10 Everyday Things You're Probably Doing the Hard Way

MacGyver was a master of ingenious solutions. You don't need to live his life of peril to put these handy tips to work, though.
©Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

As far as the writers of the TV series "MacGyver" were concerned in the late '80s, a bar of chocolate could stop a sulfuric acid leak -- and as it turns out, they were right. Sometimes, the easiest solutions are right in front of us, with simple tools and uncomplicated methods.

Despite our desire for ease, studies show that in the long run, we may be able to make ourselves smarter by doing things the hard way. What researchers have found is that every time we learn a new skill, solve a problem or complete a task that needed to be thought through (for example, planning your route rather than relying on your GPS mapping program to do it for you), you're boosting your working memory. That's all well and good, but what's the point of taking the hard way to, say, tear into a knotted bag of take-out? There's a part of all of us that sometimes just wants to take the easy way out, the chocolate bar way out, especially when it comes to things like figuring out the tip and untying knots. Here we have a list of tricks that would make MacGyver proud, or at least keep you from tripping over your untied shoelaces. Let's begin with how to get into that take-out bag.


10: Untie the Delivery Bag Knot

Getting into a tightly knotted takeout bag is as easy as a twist and a push.

So, you probably normally break into the plastic bag from your local delivery joint with scissors, but that can be messy if you happen to clip interior packaging, and scissors aren't always handy. It can be hard to muster the patience for fiddling with a tight knot in an effort to get to your General Tso's chicken, but with some basic knot-untying knowledge you can do it with your own deft fingers.

You're going to untie the knot using ingenuity instead of a blade. This method of untying the bag knot doesn't involve picking at the plastic handles hoping to successfully loosen the loops. The key to the successful knot untying is to twist and push, not to pick. Twist one of the ends of the bag handles (the part that sticks out above the knot) into a tight, solid form, then push it through the knot to get to your delicious dinner.


9: Slice Tomatoes

If your tomato slices tend to be mushy or mangled, a dull knife may be the culprit.

Wonder why your tomato slices aren't perfect like the ones on your favorite deli sandwich? It's probably not your technique; it's more likely that your kitchen knife is dull. A dull blade is going to make you work harder as you slice. You'll also use a heavier hand to pierce the tomato skin, and that heavy hand does two things: It increases your risk of cutting yourself, and it increases the mushiness of your tomato slices.

Aside from the obvious tip of sharpening your blade to make slicing easier, try using a serrated knife, such as a bread knife. You may have better luck keeping your slices firm and intact because the serrated edge won't have any trouble piercing the tomato's skin. Slicing tomatoes is also a great task for your kitchen mandolin, egg slicer or meat slicer for perfect, uniform slices every time.


8: Take Scratches Out of Furniture

A quick fix for scratched wood is as close as the kitchen.

Maybe your new puppy scratched your wood flooring or you noticed a new scratch in your dining table after a dinner party. Fixing scratches in furniture is easy, doesn't require sanding, varnish or stain, and doesn't require a trip anywhere other than your kitchen. Kitchen? Yes -- for a walnut.

It's the oil from the walnut meat that does the work here. Walnut oil penetrates the wood and can be used just as linseed or tung oil to keep wooden furniture and floors from drying out -- and as it turns out, if you coat a scratch with it, the scratch will blend back in to the surrounding wood color. And since walnuts are non-toxic, as long as no one you're preparing food for has a nut allergy you can also use them to correct any scratches in wooden bowls and kitchen utensils (and the oil is good for maintaining wooden cutting boards). Simply rub the scratched area with a shelled walnut to watch the scratch disappear, and then buff with a soft cloth.


7: Find Studs

The magnets on your fridge can do double duty as stud finders.
©Getty Images/Thinkstock

You may see some people knocking along a wall, listening for the tone to change when they reach a stud, but there is a more exact technology we can put to work for us. There are two ways to figure out where the studs in your walls are: Buy the latest and greatest stud finder at your local hardware store, or grab a magnet off your refrigerator (or two, depending on how powerful those magnets are).

Cutting-edge electronic sensor-style stud finders are tempting. They work by finding the edges of wood studs -- the latest technology in stud finders uses electromagnetic pulses to detect stud locations. But you don't need to use a special tool for this job. All you really need is a magnet to find a stud. Magnets can be used to find the metal drywall fasteners in wood studs (these are the screws or nails from when the drywall panels were installed) -- and they'll also find the locations of metal studs (usually found in commercial buildings rather in our homes).


While you can buy magnet-style stud finders, you can easily make one; just tie a short piece of string to a kitchen magnet and dangle it against the wall. When the magnet swings toward the wall, you've struck a stud. And once you've found the first stud, finding others based on its location is fairly easy: Studs are normally 16 inches (40.6 centimeters) on center, which means from the center of one stud to the center of an adjacent stud (but since this varies look up your local code to be sure).

6: Tie Your Shoes

By simply reversing the direction of one lace-tying step, you'll create a more stable knot.

Most of us learned to tie our shoes using what's called a granny knot, but all these years it turns out we're doing it wrong, or at least we're doing it inefficiently. The granny knot, as it turns out, is an unbalanced knot, meaning it's a type of knot that may lend our shoelaces to easily twisting, coming loose or coming completely undone. The knot we should be using is one called the reef knot -- a binding knot used in sailing, in surgery, and in efficient shoelace tying.

