Wash those Legos, and 39 other tips for better living in 2015

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

It’s a new year – with so much promise and so much to do. Here are some ways to make life easier and solve the little problems that crop up around your home and garden this year.

1. Replace the light over your garage door: Choose a bigger, brighter fixture. Garage lighting is often undersized, because builders spend lighting dollars elsewhere. A larger fixture outside over the garage door will enhance your home’s appearance — and you’ll appreciate the extra light every time you arrive home after dark. http://nando.com/pv

2. Start trolling consignment antique stores: You find great used stuff that’s cheaper and better than many new products. Like vintage Christmas decorations? You’ll score big time.

3. Beat bugs: Have an ant problem? This Old House magazine suggests spreading cinnamon across the path where they’re entering the room. They’ll avoid it like the plague.

4. Show, don’t tell: Have a small repair job that’s hard to describe to staff at home stores? Snap a photo with your phone and show it to them. A picture is worth, well, you know ....

5. Shop museum stores: From books to jewelry to one-of-a-kind art and crafts, unusual decor and gift items aplenty are to be found in museum shops — and many times shopping is tax free! 1000Museums.com is a good starting place, with links to merchandise from museums around the world.

6. Create an outbox and use it: Find a spot where you can stash stuff you might want to get rid of, suggests Apartment Therapy’s Maxwell Ryan in Good Housekeeping magazine, then ask yourself: Do I love it? Do I use it? Does my home need it? If any answer is "no," place the item in the outbox for a week. After that, decide whether to keep it or get rid of it. Still unsure? Wait one more week. Once your separation anxiety has passed, it’s easy to clear out a space, Maxwell says.

7. Protect your lawnmower: Want to avoid that expensive spring lawnmower tune-up? Invest a few dollars on a spray can of starting fluid. Squirt a few spritzes into the carburetor when you wheel your mower out in the spring, and it should start on the first pull. (Eliminates that trip to the shop — and saves your aching back, too.) Starting fluid is less than $5 from makers such as Gunk, Gumout and Valvoline.

8. Add pops of color: Fabric baskets, like throw pillows, are a quick way to add splashes of color to any room. They’re affordable and easy to replace when you want a change. And they’re handy, too, for stashing everything from magazines to the kids’ toys. See an amazing array at http://nando.com/q3.

9. Keep toothpicks on hand: Use them to pierce a clogged nozzle on a glue bottle; apply touch-up paint to tiny nicks on furniture; and to clean between the buttons of your remote control. (Dip it in rubbing alcohol first.) This Old House has more clever uses for toothpicks at http://nando.com/q4.

10. Foil password thieves: Use an accented letter in your password.

11. Upholster a door: Charlotte, N.C., designer Gray Walker tells Southern Living magazine that doors decked out in fabric and trim — say leather and rivets, for instance — are making a comeback. "Upholstery upgrades doors to a furniture-like status that’s really beautiful," she says.

12. Get discounts on meat: Many supermarkets discount their meat late in the evening, says Womansday.com. Ask at the meat counter what time the manager makes markdowns.

13. Save the box: If you’re updating your lighting or your bath hardware, save the box and use a section to create a cardboard template. When mounting an overhead fluorescent light fixture, for instance, cut a piece of cardboard the size of the fixture, then poke holes through the cardboard that line up with the mounting holes on the fixture. Use painter’s tape to mount the cardboard to the ceiling. Then you’ll know exactly where to mark the spots for drilling holes for plastic anchors or toggle bolts.

14. Make a foolproof art wall: Use painter’s tape on your wall to mask out an arrangement of art and objects; you’ll see right away if you have enough to fill the space and make it "important" looking, Domino magazine suggests. For balance and variety, include both vertical and horizontal works.

15. Keep Legos clean: Put Lego pieces in a mesh laundry bag, zip it closed and toss into the washing machine full of hot water and a bit of soap, says the toddler-mom who blogs at Gettinby.wordpress.com. When the cycle is over, spread Legos on a towel to dry.

16. Get handier: If you’re semi-handy and want to get better, buy one new power tool a year. Black Friday is a great time to get a quality item at a good price. And once you have a tool, you’ll find a way to use it. This year, we got a great hammer drill for $50. If you own a home, you’ll need one for drilling into brick or concrete.

17. Bring an outdoor rug inside: Many designs are a good fit for today’s casual decor and have the look and softness of cloth. Best of all, you can just wipe – or hose – stains away, making them ideal for a playroom or breakfast nook.

18. Wash those "tiger stripe" aluminum gutters: Your gutters are probably the dirtiest, dingiest surface on your home’s exterior. So, if you wash just the gutters, your whole house will look better! Krud Kutter makes a gutter wash that gets decent reviews. It’s about $12 for 32 ounces. Be sure to read and follow directions. Some homeowners swear by whitewall tire cleaner, too.

19. Use a trouser hanger as a kitchen tool: Attach a recipe to the clips and put the hanger on an upper-cabinet knob so cooking directions are at eye-level when you need them. Or detach the clips from the hanger and use them to close opened bags of chips and pretzels.

