was then en vogue. Eventually Cummings’s mother lent him the money to print the new collection himself. He named it No Thanks, and his dedication page read “No thanks to” followed by a list of all 14 publishers who had rejected it. The list was shaped like a funeral urn.

4. The Jungle // Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle
Byeznhpyxeuztibuo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In February 1905, the public encountered Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle as a serialized work in the socialist newspaper The Appeal to Reason, and again later that year in a quarterly journal called One-Hoss Philosophy. But when it came to publishing it as a book, Sinclair ran into serious issues. His contract with Macmillan fell apart after he refused to cut some of the more repulsive meat-packing details. Five other publishing houses also rejected the novel. Just as Sinclair was printing it himself using donations from readers, Doubleday, Page finally approached him with an offer. Always the portrait of integrity, Sinclair asked that they allow him to self-publish his edition so he could fulfill the existing pre-orders. Doubleday acquiesced, and Sinclair released 5000 copies of the so-called “Sustainer’s Edition” under The Jungle Publishing Company in February 1906, the same month that Doubleday released its almost identical version.

5. The Elements of Style // William Strunk, Jr.

The Elements of Style 1920 edition
Jimregan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Before The Elements of Style was Strunk and White’s, it was just Strunk’s. Professor William Strunk, Jr. privately published the self-proclaimed “little book” in 1918 for his Cornell students, and in 1920, Harcourt, Brace re-released it. But it wasn’t until E.B. White, one of Strunk’s former students, wrote about it in a 1957 issue of The New Yorker, 11 years after Strunk’s death, that it really gained momentum. The original 43-page publication, according to White, “consists of a short introduction, eight rules of usage, 10 principles of composition, a few matters of form, a list of words and expressions commonly misused, a list of words commonly misspelled. That’s all there is.” The rediscovery of the guidebook so invigorated White that he revised and added to it, and Macmillan republished the expanded edition in 1959. One hundred years and millions of copies after its initial release, The Elements of Style—or just “Strunk and White,” as it’s called colloquially—is one of the most acclaimed how-to books ever written.

6. The Celestine Prophecy // James Redfield

James Redfield’s novel/spiritual guide began with a 3000-copy print run that set him back about $7000. Redfield and his wife packed up their van and spent a month at a time traveling to independent bookstores across the nation to give a copy to each manager and whatever customers were present, reprinting as needed. The strategy reinforced the old publishing adage that the best way to sell books is by word of mouth: After a few months on the road, Redfield said that everybody was talking about it, and he estimates that they had sold around 160,000 copies. It was enough to ignite an informal rights auction between Warner Books and another unnamed publishing house, which Warner won. When asked at the Southern California Writers’ Conference if Warner requested any revisions, Redfield said yes. “But we didn’t do any of them,” he added. Warner published the book anyway, which then spent an impressive three years on The New York Times best seller list.

Want to Repurpose Old or Damaged Books? Turn Them Into DIY Wall Art

Svitlana Unuchko/iStock via Getty Images
Svitlana Unuchko/iStock via Getty Images

Many bibliophiles see their books as more than just reading material. Whether they're color-coded, stored backwards, or stacked around the house in teetering piles, books can double as decorations that add coziness and character to a space. This interior design trend spotted by Today pushes this concept to new heights by transforming old books into pieces of sprawling wall art.

Erin Kern, the Oklahoma designer behind the blog Cotton Stem, first had the idea to make books into DIY art in 2015. Her concept works with any books you have at home that you can bear to part with. Just grab a staple gun, secure the book covers to the wall you wish to embellish, and then use staples, glue, or tape to arrange the pages of the book however you like them. You can keep the book open to your favorite page or use some clever craft work to make the pages look like they're frozen mid-flip. As you expand the piece, you can add single pages or pages without their covers to vary the design.

Kern and other designers who've created their own versions of the project often combine old books with other types of wall decor. You can nestle framed prints of literary quotes or tuck air plants among the pages. Ana Ochoa of the blog Fiddle Leaf Interiors used hanging books as a makeshift canvas for a larger-than-life painting.

If seeing books stapled to a wall makes you cringe, rest assured that no one is suggesting you buy brand-new books to use as your crafting materials. This project is a great way to repurpose old books you never plan to read again—especially books with tears and missing pages that are too damaged to donate.

Looking for more literary design inspiration? Check out these pieces of furniture made out of books.


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[h/t Today]

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