Helping You Help Yourself #9

feature image via Shutterstock

In the comments of the last edition of this column, a reader shared with us about the Productivity Owl, which discourages you from visiting websites/tabs that are a detriment to your productivity. Thanks, @Chandra!

If there’s something in your house that smells weird and isn’t easily washable (ex. my couch, which smells like my cats), try making DIY Febreze! It’s very easy because it’s literally just vodka in a spray bottle. Seriously. I cannot explain the science but if you spray vodka (even very cheap vodka!) on a smelly thing, especially fabric, it will initially smell like vodka — and then as the vodka dries, the vodka smell goes away and takes the original unpleasant smell with it. You can add some drops of essential oils or infuse the vodka with citrus peels if you’d like to try to get a more pleasant smell in the mix as well.

If you have identical chargers/electronics as those around you — perhaps because you and everyone you know have the same Apple products — try using washi tape or colored electrical tape to mark your chargers as uniquely yours. That way the next time you’re packing up from a vacation together or a group study session, you won’t have the chore of trying to remember whose is whose.

Here are my phone and iPhone chargers, very matchy-matchy.

Here are my phone and laptop chargers, very matchy-matchy.

Finding a new doctor/dentist/other health professional and making sure your insurance covers them can be stressful. Thanks to the internet it is becoming easier by the day, though! If you know who your health insurance provider is (you likely have a card of some sort with their name on it), you can go to their website and they’ll likely have some sort of “find a doctor” tool where you can tell them what kind of doctor you need, and the search engine will spit out names of only doctors that the insurance covers. If you want to double check because you’re not sure about your specific plan coverage, you can make sure by calling the insurance company customer service line, explaining the doctor and the type of visit you need, and confirming that it will be covered.

Are you interested in the art of building a memory/mind palace, because of watching BBC’s Sherlock or just because they’re fucking cool? Great, here’s how to do it. (That article seems to be not totally finished, but the point gets across.)

Is your apartment, like mine, overrun by fruit flies in the summer? Here’s how to build a fruit fly trap that will take 60 seconds and uses things you almost definitely already have. I can confirm that it works fantastically.

Apartment Therapy has some storage ideas for renters who need places to put things but can’t permanently alter their residences.

Here is how Business Insider suggests you charge your iPhone as much as possible in a very short period of time.

It’s getting hot in herrrre! That’s why you should know what heat exhaustion and heat stroke are, plus how to treat them.

Drawing/sketching/illustrating is a fun and fulfilling activity that many of us feel like we missed our chance at if we didn’t learn and excel at art basics in, you know, elementary school. This is not the case! It can be great for your mind and heart to draw as a hobby, even if you never want to show what you draw to anyone else. Here are some exercises to try, and here are some thoughts on keeping a sketchbook.

So you’ve seen a plant in the wild and want to figure out if it will kill you if you eat it! What you need, my friend, is the universal edibility test.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


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. Dude I’m totally using the vodka spray stuff, four cats and a dog equals a super smelly house

    • do it! my couch smells way better now, as do my pairs of flats that always start smelling funky in the summer!

    • Me too! I loved this tip. Whenever my dog pukes he had to do it on my sofa. Gonna try this vodka spray next time

  2. Woah, that vodka thing is kinda blowing my mind.

    Also, I’m excited about the drawing tips! I used to draw a lot when I was young and I’ve been wanting to get back into it!

  3. So many tabs now open. Which means my computer is slowing down, but it’s worth it.

    Suggestion for next helping us help ourselves – how to fix slow computers? D:

  4. As someone who has a rough draft of a mostly unwritten thesis due Saturday and a very short attention span on the internet, the productivity owl could not have come at a better time! So thank you in advance for helping me get my thesis done.

  5. you can also use a cheap beer or the last of a wine bottle for the fruit fly trap, the saran wrap situation is really the key factor

  6. Yes to vodka!! 100x better & safer than yucky Febreze. If you don’t have alcohol in your house, vinegar is also a good substitute, and the vinegar smell will dissipate.

  7. Thank you for this! My mom got heat stroke when we went camping at Zion National Park, but luckily the paramedics came very quickly, so she was okay after she got to the hospital. We were drinking a lot more water and staying out of the sun after that. Also, I’ll be sharing the fruit fly tip with my mom, because they are all over her kitchen.

