Little fixes between the heavy lifting

dog looking up at a treat


I have been doing a lot of walking lately.

I try always to do a lot of walking, but since I have been hard at some gnarly change-making, I have actually been doing a lot of walking. When I feel like it, I take a walk. When I don’t feel like it, I take an even longer one.

No matter what kind of walk I take, though, I try always to walk with a purpose. I know, I know, walking should be purpose enough on its own, for the mental health benefits, let alone the physical ones. But I still associate walks sans errand with my Crohn’s recovery, and sorry, I just don’t want to be reminded of that right now. I have made a small concession to non-utility by walking sans headphones, but that’s as far as I’m prepared to go right now. So to speak.1

Anyway. For today’s walk I decided to drop the Netflix envelope in the corner mailbox, so I might get Disc 4, Season 2 of In Treatment a wee bit faster. (Hel-lo, Gabriel Byrne, and Gabriel Byrne’s sexy Irish accent, and Gabriel Byrne’s sexy Season 2 haircut!) It wasn’t a long enough walk, so I brought along a book to return to the library. It was not due, but it would do.2

As I walked, to double-dip, I thought about what I might write about today.

Then I thought, “I’m tired.”

Then I thought, “I’m a baby for being so tired when there are people in the world who have REAL troubles making them tired.”

Then I thought, “Damn, I’m mean to myself. If someone else said this to anyone, even me, I’d give them a piece of my mind.”

Then I thought, “I really hope I’m not saying too much of this out loud.” Because I have been doing that a LOT more lately.

Then I stuck the library book in the return slot and it struck me: I clean my library books; I wonder if anyone else does that.

I do clean my library books. Each one of them, after I get them home and before I read them. I take some window cleaner, spray it onto a paper towel, and wipe all the schmutz off of the protective covers. Because (sorry) I have found a few things lodged inside of library books that made me wonder about the hands, the dozens and dozens of filthy hands, touching the outsides of library books. And even though I know that by the time the next patron who actually checks out any of the books I’ve checked out finally touches the book, it might be contaminated again, at least I know it will look nice. Nicer. That there may be a germ or two there, but the crusts of filth I found it with will not be there.

It occurred to me, in other words, that I do a (very) small thing that makes life nicer. For other people, I hope, but definitely for me. Which got me to wondering whether there were other little “hacks” like this that I had come up with which I could share, so that maybe people who hadn’t heard of them could use them, or that maybe people who had could say, “Hey! I do that, and I also do this….” Because you know me: I like a good hack.

So here is a very short list of things I have done that have made my life nicer far out of proportion to the amount of time, money or effort they took to implement. I only wish I’d learned them earlier in life.

  • I carry dog treats. I recently bought a bunch of Charlee Bear liver treats which I parceled into little baggies (previously purchased! I’m repenting!) and distributed in the pockets of my jackets. I like saying “hi” to dogs on my walk, and if the owner is amenable, I will give the dog a tiny treat.
  • I bought two dozen each of my favorite pens and pads, and stuck them everywhere. I still end up without one or the other at times, but far fewer times. They’re both more expensive than such things need to be, but it finally occurred to me that when I did have them around, I used them more because I enjoyed them more.
  • I wear a vest in the house in cool weather. I’m actually wearing a cardigan right now, because I had it on under the vest while I walked, and it is a little chilly. But I love the freedom of movement and air flow afforded by the vest (nylon, quilted) compared with another set of sleeves. I also wear a very old cotton jersey scarf from the moment it gets at all cool in L.A. (under 75ºF, for me). If you are a weenie, or have throat issues, you might find it comforting, too.
  • I put a tiny bit of water at the bottom of the votive receptacles. My sister taught me this, I think. She is a retired professional candle expert. Makes the melty stuff at the very bottom pop right out. Pop!
  • I keep an extra set of Tweezerman tweezers in the change drawer of my car. Believe it or don’t, the rear-view mirror is the most awesome thing to look in for eyebrow plucking. In daylight, when you’re parked, and hopefully no one is looking. Fantastic quality glass, and you can really get in there. When you have a big honker, this is an issue.
  • I also keep about five neatly folded up dollar bills in there. You see people at off ramps all the time here in L.A. Lots more, recently, it seems, although maybe that’s Yellow Volkswagen Syndrome talking. I used to stress out about it: what do I give them? Will the light change? Do I have small enough bills? Will they be offended if I just give them parking quarters instead? Now I just roll down the window and hand them a dollar bill with a “Good luck.” Easy-peasy.
  • I keep “enh” food on me at ALL times. I learned this on the SCD. If you have non-awful food on you, you will be less likely to eat crap food. The Apple Pie and Cherry Pie flavors of LaraBars are “enh”–palatable, but not so delicious I will eat them out of boredom. If I carried the Coconut Cream Pie ones, on the other hand, I would weigh 200lbs. Holy fucknuts, are they good.

