12 Simple Upgrades for the Frustrating Things We Keep Putting Up With

12 Simple Upgrades for the Frustrating Things We Keep Putting Up With
Worthy solutions that actually work.

Thanks to Brio for partnering with us and offering Primer readers a free Zero Blade attachment ($25) with their Beardscape purchase.

My dad has always pushed the work smarter, not harder aphorism. He went a little overboard at times (I still tease him about the “right” way to recoil the vacuum cord), but the lesson has stuck, and I now consider myself an ultra-pragmatic man as a result. Perhaps it’s why I tell my literature students to stop using twelve words when seven will do. The problem with work smarter, not harder is that it’s often a matter of trial and error: I have to try several hard ways until I find the smart way. The last thing I want is for everyone to have to suffer the same plight if they don’t have to.

So in the spirit of saving everyone a little time here are twelve solutions to annoying problems that you probably have. 

Your Nice Leather Goods are Cracking

obenaufs leather preservative

When I was in college, I picked up a leather messenger bag. It was handmade in Italy by one craftsman from start to finish, beautiful: Sixteen years later, I still carry that bag to work everyday, and it’s only now starting to show its age. My secret weapon? Obenhauf’s leather conditioner.

If you want to keep your leather bag (or shoes, or jacket, or chair) from cracking, rub a light coating of Obenhauf’s on with your fingers, let it sit for an hour, then give it a light buff with a microfiber cloth. For best results, let the item hang overnight to ensure total absorption. 

Your Facial Hair is a Pain to Upkeep

brio beardscape v2 with zero blade
Brio Beardscape 2 with free Zero Blade attachment for Primer readers

A month ago I decided I’d let my beard grow out for the first time. After a few weeks, I had some decent growth, but it was starting to look scraggly to say the least. I stopped at Walmart and picked up a $27 beard trimmer with a few attachments. Took it home, fired it up, nope. Back in the box. I’ve said before that I believe in the cry-once philosophy, so I’m not sure why I thought I’d be ok with going cheap on something that's going against my damn face. 

If you’re thinking about growing facial hair or you already have it, you need a decent beard trimmer. And a trimmer is one of those you-get-what-you-pay-for kind of items. 

display of brio beardscape v2

We like the Brio Beardscape V2 Trimmer for a few reasons.

1. One of the most annoying facets of trimmers is when they come with 18 different attachments. The V2 allows you to dial in the length you want directly on the trimmer itself, which keeps guard attachments to a minimum. 2. If you have a thick beard, you need a trimmer with a powerful motor to cut through it, and the V2 sports a motor that revs 5-7k RPMs at the sharper-than-steel ceramic blade. 3. The V2 has design features that other brands haven’t thought of yet, like a display that shows your speed and battery life and a travel lock so the battery won’t run out in your suitcase (and the TSA won’t think it’s…something else in your bag). 4. The V2 has a two-year warranty, which even covers the plastic guards. 

Brio Zero Blade

If you need the extra precision of an extremely close cut or want tight line-ups Brio offers the Zero Blade, an optional attachment that can shape at 0.2mm length. Brio is offering Primer readers a free Zero Blade when you order the Beardscape V2

Start Winning the War on Pet Hair

a robot vacuum sweeping up pet hair while a dog sleeps

Ok, to be fair, I do love her, and she loves me. But her hair is annoying sometimes, and if you have pets (especially if you have a husky or an akita), you know what I’m talking about. And while it might hurt the wallet for a minute, it’s pretty hard to beat the daily contribution of a robot vacuum

The first generation of robot vacuums were fairly primitive (even if they were cutting-edge at the time). Today it’s unreal what these can do. Vacuum, mop, keep a schedule, connect to your wifi, be controlled by your phone, empty themselves. If you’re like me, you’ve gone through enough swiffer pads to know that you simply can’t keep up without a little passive help. 

You've Only Got 2 Hands

tabletop vise

With three little girls, I’ve become quite the toy and doll fixer. The problem with fixing small things is it’s incredibly difficult to hold them still and properly apply your superglue (or hot glue, or tiny screws, etc.). At least once a week, I’m out in the garage holding something still with my vise.

A vise is one of those tools that you don’t realize you need until you use it for the first time…and then you can’t stop using it. Imagine trying to fix something small and actually having full utility of both of your hands – yes, this reality can be yours. Don’t have a garage or a workbench? Get a vise that can clip onto your countertop.

Your Floor Mats are Nasty

weathertech floormats with snowy boots

If you live in the east, then you know we’re coming into gross, muddy, snowy season. It’s the time of year when the outside of your car is covered in salt residue, and the inside is filled with muddy boot prints and kids’ tissues. If you want to keep your interior looking half decent, think about investing in all-weather mats.

