Current life hacks

We are three-quarters of the way through an academic year that has featured five children going to four different schools. They are involved in a host of different things. That’s generally good but it does mean that the day-to-day schedule can feel a bit intense. Here are a few things that are making life feel easier or better these days.

Sticking to my bedtime. I need to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays for the morning to go smoothly. As I need 7.4 hours of sleep daily, this means my bedtime is 11 p.m. (I tend to fall asleep pretty quickly…) I’d say I make this four out of five weeknights. On weekends I’ve decided I can be flexible within about an hour. I’m usually in bed around 11:30 p.m., and set my alarm for 7:30 a.m. If I have not built up a sleep debt during the week — which, thanks to the bedtime and all my kids being over 3, I tend not to — I am usually up before my alarm. Orderly sleep is truly wonderful.

Kids in their rooms by 9 on weekdays. This is enforced with the big kids. The 3-year-old is sometimes not asleep and sometimes needs someone sitting with him as he tries to fall asleep, so I might not exit his room until 9:30 or so. But sometimes it is earlier, and minus a 10-15 minute interlude for chats and lights-out, that means it is possible to have over an hour of kid-free leisure at night. I love my kids and I also love having a little time to do stuff like reading or puzzles with no interruptions!

Reading on the Kindle app. I do this on my phone while sitting with the 3-year-old as he falls asleep. Otherwise it would totally be lost time. When I hear about a book I’d like to read, I first check the Libby app, though my library doesn’t have a huge collection (I more need to rely on serendipity for finding books that way). Then I go to Amazon to see the Kindle price, and on several occasions recently, I realize I already bought that book like four years ago (thankfully, Amazon tells you this!). Whoops. But that means I can find it in my Kindle library and reread it (or read it for the first time…)

Themed + standard easy meals. Generally, we do breakfast for dinner on Wednesday and we do make-your-own pizza on Fridays. For the other nights, we almost always have ingredients for fajitas, pasta, or some sort of chicken and rice combo (generally with a non-dairy-based Asian sauce for the adults and children with adventurous palates; we had Thai red curry last night). We grill something on weekends, and the kids can often get away with a mac and cheese night in there somewhere. This seems to cover enough nights that no one is complaining too much.

Doing my laundry separately. My husband and I used to throw our laundry in together. But as we did it once a week there was often a bit much for a load. And then, with the end result of clothes all mixed together, neither of us ever felt like diving in to the pile to sort it (if you wait for the other person to do it first, putting away your clothes goes a lot faster, so I guess this is a game of laundry chicken…) Now we do our laundry separately and putting the clothes away seems to take a lot less time.

Outsourcing organizing. The stuff crammed in the kids’ closets, and the various boxes around the house, seemed to be lingering for a while. So we now have someone who is working through the backlog. The kids’ rooms have become a lot more manageable…and our squeeze pouch snacks (yogurt, applesauce) are in their own basket and the LaCroix supply wound up in rainbow order. Things might not stay in rainbow order, but hey…

The activity bus. I’m not sure why we never used it until this year but it is a huge time saver. At 4:30 and 5:30 p.m., a fleet of buses leave the middle school and high school, and go in various directions. As there are usually only a few children on each bus, it’s almost like a private taxi service. And since getting to and from the middle school tends to take about a half hour roundtrip, this opens up more work hours in the afternoon if the kids want to stay for activities.

Time Outside After Dinner (TOAD time!). Now that the days are longer and warmer I have been designating some evenings as TOAD time. The younger kids go outside and play in the yard in the evening, often until it gets dark. We have a dig site (an uprooted tree where we’ve been excavating beneath the exposed roots) and the remains of a cut down tree that we’ve been chipping away at, discovering creepy crawlies. It’s good off-screen fun.

The camp spreadsheet. Yep, it’s made a reappearance for summer 2023. I put the weeks of the summer down the left hand side and the names of the kids along the top. This helps immensely with organization and seeing at a glance what weeks are available and not available.

