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Ask HN: What are your best domestic time saving tips?
54 points by roryisok on March 3, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 80 comments
I'm a father of two and I do a lot of housework in the evenings, cutting into my project time. Lately I've been obsessed with finding ways to reduce the amount of time spent on household chores any way I can. Gadgets like dishwashers, bread makers and steam cleaners have made my life easier, and I'm looking for the next thing to shave 10 minutes off my housework. So what are your best domestic time saving tips? Do you defragment your cutlery drawer? Do you swear by a roomba? Did you build a robot to pair socks?

Maybe you just identified some big time sink that you could eliminate? For instance, I'm considering taking up the carpet in my hallway as I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time vacuuming that area vs the rest of the house.

What are your top tips?

What I'm calling the "Bachelor Socks Pattern".

Go out and buy multiple 6-in-one packs of the same socks (Most economical with black/blue business style socks).

Go all out and get like 8 packs @ ~$5 each. At $40 cost you replace all your socks with a single type and color and have a massive oversupply (about 3 weeks worth in the above calc, prob more than you need really).

No need to sort, just keep them in a big basket of socks, now you have endless matching socks never to be sorted again.

Put your other socks aside in a bag and recycle when your convinced it's working.

[I purchased so many after doing this for myself initially and then finding out the rest of the family were ALL cheekily wearing my socks as they all quietly found it easier to match one of my black pairs over finding exact matches for their socks from the sock basket]

I did that very thing and it's working out nicely. Bought a big box of bulk socks. I haven't even opened half the pairs after two years. And that was the only mistake: I should have opened all of them and dumped them into a FIFO sock drawer. As it is now, I'll open a new 6-pack and they will be new-level black while the older pairs have faded to an off-black. And then you're back to matching pairs of dark black vs light black.

I think I got them from www.bargain-bulk-sock-sales.com. Someone here mentioned them (don't remember if they endorsed or merely named) in a previous sock thread.

I did this many years ago with black socks and just had the unsorted drawer of socks. But unfortunately black doesn't go with everything, in particular it doesn't go with brown and it doesn't work at all with shorts.

Since I wear both black and brown shoes, I find myself needing at least navy, black and white socks. The system then began to fall apart as I would then allow maroon socks to go with red shirts. Maybe I should start again with those four colours. It should still be easy to find them in an unsorted drawer.

This is a great tip, thanks! Of course, it only reduces my stock sorting load by 25%, can't force the wife and two girls to wear only grey socks for the rest of their lives :)

I can't remember the name but there was an online sock company for girls where all the socks were deliberately different ("odd") (left and right). They were all different but fashionable matched in a kid friendly way. Another way to achieve removing sock finding and sorting process :)

FWIW a quick search revealed there are various "mismatched" socks options for girls and women - https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/s/ref=is_s_ss_i_0_16?k=mismatch...

I've done this with most of my clothes. I was a little worried people would comment about me wearing the same thing every day, but in five months of wearing identical blue shirts and brown slacks, nobody has said anything negative about it. I missed that aspect of the military, but it seems any job can be a uniformed job if you're not a fashion idol.

I've been aspiring to a philosophy I call "event based processing" (I know the term has other meanings in computing) or alternatively "Zero Impact Activities".

Regardless of the name the concept is that in undertaking daily tasks the tidy step is completed as part of untaking the task (eliminating a separate tidy phase).

Eg as a Parent I was constantly tidying or managing the kids to tidy the shoes area near the from door as all of us would take our shoes off fairly loosely around the door. I realised I needed as second shoe rack and then after discussing the new goal of an always near shoe area spent around 3 weeks on everyone's back to retrain us all to take off shoes and put them neatly in the rack. Eventually it became just what we all did, I achieved success and tidying up the shoes is now an eliminated task.

Similar applies having the family put their dishes straight into the dishwasher after the meal and better yet have a post dinner family tidy schedule at the end of the meal event.

Think of task flows as a messaging queue :P

Related I played with washing up and putting away ingredients as I cooked. Commonly I would stir then grab 30 seconds to wash a cooking pot/throw out packaging/put away in fridge etc.

It's greatly reduced the washing pots phase which commonly includes items that seem less dishwasher friendly.

I found it easy to do for most recipies I know well.

This also makes the task easier because stuff doesn't have time set on the pots -- less scrubbing -- and by avoiding a nasty dish pile, pots stays cleaner and you don't cross contaminate.