Most of them can be cut to fit your interior, and when they get gross, just hose them off. Want to go for the custom-cut upgrade? Spring for Weathertech

There’s Never an Outlet Where you Need One

extension cord reel

I have an old house, and while I’m lucky to have a garage, there are only two outlets in the whole damn space. Dude…I need more options than that, and let’s be honest, regular extension cords are a pain in the ass.  A few years ago my dad got me this extension cord reel, and I’ve never looked back. It’s mounted on my garage wall, and wherever I need power, I have it. And when I’m done, it automatically coils back onto the reel.

I know this might seem like an unnecessary luxury, but when you’ve spent five hours on a two-hour project (No honey, this’ll only take two hours) having a cord that cleans itself up is a well-deserved perk. 

My Down Vest Isn’t Down Anymore

dryer balls next to bag

One of my colleagues recently lamented that her down jacket just doesn’t have the puff and stuff that it used to. It’s true that after ten years any down vest or jacket is going to lose its loft, but there’s an easy maintenance step that you can perform along the way: Dryer balls

Hear me out. Dryer sheets are waxed-covered sheets that disperse the wax onto your clothing when the dryer heats them. Yes, this eliminates static, but it also makes your clothes more flammable and puts unnecessary chemicals against your skin. Dryer balls are made from wool, they soften your clothes and reduce static naturally, and they’re eco-friendly. And they can give new life to your down garments.

Throw your vest or jacket in the dryer with 4-6 dryer balls, and run it on cool for an hour. The tumble of the dryer and the percussion of the balls will inflate your down. 

Reduce Constant Phone Distraction, While Still Being Reachable

man using apple watch on his wrist

Two truths of any project I start: 1. It’s going to take longer than I plan, and 2. Some of that extra time will be spent procrastinating on my phone. I don’t think the answer to this is to get rid of my iPhone, but I do think I need to put it down more. Simple solution: Put on my Apple Watch

Yeah it’s cool that it can read my heart rate, track my sleep, and all that jazz. But at the end of the day, a smartwatch allows you to have the most important utility of your phone, calls and text notification, without the distractibility of social media and other scrolling apps. House project? Smart watch. Mowing the lawn? Smart watch. Playing with my kids or spending time with my wife? No phone, no watch, period. 

Stop Killing Your Plants

planta app on iphone

My wife has turned our house into a small botanical garden, and if I’m honest, it’s pretty nice. There’s something about having house plants that adds a warmth and calming effect to your atmosphere. 

The problem is these plants are expensive…and they die if you don’t know how to take care of them. Instead of relying on that neighbor of yours who swears he’s a green thumb, just get the Planta App.

Planta lets you upload which plants you have in your house, and then it will tell you when to water them, how much light they need, and if it looks like they’re dying, Planta will help you develop a treatment plan to get them back on track. It's a premium app with 3 price tiers but when you're done losing money on dead plants, it's an obvious upgrade. Think of it like healthcare for your green housemates. 

No One Wants an Overcooked Steak

wireless thermometer next to a steak

It never fails…I blow $45 at the grocery store because I’m going to make my wife surf and turf, but then I get distracted by the surf, and the turf gets over done. Sorry honey.

I’ve tried using a timer, and I’ve tried the thumb trick (if you know, you know), and you know what works best? A thermometer. Honestly guys there’s no shame in sticking a thermometer in your ribeye so you know when it’s done. A simple one like this will give you an instant spot read. But the real upgrade is to go for a wireless bluetooth thermometer that you can read on your phone.

Put this in your steak, and leave it there for the whole cooking process. This way you can get real-time information on the cooking process (up to 500 ft away from your grill or kitchen). Medium-rare ain’t never been so easy. 

Keep the Dog Off the Couch

sofa scram on couch while a dog lays nearby

Like I said, I have a big dog. I also have a little dog…and a cat…and my daughter has a gecko. It’s a little too much. The point is, the last thing I need is for the animals to lounge on the furniture while I’m at work all day. The couch is for me; the dog bed is for you. 

So how do you keep the furniture pet-free while you’re not around? Pick up a Sofa Scram mat. Spread this mat on the couch, and as soon as the dog or cat jumps on, the mat emits a loud, alarming beep. No shocks, no chemicals, no harm done. And no stinky couch. 

Cut the Cords

belkin 3 in 1 charger

My wife and I have our own iPads, iPhones, Airpods, and each of our three daughters has an Amazon tablet. There are so many cords in our house, it looks like a damn RadioShack in their prime. The problem isn’t the cords themselves; it’s the aesthetic. Like seriously, is there a convenient and attractive place to plug all of this stuff in? No.

One place this especially matters to me is my nightstand. I already have too many books, a lamp, and my glasses on there – I don’t also need seven charging cables.

I like the Belkin Magsafe charger, which allows you to charge your iphone, airpods, and Apple Watch all at once. And it actually looks nice with its minimalist aesthetic on top of eliminating two cords that would otherwise be falling off of my nightstand everyday. 

Mike Henson

Mike Henson is a literature teacher in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He enjoys shooting 35mm film, restoring vintage straight blades, purchasing too many American-made goods, and spending time with his wife and their three daughters.