Life as a a parent is complicated. There is no one quick fixes that can completely solve the jigsaw puzzle of our responsibilities.
But sometimes a small, simple solution to a tiny-but-nagging problem—a hack, a workaround—is exactly what we need. Eliminating the lost-keys-what’s-for-dinner-tonight-level annoyances opens up time and mental space for the Important Stuff: rest, exercise, productive work, and joyful time spent with family and friends.
These 10 tips will save you a few precious minutes (and perhaps a few dollars) each week. If you devote this “found” time and money to what’s most important to you, your happiness is bound to increase.
1. Come up with three dinners that use pantry ingredients
You probably already have a few simple go-to dishes that are satisfying, nourishing and easy to prepare. Alter the recipes (if necessary) so you can make three family favorites using only ingredients that you already have in the pantry and freezer. Swap fresh vegetables for frozen, even if that’s not your usual practice (peas and edamame in particular are good frozen). Store shredded cheese in the freezer so it’s always ready to go.
Once you know what your favorite pantry meals are—this is key—religiously keep these ingredients stocked in your home. There, now you’ll always have something for dinner.
Bonus hack: Double the recipe for stews and casseroles, and store the extra meal in the freezer.
2. Use over-the-door clear pocket shoe holders everywhere
Shoe organizers can organize so much more than shoes! In the bathroom, store styling products, hair clips, sunscreen, and bandages. In kids’ rooms, organize small toy and stuffed animal collections. In the laundry room, hold clothespins, stain sticks, and orphan socks. In the office, store small electronics with their associated chargers and cables.
3. Hang a whiteboard in the kitchen so everyone can add to the grocery list.
Whoever is going shopping, take a phone picture of the board! This way you have shared responsibility for the list. No data entry in spreadsheets or fussy grocery list apps; no lost or forgotten slip of paper. Genius.
4. Attach a carabiner clip to your keychain, and clip your keys to your purse strap.
You’ll never lose your keys again. With your keys visible, you’re also less likely to lock them in the car.
5. Flatten toilet paper rolls to slow down the spin.
Your kids will use less toilet paper, and the roll is less likely to unravel onto the floor.
6. Take digital pictures of your kid’s favorite art projects, then repurpose the originals.
This hack lets you save the best of your kid’s art, share its beauty and declutter at the same time. Take digital photos of your kids’ best and/or favorite art projects. Then transform the originals into wrapping paper, gift labels, birthday cards and gifts. (Especially popular with grandparents and teachers.)
If you’re ambitious, collect the photos in a photobook and give that as a gift, or keep it as a memento for yourself and the artists themselves.
7. Keep a kitchen timer in every room in your house.
Of all the gadgets floating around my home, the most useful has been the basic wind-up kitchen timer.
The timer speeds shared cleanup time (we see how much we can get done before it rings). The timer also stands in as a neutral third party that announces screen time limits, turn-taking reminders, shower ending times, homework breaks and cool-down periods after arguments. It’s like having a trusty lieutenant.
Bonus hack: While traveling or running errands, use the timer on your mobile phone to set time limits in stores.
8. Use a password management app to store more than passwords.
I use 1Password to securely store passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers and my kids’ Social Security numbers. Not only is the information secure, it’s also automatically synced between my computer and mobile device.
Having this information on hand simplifies filling out forms in banks and other official places. I can more easily conduct business using my mobile phone, and I can log into a website from a computer that’s not mine. (I’m careful never to let public browsers auto-save my passwords.)
9. Keep your toddler from rolling out of bed with a rolled towel
Great hack for when your child is ready to move from a crib into a “big kid” bed: place a rolled towel under the fitted sheet along the edge of the bed.
10. Fold sheet sets and store them inside one of the pillowcases.
This tip will save you laundry folding and organizing hassle and will de-clutter your linen closet—especially if you have beds of different sizes. Plus, you’ll never scramble for clean guest sheets again. (I can’t be the only one who does this, right?)