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10 tips for making your stuff last longer

To help delay those costly purchases, here are some simple ways to keep those jeans, razors and shoes for a lot longer.
Image: Blue jeans
How often do you wash your blue jeans? Probably too often.Richard Hertzler / Lancaster New Era file
/ Source: WalletPop

One thing sure to bring a tear to the eye of a frugal WalletPop reader is the sight of a product put out to the curb for trash pickup that could have, with a little more care, lasted much longer. To that end, we offer these 10 suggestions on how to stretch the lifespan of your possessions.

1. Quit washing your jeans
How often do you wash your blue jeans? After each wearing? Once a week? Once a month? According to some enthusiasts, you're destroying what should-be a longtime love affair. Blogger Dr. Denim says the most enthusiastic denim lovers will wear their new jeans six months before the first washing, then three months before a second washing.

And these aren't washings as you might picture them. Carl Chiara of Levi Strauss and Co. told the Wall Street Journal that at the six-month mark, he soaks his jeans in the bathtub with some very mild soap and lets them air-dry. That's it.

There is also an environmental spin to this issue: The United Nations put out a video encouraging people to wash their jeans less often.

Heat, water and detergents can make those new jeans look old in a hurry, but that's not such a good thing when the goal is to increase the lifespan of your favorite denims.

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2. Dry your razor blades
Among the most overpriced items on the pharmacy shelf is the razor blade. An eight-pack of Gillette Fusion five-blade cartridges from Amazon costs $2.64 per cartridge. If you go through one every two weeks, you'll spend $68.58 in a year. If you could cut that in half, what would you do with the extra $34 in your pocket?

Could these savings be as simple as drying your blades after each use? Oxidation of the steel blade can dull the cutting edge quicker than wear and tear against your facial hair, and the bathroom is the perfect climate for oxidation: warm and moist. If you store your razor in the shower, don't be surprised if you find those telltale specs of rust on your blade after only a few days.

To extend the life of your blade, dry it carefully after use (if you use a hair dryer, waft it over your razor, too) and store it in a drawer away from the sink and shower.

There are a number of devices on the market that promise to resharpen your blades, but little information on whether they really work or not. Have you tried one? What was your experience?

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3. Coddle your tires
A set of good tires can set you back $400, so the payoff from getting extra life from them can save you significant dough. Extending their life isn't rocket science, either. The Michigan Natural and Energy Resources Dept. recommends:

  • Keeping them inflated to the proper psi; check weekly. A set of tire pressure valve stem caps can help, and costs less than $10.
  • Rotate your tires every 5,000-8,000 miles.
  • Use the tire size your car was designed for; smaller tires will wear more quickly.
  • Keep your car aligned; misalignment will show up in unusual tread wear.
  • Avoid quick starts and stops. When your tires are smoking, you may be accelerating too fast.
  • If you store tires, stack them on their side in a dry, cool place, no more than four high.

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4. Keep your shoes pristine
With the price of shoes today, squeaking out an extra year or two of shoe life can help you save up for that new pair of Manolo Blahniks. Among the tactics you can employ:

  • Buy decent quality. Those half-price shoes will most likely last less than half as long.
  • Alternate your shoes (this applies mostly to men, I believe, since most women don't wear the same shoes day after day). By having two pairs of everyday shoes and alternating them, you give your shoes a chance to breathe and properly dry out.
  • Dry them completely if you've gotten them wet. Consider using a waterproof spray to keep the rain off, especially in the winter if you live in the north.
  • Clean them thoroughly before polishing, and polish often. The polish isn't just cosmetic; it protects the leather.
  • Buy shoes that can be resoled.
  • When shopping for kids' shoes, have them wear heavy socks to reserve a little room for their rapidly growing feet.
  • Break the habit of wedging yourself in and out of shoes without tying or untying the shoelaces.
  • Use a shoehorn for those that fit tightly.

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5. Make your perfume last
Perfume is altered by your body chemistry, so perfume will not smell the same on every person. Every perfume goes through three stages after it is applied to your skin: the top note, the middle note and the dry-out note. Depending on how it reacts to your body, these phases may go by quickly or last and last. Work with your perfume purveyor to find a signature scent that has staying power on your skin.

You can also extend the life of your perfume by applying it properly. This begins with moisturization. The perfume will stick to moist skin better than dry, so applying it before dressing, while fresh from the shower, could help it last. Using a non-scented moisturizer on those parts of the skin when you are about to apply it could also help.

Choosing where to apply it can also be a factor. Avoid the "pulse points", those parts of the body where you can clearly detect a pulse, because blood flows close to the skin there, so that skin is warmer — inside wrists, neck, behind the ears, on the ankles. Apply the perfume on parts of the body insulated with a fat layer (your upper arms, or your outside thighs, for example).

If your scent dies quickly on you, apply lightly but more frequently.

6. Keep that Christmas tree green
Some of the most enthusiastic season celebrators will put up their Christmas trees just after Thanksgiving and keep them up until the New Year. They risk having a dried-out fire hazard sitting in their living room for weeks. But you can take steps to keep that tree remaining supple and green all the way to the take-down.

The first rule: buy fresh. Perhaps you're lucky enough to live where you can pick out and cut down your own; if not, ask the vendor where the tree came from, and how long ago it was cut. Take a look at the needles. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, a fresh fir tree's needles "should break crisply when bent sharply with the fingers — much like a fresh carrot," while a pine tree's needles will be supple and resilient. Also check for excessive needle loss, wrinkled bark and a musty odor, all signs of a tree too long from the saw. Favor lots that shade their cut trees from the sun.

