17 Make-It-Happen Makeovers to Try Today
Photo: Peter Rosa, Illustration: Julia Rothman
Make It Over
Small suggestions for big improvements.
Your Online Persona
Lately I've been plagued by a phenomenon particular to the Internet age—I call it "about me" anxiety. At a dinner party, I'll chat easily about work, hobbies, or parenting fails, but when confronted with one of those bio slots on Twitter or Pinterest, I panic. How am I supposed to sum up my essence in 160 characters?, I think—which is odd, since presenting a capsule version of ourselves is something we do every day. "Coworkers know a different you than your friends do," says Jessica Vitak, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies. Vitak, who studies what she calls impression management strategies, advises thinking of a brief bio or profile as a way to start a conversation. Meg Biram, who helps bloggers and businesses create online identities, says that "your bio is just your first impression," not a summary of your whole self. Her formula for an "about me" is simple: Reveal your job, then toss in a personal throwaway about loving bacon or jazz. ("It shows you're human," she says.) And remember that online bios are malleable; both Biram and Vitak regularly tinker with theirs. On Twitter, I'm a "freelance journalist, chronic mover, road-trip lover, Parks and Rec watcher, library patron, candy addict, county fair attendee." But by the time you read this, I may be someone else entirely.
— Melody Warnick
Your Daily Commute
1. Turn your car into a rolling spa (well, sort of) with a seat massager (models start at about $40 at Sharper Image, and many serve up both heat and vibrations), an air freshener in a calm-inducing scent like lavender or chamomile, and a nice hot mug of soothing herbal tea. Enya CD optional.
2. Instead of passively listening to audiobooks, learn a language. At the iTunes store, you'll find free podcasts on mastering Italian, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, and many more. Next step? Plan a trip to hone your new vocab (and escape your commute for a few days).
3. Get real-time traffic updates without resorting to your local wacky radio show. Waze, a community-based traffic and navigation app, lets fellow travelers alert one another to speed traps, accidents, and shortcuts. (It speaks aloud, too, so you can use it safely behind the wheel.)
4. Set up a playlist swap with friends on the free music-streaming site Spotify. Every week, have each person in your group send songs to one other group member, swapping until each person has received everyone else's playlists. Then start the process all over again with a new group of lists.
— Emma Haak
Your Cooking, One Cool Trick at a Time
Peel an entire head of garlic in less than 30 seconds: First, loosen the cloves by pressing the heel of your hand into the top of the bulb until you feel it give. Place the cloves in a metal bowl, cover with another bowl (forming a sphere), and shake vigorously to separate the skin from the cloves.
Cook spaghetti in a frying pan under an inch or so of cold water. The cold water will keep the pasta from sticking. The pasta will absorb most of the water, and the remaining starchy liquid makes the base of a tasty pan sauce. (Butter, Parmesan, and a pinch of fresh basil will do nicely.)
Chill wine and beer in ten minutes or less. Stir salt into an ice bath, then submerge the bottles until chilled. Liquids conduct heat better than air, and the salt lowers the water's freezing temperature. (Make sure to rinse your beer before opening, unless you want to lick salt off the bottle.)
— Laura Birek
Your Home Videos
Your baby's first steps. Your daughter's home run. The dramatic lightning storm on the horizon. Life is full of moments just begging to be caught on video—but, unfortunately, life doesn't come with a pause button. Luckily, there's Precorder, an app that continuously records the previous ten seconds, so you can hit the button just after the big moment and rest assured you've still captured it forever.
— Laura Birek
Your Approach to Stress
When you're feeling frazzled, adopt an attitude of acceptance, suggests meditation expert and psychotherapist Tara Brach: "Notice what's going on inside you, and mentally whisper yes to the experience: yes to the anxiety, yes to the tension, yes to the irritation. With each yes, you give space for the experience to unfold." Letting your feelings progress to their logical conclusion helps them dissolve.
— Ashley Williams
Photo: Peter Rosa, Illustration: Julia Rothman
Make Out Like a Bandit!
Our countdown of offbeat ways to save.
3 Things You Didn't Know You Could Buy Cheaply on eBay:
Gift cards. Marsha Collier, author of eBay for Dummies, says gift cards can frequently be found on the site for less than they're worth—at press time, we found a $400 Starbucks card for $320 and a $300 Kay Jewelers card for $235.
Spices. "I've gotten excellent deals on curry powder and saffron," Collier says; we also came across ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend that can be hard to find) and kaffir lime leaves for just $3.
Designer goods—if the seller spells it wrong. A search for "Chanel bag" will reveal many cutthroat auctions, while "Channel bag" may turn up less trafficked fare. (Just beware of scams—if it looks too good to be true, move on.)