When I googled, the consensus was to wash-as-you-go.

My interpretation is that cooking is an act of creation, and when accomplished, it's over. You don't feel like doing washing up, a non-creation act, because that energy/enthusiasm is gone.

Whereas if you wash as you go, as part of the task, it also uses the energy of creation.

So: not literally time-saving, but enthusiasm-efficiency.

I reckon it also does save time. The reason is there's plenty of "dead time" during cooking. Waiting for water to boil, sauces to reduce etc. But those periods are not long enough to do much else and your hands will generally be too dirty to do even small tasks. The best use of those little sections of time is to wash up.


Garbage collection vs stack allocation

Pay for cleaning. This may work better or worse depending on the age of your kids... But vacuuming, cleaning surfaces, changing beds, etc. can be ousourced and saves LOTS of time.

Definitely considering this. My kids are too young to help much around the house yet

+1 for that.

Last year we started to pay for cleaning / washing / ironing and it saves a lot of time - like 6 hours a week to get all done.

Also, doing groceries the right way is important. What we ended up doing:

- everything non perishable or long time (water etc), buy a lot and put in the basement

- what you can, buy through Amazon subscriptions for a regular delivery

- once a week, do the short term groceries - veggies, fruits, meat. We do it with kids on a farm where you can harvest your own food. It's actually a great activity !

As the last one, maybe a bit controversial, but I almost never repair stuff anymore. If it's something cheap and I would need to spend an hour or two to repair it, I just throw out and buy a new one. I may would like to have more time to do those things (sometimes I still do when it's to show the kids something interesting), but overall this attitude is a huge time saver.

At some point, if your earnings are enough, you just have to put time before money.

> ironing

I never iron, unless I'm going to a wedding or something. Am I weird? It seems like such an unnecessary step in the laundry process

Never ever wait until the dishwasher is totally full. It’s an efficient device: put it on twice a day, on the quickest setting it has, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Result: it’s never “a thing” that needs to be handled. Emptying it is easy. Takes one minute. You always have clean things.

Sounds ridiculous, I know. Trust me.

Key to the efficiency is to not use the heated dry mode. The water is already hot and if you open the door when it’s done, the water will evaporate pretty quickly. Might get a few spots, but who cares?

Do you have any evidence to support this? What's the usage in kWh per run and the cost of detergent?

On the highest setting mine will get through plates that have been sitting around for a week (don't judge). That costs me one run and one tablet of detergent. You're suggesting running it on the lowest setting 5-10x as often and using 5-10x the amount of detergent.

The cost in time loading and emptying seems to be equal no matter how often you run it.

From a cursory look it seems it costs in electricity 1.5kWh for a single load of dishes on my dishwasher.

at my current rates that's 30p per run in electricity, 32.5p for the dishwasher tablet (26gbp/80 tablets). So 62.5p per load.

1.25gbp per day

(1.25*365)/12 =

38.020833333333336~ gbp/month.

That's a lot, though, isn't it? That's twice the price of my internet connection and about the cost of annual maintenance on my car. Even if my intensive clean costs twice as much in electricity I reckon I can divide that by 10.

Yeah, I just ran the numbers because I was curious too, I would consider this to be quite expensive.

My electricity costs are quite high comparatively to other folks though so, YMMV.

Marie Kondo’s book really helped our family. We took a lot of clothes, books and toys which hadn’t been touched in a year or more and donated them.

We also decluttered the kitchen a lot, putting in a few high quality pots and plates rather than the motley assortment of hand me downs we’d accumulated over the years.

Bit by bit we whittled down the above and then some - taking it slow.

I also made some serious decisions like ‘do I really need a high end 5.1 surround system and projector?’ or would a sound bar and nice TV suffice. ‘Do I really need a Mac Pro and three displays?’ or would a MacBook and an Ultrawide monitor allow me to get the same work done.

Being a reasonably paid programmer (as a higher than average amount of folk here are) can encourage buying more and having more hobbies and stuff when less will do.

When you eliminate a lot of surplus ‘just in case’ items you really cut down on your cleaning and maintenance work load.

1. Since you didn't mentioned any services I would recommend doing grocery shopping via internet. It's not a big time saver on the begining. Chosing products in the "real" world is faster, especially when someone is in hurry etc. But if you use shopping lists usually built into software you can do it faster and also not waste time on commuting to your shop. You even can automate that 100%. 2. I don't have experience with it but a lot of people are recommending Vorwerk Thermomix cooking robot/device.

