On Household Admin

A couple weeks ago, we had an unusually heavy “household admin” week in our household. Mainly because I bought my husband a shiny new smartphone to use for some tracking he can do to save some money on insurance. Sucks, but every little bit helps, especially given how much insurance costs.

That triggered a slew of organizational updates on my part. He offered to do the grocery shopping Saturday since my day was *jam-packed*, and asked if we could share the grocery list on my cell to his so he’d have it to shop with. The app I was using isn’t all that easy to share, so I went out and found one that is, installed it on both of our phones, and started re-populating my normal lists (enough that he could shop easily). The new app even has the option of item photos, so I’m pretty happy with the upgrade, and now we can both add/cross items off the lists. If you want to check it out, the app I settled on is aptly named Our Groceries. I did pay the $5 to unlock my side of it, which gets rid of ads and allows photo-adding. The unlocker isn’t required to view photos on the list, just to add them.

I also re-subscribed to the Cozi calendar we’d tried sharing awhile back, and I’d gotten lax on using (I’ve been using ToDoist instead and will keep using for my general daily “to-do” lists). Transferred all my calendar items over there, and made sure the birthday reminders were still working, so now we can put that on his new phone as well, and he can have a copy of the household calendar and use it to schedule his own appointments. He already gets reminders via email, but now he can get them as phone notifications if he wants (that’s how I get mine). I know, this is old hat to most people, but some of us just have to take a little more time and ease into such things.

In any case, while I was revamping things and getting everything all moved and set up, I was thinking about how much time it takes to do just basic household admin tasks…like making a grocery list, updating a calendar, balancing the budget.

Technology like the apps we’re using makes it far more efficient, for sure – once I have a master grocery list set, it takes 10 minutes or so to go through and add what I need to that week’s store lists (as opposed to writing one long-hand from scratch every week…which never works for me because I *always* forget things – having a master list jogs my memory). The calendar app will set up automatic reminders so we don’t actually have to check the calendar once we schedule appointments, but we do still have to enter the appointments and set reminders.

I don’t really know of any budgeting software that balances itself properly. Even the ones I’ve used that will import from your bank need to be checked/confirmed, because they’re not always spot-on, in my experience. It takes me about twenty minutes to balance the budget weekly, which isn’t too bad, but add to that actually paying the bills, shopping list maintenance and calendar/appointment maintenance, and it’s a good solid hour per week I spend doing “admin” tasks for the household. And I only do the minimum – there’s a lot more I could be doing if I felt like spending the time.

Then there’s the mail. Five minutes or less to toss junk mail in the recycling bin, but what about all the other stuff? Shredding, filing, action items…I could probably spend another hour (or more) every week just dealing with mail items. And I don’t, generally speaking, which means it piles up in our mail center until it hits critical mass and we absolutely have to do something about it.

Needless to say, I was thinking about how older well-to-do families used to employ a secretary/household manager to take care of such things in earlier times. Maybe they still do (anyone out there?). But I wonder if someone could make a job out of that. Offering their administrative services in hour-long chunks to people who just need someone to update the calendar, make appointments, pay bills and balance the budget, shred/file mail, and make a shopping list based on a master list and what is/isn’t in the pantry/fridge. It’s not a huge time savings, but when you work all day and have other things to do…every little bit is more time to do what you want to, rather than what you have to.

Control freak that I am, I’m not sure I could hand those things over even though I don’t particularly want to do them myself (I can’t even bring myself to hire a house-cleaner for deep cleaning every other week, which would be a really smart thing to do and probably good for our allergies). But it’s kind of fun to dream about doing so.

Would you ever hire a household manager to take care of admin tasks? Or are you the kind of person who keeps up with them well enough on your own?

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On Snail Mail, Big Bags & Journaling…

Christmas Cards

Cards waiting to be sent out…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this past week…not angsting, really, just thinking about life in general, and some changes I want and/or need to make in the near future. Nothing huge or scary, just things I want to do that I’m not making time for now, and a bit of schedule rearrangement to make everything work a bit more comfortably (I hope). I’m actually pretty exciting about it, and three of those changes are what we’re discussing today.