Virtual training. I am working out with a trainer once a week via FaceTime. It actually works pretty well. I bought a bunch of resistance bands and the house’s prior owners left a weight machine that isn’t great, but can work as an anchor point for a few exercises. When I’m on top of things I then repeat the exercises the trainer had me do on a second day of the week (I’m not always on top of things).

Listening to my choral music in the car. As one way to increase practice time, I find recordings of the trickier works my choir is performing and I listen to those as I’m shuttling kids around (usually while they are not in the car…I listen when I’m going to get them). We’re singing the Bluegrass Mass (here is the Gloria) in a few weeks.

Washing the sheets right before the cleaners come. We have a weekly cleaning service, and on one week they do the kitchen + first and third floor (which is mainly the playroom), and then the other week they do kitchen + second floor (the bedrooms). Timed right, we wash sheets right before the cleaners do the bedrooms. Everyone puts their sheets back on the beds in a rough fashion, but then the cleaners make the beds look nice.

My Stanley. Yep, I was influenced. I bought one of those giant insulated tumblers with a straw, and I put ice water in there and sip it at my desk and I am probably staying more hydrated (though that cause is also helped by the numerous strawberry acai lemonades from Starbucks I am drinking with my 15-year-old…)

Kizik shoes. I love that you can just slide your feet in these sneakers and you don’t have to bend over or pull on the heels. I now own a pair and so do two of my kids. Possibly everyone will soon. It makes getting out the door faster or at least less painful.

Creating the weekend schedule on Thursdays and the weekly activity schedule on Fridays. So, every Thursday, I send my husband a copy of the weekend schedule — an activity that forces me to create the weekend schedule. Usually I have a rough idea of what we’re doing by the Friday before (when I plan the upcoming week) BUT stuff comes up, or gets filled in, or we come up with new things to do. If we have open gaps or things are unclear I ask my husband to suggest stuff or figure out how to solve any logistical problems. He’s game for doing most things, so this approach generally works (I am not saying it would for everyone).

I also create the kid activity schedule for the upcoming week on Fridays and send it to my husband and nanny. Sometimes it has to change (we dropped a voice lesson this week and added a karate Parents’ Night Out) but knowing the general parameters is helpful. For instance, the 15-year-old likes to run at the gym as we are training for our upcoming 5k. By looking at the activity schedule, we knew that a Wednesday night visit would work during the week. When people see the whole schedule, they can also make considerate choices. My husband, for instance, was supposed to bring a child to an orthodontist appointment, and when something came up that would preclude that, he moved it to a time that would work with the activity schedule and that he could cover, rather than just assuming I would cover it, or calling me and asking many questions about when could work.

Scanning directly from my iPhone. This is a total game changer with permission forms, medical forms, and other such things that were a pain to send in back when I had to scan on my printer, use a USB stick to transfer to my computer, etc. Now I just scan directly from Notes, it turns the image into a PDF and I can email from the phone. I apologize if 99 percent of people already knew about this capability, but I didn’t know until about a year ago and I have used it literally 100 times since then.

Lots of extra phone chargers, lots of headphones. Why do these always seem to disappear? I’ve decided they are like bottles of sunscreen. Better to have extras anywhere you might need them.

Cheap long sleeve T-shirts from Amazon. I get the idea of having fewer, nicer clothes. But I’m a little wary after the whole moth episode. So I’m mostly wearing a rotation of five long sleeve T-shirts that I bought off Amazon. They were each $20. If they don’t last long…oh well (though knowing me I try to get a couple of years of wear out of things anyway…)

What little life hacks are you using right now?

42 thoughts on “Current life hacks

  1. Are you able to share your trainer’s name? I would really like this virtual once a week option.

  2. Amazing! I love life hacks. We have the cleaner change the beds (we strip them) and my goodness, I’d pay money just for that.