2 Ways to Nab Books and Clothes for Less
Powells.com: You can sell your gently used books to the legendary Portland, Oregon, bookseller for credit at its vast online store (or a decent cash payout)—and it'll pay to ship your old reads to its warehouse.
Snobswap.com: This online consignment boutique lets you buy designer duds at deep discounts or trade something from your own closet instead. The selection has us floored: We recently found Dior sandals for $200, Marc Jacobs sunglasses for $75, and a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress for $35.
1 Marvelous Money-Saving Rule to Last You Your Whole Life Long
Create a 30-day list. When you want to buy anything nonessential, put it on the list and note the date. Tell yourself you won't buy it for 30 days—and stick to your guns. You'll soon find you buy a whole lot less.
Photo: Peter Rosa, Illustration: Julia Rothman
Make It Under
How to streamline, speed up and simplify, simplify, simplify.
Here's the beauty of a keyboard shortcut: When you copy, paste, or perform other functions by pressing keys instead of grabbing your mouse, you can save an average of two seconds per minute, according to the technology and education experts at Brainscape.com. We know that doesn't seem like much—but according to their calculations, it can add up to a whopping eight workdays per year. That's an extra vacation.
Note: These shortcuts are for Macs; if you're a PC user, you can substitute the control, or "Ctrl," key for "Cmd" in most cases.)
BONUS! Teach your iPhone to type often-used phrases by programming shortcuts into your text settings; the abbreviation you assign (like "omw" for "On my way!") will automatically expand into the phrase when you text it. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard and scroll down to Add New Shortcut.
— Melia Robinson
Want to send a personal token of your esteem—but avoid a trip to the post office? Now you can skip the errand and still deliver a heartfelt gift: Delightfully.com lets you select from an array of treats—a custom scarf, lessons with a golf pro, bespoke candy from Chocomize—or send your own gift (anything you can buy online). It takes care of the rest, letting you add an e-card that can be decked out with snapshots or even arranged into an online puzzle for the recipient to solve. Speaking of gifts: The process takes about five minutes.
A Homejoy cleaning is both easy (schedule it online) and cheap (an hour of scrubbing: just $20), and the company is squeaky-clean: Homejoy pays workers more than the industry's national average. (Available in 31 cities; Homejoy.com).
Your Beauty Arsenal
Dear Petroleum Jelly,
- I love you. Some people call you Vaseline; I call you my everything. You are supremely serviceable. You are my night cream. You are my mascara remover. You are my anytime, anywhere de-asher: You shine up my knees and elbows like no other. You are my shoe polish in a hurry—when my favorite brown boots look dull at the toe, I rub you on and am ready to go. (See there, you've even got me rhyming now. That's how you know it's love.) I never know when I might need you; I'm always dipping a finger into your jar: when my lips feel chapped. When my hands feel dry. When just about anything feels dry, really. I keep one of you in every room, including my purse, which nearly qualifies as a room. And bless your heart, I can buy you in bulk from the dollar store. Isn't that always your way—giving so much more than you take?
Illustration: Julia Rothman
Make It Work
How to get by with what you've got, tackle less-than-ideal situations and generally win at life.
Embrace Your Mess
We know you keep a tidy home—but into every life a little mess must briefly fall. When it does, take heart: A recent study found that mild untidiness can foster creativity. "Most of the received wisdom on cleanliness states that cleaner environments produce better results," says Kathleen Vohs, the study's lead author and a professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. But in one of her experiments, students were assigned to either an orderly or a disorderly room and asked to generate new ways to use Ping-Pong balls. Those in the messier room had more innovative ideas: to convert the balls into an ice cube tray or a pair of earrings. "When things aren't structured, people can feel inspired to shake up their thinking," Vohs says. But there are limits: "Dirty dishes left for days won't help with a fresh, creative mind-set."
— Zoe Donaldson
Wear Last Year's Trends
O's own sartorial strategist, Adam Glassman, shares his secrets for keeping a few recent clothing crazes—all of which he recommended in our pages last year—feeling fresh in 2014.
Tame the trendiness by updating your piece with a solid: Pick the predominant hue in the print and pair it with a cardigan or a jacket in that color.
The most flattering skirts fall either just at the knee or one inch below, so simply ask your tailor to chop it.
Green was everywhere last year, and metallics make for an easy update. Go for a bronze heel or bag, and if you're too scared to do it in the daytime, try it for cocktails.
This trend is going to be big again in the spring, but not in the "I just got off a boat" way. Now it's more relaxed chic. Get the look by pairing your red, white, and blue pieces with separates or accessories in yellows and greens.
If your thighs can't handle the print, just get rid of them. (Please tell me you didn't spend a lot of money on those.)
