My mail doesn’t arrive one message at a time. It comes in piles. Think: avalanche. While I have recently hired an assistant (yay me, and welcome Suzanne), the piles remain deep and wide. But I have big plans and high hopes.

office-worker-with-mountain-of-mail

I must have the most patient readers on earth, understanding, too, because while I read every single message, I am unable to reply personally. That’s why I look forward to Ask Me Anything day.

Today I reached in and pulled out these questions…

Barbara writes: We need a new vacuum that is lightweight and easy to carry. We have three flights of stairs in our townhouse and our current vac is super heavy and difficult to navigate—and it doesn’t do a very good job. My new vacuum needs to have attachments including a long wand to dust door frames, drapes and artwork. A bagless vacuum would be ideal. We have a dog and a cat, so cleaning pet hair is an almost daily requirement. My husband and I always read your hints for saving money and we’re confident you can point us in the right direction!

You won’t find a better vacuum than a Shark. I’ve tried just about every vacuum out there, so I say this with supreme confidence.

There are several Shark models available currently, and my recommendation for you is this Shark Navigator Upright Vacuum for Carpet and Hard Floor with Lift-Away for deep cleaning stairways and carpeted steps. But there’s more.

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It’s been a number of years since I moved into a college dorm room. My memories of college life are both vivid and precious.

For years, I’d been dreaming about how I would grow up and leave my childhood home and sheltered life to attend college in Los Angeles. I lived in the same dorm room from my first day as a freshman until I graduated four years later (Master’s University). And I loved it. Dorm life was everything I’d imagined and so much more.

 

Best Inexpensive Essential College Dorm Gear

Typically, dorm rooms are not spacious. I had a bed, desk, bookshelf, and chair along with a closet that had a built-in dresser and just enough room to hang a few clothes. My roommate had the same configuration on the other side of the room—a typical dorm room layout. Looking back now, I see that we could have done so much more with the tiny space we had to make it more comfortable and efficient.

If you or someone you love will be entering dorm life in a few weeks, I’ve put together a list of dorm room essentials—beyond the basics of a laptop, linens, toiletries, and clothes—that will definitely make the transition easier and college life a lot more enjoyable!

1. MINI FRIDGE. If allowed in your room, you’ll bless the day you arrived with a mini fridge large enough for soft drinks, water, healthy snacks and energizing food items. Something like this 2.7 compact dorm refrigerator will save the day when the cafeteria closes at 6 pm and you’re looking at 10 more hours of cramming for finals. Been there. If only I’d had a fridge. About $70.

 

Related: The 18 Gifts 2018 Graduates Really Want

2. READING PILLOW. You will bless the day you thought to bring a good reading pillow with you to school. It will serve multiple functions—a place to sit and study that isn’t a stiff desk chair. Or as additional seating. Trust me—a comfortable, useful reading pillow will make all the difference by turning your bed into a very comfortable chair. This shredded foam reading pillow is awesome for reading, studying, watching TV or just hanging out. Well made, it is sturdy but at the same time cozy enough to serve you well all the way through your college career. About $30.

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There are lots of ways to stay cool when the temps of summer soar—most of them holdovers from our childhoods.

older man hot and sweaty heat of summer

However, running through the sprinklers, dumping a bucket of water on your head, or drenching your t-shirt in cold water before putting it on do not offer particularly appropriate options especially if you are, for example, at work. Or any number of other hot situations—indoors or out.

Check out these super fun, cheap ways you can keep cool even when it’s really hot!

Fan that plugs into your mobile phone

PHONE FAN. This tiny-but-mighty Phone Fan plugs into your phone—iPhone, iPad or Android Smartphone/Tablet. Yes, it’s adorable. But more than that, it works! And it’s quiet enough to use anywhere you get that need for air. Don’t worry about it draining your battery because this little gem works on precious little power. Pack of 3 Phone Fans: About $12.

 

Cooling neck towel used as a scarf will keep you cool for hours.

