Easy Home Hacks That Can Save You Serious Time
I recently shared with my email subscribers that I am just a tad overwhelmed by life lately. With two young boys to take care of, a home business to run, an impending cross-country move to coordinate, and a third baby on the way, I feel like I spend most days drowning in a To Do List a mile long and go to bed each night with not nearly enough of it crossed off. It’s in seasons like this one that I tend to look for any way to save time, energy, and stress in our day-to-day living; and I do whatever I can to streamline our clutter, our systems, our commitments, and our schedules so that we have the physical and mental space to deal with all the craziness going on! Since I have a hunch we’re all a little busy and (at times) frazzled by the demands of day-to-day life, I thought I’d share some home hacks that can save you serious time around the home. Some of these are routines I rely on day in and day out, and others are ones I have heard/read/learned that I can’t wait to implement myself! Some of these things may seem too trivial to make any difference…but remember…it’s often the small things that really add up and make a huge difference in how our household runs and how we feel falling into bed at the end of the day!
In the Kitchen
Make a meal plan every week. Standing in front of the fridge or pantry at the end of long day, trying to come up with something…anything…for dinner not only wastes precious evening time but can also be challenging for those of us who are mentally spent by 6:00. Eliminate a whole (tiresome) piece of the “what’s for dinner” puzzle by hashing out a simple plan at the start of each week. You can learn more how to do so here.
Stick to your meal plan. Admittedly, I have a habit of creating a meal plan and then going rouge one or two nights a week simply because I don’t feel like making that specific dinner. Then I get frustrated that we either wasted ingredients or my new plan ended up taking longer than my original one would have. Once you’ve made a meal plan, don’t over complicate things by ignoring it. Just make what you planned…there are lots more nights to cook a different dinner, after all!
Order groceries online. Ordering groceries not only saves me a considerable amount of time each week, but it’s also instrumental in keeping our grocery bill in check. You can read all about how I do it here.
Empty the dishwasher while dinner cooks. In the evening, it can sometimes feel like every minute counts in order to get everything (after school activities, homework, family time, dinner, dishes, baths, reading, etc) to fit. As such, I make the most of the downtime while dinner is cooking (usually on the stove or in the oven) to empty the dishwasher and tidy up the kitchen from the day. I’m standing there anyway, and this ensures we have an empty dishwasher to load dinner dishes into!
Rely on recipe-less meals. One of the main reasons I abandon my planned meals on busy days is that they simply feel too complicated to pull together. I’ve learned that there are times and places for elaborate meals, and busy weeknights aren’t it. As such, I tend to rely on recipe-less meals (tacos/fajitas, chicken salads, spaghetti and jarred sauce) during the week so the meals come together without much labor or brain power!
Check your meal plan every morning. I am pretty sure we are ALL guilty of not pulling meat, casseroles or other frozen items out of the freezer in time for them to thaw. To eliminate the need to flash-thaw foods at the last minute, make checking your meal plan part of your morning routine. Before heading off to work, school, etc, check the meal plan and pull out/prep anything needed for that night’s dinner. Don’t think you’ll remember? Set a timer to remind yourself until you get into the habit!
Label perishables for the refrigerator. Do you ever find yourself suspicious of salad dressing, mayonnaise, sour cream, or any other perishable item because you can’t remember exactly when you opened it? Whenever I open something that might spoil, I always use a Sharpie (that is kept in a close by kitchen drawer) to write the date I opened the item directly onto the container/box itself. This way, when I come across the item again days/weeks/months later, I can easily determine if it’s still okay to eat!
Label plastic containers with a dry-erase marker. Whenever I am putting leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer, I always label it to ensure we know what it is. If the leftovers are in a Ziplock bag, I use a Sharpie directly on the bag. If the leftovers are in a glass or plastic Tupperware-like container, I use a dry-erase marker to write directly onto the side/top…it washes off easily with hot water!
Clean out the fridge before loading in fresh groceries. Each and every week, before I load in our fresh groceries, I do a (very) quick sweep and pull out anything that’s going bad, expired, almost empty or just isn’t getting eaten. Not only does this create room for new, fresh foods, but it also eliminates the chance you’ll encounter mystery or moldy foods tucked in the back for too long!
Pre-prep lunch fixings. If you are often rushed in the mornings, consider taking time on weekends to pre-prep all lunch items you’ll need for the week. This can include anything from pre-washing and chopping fruit and vegetables, filling snack packs, or prepping (and freezing) a week’s worth of PB&J sandwiches.
Save meal plans with matching grocery lists. If you love the concept of meal planning, but for the life of you, cannot make it a habit, spend some time making a few good ones. Then laminate them and rotate through each one regularly! Even if you’re in a pretty good grove with meal planning, consider saving any good plans (with the coordinating grocery list) so you can pull it out on especially busy weeks!
Make a dish towel “laundry basket.” A pile of dirty dish towels sitting on the counter all week was not only ugly, but just really bothering me. I came up with a simple “dish towel laundry basket” solution, and the reduction of clutter on my counters has me one happy lady!
Wipe down the counters and sink every night. For me, wiping down the counters and sink every night isn’t just a way to make sure I come down to a clean kitchen each morning. Rather…it’s a habit that ensures my sink is empty (aka: dishes are done!) and my counters are clear (no clutter, food put away, mail tossed, etc) each and every day. These two things alone really help to keep kitchen messes from piling up and becoming overwhelming!
In the Laundry Room
Sort laundry during bath time. We do laundry one day a week (see how I pull that off here), and I mainly like to sort laundry while both kids are in the bath/shower. Just like with our dishwasher routine, this allows me to be productive when I would otherwise just be sitting there…and the boys don’t mind the extra play time in the tub!
Better yet – teach kids to sort laundry! Just recently, we passed off the laundry sorting to our 8 year old. It’s a chore well within his capabilities (once he was shown how to do it) and I’m able to spot check things before tossing the loads in the wash myself. Simply by delegating this to him, I am freed up to strip and re-make beds or other related tasks!
Keep color catchers on hand. I don’t use Clorox Color Catchers all the time, but I do keep them on hand if I need to do smaller, mid-week loads or simply don’t have the time to sort an entire household’s worth of laundry.
Set timers to move laundry. Our laundry room is upstairs, and we are notorious for not moving laundry through quick enough in order to get it all done. To stay on track (or at the very least prevent loads from sitting in the washer too long), set your phone timer to remind you when the wash is done!
Around the House
Place new right-fitting trash bags in the bottom of trash cans. Tired of encountering empty trash cans after the trash had been taken out, we finally bought several rolls of trash bags and placed a roll in the bottom of each can around the house. Now when we remove a full bag of trash, it couldn’t be easier to replace it with a fresh bag!
Automate everything you can. From utility bills to church donations, diapers to your Friday night pizza order (that never ever changes), take the time to set up auto-pay, auto-reorder or saved orders. Although each of these tasks in and of themselves don’t take much time, doing them week in and week out does add up. By automating all your routine purchases and payments, it can total up to hours saved each month!
Take pictures of shopping lists. I always make a shopping list. I also almost always leave it sitting on the kitchen counter. I’ve now gotten into the habit of taking a picture of my lists, so I know what to get whether I remember the list or not!
Eliminate bulky packaging to reduce visual clutter. Visual clutter can be a physical, mental and visual burden. To streamline your spaces (and therefor keep stress levels lower), consider throwing out the bulky, commercial packing that comes without almost anything you buy. Decanting pantry items is a great place to start (I show you how here), but don’t stop there. We un-box everything from toilet paper, diapers, and batteries to laundry/dish pods, dryer sheets, and so much more!
Toss commercial mailers into the trash immediately. We have a new rule in our house that 100% of “not real mail” gets immediately thrown into the garbage can. This includes any mailer, catalog, newspaper, coupon, etc. Not only does this keep me from browsing for things I don’t need, but it does wonders for keeping our kitchen counters clear!
Bulk buy anything you purchase frequently. If there are non-perishable items that you buy regularly, consider stocking up all at once. This is a no brainer for things like toilet paper, paper towels, pet food, lightbulbs, batteries etc, but I also do this for hobby items like white cardstock, printer paper, my favorite glue, etc. Not only can bulk purchasing get you a better unit price, but it saves you from having to run out/wait for replacements!
Run updates on your devices regularly. I am notorious for skipping required software updates on many of our devices and programs. But then sure enough, I’ll find myself in a hurry and things won’t be working because I don’t have the right/latest versions installed. To prevent an unexpected and inconvenient slowdown, just hit “Update” whenever those buttons pop up!
Create a battery changing kit. By far, one of the best things we did in our home was create a hub for all things batteries. Within a single snap-lock case, we have a solid stock of our most used batteries along with both flathead and philips-head screwdrivers. Whenever a toy or remote needs a refresh, we all know where to go and everything we need is always there!
Keep cleaning supplies under every bathroom sink. A quick cleanup before company comes over or while kiddos are in the bath is made extra easy if everything you need is right there. While you may not need full cleaning kits in each bathroom (like I show here), some pre-staged Clorox wipes and glass cleaner can save you valuable time when you don’t have time to spare!
Place a simple magazine file next to the shredder. I don’t know about you, but I hate firing up the shredder each and every time we need to get rid of something with sensitive information on it. As such, we have a basic magazine file sitting right next to the shredder. Once it gets too full, we know it’s time to plug in the shredder and make it all disappear!
Utilize a pickup basket. Our playroom is upstairs, but it’s inevitable that toys, books, blankets (and more!) come down on a daily basis! When there is just too much to carry back up with two hands, I’ll grab a laundry basket, load in anything that doesn’t belong downstairs, and lug it all back up! The tricker part is actually getting myself to empty the pickup basket once it’s upstairs!
Water plants before walking in the door. The only time I’ve ever been able to keep outdoor plants alive was when I made watering them part of our “coming in the door” routine after morning school dropoff. I placed a watering can by the front door and watered the plants before even placing my key in the lock. I learned that I never, ever went back out to water them, so doing it while I was already outside ensured it actually got done!
With the Kids
Place snacks, dishes, cups where they can reach them. Our older son is finally at an age where he can do (most) things for himself. But I wasn’t helping him (or me!) out by placing the things he needs/uses the most too high or in really hard-to-access spots. As soon as I moved his cups/bowls, snacks, milk and other items to where he can easily reach them, he became much more self sufficient!
Place sunscreens and bug sprays near the shoes/bags. Living in San Diego means we are outside all the time. And it’s right around this time of year that I re-stock on all the sunscreen and place it by the front door so it becomes part of our daily routine without any extra work to dig it out!
Pack a “park kit.” Because we have such nice weather, impromptu park visits are part of our daily life. But a fun trip to the park can turn sour without snacks, clean diapers, sunscreen, etc. As such, I try to keep “park kits” in both our stroller and the car so we always have what we need when the playing mood strikes.
In the Car
Keep a set of diapers in the car. I always have diapers in my diaper bag…or so I think. Yet every now and then, my stash will run out and I’ll forget to re-stock before heading out again. Thankfully, I keep a set of diapers and wipes in the trunk of our car so I can still pull off a diaper change even if my diaper bag is empty!
Use restaurant app ordering. I seriously want to kiss whoever invented restaurant app ordering. Eating out with kids is rarely fun, but it does go a little smoother when our order is already placed before we even find a seat at a table.
Keep a lidded container in the car. My neighbor keeps a large, lidded Tupperware-like container in their car. They primarily use it to collect trash; but on one outing when her child got carsick, it was the perfect thing to not only catch the mess but keep the smells at bay for the rest of us. I’ve been meaning to put one in our car ever since!
Keep wipes in the car. Baby wipes aren’t just for babies! They are ideal for wiping messy hands and muddy fingers, and are oh-so-handy when an applesauce pouch explodes or gummies are stuck to the leather seats. I buy the super large packs at Target and keep them in the back seat for such emergencies!
Keep returns in the car. It can be frustrating to find yourself with a spare 20 minutes before soccer pickup, but all your returns are sitting at home on the kitchen counter. So that I can take advantage of surprising (and rare!) extra moments of free time, I keep any returns (with their receipts) in the car!
On Our Schedules
First day of the month rituals. There are certain tasks that I like/need to do monthly (e.g., swap out my contact lenses, do my blog bookkeeping, pay off credit cards, etc). For some reason, I can’t seem to stick to any schedule other than on the first of each month. Any other date is just too hard to remember, but when I flip the calendar and the 1st is staring right at me, it’s my cue to complete my monthly tasks. If you have certain things you need to do monthly (swap air filters?), commit to doing it on the first of every month so you are sure to remember and it doesn’t get overlooked!
Auto-fill prescriptions. Rx autofill is another one of those awesome modern-day inventions, but I’ve recently noticed that our pharmacy is now offering 90-day refills on many (non-habit forming) medications. Although getting over to our local pharmacy once a month wasn’t that hard, I was still doing it on the very day I ran out of my daily medicine. Being able to get a 3-month supply is a huge convenience and time saver for me!