Tying a reef knot with shoelaces begins the same as a granny knot, but here's the key difference: Once you've made a loop with the right lace you'll wrap the left lace behind the loop (around the front would make this a granny knot). Pull it tightly through the loop you create at the base of your knot when you wrap it around the right hand loop, and you've got yourself a balanced shoelace knot.


5: Clean the Microwave

Elbow grease will no longer be required for microwave cleaning jobs.

Cleaning the microwave oven doesn't require oven-scrubbing chemical solutions or spray-on foams. All you need is water and some white distilled vinegar, which will help cut grease.

Here's what to do: Mix one-half cup of water with one-half cup of white distilled vinegar in a microwave-safe bowl. (Use at least a four-cup bowl, otherwise you risk your water boiling over.) Microwave on high for several minutes, until the water comes to a rolling boil and the microwave window steams up. Let it cool for a few minutes before opening the door, then wipe the loosened food debris with a damp sponge and you're done.


For a more pleasant scent, instead of using vinegar add a few slices of orange, lemon or lime to one cup of water and microwave until boiling.

4: Save Money

Many employers will allow you to split your direct deposit, so you can divert funds to a savings account each paycheck without even thinking about it.

There are two big things you can do to change your financial outlook and increase your savings: Create a budget and pay yourself first.

Creating a personal budget may sound like a difficult or tedious task, because more than 50 percent of Americans don't keep one (and as many as 20 percent of us don't have any idea how much money we actually spend every month) [source: Forbes]. Before you can save money, you need to know what you're spending it on. Remember to revisit your budget from time to time because as your needs change, so will your financial goals.


And when it comes to those financial goals, here's that second piece of advice from the experts: Pay yourself first. Have a certain amount from your paycheck automatically deposited into your savings account instead of relying on yourself to remember to transfer it at a later date; out of sight, out of mind. Experts recommend having no less than 10 percent of your pay automatically deposited into a savings account [source: Schwartz]. Part of this savings should first go into establishing an emergency fund if you don't already have one -- aim for enough savings to cover about 3 to 6 months of your expenses, as just-in-case money -- then start paying down debts.

3: Open Blister Packs

Electronics retail display
©Scott Olson/Getty Images

You won't be surprised to learn that you're not the only one who can't open those plastic packages that electronics, toys and so many other things seem to be encased in these days. That hard plastic packaging, also known as clamshell, oyster or blister packs, was introduced to deter shoplifting, but as a consequence of its tamper-proof features, it's also known to cause injuries when consumers try to open their purchases. In fact, according to estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year more than 6,000 Americans are treated in emergency rooms for injuries incurred from their attempts to open plastic packaging -- usually lacerations or puncture wounds (and imagine how many more of us just reached for a band-aid) [source: Elliott]. The secret to blister-pack success? Put down the scissors and the knife and give your can opener a go instead. Not only is it similar to some of the special tools on the market designed to do open these packages, it actually works. And you probably have at least one in your kitchen right now.


2: Prevent Blisters

Blistered foot with kinesio tape

When you have a blister it can be a pain in the, well, foot, for sure, but there's an easy way to prevent friction blisters without buying special socks or shoes or whatever else you may have tried: A study conducted with groups of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., found that applying antiperspirant to your feet reduces your odds of developing foot blisters. While as many as 48 percent of the cadets who used a placebo treatment complained of blisters, only 21 percent of those who treated their feet with antiperspirant before hiking suffered any foot blisters [source: Knapik].

Here's why: Friction causes blisters, and when your skin is sweaty or moist, you increase that friction and the odds of developing blisters. Antiperspirant fixes this problem because it's made to reduce sweat -- in this case you're just using it on feet instead of underarms. To prevent a white mess, use a clear stick or a spray.


1: Figure Out How Much to Tip

Restaurant check with cash in folder

Figuring out how much to leave for a restaurant tip was a little more difficult for some of us before there were apps to calculate it. There are several ways to calculate a tip in your head, though, and they aren't difficult -- this method will work no matter what (some calculations are based on the tax, but some states don't charge tax so those methods aren't foolproof).

Here's what you're aiming for: Tip your waiter or waitress 15 percent of the pre-tax bill (and as much as 20 percent for excellent service) [source: The Emily Post Institute]. Despite how many of us have trouble with this, one of the best ways to figure out that 15 percent in your head is no more than a two-step process.

First, calculate one percent of the bill. Let's use a $24.00 bill as our example: One percent of a $24.00 bill is $0.24 (just move the decimal point two places to the left).

Next decide how much you'd like to tip. For a 15 percent tip, multiply $0.24 by 15, which equals a $3.60 tip. Twenty percent for great service? Multiply $0.24 by 20 for a $4.80 tip -- and so on for calculating 16, 17 or any other percent you'd like.

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Author's Note: 10 Everyday Things You're Probably Doing the Hard Way

Thanks to this article, I am now an expert tipper. I used to use another method, which, to be honest I never really liked unless I was calculating 20 percent. It went like this: First I'd calculate 10 percent of the bill, divide that resulting number in half, add the two together and there it was, the tip amount. So for example 10 percent of a $24.00 bill is $2.40. Divide $2.40 in half to calculate five percent. Add $2.40 and $1.20 for $3.60, a 15 percent tip. Figuring a 20 percent tip takes only two steps. First calculate 10 percent of the bill and then double that number. So, 10 percent of $24.00 is $2.40. Double that number -- $4.80 -- for a 20 percent tip. I'm exhausted just explaining it.

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