Good luck and if you find something interesting please let us know :-)

Before you leave a room, look around for things that should be in the room you are moving to and take them with you. Could be rubbish for the bin, clothes for the laundry, dishes for the kitchen, books for the office, etc.

If you get in the habit of doing this every time, even as new items are shifted from where they belong, the house quickly "rebounds" to a more consistent and predictable state.

It's interesting that as we developed technologies like dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and washing machines we used these machines to do more work rather than save time. My dad would wear a shirt for a week when he was young, now he puts a clean one on every day.

Perhaps you can just do less, try time-boxing.

Yeah, my wife complained about pretty much the same thing: back in the 60's, with the classical division of roles, a typical family had the husband as the sole bread-barer and the wife did all the house-work. Now, with dishwashers, vacuums, washing machines, dryers, second cars, etc. cutting down a lot of the time of the woman's chores, it's not like she actually gained more spare time today: no, now she is expected to get a job! :-)

Of course, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek -- after all, all these gadgets also come with higher costs for the household -- but it is true that while in my grandparents' generation, most families working under the above model could afford a house and a decent life-style, it would now be impossible for my wife and me to buy a house just based on my income alone.

But that's again comparing apples and oranges a bit because let's not forget that today's lives typically have higher expectations and higher standards of living. My grandparents, for instance, never did a vacation overseas, etc...

Or perhaps we should push technology a lot further and do a lot more with the same or less time.

It took a lot more effort to wash clothing in the distant past. Your father wasn't net saving time versus today, as it takes radically less time to do laundry now. You can do a full load of laundry with five minutes of effort now.

Women particularly were laundry slaves in the distant past, it took up an immense amount of their time and effort. It was unpleasant, labor intensive, and very time consuming.

The old processes were horrible:


Just a hundred years ago, clothing was far more expensive in relation to incomes. Mass manufacturing has brought the cost of clothing down dramatically. People used to wear the same clothing over and over again because it took a long time to do laundry and they couldn't afford 10 or 20 sets of clothes.

It takes me about 30 minutes to do my laundry for the week. That's wearing a full different set of clothes each day.

Do a load of towels every 2-4 weeks? 10 minutes of effort.

And just as to the point, the actual physical labor part of it is almost non-existent. Whereas in the past that was not the case. Women used to physically suffer doing laundry before our modern appliances began to relieve that.

Then you get to the quality of life factor. People overwhelmingly want to wear more than one shirt per week. Not just because it's kind of gross once body oils and countless smells cover your clothing over a week, but it's also about fashion or style (which for many people does matter). Ever go to a restaurant, or maybe just a neighbor's house who smokes, and then have your clothing smell like the place afterward? Wearing that around for a week is gross.

This seems like a parallel to the Jevons Paradox. If coal powered steam engines get more efficient you use more coal as you can now do more and more things with them that previously would have been impractical or expensive.


Yeah and it's really silly. Outer wear shouldn't be washed very often. Shirts should be washed when they are actually dirty which is either because you had an accident or dirt around the cuffs and collar has built up. They are expensive and washing damages them. There's no reason why shirts shouldn't last ten years or more. I was my shirts only a few times a year. My suits less than once a year.

I wear under-shirts for this very reason. Sweat and oil from my skin will be absorbed by the under-shirt. These are cheap garments that are never meant to be seen so you can safely wash them after every use. Grey or skin colour is the best colour for an undershirt. White is fine unless you wear a white shirt. It should be a t-shirt rather than a vest (so it covers the armpits) but it's essential that it's a V-neck shirt so that it's not visible when your collar is open (your underwear should never be visible).

Find a full-service laundry place and pay them to do it. I've got two kids, and the four of us go through a shit-ton of laundry. If you can afford it [1], and you're in a city or neighborhood where one is available, it saves hours every week.

[1] We pay maybe 40-50 bucks a week. We don't use a service and just drag it down the street to the local laundromat once or twice a week.

My nearest is 20 minutes away, probably more effort to bag everything up and ship it out than do it in house. Last time we changed the washing machine we got one that could handle a much bigger load with a higher rpm spin. Clothes come out less wet and go straight into the tumble dryer

I dunno, you still have to fold it ;)

>Maybe you just identified some big time sink that you could eliminate?

Don't have children or pets, don't live in an oversized place (seriously more space is mostly more junk, which you become enslaved to).