— Adam Glassman
Fix (or Improve) Just About Anything
Though the rubbery clay Sugru may evoke the Play-Doh of your youth—the bright colors, the squishiness, the strangely compelling smell—its applications are quite grown-up. Because it is waterproof, can withstand extreme heat, is electrically insulating, and adheres to most surfaces, Sugru can fix frayed cords, heat-proof pot handles, or repair broken dishwasher racks; mold it into bumpers to shatter-proof an iPhone, craft wall mounts for tools, or custom-fit earbuds. Sugru hardens in 24 hours, starts at $10—and, yes, it's fun to play with (Sugru.com).
— Laura Birek
Photo: Peter Rosa, Illustration: Julia Rothman
For years, Katie Arnold-Ratliff hid behind her chilly façade. Now she's facing up to what really clouded her features (and even offering the world a smile or two).
"She looks at you as if you were so much thin air," Henry James wrote in The American, and though we missed each other by 135 years or so, he might have been referring to me. I have the kind of face that in unguarded moments slumps like a fallen soufflé, if fallen soufflés were things people described as sullen, caustic, and mean. When I was 6, my parents called me the Ice Queen. When I was 17, a coworker confessed that he was afraid of me. (He was 34.) When I was 30, my boss warned that in meetings, I looked as though I'd "rather be anywhere else, like it's all a waste of your time." And every year in between, people have asked again and again, "What's wrong?"
I'm not the only one getting flak for her face. Michelle Obama's default glower drew ire during the 2008 election. Celebrity-gossip connoisseurs malign Kristen Stewart's sour glare as often as they mock her films. And let's not forget Grumpy Cat. All of us suffer from a condition the Internet calls bitchy resting face. If we're not midgrin or concentrating with laser focus on the task of looking happy, we appear to be bumming hard or quietly judging you.
Some people in my position have resorted to a grin lift, a surgical procedure that outfits patients with indelible smiles; others turn frowns upside down with injections of botulinum toxin. While I could make a more conscious effort to smile (imbeciles on the street have told me "it costs nothing!"), I fear that contorting my mug into perma-pertness would leave little energy for anything else.
Still, it would be nice not to look like a human KEEP OUT! sign. The design of my face isn't much help here. It's a pale disc on which my cheeks hang like drapes too heavy for their rod; I have thin lips, which—and this is key—turn down, halibut-like, when not roused into a smile; my bright blue eyes, my best facial feature, have led some to call my gaze intense (read: unnerving); and the whole shebang is tied up with the blunt button chin you see on a pouting child.
Childhood may actually be when the rest of my grim visage, the part within my control, was born. I grew up an awkward tomboy, thin-skinned as a tulip. I crumpled at the slightest slight, felt an urge to sob when corrected in class. I longed to be loved but assiduously avoided conversation; adult-me can see why that strategy wouldn't work so well, but child-me couldn't. Instead I nursed a bilious fear that I was unlovable. So I deployed the classic foot-shooting gambit for control: I failed on my own terms. I threw the game to avoid losing. I yearned to be liked, so I wore a look that told everybody I couldn't care less whether they liked me. I made a mask of my face and hid behind it.
I'll let you in on a secret: It feels good to wear a look no one can read. It feels good, as a woman, to try on the "I concede nothing" posture men are allowed to assume—to eschew the deferential aura of femininity, to show people how little effect they have. But I'm not a scared kid anymore, afraid to go unloved. People do love me, and I love them, and I don't want them to look at me and see boredom, condemnation, pain. I want my face to broadcast the feelings I really feel.
So one afternoon, I pull out my wildly fancy camera: an Olympus Pen E-P5, a contraption miraculous in its ability to beautify, with its floodlight flash and dewy soft focus. But I've disabled those features. I'm on a fact-finding mission: I'm facing my face. Alone in the house, I inhale a glass of Pinot Noir, re-up my makeup, and position the lens squarely in front of me. I press the button, then press it again and again and again.
In many of the photos I see what everyone has described: the cloak of disdain, the squint of judgment, the caustic glare. But when I look past the mask and into my eyes, I see how curiously they scan the world. I see evidence of the other, kinder things people have said to me: "You are so no bullshit," and "What you did was brave," and "You can be quite disarming."
Then I arrive at two sequential photos in which I'm lying on my back, looking up into the camera. These shots were accidents. I'd been aiming for frank reportage—but just before the first click, I'd remembered something dumb from TV and burst into laughter (snap), before my smile softened (snap again). In the first image, my nose is wrinkled, my mouth wide with hilarity. But the second shot captures the laugh's afterglow; a remnant of joy, easy and alive—which is what I felt in that moment. My face will never be a megawatt beacon of delight, but this image proves that it's capable of telling the world more than I've let it. I look, in this photo, like the sun is warming my face, like the loveliest version of me. I look like who I am: someone with nothing to hide.
— Katie Arnold-Ratliff
Next: 8 life skills every person on the planet needs to learn