Charlie's Blog: Charlie's Miscellaneous Tips for Living a Better Life


Charlie's Miscellaneous Tips for Living a Better Life

If coming up with ten ideas sounds too hard, then come up with twenty.

I toss out a lot of things here concerning many different topics. But I have a practical side that doesn't deal with philosophy, religion, economics, or politics. I have collected an assortment of practical tips over the years that serve me well. Some people call these things "life hacks," but I don't think they are that big of a deal. These are the small things that I do in my life that have big results. They are in no particular order of importance. I hope they help you.

1. Use a Chemex to make your regular coffee.

My brother-in-law is a coffee snob who has an espresso machine in his home. But when we asked him the best way to make a regular cup of coffee, he recommended a Chemex for us and even bought us one. Initially, I was a skeptic preferring my filth ridden Mister Coffee. But I was won over after tasting the difference the Chemex made in the coffee. Plus, the Chemex is simple and easy to clean. We have been using this thing for years now, and we don't care to change.

I bought a cheap French press once from a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Georgia during my travels. I thought it would be a nice way to make coffee on the road. When I knocked back my first cup, I could feel the grounds in my teeth. Maybe an expensive one would do the trick with finer mesh, but it can't do the same job as a paper filter. Pour over is where it is at.

2. Go with a desktop computer.

I have owned one laptop computer in my life. I can't count the Chromebook I bought because my wife took that for herself. There is only one advantage to having a laptop computer, and this is portability. Otherwise, a laptop is junk.

You can't change the keyboard on a laptop. You can use an external keyboard and plug it in, but this is one step towards a desktop. Then, I see people using an external mouse because those trackpads are awful. Finally, they go ahead and get a wide monitor. You now have a desktop computer.

I have seen many similar set ups to this one. It amounts to a professional chef using a Swiss army knife in the kitchen because he doesn't want to buy a real knife. Likewise, people who use their laptops as desktops just don't want to buy a real computer.

A desktop machine allows you to change your peripherals or make upgrades to your machine because of its modular nature. This is why you should never buy an iMac because it is no better than a laptop with its all in one design. That was just some fetish of Steve Jobs who is now dead leaving the world to break free of his lunacy. Even Apple makes an overpriced modular machine.

With a desktop, you have more options. You can use a different mouse. You can change your screen. You can replace your keyboard when it breaks, wears out, or you spill coffee in it like I did one time. When you upgrade, you can keep the same peripherals you have come to love. And you can open your machine and change things or fix things as needed.

If you must buy a laptop, just get the cheapest one they make or get a Chromebook to supplement your desktop experience. You won't cry when the screen breaks. As for tablets, these are not real computers despite the hype claims Apple makes about the iPad. They are toys for people too lazy to sit at a desk.

3. Use a sun shade in your car.

I have been using these things for decades now. They work. They protect the car's interior, and the inside of the car is not nearly as hot. I don't know why more people don't use them.

4. Get a cheap backpack.

I have owned three backpacks that I can recall in my life. The first two were from L.L. Bean that I used in high school and college. The second one lasted into my post-college adult life because it had a leather bottom. I have no clue where it is at today. But the third one I bought over ten years ago from Walmart from the sporting goods section. That bag wasn't nearly as expensive as those Bean bags but has held up very well for me. I think it cost me less than $30. It was one of those camouflage bags the hunters would use. I have used that bag as a gym bag, luggage, book bag, day hike bag, and briefcase. It does everything.

A competitor to the backpack would be an Indiana Jones style satchel bag. Messenger bags are similar in style and function to the satchel. I tried a bag like that in college, but it doesn't hold very much stuff. Then, everyone laughs at your "man purse." The satchel doesn't have as much utility as a backpack.

I prefer a cheap camo bag because no one wants to steal the thing. Your expensive North Face bag or tactical Goruck sack becomes a target for thieves. But in an urban environment, a camo bag is an eyesore. Its cheapness and ugliness make it less attractive and easier to catch the thief in a crowd of people.

5. Bring your own cup.

We got an Ozark Trail tumbler from a family member as a gift. The cup is a copy of a Yeti tumbler, but it works exactly the same for way less money. I didn't think it was an awesome cup, but I have to admit that the thing has paid for itself as we use it often and bring our own drinks when we are out and about. It keeps ice for a long time, and you can top it off at a water fountain or from your own water bottle. Fountain drinks from the convenience store are expensive and wasteful.

6. Wear work clothes.

The problem with fashionable clothing is that it only lasts for a season. I have bought all sorts of fashionable and colorful clothing in my younger days and would laugh at the older men that wore the blue work pants and blue work shirts. I remember the old men in my family wearing these clothes forever. They never changed. Now, I wear those clothes and prefer them now.

I didn't plan this thing. The work clothes accumulated while the more fashionable threads got tossed out. Then, I stopped buying fashionable clothing altogether and just wore what was in the closet which was a collection of work clothes from all of the jobs I had done over the years.

The benefits of this clothing strategy is that you save money on clothing. Work clothes are more durable and never change in style. It doesn't bother you if they get torn or stained a bit. And you feel a certain freedom in being able to just do the things you want to do without messing up your threads.

Will you look like an auto mechanic everywhere you go? Yes, but I had someone say this to me the other day. "You wear Dickies? I love Dickies. They are so cool." Yes, they are cool and will always be cool. You just need to wait for the rest of the world to catch up to this fact.

7. Use isometric exercises.

It can be hard to get in any kind of exercise if you work at a desk or behind the wheel of a vehicle. But you don't need a gym or equipment to get in some strengthening exercises. Learn about isometrics and use them. When I am at my desk, I will sit with legs straight out and hold them for long periods of time. If you sit at the edge of the chair, you can feel it in your abs. If you surf the net, have some kind of squeeze device like a ball or a gripper that you can compress and hold. This will strengthen your grip. You can also Google other exercises you can do virtually anywhere.

