Helping You Help Yourself #8

feature image via Shutterstock

The fourth of July is over but maybe you still want to know how to make your own sparklers.

Maybe your problem isn’t knowing how to clean your apartment or having enough time to clean the apartment but just, you know, feeling like cleaning your apartment. If that sounds like you, here are some ideas.

Do you worry about what will happen if your phone runs out of battery on a long car trip? Here’s how to read a paper map.

Do you have small children, or larger children, or yourself, to keep busy? Here are many adorable things of varying levels of functionality and skill, to make out of clay!

Here are some ways to remove a stripped screw!

Did you know you can make your Gmail background a custom photo? If you set it as your favorite pet/person/sandwich, then it’s waiting there to reward you by becoming visible when you clean out your inbox! If that isn’t enough motivation for you, try the Email Game.

I know it’s a tumblr post, but I still feel like this is better advice than you’ll find most places on what to do if your student loans are in default

Via classic fave How To Grow The Fuck Up, here are guides on how to get a copy of your birth certificate and how to get a replacement photo ID.

Here is how to use jumper cables for your car!

Some suggestions on how to keep berries fresh for longer!

We could spend all day and all night talking about Unfuck Your Habitat, a la the tumblr/lifechanging phenomenon of the same name, but for now let’s just talk about this one gem of wisdom: you don’t have to keep your house/apartment clean in giant marathon cleaning sessions that leave you exhausted only to be crushed when someone inevitably leaves dirty dishes on the table the next day! Once you’ve motivated yourself to clean, as per linked above, remember that you can do it in 2-3 20-minutes segments throughout the week instead of one hour-long session. You will truly be amazed at how much cleaner your place is after only 20 minutes!

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Though I lived my childhood and adolescence before the invention of the smart phone (and went on plenty of road trips during that time where I had to read a map)… I was shocked to just now ealize that my brain has completely forgotten the skill of “paper maps” and how to use them. Like, when did that happen?? And what piece of useless fact did I replace it with?

    Probably something about Beyoncé. It’s always something about Beyoncé.

  2. I have to say that I read the excerpt to be “How to use jumper cables TO keep berries fresh AND keep your inbox under control.” So I was expecting something much much different than I got, but informative nonetheless.

    Looking forward to someone telling me how jumper cables can control my inbox in the future, though!

  3. Keeping a clean apartment can be really hard for people with depression and mood disorders, and little things laying around very quickly turn into piles of mess. The worse the apartment gets, the worse the depression gets, and it becomes this horrible cycle. My sister has Bipolar Disorder, and she finally realized it is sooooo worth it to pay an undergrad to do the basics once a week to keep things from getting out of hand. It has been a HUGE help. She even calls it a mental health tax.

    • Yeah, I know whenever I’m having a down week with my depression, I tend to start letting things slide and it just starts to feel impossible to get anything done. At a certain point, I manage to convince myself to make a to-do list with a bunch of tiny tasks on it and set a reward for myself for completing at least half of it. It helps me get the ball rolling and I start to feel better as I keep working.

      I also just like being able to cross things off of lists.

    • I feel this. Sometimes when things are bad for a while and everything piles up so much that I HAVE to clean, especially when I know I’m in for a really long night to get everything back to zero, I put on Netflix and stream a show/movie I like in the background so I can be somewhat entertained while I’m getting everything done (also works with audiobooks or music). It’s doubly helpful because I’m tricking myself into thinking I’m having a good time watching this show I like (eventually I get involved in the cleaning and BOOM I’ve just won) and also it gives me something to do when I eventually need a break.

      Once everything is perfectly cleaned and organized and functional again, I always make an agreement with myself to do just little tiny things to keep everything from getting overwhelming like making sure to take a dish out of my room the next time I leave or making sure I do one task before I sleep like make sure all the laundry/dishes are put in the proper place.

      It also helps me when I have zero motivation/am feeling particularly bad to visualize myself doing something. Like if I’m laying in bed and see a piece of trash on the ground and I’m just like “what’s the point” I imagine walking the couple steps to pick it up and throw it away. Sometimes a really shitty thing about depression is how you feel like the little things are just impossible tasks or you can’t make yourself care, so thinking through doing it makes it seem a bit smaller/more manageable.