COOLING NECK TOWEL. Think back to Fifth Grade Science Class. Evaporating water plus moving air equals cold. That’s the principle at play with this fabulous Chill-Its Cooling Towel. Wet this towel thoroughly and it will give cooling relief for up to 4 hours, depending on the relative humidity. Simply re-wet to start again. Drape it around your neck, shoulders, and head for drip-free cooling relief as temperatures rise. The secret here is the absorbent and hyper-evaporative PVA material that holds more water, making Chill-Its the most effective cooling towel on the market. Comes in a variety of colors. About $7. Read more

Just this past week I heard from my dear reader Penny who is frustrated in the face of needing to purchase a new dishwasher. She writes: 

“Our dishwasher is more than 20 years old and every time I think I have decided on a new one and read the reviews, I back out. I know that you recently purchased new appliances. What brand dishwasher did you go with? How does one filter all the reviews, good or bad?”

IKEA dishwasher

My husband and I have just completed our big kitchen remodel. It’s been nearly a year since we started planning so you can be sure I’ve been researching appliances ad nauseam. 

Here’s my conclusion based on credible evidence, product reviews and long conversations with appliance professionals: They just don’t make ‘em like they used to! 

These days you won’t find a dishwasher with an expected lifespan of 20 years. The best we should expect from new dishwashers is 8 to 10 years, which is by design. Industry insiders call this “planned obsolescence.” And we have to assume that those will not necessarily be trouble-free years. It’s sad but true. 

Nearly all appliances these days come with a one-year warranty. Most appliances pros will tell you that if an appliance is going to fail, it is most likely to do that during the first 90-days, so a one-year warranty is supposed to be sufficient. Anything beyond that is called an extended warranty, which brings up another matter, altogether. Let’s just say it gets complicated.

Related: Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

There are two brands I suggest you stay away from—Samsung and LG. While their appliances are lovely when they’re in good working condition, these companies do not have a solid infrastructure for service and repair in the U.S. That means you’ll have a difficult time finding someone to repair them whether they’re under warranty or not. And when you do, you could wait weeks for parts to arrive from overseas. 

On the other hand, the Whirlpool family of appliances (Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana to name a few) are made in the U.S. Whirlpool has a reputation for making good appliances with repair, service, and parts readily available. 

With all that being said, I do have some really good news—and a solid recommendation, which may surprise you. Read more

As I glanced at the day’s news headlines, I flinched when I read that a prominent U.S. politician (who shall remain nameless) had 10 people show up at a recent town hall meeting. Ten! That’s what I call an empty room and the fear of every speaker—that no one shows up because no one is listening.

Before I bring up the subject of my email inbox, I need to tell you again how much I love to hear from my readers! I take every letter, note, and message as an affirmation that I’m not speaking to an empty room. I love your tips, stories, questions, corrections, and challenges.

Now about my inbox—it fills almost faster than I can read, so I create file folders for varying subjects. When a folder gets full I know it’s time to address that subject in an upcoming post. 

Once again, I’m working to clear out the folder labeled “Best Inexpensive Qs” where hundreds of messages land that go something like this: “Please tell me exactly which [fill-in-the-blank] is the Best Inexpensive™ option.”

Requests for Best Inexpensive (TM) options from dear readers depicted as file drawer in computer

 

ROOM DEHUMIDIFIER. If you live where it gets unbearably humid this time of year, the way to lower the humidity inside your home is with a good dehumidifier. My pick for the overall best inexpensive 70-pints-per-day unit is rated for up to 2,500 sq. ft. is FRIGIDAIRE Energy Star 70-Pint Dehumidifier It will keep your home comfortable and also protect it from mold, mildew and airborne particles that can make breathing difficult for some people. About $240.

More: Humidity—Not Too High, Not Too Low, But Just Right

SEWING MACHINE. Two choices here. For the beginner: Janome Mod-15 is a sweetheart of a basic mechanical machine ideal for a beginner of any age who shows great promise with sewing, but has not yet proven the need for a more advanced machine. About $150. For intermediate to advance: Janome Mod-100 is a remarkable top-of-the-line computerized model that has everything an advanced sewist would want, with a price you’d expect for a beginner machine. About $275.