Having missed sending Christmas cards out for the last couple years, I was determined to do so this year. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t get them done from year to year, but the main one is, I simply don’t make it a priority. And I’ll admit that for awhile, I just thought it was kind of a pointless endeavor without a newsy letter to catch everyone up on what was going on. But really, that was just me being a perfectionist, and also failing to realize that the card in and of itself is the point – sending something beautiful to people you’re fond of, even if all it contains is a quick wish for happiness and a signature. The card *itself* is the gift. It doesn’t need anything more to convey the message that I was thinking of that person in that moment.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that, but better late than never, right? Incidentally, I have plenty of cards left, so if you want me to send you one, email me your address (or message me on FB, or whatever’s easiest), and I’ll get one out to you this week. My gift to you. 🙂

In any case, while I was signing cards and affixing stamps that are worth *way* more than needed to actually send the cards just because I love the stamps and wanted the envelopes to look pretty (Merry Christmas, USPS), I got to thinking about snail mail vs email, and my stamp collecting hobby. The fact is, when it comes to actual communication, I will use email every single time, because it’s quick and convenient and typing is far preferable to handwriting for me at this point.

But. I actually love getting and sending snail mail, partially for the stamps/covers (what collectors call envelopes), and partially just because it’s really fun to get a personal, physical note in the mailbox – something that’s pretty, or funny, or tells you something about some other place. Something not junk mail or bills. Once again, the card or postcard is the point, not necessarily the communication included therein.

So…in light of that, I’m going to start up a mail exchange in January for 2015. I’ll run it simply right here on my web site, and basically anyone who sends me a card or postcard will get one back from me, once a month for the whole year. The only rules will be: only one piece of mail per person per month, no metered postage (it has to have a stamp or stamps on it), and no long letters, because the point is the card or postcard, rather than text. Just a quick note, and something beautiful, or funny, or informative to exchange. Heck, you can even send anonymously if you’d like, as long as you include an address for me to mail back to. I think it’ll be fun, and it will start a new branch of my philatelic journey. More details on that in January…


My normal purse vs. the new green monster tote. Nesting bags!

In other news, I bought myself a really big bag for the first time since college (the beautiful green one pictured above). I guess it’s not super-huge, but it’s bigger than anything I’ve carried in quite a long time, and I can’t decide if I like it or not. Why did I buy it? Because every day for the past…I don’t know how long, I’ve been carrying at least two bags to work – my purse, and one for my travel mug and a water bottle. On snowy days, when I wear my boots, I carry a third bag for my heels. And if I wanted to carry my netbook or something like my new Alphasmart (Neo), I’d need yet another bag (my tablet fits in my purse).

I don’t like carrying even two bags…it’s unwieldy at best, hence my big bag purchase. It’s a really nice bag, with enough room to even fit my big laptop (though I never take it anywhere – it’s a beast), or the Neo, or the netbook, and my tablet, and all the stuff in my purse (or, it has a full section just for “purse stuff”, though my whole purse will fit in the center section), my travel mug & bottle, and even my shoes when I need them. On the occasion I have stuff shipped to me at work, this bag has plenty of room for smaller boxes too, so would still leave my hands free while I’m walking to and from the car. I could even fit a small crochet or knitting project in there quite easily with everything else. On the rare occasions I travel, it will be perfect for that too.

So it’s a fabulous carry-all, but the shape isn’t “quite” right, and if it was just three inches shorter, it would be perfect. I’ll be on the lookout for one with slightly better dimensions, I think. But I’m going to try it this week and see how it works out. Perhaps once I get used to it, it won’t feel so massive.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about this week is journals/journaling. I’ve been on and off about keeping a journal this year, though it’s something that really is beneficial to me more often than not. My main issue with keeping a journal is that I need to be able to write whatever I want, without fear that anyone will ever read it, and due to having people find and read my journals in the past, I’m more than a little paranoid about it.

I started the year with a cloud-based electronic journal, and then deleted that, knowing that nothing is ever really secure online. Then I decided to try paper journals again. After months of stashing them in different spots every time I made an entry, being frustrated not being able to write in them when I wanted because I didn’t have time to myself, and other equally crazy/paranoid/ridiculous issues, I’ve finally gone back to a non-cloud-based, password-protected electronic journal. I tell you what – I feel like a total crazy person with how paranoid I am about this, but there are things I need to get out of my head but that need to stay private. I’ve taken every precaution I can, but even so, I know it’s impossible to ever fully protect anything, whether in physical or digital format. Still, the benefit of getting those thoughts out of my head vs. letting them truly drive me nuts is worth the risk, and I’ve now mitigated that as much as I possibly can.

So, a few changes before the new year even starts, because why wait, right? Some of the things I want to change will require tweaks to my normal routines, and since that takes awhile, I’m happy to start early.

Have you started thinking about the new year yet? Any changes on the horizon?

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