      If multiple rooms or areas are really in need of cleaning and it seems like it’ll take weeks to get nice again, once I decide I need to get it done I like to try to assign one room or one major project for a day. It’s helpful for me because I’m giving myself the space and time to get one thing completely done, and also thinking of it as an assignment or a challenge helps my motivation.

  4. Living with 3 other roommates, I have totally experienced the dread of finding dirty dishes in the sink the day after I spent my whole morning cleaning the ENTIRE HOUSE the day before. I’m going to have to try the 20 minute method. It sounds promising!

    I still don’t trust jumper cables though.

  5. My mother changed my last name and didn’t tell anyone(like the doctor, or the dentist, or the SSN people) leaving me and my saintly, much put-upon aunt to run around town with court orders and school-obtained copies of my former BC and just, way too many quarters for unexpected printing fees after I went to live with her and needed a photo ID to donate blood. So I’m glad we’re sharing this, saving others misery.

  6. Rachel thank you 980000 times over for writing this column; I have been following it maybe too closely and am trying my very best to Help Myself Become A Vaguely Adult-Esque Human! the paper map reading one is EXACTLY WHAT I’VE NEEDED for so long in my life.

  7. My brother could’ve probably used the guide to reading a paper map as a refresher before setting out on his memorial trip around Europe. Instead the numpty wasted 3 days getting lost and trying to acquire a sat nav!

    I, on the other hand, could definitely stand to make my house cleaning more efficient (amongst lots of other Grownup things) so thanks for the links, Rachel! C:

  8. I can’t tell if I’m someone who cleans because it’s relaxing or if I clean because having a not-clean house stresses me out.

    TBH my version of clean means I can see the bottom of the kitchen sink at all and there is not trash and receipts and whatever on the floor. Our house isn’t disgusting we just live in it and it’s small and the dog is a terrible roommate who never does the dishes and leaves her hair everywhere. EDIE. IT’S YOUR TURN TO TAKE OUT THE RECYCLING.

  9. Okay the maps thing makes me want to ask an embarrassing question: what if you have an atrocious sense of direction and never know whether you’re going east or west (or really north or south either)? How do you get instinctively better at orienting yourself? I find that when I’m in an unfamiliar city or when I’m on a road trip, I get really anxious when I can’t figure out which way I’m going or which way I need to be going. I also feel really silly whenever I have to take out the compass app on my phone to figure it out.

    • If you are in a city area, you can orient yourself on a map by walking a city block. First identify which street you are on. Next, identify which street is the cross street to the left, and which is to the right, then you can determine where you want to go based on that. So let’s give an example- you are standing on Oak street, you walk down the block to the left, and find that you have found Lake street, then you backtrack to the other side of the block from where you started and find Brooks avenue. So, then you look at your map, find oak street. Then find where Lake street crosses oak street, and then find where brooks crosses it. If on the map, oak street is to the east, then brooks is to the west.

      Mostly, it comes with practice. I often find myself thinking, well that city is closer to california than new york, so it’s to the west from where I am. But I am in Minnesota, so it might not work everywhere.

      • This is excellent advice because that is how I had to teach myself. It took me awhile (after I moved to a new city for my internship and was walking everywhere, I got turned around on the regular for at least three weeks) because I’m absolutely horrible with directions, but it definitely works.

        However, anything on a larger scale than a 1-mile radius, I still can’t do that.

      • Thank you thank you thank you so much! I am always astounded at the willingness of this community to go out of its way to teach others things (from the very complex to the v simple things like this that I should have learned when I was a pipsqueak).

  10. The “I would rather die” option on the cleaning your apartment article is not enough to get me to really clean. The only thing that currently works is fear of my landlady stopping in unexpectedly while I am at work, which happens at too frequent for my liking.

    Also, that “how to read a map” article. Confusing.