HANDHELD GARMENT STEAMER.  Housmile garment steamer is a portable fabric steamer brush for clothes. Perfect for travel because it’s lightweight, comes with two styles of brush heads and produces excellent steam. I much prefer its performance over the more traditional style of garment steamer. It’s great! About $35.

Don’t Miss: Father’s Day 2018 Gift Guide

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A couple of weeks ago with all the confidence in the world that winter had passed, I got everything ready for our first outdoor barbecue of the season. The weather was perfect, ditto for the menu.

bbq with sausages and red meat on the grill - male hands holding a plate and taking the meat off the grill before it is too late

 

I pulled the cover off the grill and got a shock—and not of the electrical kind. Actually, I was more embarrassed than anything. The grill was a mess—inside and out. Yuck!

My only explanation is that the cold days of fall prompted me to just throw the cover on while my inner procrastinator assured me that I’d clean it later.

Granted, our new grill is now three years old, but still. A dirty mess? You should have seen me fly into action. I grabbed a spray bottle of homemade degreaser (no time for more heavy duty options) and went to work. In no time at all, it was clean enough and we were back in business.

Assuming I’m not the only one who fails to do a deep clean on the outdoor grill after every use, today I have lots of really great grilling tips and tricks for cleaning and for great grilling, too.

Let’s hear it for summer—let the grilling begin!

Related: Outdoor Grilling that Won’t Bust the Budget Read more

I harbor a little-known secret. I only know a lot of the stuff I know because I’ve learned it from my kind and sharing readers. And the longer I do this thing I do, the more I learn.

The wealth of knowledge I have gained from you in nearly three decades of this relationship is awesome. And every day, it seems, I learn something new.

Dear Mary: I highly recommend De-Solv-It. It is a citrus oil-based degreaser and sticker remover that I have used over the past several years. It is non-toxic. Here is a recent example, I purchased a used softcover library book at Half Price Books (a wonderful chain, by the way) which had tape covering the spine and on the cover. I put a small amount on the edges of the tape and allowed it to seep in overnight. The next morning I was able to peel it over pretty easily with no discernible damage to the cover.  Thank you for all of the good advice over the years. Ted

Dear Ted: I raced to get me a small spray bottle of De-Solv-It to test before mentioning this find to my dear readers. Wow! You are right about how well De-Solv-It works to remove all kinds of icky sticky stuff (not that I have a houseful of icky stuff needing removal or anything, ha!) I should have opted for the better-value 12-oz. size De-Solv-It from the get-go. This is exactly the kind of product I need in my arsenal of home rescue products. Thanks for this great recommendation.

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You know it’s a good day for me when my “inner shopper” gets to come out and play.

Researching, reviewing and testing the things that you, My Dear Readers, request is like a license to shop till I drop—all the joys without the horrible side effects of overspending. Coming up with solid recommendations for the best inexpensive options is one of the most satisfying things I get to do. I’d say we have a good thing going on.

DISH DRAINER

I’m one who relies heavily on a dishwasher, which means I haven’t owned a dish drainer or even thought about that until just recently when I heard from Pam:

I recently replaced my wire dish drainer rack and couldn’t find anything but small replacements drainers with small drainboards. What’s going on? Any ideas where to find a bigger dish drainer (NOT plastic) and drain board?

Pam’s right. Huge, metal dish drainers are a thing of the past. But not to worry. After a bit of searching, trial and some error—and tremendous need now that I do have a dishwasher (we’re remodeling!)—I’m excited to reveal my Best Inexpensive™ pick, which I absolutely love.

POLDER DISH RACK AND TRAY. I love this dish drainer because it is stainless steel, elegantly designed and includes both a drain try and separate drying tray. That effectively doubles the space of the rack itself—and the drying tray stores beneath the rack when not needed. That makes this Polder Dish Rack and Tray versatile. About $40. 

Polder Dish Rack Drainer

Still plenty of time: 24 Fabulous Ideas for Mother’s Day Gifts

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