A few more little hacks

I need a cutesy name for my little tips…I welcome suggestions! Following on two recent posts with round one of life hacks and round two, here are a few more things that are making my life easier right now.

Chipotle mayo. Given my issues with dairy, it’s really hard to get creamy tastes that won’t cause a problem. But mayonnaise fits the bill. I buy this aioli and it makes any not-exciting food taste…good. It’s like my ketchup.

Wearing two sports bras. I’ve been doing this for so long that I forgot it is a non-obvious solution. Any folks reading this who happen to have a larger chest, and who enjoy running, probably know that you can go down quite an expensive path of attempting to find good sports bras that control all bouncing. I’ve bought some of these and then been annoyed when inevitably the hooks get bent or they are complicated to get on and off. Then I realized that if I simply wore two sports bras, I could wear relatively inexpensive ones and achieve a better level of support than many of the pricey ones were providing. So that is what I do!

Keeping lipstick on my desk. So sometimes you have a video call. Maybe you didn’t even know it was a video call. Or you’ve been doing other things and forgot. Before turning on the camera, just quick swipe on some lipstick and it looks like you tried.

The Zoom closet. There is a closet in my home office. Originally, I set it up just for recording. But I’ve realized that even if I’m just meeting with people, the backdrop is better (and less cluttered) in a small enclosed space, and household noise is slightly less likely to slip in. And if someone happens to burst into my office there is then a second door to deter them (it wouldn’t deter a toddler, but I’m thinking of older children who just might not have been thinking about it). So I often just take my laptop in there before dialing in. Speaking of laptops…

Two screens. Once Zoom stopped working on my old laptop (and there wasn’t really enough memory space to download the operating system that would support the new version) I bought a new laptop. However, the old one still worked, and had all my files. So rather than migrate everything, eventually I just wound up using both laptops each day. It’s kind of nice to be able to look at a file on one while talking on Zoom on the other. Obviously I could print but…now I don’t have to!

Wegmans Broccoli Crunch salad (and other ways to veggie up). I don’t particularly like salads most of the time, and for sure would not like this one on its own, but it’s good to eat more veggies. This chopped salad mix features shredded broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots — all veggies that can stand up to cooking, but are kind of inoffensive in thin sliver form. So I mix handfuls of this in with rice and leftover meat (or cut up chicken patties) to make a stir fry type lunch. (Sometimes I add the chipotle mayo on the side.) Handfuls of baby spinach can work too. Or frozen corn.

Microwave rice. Not as good as the fresh cooked version by any means, but ready in a minute, which covers up for a host of sins. Or you can always…

Order extra rice when ordering take-out. Now I’ve got a base for my next two lunches!

Hiring your kid to make your photo books. In case anyone missed this in my weekend round-up, I am in love with this idea. My daughter, for the competitive price of $25, went through my photo library, chose some good pictures from 2022, and then put in captions on Shutterfly (I think she did the automatic option where Shutterfly chooses layouts, but I am fine with this hack). She did the 2020 one a few months ago, and is now going to go back and do the 2021 book. This was never going to happen otherwise, so I’m thrilled with this arrangement.

New (well, dentist gift bag) toothbrushes for trips. Some family members use those circular toothbrushes that get advertised on social media, and others have electric ones for everyday use. So when we get regular plastic toothbrushes at the dentist, or when Santa puts them in stockings, I just throw any that aren’t immediately claimed in a drawer. Then, when we pack for a trip, I just pack five toothbrushes in different colors. Each child gets a color for the trip. Sometimes they keep using them for a while afterwards, but if not, oh well. Also, by packing enough toothbrushes myself, I don’t worry about whether the kids remembered to pack them. (An additional packing life hack: have boys, or at least boys who opt for shorter hair styles. We only need one hairbrush for my daughter!)