Before you take home a tree from a tree lot, ask the vendor to cut off an inch from the bottom of the tree, which will help the tree take up water. At home, keep the water reservoir at the base of the tree full of water. Aspirin, sugar and other folklore additives aren't necessary to keep the tree green.

Place the tree away from heater grates, fireplaces and any other source of heat. Don't expose it to direct sunlight, either.

7. Make your clothes last
Not all clothes can go without washing like the blue jeans mentioned above, but there are ways to extend the life of your underwear, children's wear, shirts, blouses, slacks and jammies. These include:

  • Treat spots rather than wash the whole piece of clothing. The new stain-remover pens work very well, and if you can save a washing, that piece of clothing will last longer.
  • Line dry rather than tumble dry. It's not only ecological, it adds that wonderful fresh sunshine smell to all you wear.
  • Avoid using dryer balls; they soften clothes by beating on the fibers, not a recipe for long life.
  • Maintain your body weight. Easier said than done, but some of us eat our way out of clothes long before they wear out.
  • Hang and/or fold your clothes. It's all too easy to toss wrinkled clothes in the wash basket before they've actually been worn enough to warrant washing.
  • Reserve a set of clothes for dirty tasks, and change into them before digging in the yard, changing your car's oil or washing your dog.
  • Use the sniff test to determine if a shirt or blouse is ready for the laundry, rather than automatically toss it in after a single wearing. Ask a loved one's help; your nose is used to your own body odor.
  • Remove and store those extra buttons sewed onto better quality clothing, so you can replace them when needed rather than ditch the piece of clothing.

8. Extend the life of produce
How much of the produce you buy do you end up pitching because it has decayed? Too much, if you're like my household. This is not necessarily inevitable, however. Try these methods:

Rehydrate. Vegetables like lettuce, spinach and celery can be brought back to life when they begin to wilt by soaking them in cold water. Dry well afterward.

Apples will stay edible in the crisper section of your refrigerator for a long time. Put them in perforated plastic bags to help them stay moist, and toss out any that show decay spots; remember the old adage about rotten apples. If you live in a cooler climate with a garage that doesn't freeze, you could store larger quantities of apples there. Keep them away from other fruit and vegetables that over-ripen easily, however; the ethylene gas the apples give off will hasten the ripening of other produce.

Refrigerate: Some fruits do just fine left out on the kitchen counter, but some are best kept in the fridge. These include berries of many types, grapes, cherries, apricots, and vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms and sweet corn. The University of California has a convenient chart to help determine what goes where.

Freeze: If you find you aren't going to be able to use peaches and green peppers, for example, before they go bad, toss them in the freezer. They'll last for months if properly packaged.

Chill: Some vegetables like potatoes will last a long time in a cool, dry area, perhaps like the far end of your basement or an attached garage. In days of old, root cellars were dug for this purpose.

Breathe: Onions and garlic should have room to breathe, so don't keep them wrapped in plastic or buried in too small a drawer.

You've probably seen ads for plastic produce bags that claim to allow ethylene gas to escape from fruit and vegetables stored within, thereby keeping them from over-ripening. Consumer Reports tests didn't find these claims valid, however.

9. Save that fine wine
Many of us enjoy a glass of wine with a fine meal, but when dining at home, it's not always wise or appropriate to kill the entire bottle, This leaves us with the dilemma of how to properly save the remaining wine so that it doesn't lose its bouquet and flavor.

The answer begins by understanding that oxygen is your wine's enemy, and the less oxygen you can allow to come into contact with your wine, the better it will retain its character. This means merely banging the cork back into the bottle isn't a good idea; you have all that air trapped with it.

One method is to keep on hand an empty half-sized bottle (a split, in wine terms) into which you can decant the wine. Perhaps a Tupperware tub of equal volume might also serve the purpose, but a wine aficionado would be aghast to see you pour a glass of wine from it.

If you are willing to pay some money to solve the problem, one device that helps is a vacuum pump made to fit over the neck of the bottle and suck out that nasty air. The Wine Doctor, however, doesn't care for this technique and conjectures that the vacuum pump pulls up more than just the air in the bottle neck — it removes gas that is part of the wine itself.

The pricier solution to the problem is to replace the air with a noncorrosive gas such as nitrogen or argon. The Wine Doctor isn't fond of this solution, either, fearing it could degrade the quality of older wines.

In retrospect, perhaps the answer is to drink the rest of the bottle, but do it very, very slowly.

10. Scratch-proof that smart screen

Fellow WalletPop writer Josh Smith turned me on to screen protectors for my HTC Droid Incredible smart phone. Phones such as this or the Apple iPhone allow the user to scroll across the screen with his/her finger. The technology, also used in the iPod Touch and the new, hot iPad, makes browsing a snap, but risks scratching the screen.

A scratched screen is not only unsightly, but it detracts from any resale value. There are a number of third-party screen overlays such as the Zagg Invisibleshield that are virtually impervious to scratches. Hint: You might find a better price buying through Amazon than through Zagg's website.

Those of us with clumsy fingers, prone to drop expensive objects, might also consider a hard-shell case for our device. I use the Otterbox for my Droid, and have dropped my phone a couple of times without damaging it. There are many other brands available for the device of your choice.

Again, shop around before buying it directly from the manufacturer, and you might save substantially.