Easy ways to make life easier
June 12, 2006 6:09 PM   Subscribe

What are some cheap and effective ways to make your life easier?

I only buy one kind of socks (other than the two pair of dress socks I own). This means I don't have to match them up when doing laundry, never stress about where the extra one in a pair went, and getting dressed is easier in the morning.

I also switched to using plastic cups for pretty much all beverages. Since most of the time I was running the dishwasher it was just full of glasses, I end up doing the dishes far less often. As a bonus, they stack up nicely so I don't have a small army of dirty glasses on my desk.

What other things can I do to eliminate annoying/tedious parts of my day? Bonus points for cheap/free ideas
posted by 0xFCAF to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 145 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Kind of technical/electronics related, but some good pointers: lifehacker
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:13 PM on June 12, 2006

It might help knowing a little more about you beyond having a desk, dishwasher, and wearing socks. I could tell you how much easier life is now that I have more beach towels than I could ever use, since all my son's friends come over with swim trunks on, but very few of them bring towels, but if you don't have a pool in the back yard, that's not a lot of help for you. It looks like a drunken swim team lives at our house.

It might seem a bit obvious, but one thing that makes my life easier is buying stuff we use tons of in b-u-l-k. We're fortunate to have tons of space to store things like multiple packs of deodorant, toothpaste, tissues, tp, paper towels, razor blades, Q-Tips, so forth.

If I don't buy ahead bulk, running out of something sneaks up on me and I usually end up paying way too much at the grocery store for something I could get tons cheaper at Costco, and I'm all mad...

Christ, this answer screams suburb.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:19 PM on June 12, 2006

I would say to downsize everthing that you can. Wardrobe, electronics, plants, maybe even your living quarters. Stuff = maintenance and money.
posted by haikuku at 6:23 PM on June 12, 2006 [4 favorites]

I read somewhere (it might even have been here) that we have two lives: our real lives and our paper lives. If you take care of the paper life, everything is made easier.
posted by bonaldi at 6:35 PM on June 12, 2006 [2 favorites]

Another laundry tip: I only have "darks". Even socks; when I wear sneakers I just wear tiny no-show (dark-colored) socks. Therefore, I only do one load of laundry per week.

I put all catalogues and coupon-type mail in a place where I can look at it while I'm on the phone, so it doesn't add any time to my day. And I record all tv shows I enjoy so that I never have to watch commercials (also saves time).
posted by xo at 6:45 PM on June 12, 2006

Have you got:
Significant other?
Home ownership?
A vehicle?
A commute by other means?
posted by winston at 6:47 PM on June 12, 2006

If possible, adjust the hours you work to avoid driving in rush hour.

Use your freezer. Make up a big pot of chili or soup or other easy dish, split it up into meal-sized portions, and freeze for quick and easy meals during the week.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:50 PM on June 12, 2006

I sort my mail and throw the junk away before I even get a chance to put it down.
posted by smackfu at 6:56 PM on June 12, 2006

If you want to take the freezer suggestion to the extreme, there's an interesting book called Once A Month Cooking (will be interesting even if you don't use the schedule suggested by the title).
posted by winston at 6:59 PM on June 12, 2006

Stop using plastic cups and go back to using a glass. A glass. You are one person. Keep re-using it. Rinse it out when necessary. Wash it when necessary. Never put it in your dishwasher. Less money, less trash, dishwasher doesn't get full, and don't have to drink out of plastic.
posted by flarbuse at 7:11 PM on June 12, 2006 [2 favorites]

  • Own fewer things
  • Do fewer things
  • Sleep more often/longer

  • posted by vanoakenfold at 7:22 PM on June 12, 2006 [4 favorites]

    Second the freezer suggestion--or just make it easier by making a pot of soup on Sundays in the winter and just feed off it all week, and maybe a cold pasta salad in the summer and do the same thing. Do your birthday and holiday shopping online. Get a dog--makes your life more complicated in some ways, but also forces you to get out in the neighborhood, go on walks, and feel okay with staying home for an evening on the couch with the dog instead of feeling like you need to go out and do something fantastically entertaining. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with staples so you always have an option for dinner. Check out www.savingdinner.com for once-a-week menu plans. Request books at the library instead of going out and buying them. Renew them online if you need to. Listen to books on tape/cd in the car--makes the commute easier and you'll listen to stuff you wouldn't ordinarily read. Check out magazines at the library. Get a simple, easy-to-deal-with haircut. Pay your bills online, or set up automatic bill paying. Invest some time in learning how to cook--you'll learn something, you'll entertain yourself and you'll eat better.
    posted by printchick at 7:28 PM on June 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

    This might not qualify as "cheap" to you, but it definately did for me: I combined all my gadgets (Palm, Cellphone, Mp3 player) by spending $150 on a Palm Treo 600 (on eBay) and getting rid of the old ones. Now I only carry one gadget and it does everything all the individual gadgets did, and possibly better. It has also drasitcally cut down on the amount of time I spend on the computer outside work, because I can get my email, and various other bits of info from anywhere if I can a spare minute or two. It also allows me to track my finances, to do lists, shopping lists, etc without piles of papers and books.
    posted by blue_beetle at 7:39 PM on June 12, 2006

    If you make a list of the annoying and tedious things you encounter each day then you might get better answers.
    posted by jeremias at 7:49 PM on June 12, 2006

    Borrow The Complete Tightwad Gazette from your library.
    posted by bigmusic at 8:24 PM on June 12, 2006

    Best answer: I have been hell bent on simplifying my life over the past few years. Two excellent posts are A) haikuku's one regarding reducing stuff and B) flarbuse's post on "one glass".

    I move to a new apartment/house at least once per year... more like every 9 months. I have been doing this for the past 10 years.

    That said, things I have done:
    - destroy CD cases, all music is just the CD and liner notes in Case Logic holders
    - use one set of dishes: one coffee cup, wine glass, water/juice glass. always soak stuff in soapy water then walk away. let time and diffusion do 90% of the work to clean it.
    - my apt. has the laundry room with a trash can right by the mail. filter out the chaff going through the mail before bringing the useful stuff home
    - maintain a set "amount" of stuff. i.e. If you buy a book, you have to sell/donate one. If you buy a shirt, you have to toss an old one.
    - have a few large tubs of stuff: tools, exercise/bike stuff, camping stuff, winter/ski stuff, eletronics/cables, cleaning/toiletries.
    - have a box of bills/documents. As you receive stuff in the mail, don't sort it, just toss it in that box. If you ever need some important doc, it's in there. Not sorted within, but you're at least certain it can't be anywhere else. (CC bills, car title, 401(k) statements, insurance statements, etc.)
    - borrow books, music, DVDs, from a library. I have a bit of a collection fetish, but when it's free you kind of realize that you don't need to buy that book/movie.
    posted by umlaut at 8:27 PM on June 12, 2006 [9 favorites]

    vanoakenfold Sleep more often/longer?

    I would argue that sleeping only as much as needed would be better. If the goal is to to make life easier, then having more time to accomplish things would make more sense wouldn't it?
    posted by blaneyphoto at 8:33 PM on June 12, 2006

    I have to agree that the first step to simplifying is unplugging. No more cell phone. No more cable tv. No more tivo. That will reduce your bills, reduce the demands on your time and attention and reduce the number of things that break.

    Ziplock bags are awesome too. You just put your leftovers in 'em and freeze or refridgerate. No more saran wrap, no more foil, no more tupperware. Re-use them.

    Trader Joe's makes some of the best frozen food around and for less than $5 an entree. That'll reduce your cooking. And your clean up.

    Automate all your bill payments with online banking. Schedule your rent and all other fixed recurring fees. No more checks! No more envelopes! No more stamps!

    Walk places instead of drive. Less traffic. Less fuel. More time to think.
    posted by GIRLesq at 8:53 PM on June 12, 2006

    Toss out your television (or give it away, sell it on Craig's List whatever...)

    I was a complete TV addict (hacked DSS, home theater, the works) for years before something snapped and I decided to get rid of it... my life has been much more relaxing since. You'd be surprised how much money and space you'll save. Think about it - people build their whole living rooms around their TV... I don't have that problem. Books, music, Internet - two of those three can fit on your computer. Television is shrill and depressing.
    posted by wfrgms at 9:28 PM on June 12, 2006

    Definitely do a "sweep" of your home. Any clothes you no longer wear? Stuff you don't use any more? Things you're just hanging on to? Toss 'em-- well, donate to a charitable organization. Keep things around that have meaning to you and don't just look pretty or take up space. Knickknacks just for the sake of knickknacks? Nope.
    posted by miltoncat at 9:51 PM on June 12, 2006

    Do everything once. Never read an email without replying to it. Don't leave tasks half-done; finish them off. When you come back to the task later you'll forget where you were, and it'll take almost as long.

    Other stuff:
    -Don't buy high-maintenance clothing.
    -Hang up/fold your laundry as soon as it's finished drying so you don't have to iron it.
    -Buy a little plastic crate and keep your keys/wallet/cell phone in there.
    -Combine tasks as much as you can. You might be surprised how well you can kill two birds with one stone if you think creatively a bit. A mundane example: reply to voicemails and make routine phone calls while walking on an errand somewhere.
    -Don't reread emails more than once (unless they're really that important). Just write the whole thing and glance it over afterward when you're done.
    -Try to square away commitments to others as quickly as you can.
    posted by lunchbox at 10:12 PM on June 12, 2006 [5 favorites]

    I'm a girl and I carry a purse, but I have a little pouch in my purse that I keep 6 tiny things in: A pair of foldable, tiny scissors, nail clippers, tiny container of floss (which my dentist gives me free each visit), Listerine Pocket Packs, artificial tears, and Zilactin (canker sore stuff). It's no bigger than a change purse and keeps the stuff from spilling all over... and I can't tell you the number of times the scissors have helped me out.

    If there are stores, restaurants, movie theaters, etc., you frequently visit while out, spend one day plugging the numbers into your cell phone. Then, any time you want to make reservations/order carryout/ask what the hours are/check movie listings, you have the number ready and don't have to Google it or check the phone book/call information. Don't forget to back up your phone book to your SIM card.
    posted by IndigoRain at 10:14 PM on June 12, 2006 [3 favorites]

    Whenever you're up and walking around the house, 'defrag' it. Take an item from the room you're currently in, and take it to the room in which it belongs to put it away. Then take an item from /this/ room, and take it to the room in which /it/ belongs.

    See how many times you can repeat this step. My record so far is 8.
    posted by Wild_Eep at 7:20 AM on June 13, 2006 [3 favorites]

    I have this funny sense that I answered a very similar question on AskMe a while back...anyhow.

    1. Have exactly one place for each of your everyday items, and never put them anywhere but that place. Wallet, phone, keys, bills, etc. You'll have less clutter and spend less time looking for stuff.

    2. Related to the above, bundle your projects. Any projects that you do around the house, whether it is bill-paying, cleaning, knitting, or whatever, should have its own box (or other container) so that you can grab that one box and get started, and then put everything away.

    3. Get rid of stuff you don't use. Be ruthless.

    4. If you want to invest money in this project, you might be able to get rid of two or three things and replace them with one thing that fills all their functions. blue_beetle suggested this with electronics, but you can generalize it to furniture or other things as well.

    5. I shop at Costco too, and I live in the central city. I make a run out there every six weeks, and mostly buy the same stuff each time—stuff that makes sense to buy in large quantities.
    posted by adamrice at 7:55 AM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

    Heheh. Good question. The two things that immediately popped into my head:

    1. Do not buy things believing that if you don't like it, you can always return it. While true, it can be a pain in the ass because you have to make another trip, keep track of the receipt, etc.. I've wasted more time in my life being a returnaholic than for any other reason. I have a twenty-dollar rule: if the item costed me over $20, I will make the trip. If under, I won't bother and just give the item away.

    2. Stop collecting containers, plastic silverware, jars, etc. My wife and I fight over this. When I go to do the dishes, I'm not going to waste my time handwashing and storing away, a used cottage cheese container because "we may need it later."
    posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:35 AM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

    One thing that's been tedious for me has been locating a knife, screwdriver, or scissors when I need them. My solution was to buy a small multi-tool (a Leatherman Micra - plenty of them are available cheaply on eBay) and put it on my key chan. I've always got it with me, and I don't have to hunt for the above items when the need arises.
    posted by gwenzel at 9:02 AM on June 13, 2006

    All of these are great tips - if you're a single male.

    Add a girlfriend and many of these tips will go right out the window. Something to consider.
    posted by drstein at 11:05 AM on June 13, 2006

    Or, consider that step 1 of making your life easier effectively & cheaply is to subtract said girlfriend. Or boyfriend, ACTMB. OP didn't ask about a better life, just easier.
    posted by bartleby at 11:30 AM on June 13, 2006

    Second Wild_Eep's 'defrag your house' suggestion. It helps if everything has a (single) place.

    @ KevinSkomsvold #2. I do re-use large plastic containers. Spending two hours on sunday afternoon making a big pot of pasta sauce and a few quarts of fruit smoothies for breakfast makes the rest of the week easier and better.

    Do your dishes as soon as you're done using them.

    Reduce the amount of things you carry with you.
    My (2 pocket/billfold) wallet contains: ID; debit card; one credit card; metro card; library card; and the keychain cards for both local supermarkets.

    The library and supermarket cards are only there because I often make unexpected stops on the way home. Otherwise they'd stay at home with my health insurance cards, SS card, and everything else I don't need on a daily basis. The frequent-eater cards for the lunch places I visit stay on my desk at work.

    You'll feel 10lbs lighter.
    posted by ThePants at 12:38 PM on June 13, 2006

    I add my voice to the general advice about simplification. . .but I'm going to buck that trend here with one caveat. . .Invest in duplicates where it makes sense. I have duplicate cell phone chargers in office,home,etc.; duplicate headphones in office/home, and so on. For some limited items, having duplicates makes a lot of sense as it reduces the heft of items you have to carry around frequently and leaves you less open to that feeling that you may be forgetting something when you go out the door.

    Other tips. . .

    1. Forget about dressers. Use a bookshelf to store clothing instead. This mitigates the unfolding mess that you make when you root through a drawer looking for just the right item - on a bookshelf it is much easier to pick up items, grab the right one from the pile, and replace the rest, neatly folded.

    2. "Cache" items - store them close to where you use them.

    3. As much as possible, keep a regular schedule. Go grocery shopping on the same day each week, run errands on the same day, etc. This allows you to plan for those days and cuts unnecessary trips to the store, etc.

    4. If you have some flexibility in your job, do things like pay bills, etc. at work on breaks. I bring all my mail into the office, have my own stamps and envelopes there, and during down times I deal with mail. This makes things simpler than trying to maintain a desk at home.

    5. Clean the kitchen/dining room while you are cooking. A lot of cooking can be spent just "waiting" for something to simmer or bake; wipe down the counters, sweep, etc. while you are waiting.

    6. Save directions in a binder in your car, so that whenever you have to go to repeat destinations the directions will already be there for you.

    7. Keep keys, wallet, etc on a stand/hook right inside the door, so that they are always right where you need them.
    posted by sherlockt at 12:59 PM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

    Pay bills upon receipt. Write that check the night you get the bill, and into the mail the next morning. (Instead of letting it slide, and forgetting, and then paying overdue charges).

    Also, renew things as soon as you're reminded, by mail. For example, the current thread about the drivers license has me shaking my head, everyone with expired licenses dreading the lines at the DMV. Send in the reminder with its check immediately upon arrival, and you won't have that problem.
    posted by Rash at 1:17 PM on June 13, 2006

    Look seriously into a change of commute method if you drive. Two of my favourite experiences have been:
    1. Taking the bus on a 45 minute commute. You don't have to worry about driving or traffic or rush hour, someone else is doing it all for you, so you are suddenly free to spend your commute time watching DVDs or reading or thinking or anything. Your commute becomes R&R time instead of an activity that you have to do (ie work). I found I really missed this "me time" when I changed jobs and stopped using the bus.
    2. Cycle to work. This means you don't have to waste time at a gym, or do anything at all, yet enjoy the elevated level of fitness as if you did do that stuff, and the benefits that come from that. You'd be wasting the time commuting anyway, might as well get better health out of it :)
    posted by -harlequin- at 2:19 PM on June 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

    Something that has made a huge difference for me has been to keep all notes in one place. I now carry a small, soft-cover, "'Cahier" style Moleskine notebook in my back pocket. I take it everywhere I go. If I hear a song on the radio I want to download, I whip out the little notebook and jot it down. I'll keep lists of short and long-term goals. I write down directions to a store I've never been to before. If it pops in my mind that I need to send a birthday card - it goes in the notebook. It's full of written odds 'n ends and I no longer have scattered pieces of paper with notes on the back of store receipts, napkins, etc. I know a lot of people use PDAs for this purpose, but my notebook never needs batteries, it's cheap and I don't fear losing a ton of money if I lose it. I know this sounds simple - but it's truly changed how I interact with many things almost every day.
    posted by Gerard Sorme at 7:20 PM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

    That's funny. I got a girlfriend who is a neat freak. Now she cleans the apt. My life is very simple. Except for the nagging.
    posted by Slagman at 7:53 PM on June 13, 2006 [2 favorites]

    I've got to agree with GIRLesq -- get rid of your cell phone and cable.

    Stick to a schedule of when to leave work and stick to it, no more 14 hour days.

    Be ruthless with your time commitments. Plan plenty of time for the things you decide to do -- making dinner, reading, walks with your girlfriend -- and cancel the other things that don't fit.
    posted by DrJJ at 11:09 PM on June 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

    I heard about a guy who bought a second dishwasher. When dishes were clean, he'd take them out and use them, then put them in the other dishwasher.

    Eventually, all of his dishes were dirty and he'd run the dishwasher, then repeat the process, swapping the roles of the dishwashers.

    I'm seriously considering this.
    posted by Wild_Eep at 12:39 PM on June 14, 2006 [3 favorites]

    That's simultaneously a fantastic idea and a shocking example of our world-destroying consumerist culture.
    posted by bonaldi at 12:58 PM on June 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

    I'm late to the party, I know.

    You generally only need to use about 1/2 of the laundry or dish detergent that they tell you to use on the bottle. That'll save you money and time.

    Also, found a great recipe for eco-friendly homemade laundry powder online a year ago, but now can't find the link. So I'll copy it from my notebook:

    Simple Laundry Washing Powder:
    16 C. Baking soda
    12 C. Borax
    8 C. grated soap flakes (ideally castile or glycerin soap- you can find Kirk's castile soap for cheap in a lot of grocery stores in the laundry aisle)
    3 Tbsp lavender, lemon or grapefruit essential oil (optional)

    Combine baking soda, borax and soap flakes, add essential oil and mix with a wire whisk. Use 1/8 C. of powder per regular load. Should last a family of 4 for a whole year.

    I use plain white vinegar for the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener. About 1/2 C. per load. I get the big gallon size bottles of vinegar for a couple of dollars.
    posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 3:14 PM on June 14, 2006 [2 favorites]

    Another laundry tip: I only have "darks". Even socks; when I wear sneakers I just wear tiny no-show (dark-colored) socks. Therefore, I only do one load of laundry per week. #

    I've been doing the same thing, even with white socks. The actual dark clothing involved isn't new enough to be releasing a substantial amount of dye, so it hasn't perceptibly affected the whiteness of the socks.
    posted by evil holiday magic at 5:51 PM on June 14, 2006

    If you subscribe to any magazines:

    First thing, before attempting to read anything, flip through to each subscription card and rip the sucker out.
    posted by evil holiday magic at 5:53 PM on June 14, 2006

    Adding onto ThePants' comment about keychain cards:

    I have loyalty/discount cards for an office supply store, book store and pet store, but my keychain is already bulky enough and the smaller cards are a hassle to keep in a wallet (too much fishing around after they fall sideways).

    I solved the problem by putting three keychain cards side-by-side and taping them together. I ran the tape across all three cards, and taped them on both sides. The result stays flat, and is about the size of one regular card.

    Cashiers are briefly confused when I hand them the "card", until they realize what I've done and tell me they're going to do the same thing!
    posted by shwonline at 12:40 PM on June 29, 2006

    Oh, and on magazines: If there's something in the magazine that you want to keep -- a recipe, a travel destination, a restaurant review, a computer tip, a gardening idea, whatever -- tear out the pages and keep those, preferably in a folder with similar stuff. If you keep the magazines, you are storing a lot of paper with a useless:useful ratio of about 140:1. Are you really going to physically search through six years of back issues of Bon Appetit when you need a nice pasta recipe? No, you're going to go to the magazine's web site and search for the recipe.
    posted by shwonline at 12:53 PM on June 29, 2006

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