I could go on (and I might, later, if the Heavy Lifting Phase continues). Instead, though, I will take my leave with a final “ask”: looking over this list, are there things that you’re thinking of that you do that offer such a high ROI on enjoyment and comfort without being totally jackass?

Because really, I would love to soak in a bunch of those right about now.3


Image by emdot via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

1Oh, god. You have no idea how off my game I am these days. Puns. Ugh. And too tired to fix them. UGH.

2YOU SEE? Ugh. Sweet Mother of Pearl, get me through this Heavy Lifting Phrase before I accidentally kill myself with blunt wordplay.

3And I realize that to a degree, this is what Lifehacker and similar sites are all about. But I’m looking for serendipity, not a long wade through a swamp. What have you found, O Wandering Fellow who has landed here?


  1. Near the bedside pocket vomit — one bucket for the quarters, one bucket for the nickels and dimes. Cause it’s called “nickel and dime” for a reason, amirite! Periodically transfer only the quarters to change drawer in car, Cha Ching!

    Carry two pens. Always. Because your friend will need a pen, and you don’t want to be a pen-dick. And also one pen will always be not quite good enough, and you don’t want it to be an excuse.

    Large glass, 1/3 full of ice, squeeze juice of whole lemon, Pimm’s Cup to top of ice, fill with club soda. Oh, is that beer you are drinking? I am sorry for how bloated and sad you are! Behold my refreshing chug! My blog comments are now AWSOME!

    1. Oh, thank you, thank you, Zota, for another recipe for my yummy Pimm’s Cup!

      (But less bubbly beers are not so bloating.)

  2. Hi Colleen. Love this list and the general intention behind this post. I know exactly what you mean. Here are some of mine:

    1. I always have 2 checks in my purse. always. And I nearly always need them.
    2. I carry my migraine medicine with me wherever I go. See #1.
    3. Always have napkins handy. Always. Always. Always. Especially if you live in the U.K.
    4. Say hello to strangers. It makes the world a better place and everybody is happier.

    Delia Lloyd

  3. Hi Colleen-
    I love this post!

    Here are my serendipitous hacks:
    1. Almonds and dried apricots live in my home office to stave off gluttonous hunger at dinner.
    2. I combine a walk with going to Whole Foods. Shopping for dinner and walking it home makes me feel like I live in Paris.
    3. The first outfit of the day is stretchy, in hopes of exercise. (this does not always happen)
    4. I ride my bike to lunch dates. I get less work done on lunch date days, but I get to feel like I’m 10 years old.

  4. If you take a lot of road trips, assemble what I call a “car box,” a sturdy box about 9 inches x 12 inches and about 5 inches deep (#10 envelope box or similar). I keep a plastic container of wet wipes, a partial roll of paper towels, sets of plastic cutlery from fast-food takeout, notepad and pencil, a list of handy phone numbers (state police, etc.), lip balm, and maps. That way, when it’s time to hit the road, I’m not running all over the house trying to think of and find stuff I’ve found handy when traveling. I add road snacks at the last minute — some of your “enh” snacks could probably just reside there.

    1. Oh! I love this one! Sadly, I keep all of that crap in my car already (I live in L.A., remember—we’re in our cars a lot, them of us what has ’em), but this inspires me to complete the “digital travel checklist” I started years ago. And I’ll wager your “car box” method could be applied to whatever thing one happens to do a lot (or even wants to do): a beach box, a hike bag. Thanks!

  5. Love it!
    Tweezerman for all those idle hairs that pop up all over the place that are best visible in the rear view (or visor) mirror!

    1. Tweezerman rules. I bought exactly one knockoff type implement since, and gave it away after one use. And then bought another Tweezerman.

      Bed, Bath & Beyond, with a coupon. (Thanks!)

      1. I seriously need a good pair of tweezers and am willing to give Tweezerman a shot, but lordy do a lot of different styles come up when you put “Tweezerman” in to Amazon (and why no affiliate link?)! Which ones do you like or are any/all equally recommended? LOVE the idea of putting them in the car. My home is definitely my castle, but it is not very well lit and good grief do my eyebrows (and other parts) look a mess when I venture into the light. Thanks for the tips!!

      2. Holy cow, you’re right: here is the Tweezerman slant tweezer on Amazon. I have also added the link in the body of the post itself. And remember, lovely people, even when perimenopausal trainwreck scrambles my brain and I forget stuff like this—and by all accounts, it will be happening more often—you can always support communicatrix-dot-com by shopping through the general Amazon link.

  6. My three ROI habits:

    1) I always plump and fluff the couch cushions before I go to bed, so that the couch is Kodak-ready when I get up in the morning. I’ve been told that this borders on jackassedness, but that is a price I’m willing to pay for a slice of peace-o-mind pie.