  11. I’ve only recently realized the benefits of cleaning a little bit every day and it’s already changed my life a LOT. I love “Unfuck Your Habitat”! That is like exactly the kind of motivation I need. Just teeny reminders. I feel so much calmer in a clean environment, you’d think it’d be easier.

  12. Reading this at 12.45 at night when I should be sleeping, thought maybe I’d save some links for later, three mins later my inbox is at zero! Amazing, thanks Rachel!

    It helped that I have started using Google Inbox which, if you use gmail, I’d recommend – ive gone from about 1100 unread emails to an average of about 15 in my inbox unarchived. Feel so. Much. Better.

    Now to motivate myself to clean… The audiobook idea sounds promising!

  13. Ha. That “how to get a copy of your birth certificate” is timely. Only that I went to the Mexican Consulate Saturday only to be told that my existing copy wouldn’t work, that I’d have to get a copy there (???) and I can only get one from M-F. Yay. I need my copy because I need to renew my Mexican passport since I’m leaving the US on vacation soon.

    Also, when I took a road trip – the problem wasn’t our phones running out of battery, but who’d lose reception first (ME. THANKS T-MOBILE!).

  14. the stripped screw video just changed my life, I cannot wait to show off that skill next time I deconstruct a set for a show that I’m working on!

    also the photo ID replacement also the email game ahhh this is all so helpful

  15. HELP, what is the song in that Email Game video?? I know that I know it but I can’t remember what it is and now it’s stuck in my head.

    Also thank you for this list of usefulness. Today has been a good day for finding ways to be more productive – I just downloaded Productivity Owl and it’s cute and bad-tempered and it is going to change my life, I can tell.

  16. BUT CLEANING THO. i do this thing where every 2 or 3 months I get into a mode. Like hyper cleaning mode where I totally rid my room of shit I dont need. Like a whole trash bag of stuff and everything is nice and orderly for like a whole week then it goes back to chaos. What makes it even weirder is that I actually clean MORE when Im by myself i.e when my parents went on vacation. I was cleaning like every 3 days hahahaha

    • YES I’M THE SAME. I think for me it’s like I’m more motivated when no one can see my shame haha. I don’t want to be carrying dirty dishes or bags of trash through the house when I might run into someone. Plus you don’t have to worry about disturbing anyone else by vacuuming at 3am (which is usually when I find myself motivated enough to clean).

  17. I have something like 7 hours in my house (with a couple of 3 year old “helpers”) to clean and pack in preparation for a weeklong houseguest who is my partner and very tidy… And I chose to read the the article about cleaning instead of, you know, cleaning. I’m pretty sure there’s a category more extreme than “I’d rather die” and I’m in that category.

  18. From the first column, I’m still giving myself a present every night by doing something I don’t want to do in the morning (usually it’s those last few pesky dishes, or prepping the coffee maker). Thanks for this column.

  19. I was camping this weekend, and had to leave urgently in the middle of the night, and there was no cell reception because it was an island with crappy reception, and so I had to use the whole ‘drive in the dark and pray I’m going the right way’ method. Thankfully an island has one way off, so I eventually figured it out. But map reading skillz (and a map) would have helped me not be so panicky.

  20. I am SO DOWN for increasing the longevity of berries. They’re fantastic little nutrition bombs…and delicious, of course. I’m also loving the email game! My inbox is surprisingly clean for the most part, but hey…it could be cleaner, amirite?

  21. Thank god for the fact that there is an Autostraddle article for everything??? I am increasingly feeling like I never need to visit another web site for life tips.

    Also, the category I fit into re: the article about cleaning is absolutely “I’d rather die.” Unfortunately, thinking about cleaning and taking care of emails and financial matters stresses me the fuck out, immobilizing me and causing to put it off forever and ever, which is also stress inducing because it means my shit is never together. Send help.

  22. I think my age may have shown when I thought “what? who can’t read a paper map?” Um, yeah… I on the other hand keep using my phone as a paper map that will just zoom in and out (which is awesome). So there’s that sort of literacy, too.

  23. Thanks for the jumper cables video! I’m working on (finally!) getting my driver’s license and I don’t want to have to phone my dad or brother every time something weird happens to my car #independence

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