  8. Wow the vodka thing is so cool, and I definitely need to use up some of my washi tape. It’s so cute and I’ve been slacking on putting it on EVERYTHING so now I can go put it on some more things.

  9. This one time when I was a wee little eighteen year old, I was fairly drunk at a campground in Europe and I made my friend laugh and she spat her mouth full of vodka all over my sweater. I was pretty hammered when I got back to my tent and I was travelling so I didn’t have the means to wash it, so instead I used it as padding in a box of stuff (mostly bottles of absinth) that I was sending home to myself. Three months after I got home, and about 2 months, three weeks and six days after I forgot that I mailed myself a box of alcohol padded with dirty clothes, I got a box in the mail. I was pretty worried when I opened the box and remembered my drunken packing decisions involved putting a vodka-soaked sweater into a box for three months; but LO AND BEHOLD it smelled super fresh and for a few minutes I really questioned everything about that night because I could have sworn it was soaked in vodka and should have smelled awful! But now, years later, everything makes sense. So thanks for that Rachel!

    • well, that was more effective than an infomercial. I’m off to the vodka selling place!

  10. Ok, the problem with edibility tests is that a lot of plant toxicity is cumulative! It builds up in your liver over decades until it starts shutting down your organs. PLEASE don’t rely on edibility tests or watching which plants other animals eat.

  11. I find the memory palace concept really fascinating. I’d recommend the book “moonwalking with Einstein” which is written by a journalist who decided to spend a year learning mnemonic techniques and enter the US memory championship. It talks about things such as using a memory palace in combination with a Person-Action-Object system for memorizing decks of cards quickly.

    The edible plant guide is cool, if I’m ever stranded, but for now I’m happy munching on all the wild blueberries and blackberries in season.

    Also, fruit flies are evil.

  12. I’ve been thinking about keeping a sketch book for quite some time—I used to be really into visual art in elementary and middle school, but I stopped everything that wasn’t theatre or performance-related in high school. I think I missed out on something there. But switching to writing from performing after college makes me think that I can probably pick a sketchbook back up—that and, of course, a push from Rachel. Thank you Rachel! <3

  13. After months of putting it off, I finally learned how to search for which doctors are covered by my insurance and make an appt. Hooray! ADULTING!!!!!!!!

  14. You have no idea how many times marking my charger cords saved my ass in college. My roomies would always insist that the charger I was using was there’s, and I’d be like “WHAM. MY INITIALS ARE ALL OVER THIS BABY.” But it would have been so much cuter to do what you did! Or if I put little stickers on them or something. I might do that from now on.

  15. For fruit flies, I use a paper cone & some orange juice. The soap seems to be the non-negotiable element.

    Washi tape is super helpful. I used it to make little flags on the end of all of my cords around the tv, which I then labelled so I know what’s the Roku, what’s the DVD player, etc. For the bit that goes into the tv and for the power both. And I used it to cover a few dollar store cable hooks, which I then hung on the wall to organize my necklaces.

  16. is there anything vodka can’t do?


  17. Ok, while you’re out buying a bottle of Vodka, buy an extra one. Then get your hands on 4 vanilla beans.

    Have yourself a big swig of Vodka from the spare bottle (v.important)*. Split the vanilla beans in half, scrape out the seeds and put these in the bottle. Now put the scraped bean cases in the bottle as well. Put the lid on. Give it a really good shake. Lastly, LEAVE IT ALONE for at least 6 months.

    VOILA, home made vanilla essence!** And, if you’re not a baker, you can just drink it!

    *the level in the bottle rises when you add the beans.
    ** will last indefinitely and improves the longer you steep it.

  18. Oh hey, I’ve been reading the articles all out of order and didn’t even see the shout out until today. Glad to hear you think it’s helpful! (Typing this as I get around my Productivity Owl settings by using my smart phone instead of my laptop…)

  19. The Productivity Owl reminded me of Boggle the owl, a super cute cartoon owl who gives support and advice on tumblr (mostly related to mental health). Boggle hasn’t been very active recently, but if you go back to 2013 and earlier, there’s a lot of truly wonderful stuff.

Comments are closed.