    2) I grow herbs from seed. I love knowing that the basil and parsley whisked into a vinaigrette was something I helped transition from ungerminated seed to leafy thing.

    3) I keep a jar of toasted almonds in the pantry at all times. It takes little time and little effort to toast almonds on the stove top. Sometimes I open the jar just to take in the smell of them.

    1. 1) I don’t have a couch, but I’ve been doing this with dishes. Not fluffing them, but washing them before bed so I wake up to a clean sink. FlyLady trick, everybody trick but lemme tell you, YES on that.

      2) This will not likely happen in my lifetime, but wow. You’re my hero.

      3) Yes! Only with walnuts, and I keep them in the fridge. I’m gonna try it your way.


  7. if you’re taking a show of hands, I have mine flapping around in favor of more ROI ramblings at your convenience. here are a few of mine:

    1. I put my keys in the same place every single time (magnetic hook by the front door), except when I don’t, and then I have to wander around the apartment looking for them. you would be surprised how easy it is to lose something in less than 400 square feet.

    2. I try my best to make sure the dishes are done before I go to bed so when i wake up, there’s a nice clean sink and nothing getting in the way of making the elixir of life that some people call coffee.

    3. I keep chapstick and tampons stashed in every bag that I use on a regular basis. this doesn’t always work out in the summer months when the chapstick turns into chap-goo, but for the most part I’m happy with this strategy.

    1. 1. Ditto. Front door, dish on the landing strip. Which—talk about your high-ROI hacks—is a divider I had a friend build for me and paint the color of my living room. So awesome.

      2. See above.

      3. Tampons are all but irrelevant these days, but young ladies, take note: me and my white jeans WISH I’d implemented this. The lip balm thing I’ve done on and off. Always “off” when I need it, of course, which is why one needs to commit to the hack! Also, I vote for a swap-out to squeezy tubes of gel in the summer.

      (These are fun, aren’t they? We’re like our own, updated Hints from Heloise book or something. Thanks!)

  8. I’ve discovered vests as well, outside but especially inside, though living in New England, I wait until it’s fifty degrees to put one on. Setting up the coffee maker with water and freshly ground beans the night before is wonderful. I advise against using the timer feature, unless you want that pressure to get up at the exact minute. I also have multiple pairs of drugstore reading glasses that I leave where I’ll need them – near the computer, in the kitchen, in my office, in my bag.

      1. You will love prescription reading glasses for long-term reading! I had some made a couple of years ago & couldn’t be without them.

  9. I decided to never feel guilty about buying more colored tabs, sticky notes, colored soft-barrel 0.5mm mechanical pencils, and cute colored paper clips. They are cheerful, and who doesn’t need more cheer in her office?!

    Ditto reading glasses, because I sit on the good ones, or break them.

    Thanks for the dog treats idea, I will be able to walk in my neighborhood during the day after I retire next year, and this will be a wonderful thing to try.

    1. Yeah, it’s a little bit of a financial-threshold thing. What’s acceptable? Under that, whoopee! (If it’s really important to you, of course.) That latte factor thing is only true if you’re blowing scratch on caffeine you don’t really dig.

  10. Your diatribe about the library books cracked me up, because I’ve thought about doing that myself. I think the APL must keep their’s fairly clean, because I have a discerning sense of “yuckiness” after working in a store that people sold their books/dvds too. I always always *always* clean my books and dvds now before I bring them in someplace to sell them, because holy shit y’all, that stuff gets GRIMY. *shudder* I haven’t washed my hands as much before or since I worked there.

    I also always carry two pens and a notebook on me, like the person above.

    I have a notebook &/or binder for every project I start. My husband thinks it’s absolutely ridiculous, but it works really well for me – my desk has a lot of cubbyholes so they’re all within reach any time I’m at my computer, too. My favorites are spiral bound notebooks, about 5″x7″, with the little envelopes in the front so I can stick related scraps or tearouts in there. If I get interested in a subject, I’ll buy a binder and print out ebooks/papers/etc. on the topic and keep them all organized in the binder. I have a binder totally dedicated to Dave Navarro’s free information, haha. It makes me a lot more likely to work through things since I much prefer reading paper to reading a computer screen.

    And I love to cook a big amount of food at once and then put it all in ziploc bags and freeze it. SO convenient!

    1. I love that you give yourself binders. I did that for a while, too. I don’t anymore, but I think that the lesson was that I *could* give myself binders. It’s so funny/interesting how “YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!!” tricks work.

  11. Hi Collen,

    Great ideas! I think I’m going vest shopping later today :-)

    1. I always keep stamps in my wallet

    2. I keep gift bags in the car for wrapping presents purchased while on my way to gift-necessary events

    3. I also keep spare envelopes and sunglasses in the car. Not necessarily to be used together, but both quite helpful when needed.