8. Get a vertical mouse.

My wife worked in an office, and she was developing a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome. So, she bought a vertical mouse, and the carpal tunnel symptoms vanished for her. She left that job after they demanded she take a yearly flu shot, so she packed up that funny looking mouse. Recently, I dug it out of the clutter storage and put it to use because I was getting the numbness in my hands and fingers. My symptoms vanished since using this thing. It took a little while to get used to, but it was worth it.

9. Cook rice like pasta.

Cooking rice has always been a nightmare for me. I would dutifully measure out the right ratio of water to rice, but the rice would still end up burnt and stuck to the bottom of pan. I remember breaking down and buying one of those fancy Asian rice cookers, but this is just kitchen clutter. Then, my genius brother-in-law with the Chemex clued us in on cooking rice. Just put extra water in it and cook it like pasta. When it is done cooking, just strain the rice like you would with spaghetti. That tip has been a game changer for us. We haven't burnt the rice since, and it tastes no different.

10. Buy cheap garden gloves for winter gloves.

The problem with expensive gloves is that you are certain to lose one of them. I had some $40 gloves I bought ages ago. Finally, one went missing, and I could not find it despite searching for it. I blamed my wife for this because she is the scapegoat for all of my shortcomings, but it is really a law of the universe. The likelihood of losing a glove increases in direct proportion to their cost. So, I buy cheap garden gloves for a couple of dollars. If I lose one, I keep the other one and buy another pair. I follow a similar strategy with work gloves choosing the cheapest ones I can find at Harbor Freight. Gloves are just socks for your hands.

11. Use a table for a desk.

Decades ago, I had a real desk. It was one of those heavy desks with the drawers on both sides. The thing weighed a ton. It was so big that you had to remove the legs to get it through the door. But the dealbreaker for me was bashing my knees over and over on those drawers on the side.

I got the desk secondhand from a guy who just gave it to me as long as I came and got it. I would end up doing the same thing giving mine to whoever would come and take the thing away. A desk and a table achieve the same end except the table is more forgiving to the knees. If you need the storage space, get a milk crate to put beside the table for your stuff.

12. Use lemon pine cleaner as a bathroom freshener.

When you poop, it smells up the bathroom. This is not a problem if you live alone, but it is bad if you share a bathroom. You can use fans, air fresheners, and kitchen matches. They help some, but I discovered the trick one day. I took some lemon scented pine cleaner and poured it in the bowl. It wasn't a large amount, but it was enough to change the fragrance in the room. Plus, it helps keep the bowl clean. We took an old squirt ketchup bottle and filled it up with the pine cleaner. Then, we squirt some in the bowl every time we drop a deuce. That, Gentle Reader, was a game changer. Try it for yourself and smell the difference.

13. Eat oatmeal for breakfast.

We live in an age of low carb mania, and I think this is stupid. Carbohydrate is your body's preferred fuel source. If you are more into eggs, bacon, and sausage for breakfast, you need to rethink this. As for cereals, they are expensive, and you only get three good bowls out of a box of cereal. As for pancakes, they take too long to make. But oatmeal is ridiculously cheap, prepared fast, can take a lot of extra ingredients for flavor, and gives you a massive wallop of work fuel.

I try to get the generic oatmeal when I can because I want to save even more money. But I will buy a canister of Quaker oats if that is all that is available. I pour them in a bowl, add water, and nuke them in the microwave for two minutes. Then, I add sugar, cinnamon, honey, black strap molasses, sliced bananas, and a spoonful of peanut butter. That quick breakfast has fueled many days for me.

14. Get an Opinel No. 8 knife.

Every man should carry a pocket knife. The problem comes down to which knife. Should it be a Swiss army knife? An Old Timer knife? A super expensive Buck knife? A tactical folder? You can dismiss all of these questions by dropping fifteen bucks on an Opinel No. 8 knife. I have bought one for myself and two for family members. Everyone loves them. I have owned and used various knives over the years, and the Opinel is my favorite. I have used mine many times, and it holds a razor sharp edge for a long time.

15. Wear two pairs of socks at the same time.

If you have a problem with blisters on your feet, an easy cure is to wear two pairs of socks. The inner pair should be a pair of cheap acrylic dress socks. The outer pair should be a regular pair of socks that you normally wear. This strategy reduces friction on your skin.

16. Wear black socks.

All of my socks are black. This strategy saves me from trying to match my socks after I do laundry. I toss them loose into a drawer and wear whatever ones I grab.

17. Eat sunflower seeds while driving.

A long haul truck driver recommended this to me as a way to combat drowsiness while driving. The action of having the seeds in your mouth and shelling them occupies your mind enough to prevent boredom which leads to drowsiness and possibly dozing off at the wheel.

18. Use your phone's camera as a memory device.

No one thinks to do this, but it can save you a lot of hassle. When you check into a hotel room, take a picture of the room number. If you park in a large lot, take a picture of signs or lot numbers to remember where you parked. If you are going to take apart something for a DIY car repair, take a picture or two before you start, so you will know how it goes back together.

19. Text your email account.

I send text messages to myself all of the time. These might be reminders, ideas for the blog, things to add to my To Do list, or a new contact. When I check my email, the information is there waiting for me. This is better than writing notes in a forgotten notebook.

20. Get a European wallet.

Men's wallets from Europe have different dimensions than men's wallets in the USA. I suspect that it has something to do with the different dimensions of the currency. I just know that the Euro wallet is deeper and has more room. My particular wallet also has two zippered compartments. You can put a lot of things in there.


That's it for my tips. I thought up 20 things that make my life better. I hope they make your life better, too.