Expediting. I guess this is as much a PSA as a hack…When we’re talking relatively small amounts of money, it might be worth it to pay extra for speed. I paid to expedite the signing of my camp medical forms — I was enough ahead of time that I didn’t need to, but the upside is the pediatrician’s office just did it immediately and I got them back the same day and could complete the camp form projects as part of that week’s task list. It wasn’t then hanging over me. In a related but much more serious matter: please, please pay to expedite your passport renewal (or getting a new one). I know a few folks who’ve had massive stress/anxiety because they were traveling in 6 months, so assumed they didn’t need to expedite, then the 10-12 week window became 14-16 weeks or something like that…and a few weeks before their big international trip they still don’t have their passports. Everyone has gotten them before they had to leave for the airport, but do you want to be wondering during that last 30 day window what’s going on? If you can afford an international trip, you can likely afford the extra fee to expedite, and I feel like in the US at least the State department puts you in an entirely different work flow if you pay to expedite. We got the baby’s passport in 3 weeks in March 2020 when everything was shut down. I think current expedited processing times are longer than that, but they are shorter than the regular ones by a lot.

Cleaning half the house. Some parts of the house get dirtier than others. When we were getting bids for a cleaning service, shortly after moving, it soon became clear that the upstairs playroom really didn’t need to be cleaned as often as the kitchen. So we do a split where one week the service does the kitchen + first and third floor (the third floor is basically just the playroom, and then steps up to it) and then the next week they do the kitchen + second floor (the bedrooms). The kitchen stays cleaner, and the crew doesn’t have to be here as long so it’s more affordable.

30 thoughts on “A few more little hacks

  1. I love the too and like Humaira’s suggestion. Ooh or “How Laura Does Life”?
    I love chipotle flavored anything and I don’t really like mayo but I’m totally on board with chipotle may. Which brand do you like? The grocery store I generally shop at (Whole Foods) does not carry any!

    1. @Kat – it’s Kraft (though I see it is sometimes sold, fancy style, with a different logo and “J.L. Kraft” as the brand). In a black squeeze bottle with a black top and a picture of a very good looking fried chicken sandwich on the label. It looks like Amazon carries it, even if Whole Foods doesn’t!

  2. For a title, how about a play on “I know how she does it?” I’m not coming up with anything, but it seems like there is potential there.

  3. I am loving your hacks! I also don’t like salads on their own, so my hack is to divide up those salad kits and put them in wraps, adding some kind of protein. I like your stir fry idea too and might have to try it!

    1. @Taryn – ooh, putting the salads straight into a wrap is a good idea. With the chipotle mayo, of course!

    2. The two sports bras hack reminded me of the 99% Invisible podcast episode on sports bras. I would definitely recommend the ep! I had no idea that sports bras didn’t exist until the late 1970s. They talked about the problem of creating good sports bras for larger breasts – your hack is genius!

      Microwave rice is one of my travel hacks – it’s an easy, quick, cheap meal to eat in any hotel with a microwave, it’s small to toss into my backpack & doesn’t get squished, and white rice is inoffensive to my difficult stomach!

      1. @Jessica – I haven’t tried traveling with rice but you’re right, it would travel well!

  4. I’m cracking up over the “have boys” hack! 😂 As a mom of seven boys and only two girls (who were spaced 15 years apart), I totally agree. “Buzz” or Caesar cuts save so much time! Learning to do the haircuts at home saved lots of money, too.

    1. @Leslie – they keep them a little longer than buzz, so we wind up at super cuts (except during the pandemic — that was something cutting them all myself!!). But still. Easy to care for!

    2. I almost never think about my two boys’ hair, except cuts every 6-8 weeks (my husband’s task) and the occasional reminder to “smooth your hair down” for my oldest. We spent a weekend with a friend that has 2 girls and I was like woah, there is so much work here with combing, washing, styling, fixing throughout the day, more combing etc! Definitely a hack to having boys!

  5. OMG, all these hacks are super helpful! My favorite one is about a cleaning service, such a brilliant idea! We settled a on “basic” cleaning plan, including a kitchen, 3 bedrooms, and 2 bathrooms, and sometimes I pay extra when I need them to clean a fourth bedroom (which i currently use as a home office) and a guest bathroom, or a kids’ playroom. BUT kid’s playroom didn’t have to be cleaned professionally for a long time because we implemented an exchange system at home, exchanging extra-chores for extra screen time.