  12. I like that you walk with dog treats.

    I carry a harmonica with me on walks. I take it out when I feel inspired and play a little music.

    I carry a note pad with two pens. Sometimes one doesn’t work, so the other is there to save the day.

    I often don’t carry my cell phone. I don’t get that many calls as it is. It’s more peaceful without a phone.

    Lately I don’t listen to music while walking. I like the sound of the outdoors: the breeze and birds and squirrels and nothing.

  13. Yes! to those little habits that bring big peace of mind. This summer I invested in a small cabinet for the dining room to be my landing pad/charging station. It has a place to stash my purse, a power strip velcroed on the back for plugging in the various chargers for my electronics, and nine small drawers for miscellaneous. Love it.

    I’m on a vest kick this year too.

    Sorry to read you’re having an energy shortage. I don’t know if it’s becoming “a certain age” or just a tough slog lately, but I’ve become as conscious of energy availability as I am of time (of which there never seems to be enough). The receding daylight hours never helps with that. Hope you bounce back to feeling more vim and vigor soon!

    1. I think the energy thing is a combo. There’s a physical reality to aging, esp. if you don’t take good care of yourself. I drink way too much coffee, and I know I want to stop. (It’s next in line, habit-wise.)

      Change does take way way way more energy than I think it will. I’m always surprised by how exhausted I get. I need to acquire the skill for napping.

  14. Sorry, but I had to jump in with one additional suggestion. My sister in law has a “gift closet” where she literally piles up random children’s gifts (ones she spots in stores/ones that are given to her kids but aren’t suitable, etc.) Then, when/as/if she needs an impromptu child’s gift, she just reaches in the closet and voila! I don’t have an entire closet devoted to this sort of thing – more like an old worn out paper bag – but I do think the idea is a great one b/c you never know when there will be a charity event/christmas donation/random birthday party/visitor etc who needs a gift.

    Delia Lloyd

  15. I’ve started carrying one or two rolls of Lifesavers in my purse in case I run into a child whose parent will let me give him or her a treat. This doesn’t do me or the parent any good but I remember how thrilling it is for the child, as my grandfather and one of my uncles never came to our home without a chocolate bar for each of us kids.

  16. I needed to read this today- and fortunately I did! Hearing your internal dialog was incredibly validating to me. I like your list. Mine includes keeping my mug in my backpack. When I am doing something out of my comfort zone my mug is like a wubby- full of peppermint tea I can conquer the world (or at least join another group of humans without needing to hide under the furniture). Happy Thanksgiving Colleen!

  17. I typically do laundry about once a week and I keep seven wash cloths at my bathroom sink so that I have a clean one every night for washing my face. At one point in my life, when I had to roll change to make my rent, having seven wash cloths seemed like a huge extravagance. Now I know – it IS extravagant and the most wonderful treat at the end of the day.

  18. The fact that you clean your library books makes me feel like we share a secret! My secret is that I always try to leave a public restroom just a little cleaner than I found it. Usually this means I use a paper towel to wipe the puddles off the counter before I wash my hands. Other times, I flush a dirty toilet. You know, the one that everyone else has glanced at, grimaced, then walked away from? The one that is gross, but really, isn’t every toilet gross before it gets flushed? I use my foot to push the lever. If it is still really gross, I chose another stall. But at least I tried.

    Living on the road as we do, I use a lot of public restrooms. It just feels right to ease someone else’s (minimum-wage paying, probably no benefits) cleaning job.

    And I feel better about library books now, too.

  19. I love this post – and I’m so with you on the Lara bars! (And the Tweezermans, because the car really is the only place you notice those egregious things!)

    I always carry a paperback or magazine in my purse, because I hate when I find myself waiting (at the doctor’s office, child’s soccer practice, early to meet a friend) and playing with my iPhone to pass time.

    I try to exercise almost every day, but when I don’t feel I have time to lace up my shoes and go for a 50-minute powerwalk, I head to my carpeted TV room to march/run in place, barefoot, while watching Ali McBeal reruns. (Damn, I didn’t realize at the time just how good that show really was, or how timely it would still be over a decade later.) I really do get a good workout.

  20. I got a plastic divider sleeve thingy from an overpriced stationer I shall not name, when I went through a medical/dental phase – I always had heaps of bills, some to claim from medicare (the government rebate scheme in Australia), some to claim from my private fund, some to save for my tax return – and then there were the other bills – elec, gas, water, x3 from the telephone company (because that company is too stupid to amalgamate all accounts to one bill…) etc.
    This post reminds me that my system was OK, and I really should reinstitute it!

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

    1. I went through a similar plastic-divider phase, myself. What is it that is so satisfying about stuffing 3-ring binders full of info slipped into plastic sleeves? I don’t know, but it’s cheap and legal.

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