    I love the idea of TOAD. We’ve just about got the outdoor furniture sorted for al fresco meals, which I find naturally lead to staying outside to do our reading, just chat etc. I’ve got a freestanding hammock I’m looking forward to using (with a blanket, because Scotland). I also want to do a weekly picnic dinner on the way home from aftercare. There’s a great park next door to the school – pick up, eat, play, cycle home and roll on bedtime.

    1. Our cleaner actually strips the beds and washes all the household linens and makes the beds. The best is that she IRONS the top sheets (I have not ever asked her to do this) and getting into a bed she has freshly made is one of my life’s great pleasures! My kids even talk about how great it is to get into a “Nice, neat Sandra-bed.”

      If I won the lottery, the first thing I would do is hire Sandra to work for us fulltime.

  3. I love all of these! The chargers and the headphones kill me here too. I wish I had one to add but I think most of my hacks originate from you or Shu!

  4. All PA residents can get a library card from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh! You can apply online and get the card number via email instead of in person. Then you can also access their library collection through Libby. I love it because they let you have 20 holds.

    1. For $10/year you can get a non-resident (digital books only) library card from the Nashville library. Online application and over the phone payment.

      I belong to three different libraries and it’s great.

  5. I love all of these! Can you share the link for the long sleeve tshirts? Kristen aka Tge Frugal Girl had a great post recently on them too. I don’t necessarily have any hacks to share but two recommendations that have literally been appreciated by our whole family (six kids ages 8-16).

    1) The amazing read aloud book “Small Steps” by Peg Kehret about the author’s battle with childhood polio.
    2) Watching the TV show The Middle together.(Not to be confused with Malcolm in the Middle!) A friend recently introduced us and it is hysterical. We generally watch one episode a night and it is so fun to laugh together and then quote it later!

    1. Thanks for the book and tv recommendations. I have similar aged kids and we used to do lots of family read alouds and we watched tv together too. As the big kids got into high school, it has been hard to find things for everyone. Maybe we will try these this summer

  6. At least I didn’t know of the possiblity to scan documents in notes yet. Thank you, I am sure it will be used a lot in the future.

    1. @Frieda – woo hoo! This post was actually useful! It is so so much easier than any other way I’ve dealt with documents that needed to be signed and returned than in the past (for anyone not using DocuSign type software).

  7. I love Open Library ( to borrow books online. Some you can borrow for 14 days while some are for 1 hour and you have to renew each hour. A little fiddly if you get one of those but still worth it in my opinion as you just tap renew and it keeps your page. You do have to create a free account.

    1. @Jenn – every hour! I guess I’d have to block out a particular time to read in that case…

  8. Oh, wow! I love these hacks! I’m going to try the laundry one! Genius.

    For me, I put two baskets of the kids lotion, hair brush and perfume one next to their bathroom and the other one is by the door.

    Placing scissors in every room, you have no idea how much we need those.

    Keeping the diaper bag always packed and ready.

    Cat eyeliner stamp, it’s a GAME CHANGER! It draws perfect cat eyeliner with minimal effort.

    Keeping my concealer and eyelash curler by the sink so when i brush my teeth every morning I put some to feel good about myself.

  9. My favorite hack was subscribing to a menu-planning service. Once a week I got an email with 6 dinner menus. Each night’s menu included a recipe for entree and suggestions for the sides. And it included a shopping list! The shopping list looked daunting, but much of it was staples so only had to buy fresh meat and produce and dairy. I had only two kids, though, and they would eat almost anything from the menus. And if I knew they (or I) didn’t like something, we would substitute. I also liked that this was part of a routine, weekly shopping with a quick stop for milk, bread, and bananas in between. Never had to think about what to make or if we have the right ingredients for something, lots of variety, my husband liked it and either of us, or one of the kids, could start dinner.
    Also, yes to scissors in many rooms, as well as scotch tape, pen, post-its.
    Routines of any kind are good.

    1. @Barb – I think a menu planning service can work very well for families with more adventurous palates. We’re all so boring that we just make the same stuff most weeks!