    My two boys are now asking us if they can vacuum and clean the play room in exchange of extra time for video-games, or clean more areas in the house in exchange of such valuable screen time! So far I had them sweeping the deck, taking out recycling boxes, and sweeping the front area/door mat. All these things I always see but never have time to do around the house!

  6. I wanted to say a big thank you for the kid photo album hack. I’d read this on your blog previously so, when we recently got back from 2 weeks in Japan and my 11-year-old still had another week off school, I asked him to pull together an album for our trip. He loved doing it, was way better than me and I didn’t even mention paying him. It was a total win win and I would never have thought of entrusting it to him without your suggestion. Thanks so much!

  7. Also, a google spreadsheet for Christmas presents. I have a column for who, what, how much, has it been delivered yet, and where I hid it in the house. I am always losing presents in the house and then finding them 2 years later when they are the wrong size or no longer age appropriate. It also helps me fight the “I don’t have enough for this person!” feeling, because there is an objective list, instead of my forgetful memory. I start a new tab for each year so that I can see if I might be repeating presents from year to year. And it’s quick to add up how much was spent for future budgeting.

    Also, Lego has some of the best quick little gifts ever. The stunt bikes are so fun, super cheap, and don’t take up a lot of storage space. I like the Friends Lego set, too, especially for my nieces. They come with a little story, like pet rescue, and have a couple of characters, so they can start playing right away with each other or with their cousins. And they are small, so they’re not going to take over the toy storage. Lego are my go-to birthday presents for birthday parties.

    1. Adapting this idea for Hanukah. I am a CPA working with Excel daily. I do an Excel spreadsheet for Hanukah every year and somehow I have never thought of making it a workbook! Also LOVE the where I hid it column.

  8. Timely Tips – or some other use of the word/concept of time. I’m still thinking 😉

  9. I love the Wegmans pre chopped salads. Have you tried the dill pickle one? That’s my favorite.

    I had “eat a substantial amount of veggies” on my 3/week score card earlier this year, and these salads are the reason it’s stuck . I do that + rotessari chicken. It’s not the cheapest meal (probably like $6- which feels like a lot for home food), but a worthwhile personal investment

    1. @AW – I have NOT tried the dill pickle one but it sounds kind of fascinating… I think $6 is fine for a home cooked meal – would it be better to aim to be cheaper and get frustrated with it and wind up calling Uber Eats? I think “buy whatever you want at the grocery store” is a good personal finance rule as feeling like you’re getting treats is what keeps people from restaurants.

  10. I’ve gone the other way on the cleaning service – it used to be every 2 weeks (does anyone outside the UK say fortnight?), then as husband’s job got more demanding, I upped it to every week so I would feel less resentful of him not being home to do it, and now I am treating myself to an extra hour on a Friday morning (normally she comes on Tuesdays) just for kitchen, moving the laundry along and any specific tasks that have come up. I have a print out that I leave for her on Tuesdays (I’m out of the home when she’s there) with areas highlighted/crossed out/marked low-priority. It’s possibly over-engineered, but I like it as a combination of efficiency, luxury and not feeling like Cinderella!

  11. Partial cleaning service is a game changer! We had cleaners for the whole house but unfortunately we had to let them go in November. My husband and I cleaned our bathrooms ONCE between November and March and then decided we had to hire a cleaner again. Our new fortnightly cleaner only does our bathrooms (3), and stairs and shared spaces – she doesn’t clean the bedrooms. Which is awesome because they don’t get as dirty as shared spaces, it’s cheaper, I don’t spend as much time “cleaning for the cleaner” and I think she does a better job on the rest of the house. I was actually thinking about hiring a once a month cleaner to do bedrooms if we end up more busy. But lowering our bedroom cleanliness standards also helps.

    $25 for a photo book is a bargain! I can’t wait till I can outsource to kids!

  12. I love sauces on everything. My go-to is Mayo+ something.
    Mayo + siracha = spicy mayo
    Mayo + katsup = burger sauce
    mayo + wasabi = wasabi aoli
    mayo + pickle juice = creamy salad dressing (amazing on sliced cucumbers)

    1. @Sandra – given my issues with dairy, mayonnaise has become my answer to everything. It makes stuff creamy! I’m really glad I don’t also seem to have issues with eggs…

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