Blog Posts by Emily Hsieh, Shine staff

  • Are old shipping containers the answer to our eco, affordable housing prayers?

    Shipping containers-the giant corrugated steel boxes used to import massive amounts of products from overseas-are taking recycling and green building to a whole new level. As MSN reports, resourceful architects have discovered that the super-durable, 33,000 pound vessels actually make great building blocks for a home. Plus, they're cheap and totally modular, which cuts your construction time-and cost-down to a fraction of what it would take to erect a house made of conventional materials.

    With a crane and a welder, you can get a container house ready to finish in just one day. You can outfit them with all the amenities you want: not just cushy fixtures but swimming pools and solar panels are totally fair game. If you were dreaming about a big, multi-story home, no problem: the boxes are totally stackable, and you have lots of flexibility as to how you want to arrange them (according to, in California, plans are already underway for a sprawling 4-story apartment complex

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  • 10 ways to use clear nail polish you might never have guessed

    We all know that clear nail polish is a great finishing coat for a manicure, and I'd guess that most have even heard that it can be used to keep a run in a panty hose from spreading, but there are scores of other uses for the stuff in and around your home. Some of the most surprising tricks-for everything from waterproofing matches to threading needles-are as follows:

    Making jewelry last. To extend the life of costume jewelry and to keep it looking bright and glossy, give beads a thin layer of polish. It helps prevent fading and tarnishing.

    Sealing envelopes. In lieu of licking the envelope flaps to seal them (not only can this be ineffective, but does anyone find that taste as gross as I do?) dab on a little polish to keep them glued nice and tight.

    Threading needles. Rather than get frustrated when attempting to thread a needle, run the cut side of the thread through the polish brush. Roll the thread between your fingers a couple times; the polish will dry pretty much immediately and

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  • Where the germs are lurking in your home

    Germs have a way of cropping up in some pretty unexpected spots-which mean even the most neat and tidy among us might be inadvertently letting bacteria flourish in our homes. And while exposure to some bacteria is fine and good, there are certain hot spots where germs tend to congregate, which can make it easier to spread sickness across your family. Here's a re-cap of some of the most major household dirt traps.

    The kitchen sink. While most people think to disinfect their toilets with regularity, kitchen sinks are often a neglected. All those little bits of food stuck that land in the sink as your rinse your dishes are breeding grounds for icky bacterias-the same kinds that cause things like E. coli and salmonella. To keep your sink sanitary, wash it daily with a mixture of bleach and water. Be careful not to let fruits and veggies touch the sink before you eat them. Don't forget to clean the drain too.

    The remote control. The remote controls are one of the most oft-touched items in

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  • The dos and don'ts of loading your dishwasher

    My husband and I are divided when it comes to loading the dishwasher. My methodology is aimed at space efficiency: I line up all the plates on one side, all the cups on the other, and anything random/big in the middle. His technique, or lack of, is completely haphazard-he just throws things in the machine in the first empty spot he sees (which means only about about half as many dishes fit). And as it turns out, as was reported in The New York Times, there is actually a science to this, and my approach could use some finessing too. Here are some pointers from the Consumer Reports Home and Garden blog to help your dishwasher perform at its best, and to prevent your dishes from chipping:

    1. Load large items at the sides and back of the dishwasher, so that they don't block water and detergent from reaching other dishes.

    2. Place the dirtier side of dishes toward the center of the machine to provide more exposure to the spray. Don't let dishes or utensils nest, or rest side by side,

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  • The pitfalls of too much laundry detergent (and how to make sure you’re not overdoing it)

    Chances are you're using way, way too much detergent in your laundry machine, according to an article in last week's New York Times, which quotes appliance expert Vernon Schmidt saying, "Most people use 10 to 15 times the amount of soap they need, and they're pouring money down the drain." Yikes.

    Modern machines are designed to use less water, and don't need nearly as much soap as they used to. And with detergents getting increasingly concentrated, it's important to remember a little goes a long way. Overdosing on laundry detergent can lead to stiff clothes, or a buildup of mold and mildew inside your machine. Schmidt says that using half to one eighth the recommended amount of detergent is adequate, depending on how hard or soft your water is. And though it's a bit counterintuitive, if you see suds, don't think you're cleaning-you're just using too much detergent.

    To figure out if you're oversoaping, take Schmidt's towel test, reprinted here from the New York Times

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  • 7 who-would-have-thought ways to use paper towels

    A friend just tipped me off to the fact that when she's out of coffee filters, she subs in paper towels in a pinch. Kind of genius, right? This got me thinking about the other ways to use paper towels besides the obvious (cleaning up spills and messes), so I compiled a few more ideas for broadening their utility. I'd love to know if you've got anything to add to this list too.

    Seed Tester. If you found an old packet of seeds and want to check whether or not they're worth planting, take a cue from this grade school science experiment: Dampen a couple paper towels and sprinkle on a few seeds. Cover with a couple more wet paper towels. Make sure the towels stay moist over the course of a couple weeks-by the end, if most of the seeds have sprouted, you'll know they're worthy of your garden.

    Wax Remover. If you have a bit of wax stuck on your carpet, layer on a couple paper towels over the spot and run a hot iron over them to transfer the wax onto the paper-and off your rug.

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  • How to clean your keyboard

    It's important to remember to show your keyboard some love every now and then both for the sake of good hygiene and to ensure it functions properly. Those keys take quite a beating everyday, and all the little crevices are excellent at trapping things like dust and hair, and if you ever eat near your computer, it's easy to wind up with sticky surfaces and crumbs buried between the cracks. Ew, right? Here, step-by-step instructions to get your keyboard in tip top shape.

    Shut down your PC, and unplug the mouse, discs or CDs, USB drives or anything else that's protruding from your machine. Carefully, turn the keyboard (or your entire laptop, as the case may be) upside down and give it a gentle shake to release any dusty build-up that might be lurking between the keys.

    Use a can of compressed air (available at just about any electronics store) to blow off residual debris around and under all the nooks and crannies. Alternatively, the hose of a vacuum cleaner works too.

    Put a

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  • Stylish, functional laundry hampers (they're harder to find than you might think)

    My friend Samantha pleaded for help in tracking down a laundry hamper, and after poking around a bit I see why the good ones aren't to be taken for granted. First off, I think it's important to get one that has some form of lid or top-no one wants to be staring into (or, um, smelling) a big pile of dirty clothes. Second, there are a lot of clunky, unattractive options in the market, and for something that takes up this much space, you don't want it to be an eyesore. Here's a re-cap of some of my (and Samantha's) favorite options.

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  • 5 surprising ways to clean your home with lemons

    We touched on this earlier when we suggested cleansing your garbage disposal by tossing in leftover lemon wedges, but as it turns out there are plenty more uses for this naturally antibacterial, supremely refreshing fruit around your home.

    Countertops. Squeeze a few drops of juice directly onto stains and scrub with baking soda. Wipe away the mixture with a damp sponge. Don't do this if you have really delicate, porous marble countertops though-lemon juice is powerful stuff and could cause discoloration.

    Copper Pots and Fixtures. When it's time to give your copper pots or hardware a little love, slice a lemon in half and dip it in some salt before rubbing it on spots.

    Faucets. To fight lime scale, apply some lemon juice and let it sit overnight. Wipe away with a wet rag, or use an old toothbrush to slough off any stubborn bits.

    Dishes. Adding a little bit of lemon juice (about a teaspoon) to your dishwashing detergent can help boost its grease-cutting power.

    Cutting Boards. If you've

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  • The best tools for a super-streamlined, better-organized closet

    I recently weeded out my overstuffed closet, donating big piles of clothes to charity. It was a sloppy and labor-intensive undertaking, but so gratifying-it's amazing how much lighter I feel after getting rid of a bunch of stuff. I've vowed to streamline my remaining wardrobe before things fall into another state of disarray, and to help the process, I'm going to invest in a complete set of uniform hangers.

    Friends of mine have been preaching the virtues of those skinny flocked hangers for years. You can find them just about anywhere, and the idea is that they're much more narrow than the typical plastic or wooden hangers, which can save you a ton of space in your closet. They're roughly the width of the wire ones you pick up at most dry cleaners, only way, way more durable. Their velvety texture is gentle on clothes while acting as a grip, so you don't have to worry about silky dresses or tops sliding off. There are a bunch of different colors and shapes to choose from, and they sell

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