20. Use free home improvement advice: Thinking about tackling an intimidating home repair? Start Googling videos. You’ll learn a lot. Still need advice? On a slow weekday off, go to a home improvement store. You’ll find many people working the floor who are former contractors and know how to get the job done. They may offer a solution that’s easier than the one you had in mind.

21. Create a magnetic wall: A roll of printed, cut-to-fit magnetic wallpaper makes it easy to turn an odd niche or a closet door into a useful spot to display reminders and kids’ school projects. Houzz.com shows thousands of ways to use it.

22. Make a deck box do double-duty: These storage units are affordable, easy to assemble — and truly handy. They keep stored porch cushions dry and can double as seating. Pull the deck box up to the outdoor table if you don’t have enough chairs for guests. Ideal for storing gardening and grilling supplies, or the kids’ outdoor toys.

23. Get organized: Shoe organizers that hang on doors make great storage for cleaning supplies.

24. Clean a splattered, stained cook top: As soon as the stove has cooled enough to touch, wipe away the mess. Cover dried-on spills with a wet, soapy dish cloth and let it sit, then use the cloth to wipe up the softened spill, Real Simple magazine recommends. For stubborn, neglected messes, make a paste of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. Apply to the spill, leave on for 10 minutes, and wipe away with a damp paper towel. You can also use a nonabrasive cleanser.

25. Add an overhead garage shelf for more storage: These innovative devices hang from the ceiling; if your garage ceiling is high enough, you might be able to hang one in the space above the open garage door. Prices start at about $60.

26. Grill on the cheap: Use a lot of charcoal for grilling? Big box stores have huge markdowns around Memorial and Labor Day. And if you use a Weber kettle, invest in a hinged grill that lets you adjust the coals and drop in smoking wood more easily. Watch for year-end markdowns on charcoal as well.

27. Keep it clean: Real estate agents say dirty, smudged light switch covers are a real turnoff for buyers. (Sorry – couldn’t resist.) Clean or replace switch or receptacle covers. Experiment with a different color. Crisp white adds a designer touch. Switch and receptacle covers come in different sizes, too, so you might want to check out larger covers.

28. Collect lidded boxes: Decorative boxes make perfect risers for displaying mementos on a book shelf and provide interest and storage on a side table or nightstand.

29. Add new curtain rods: Especially, Houzz.com says, if you update other hardware such as door and cabinet knobs. Replace simple brass rods with, say, bronze or brushed nickel. Choose something more sculptural, more dramatic. Or go outside-the-box creative and try something like re-purposed electrical conduit or a gnarly tree branch.

30. Fight pet hair: Always shake clothing (preferably outside) before tossing it in the wash, FamilyCircle.com recommends, and add a couple of yards of nylon net to your dryer to catch pet fuzz. You can use each piece several times.

31. Find new uses for old things: Allyou.com says cutting a few strips of tin foil will keep your scissors sharp; that you can make a koozie by cutting off the ankle portion of a sock and slipping it over a bottled or canned beverage to keep it insulated; and that a dab of white toothpaste can be used to fill small nail holes in a wall.

32. Make over your linen closet: January is prime time for white sales. Toss worn-out bedding and replace with sheets and pillowcases that are color-coordinated to indicate size (blue for king, beige for queen, etc.), Heather Chadduck Hillegas suggests in Southern Living magazine. If space permits, assign a shelf for each bedroom. Hillegas likes keeping towels white but coordinating monograms with each bedroom’s color theme.

33. Spray it: If you can spray paint something instead of using a can and brush, do it. It’s faster and easier. If you don’t have a can of stain-blocking primer, get one.

34. Restore a scratched wooden table: Dip a soft cloth into a mixture of ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup olive oil and rub it onto the wood. The bloggers at Domestic Bliss Squared say scratches will disappear!

35. Keep a tidy litter box area: Used plastic bags from the supermarket are ideal for disposing of used cat litter. Store them in an empty tissue box next to the cat box for easy access. Some tissue boxes come in pretty designer patterns.

36. Update a light fixture: Transform an old brass light fixture or table lamp with Krylon’s oil-rubbed bronze spray paint. (Or hammered metal or stone texture spray. You’re limited only by your imagination.) Just clean the metal well, and follow the instructions on the can.

37. Make a better BLT: Arrange raw strips of bacon in a basket-weave that will fit on a slice of bread. Cook till crispy. Enjoy with your favorite sandwich fixings. Thanks to Buzzfeed.com for the idea.

38. Open blister packages easily: A hand-held can opener will cut through the packaging with ease, according to a list of 99 tips to make your life making the rounds on Pinterest and Facebook.

39. Freshen your entryway: Paint the railings when you paint your front door. For iron railings, use a wire brush to remove loose rust, coat with rusty metal primer, then finish with a coat of oil-based enamel. For a little more sparkle at your bright new entry, choose the semigloss finish instead of flat. rustoleum.com

40. Get kids’ toys out of the tub: Position a tension-type shower rod about 12 inches above the tub, next to the wall. Use hooks or ties to attach ventilated plastic baskets to the rod to stash bath toys. Rubber duckies, tub crayons and other toys will drip-dry between baths and be out of the way.