  10. Love the life hacks! Please do these posts regularly?
    Can you elaborate on the outsourced organizing? I think I don’t quite get what they’re doing.

    1. @Maggie – I’m not sure how many life hacks I have but I can keep giving them as I have them!
      This person is doing various house projects — for instance, she went through all the kids’ closets and drawers and piles of stuff and organized by category (she also built the bookcases we bought but hadn’t gotten to). Even simple stuff like making sure all the books are on the bookshelf can take a while and feel overwhelming to kids. Putting all the craft supplies in one drawer makes them accessible. And there was stuff like size 6 dresses in my daughter’s closet and she’s 11. They needed to go elsewhere. We had a jumbled closet of sports equipment that is now all neat with the trash gone and stuff grouped by category…

  11. On Libby one hack I use is to have both my account and my 7 year olds account on my device. For high demand books that take time to read (right now bed time is Harry Potter), I start the hold on his account as mine starts to run out. I also keep a list of books I want to read on the notes app on my phone.
    We go through a lot of Children’s books fro the library. I bought a wooden crate from Michaels art store and wrote “library books” in crafty letters on it. It helps me keep them together and not mixed in with our books. I bring the whole crate with me into the library when it is time to return them. The night before I return them, I look in the online library catalog for other books by the authors and illustrators that we liked and request them. Some come from other libraries and some from our own, but they are all pulled together at the front desk for us. It saves a lot of time and helps us get a better variety.

    1. @LauraK- everything is nicer in a wooden crate. I think I need some more wooden crates in my life…

  12. Another ebook related hack—if I don’t have time to finish a library book, or if several that I have on hold become available, I send them all to my kindle and put my kindle in airplane mode. It wont return them (although the library can allow the next person to check it out) until I take it out of airplane mode. Takes the pressure off.

    1. @Cynthia -woo hoo! My week has been worthwhile!! I’m so glad to share this knowledge with people. I had to send in like four permission forms and it was a piece of cake.

  13. It doesn’t matter how many pairs of scissors I put in which room. They won’t be there when I need them.

  14. What does your kid schedule look like? Do you use Google Calendar and just point your husband/nanny towards that, or do you use a file on your computer?

  15. I also did not know Apple Notes can scan- amazing thanks for the tip!

    Love these hacks. Our fortnightly cleaner is awesome and she strips the beds, remakes them with fresh sheets (I just need to put the sheets out), and puts the old sheets in the laundry ready to wash. It’s amazing!
    We also have a laundry lady collect about two loads of washing per week, wash and return them. All the kids clothes (we have two young kids), and a few of our lighter clothes etc. I still have to wash the rest of our clothes plus towels/sheets etc but it makes it more do-able instead of the absolute pain it was before. I generally wash one load of washing most mornings: put it on when I first wake up, transfer to dryer before I leave for work, fold before bed. Then weekends are a chance to catch up on any outstanding loads or folding. I used to feel like all I did was laundry but a bit of outsourcing and organisation and it now feels manageable and almost meditative!
    One more hack has been to buy one of those Fridge whiteboard magnetic weekly planners where we can write appointments, kids activities, dinner plans, reminders etc. I fill it in on Sunday each evening and it serves as a reminder for my husband and I and also prompts us wrong work out any clashes etc. So helpful!

  16. How do you even begin to hire someone to come in and organize?? Please DO TELL.

    That sounds awesome in theory, but where do I start?? Are there particular companies to look at, or did you find a small local business on Yelp??

    1. @Kenia – stumbled into it 🙂 She’s a former nanny who had always done some organizing/staging houses on the side. We definitely needed it!

      1. That’s wonderful! I have been thinking that I seriously need to organize…but then I realized that what I *really* need is to get rid of things (trash or donate) *before* I go through and organize. It’s incredible how much STUFF there is in our home.

    1. @Jami – yep. One of my cheap shirts is already looking a little worse for wear with washing but…oh well. I’ve worn it many times and gotten use out of it and if it turns into a rag that’s fine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *