The school year is half over and the holidays are here and I’m starting to feel the familiar overwhelm. The errands, events, work demands and to-dos seem to multiply mercilessly as I try to handle it all. And while over the years I’ve gotten better at greeting stress with a smile, it still can feel hard to breathe when you realize your life is wall-to-wall, and cloning has not yet become an option. (If some benevolent scientist could hurry that up, I would appreciate it.)
When life gets like this, I take solace in the fact that there are legions of gadgets and apps I can employ to help make life easier. Technology has unequivocally changed how I manage my home and family. The convenience that apps and gadgets provide makes my to-dos seem doable, and the time savings allows me to conquer more things today and feel like I have a command on what’s in store tomorrow. And while I spend my days mining tech blogs and press releases for the latest and best resources, I often get the best ideas from harried moms like me, who find great resources while trying to handle it all. Here are some of the resources I can’t live without, along with some mom-tested recommendations I can’t wait to try.
When the around-the-house to-dos get overwhelming, it might be time to call in the robots. iRobot’s Scooba will scrub your bathroom floors – even that spot behind the toilet. Winbot will defy gravity and clean your windows and Awair will keep an eye on your home’s air quality (a godsend for allergy and asthma sufferers).
Ashley Rogers-Anz, SoCal mom of two young girls, says she uses the app Home Routines. “It’s been very helpful in organizing and keeping track of what needs cleaning and when,” she explains. The app breaks housekeeping (and life) tasks down into morning and evening to-dos, organizes everything on a daily and weekly basis and creates “focus zones,” assigning certain rooms of your home to specific days for cleaning.
If you need a little extra help, leverage the sharing economy and order up a pro. Handy can help you book a home cleaner, handyman, plumber, electrician or mover. Task Rabbit will summon a grocery shopper, an IKEA assembler, a heavy-furniture mover or a closet organizer.
If your filing system consists of a leaning tower of bills on the dining room table, there’s a better way to track your family’s finances. Spendbook is an app that tracks income and spending. You can create categories and handle multiple accounts, but my favorite feature is the charts, which can give you insight into where all your money is going. “I use Spendbook,” says Rogers-Anz, “but I really wish there was sort of stun-gun app that shocked me when I get the urge to go shoe shopping.” Maybe in the next version?
L.A. mom of two Carolina Toro-Gerstein juggles her parenting role with her role as CEO of her business, Poncho Baby. She says the accounting software Quickbooks has been essential. “It makes it easy to keep track of the personal and business expenses,” Toro-Gerstein says. She also recommends keeping financial files in Dropbox, so that you can access them no matter where you are. Just make sure your Dropbox password is strong, to ensure that your sensitive files are safe.
For your family’s tinier spenders, Three Jars is a site that helps kids learn to manage their allowance money and encourages early philanthropy. It appeals to young attention spans with avatars and cool graphics, and divides kids’ money into three sections, “Save, Spend and Share.”
Coordinating and Communicating
The dreaded “reply-all” email chain can make even the most intrepid class mom want to shirk her class duties. No need to clutter up your inbox. My go-to for this type of communication, or sports team schedules, is Shutterfly’s share sites. Set up a site and communication is effortless – and skips your inbox. The sites are optimized to coordinate event schedules, snack sign-ups and attendance, and offer space where parents and teachers can upload lots of pictures. It’s all private and secure, too.
Jooners is another great resource if all you need is a quick way to sign up volunteers. I’ve used it to coordinate everything from camping trips to potlucks to parent volunteers for the class play. Just sign up, create a list, then send it off to the parent body. Jooners will even send email reminders, so frazzled parents have a fighting chance of remembering to bring what they volunteered to bring on the right day.
For making sense of family schedule chaos, Cozi is the gold standard. It keeps everyone in the loop with a color-coded calendar for each family member, synced shopping and to-do lists, and appointment reminders. You can even send the whole family a weekly agenda, so it’s all front and center in your in box.
“I use a lot of apps to stay organized. MyLifeOrganized manages to-do lists and Agenda keeps track of all my meetings,” says Rogers-Anz, who is a realtor at Keller Williams Beverly Hills and is often juggling up to eight showings in a day. “They all have to be timed perfectly because if one meeting is late by 10 minutes, it throws the whole day off.” She also relies on the app Rescue Time. “I have a hard time saying ‘No.’ This app sends me reports to indicate who my time thieves are, like too much time spent talking to my mother!” she says.
What’s For Dinner?
“Keeping food in the house is a constant challenge,” says West Hollywood dad of three Joseph Rice-Shepherd. “How to survive without eating mac and cheese nightly?” The Rice-Shepherds tried an iPhone app called Grocery IQ to sync their shopping lists, and lately, they’ve turned to Blue Apron, a weekly subscription service that delivers recipes and fresh ingredients. “This still leaves us without some important necessities like milk and bread, so we place small delivery orders of groceries on an app called Instacart.” Instacart and Hello Envoy are both personal shopping services. They send an emissary to Whole Foods or wherever you like to shop, then deliver the goods to your home.
Skip Costco and find big-box store prices online instead with Boxed. If you prefer supporting farmers’ markets, you’ll love Out of the Box Collective, which delivers locally sourced produce and artisan snacks. Even if you don’t use these services year-round, they can be a temporary lifesaver if you’ve got a newborn at home or if you have an aging parent who needs some assistance.
I also love the gorgeous site Gathered Table. It lets you select from a variety of eating styles – omnivore, Paleo, vegetarian, pescetarian or vegan – and receive weekly menus in your inbox. Shop from the site’s grocery list, and you can have everything delivered to you. The company claims it can save you two hours a week on meal planning and prep.
Rogers-Anz uses Menu Planner for meal planning. The app helps you pick meals for each day, create a weekly list, pull in recipes from around the web and create and sync grocery lists between multiple devices.
We share more than a trillion photos every year on social networks, and I bet you’ve been meaning to turn at least a few of those into an album or print out some for framing. Stay on top of the photo avalanche with a service such as Piccolo, which pulls your snaps from Instagram and Facebook and sends you a packet of prints in the mail. (Monthly subscriptions start at $10.) For a family trip or holiday, Chatbooks turns 60 images into a charming, six-inch by six-inch photo book, for $6.
“To keep clutter down, sometimes I take a digital photo of my kids’ gorgeous school craft projects before I throw them away,” says Rice-Shepherd. “The photo makes me feel less guilty about getting rid of the art. ‘Sorry dear, I just can’t store your little paper-mâché dino-bunny for 30 years, but at least we’ll have a memory of it.’”
The Artkive app allows you to snap a photo of said dino-bunny, upload the image and turn your child’s mini masterpieces into a keepsake book. Or, use the concierge service, and Artkive will send you a UPS label so you can toss all the art into a box and send it to them. They photograph the art professionally and bind the photos into a book for you. What will you do with the artwork once it’s been archived? That’s between you and the recycling bin, but your secret is safe with me.
With these products, apps and services, it really is possible to spend less time stressing over bills and dust bunnies, and more time on the good stuff – cuddling, eating popcorn and cheering your kids on as they grow into amazing people. And when everyone’s in bed, you can thank your apps and gadgets for helping you handle another day like a boss.
Carley Knobloch is a digital lifestyle expert and regular contributor to the Today Show, CNN, and HGTV. She is also a life coach and digital concierge, available for private consulting with busy people who want to leverage technology for a simpler life. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.