Honestly I'm always kinda uncomfortable with everything that is purely outsourcing to other humans (which is a good part of the suggestions here). It's just creating precarious, low paid jobs. I couldn't bear exploiting impoverished people that way to get rid of minor annoyances. It takes 10 min to hang laundry tops.

Well, I already have children and pets, so that's not a runner.

> exploiting impoverished people

I'm not sure if you're trolling here or what, but somebody is not automatically impoverished or being exploited just because they work in a laundrette instead of whatever it is you do.

My family of four found doing Kon Marie quiet revolutionary. After following her process we found a marked sustained decrease in housework attributed to a reduction in time required for tidying, washing and sorting as there was just less stuff to manage.

This book (no affilitate link): https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1607747308

I've adopted the Zuckerberg way of life. Grey/plain shirts only and I have one type of sock.

It really does feel good being able to pick up a neutral shirt without having to think or mix and match.

I've also started wearing odd socks. Especially when they're hidden under pants anyway. having the one type helps with this approach.

Our family swears by a Roomba. I have selected/modified our furniture for the minimal height and removed door steps. Living room and kitchen is vacuumed every day at 3am (we sleep upstairs). It is a magic. Ps: I did a lot of research 5 years ago and back then I could not recommend any cheaper alternative.

How would that work in a place cluttered with toys etc?

Yeah, I'm thinking it could create work as you'd have no option but to clear the floor for the roomba every night?

Mine is to have a cleaner - my only extravagance. It does worry me that my kids have never seen me hoover or clean a bathroom

Ive always wanted 2 dishwashers - one clean, one dirty - then cycle them. So the as the clean dishes get moved they get moved to the dirty one, then repeat

We've all got to have dreams

It seems to me that the two-dishwasher setup only work if you only have a small, consistent set of tableware, and you use it at a consistent rate (you use close to the entire contents of the dishwasher before you need any of the dirties again, otherwise you'll still be emptying and putting things away). But emptying a dishwasher load of consistent plates and bowls is very quick, so it seems to me like you can you can get 80% of the benefit of the two-dishwasher setup simply by rationalising your tableware for consistency and easy unloading and storage (have everything in the same cabinet right next to or above the dishwasher).

If you have five cabinets full of a myriad of variations of bowls, trays, plates, cups, glasses, widgets, pots and pans that you use at uneven rates, even two dishwashers won't be very helpful.

My biggest gripe with the dishwasher is that things come out of it wet and need drying by hand. Modern dishwashers don't have a drying element anymore. However, just today I read here on HN that plastic items don't dry as well as metal, glass, ceramic. Knowing this will hopefully make a big difference from now on as I can either take these things out immediately after they finish to dry on the counter

Hmm try increasing your water temp and or running the hot water for a couple minutes before starting a load.

The residual heat helps dry the dishes.

There’s also a post detergent thing you can buy that helps evaporation by breaking the surface tension.

Dont go with two dishwashers! Thought of this too. You need three. Seriously. You need one extra. Having two only works in theorical or lab situations.

1 for clean dishes

1 for dirty dishes

1 for “overflow” of dirty or clean dishes

you will endup in the situation where two dishes are clean and spread over two dishwashers. This is a serious problem. You have no place to immediately put your dirty coffee cup away, without emptying one of the dishwashers. Emptying one is not a good solution. It defeeds the purpose of having more then one dishwasher. Putting the cup temporarily in the kitchen sink defeeds that purpose as well.

I was actually looking into buying extra dishwashing racks. Just take it the whole rack of clean dishes and store that somewhere.

Put in an empty rack and load it up. Could it work!?

The dishwasher idea is the dream. My wife just doesn't get this concept somehow though!

* Make bed only once a week.

* Do not use dishes that can not be washed in a dishwasher. Save hand wash only for infrequent and fancy meals.

* Reduce the amount of crap you have so that you have less crap to clean (used the Marie Kondo method).

* Use effective cleaning agents (hint, research all the things that vinegar can be used for)

* Learn how to use a slow cooker.

* Keep things clean to begin with. Massively dirty stuff takes longer to clean.

* Clutter hides dirt, grime, and missing things. Kill it with fire.

* Avoid stainless steel appliances. They are the devil to keep looking clean.

* The kitchen area is a not a fashion area, it is a work area and should be equipped with hardy things that can be cleaned aggressively and quickly. Fancy breakable crap slows you down.

The slow cooker is one I should add here myself, saves a lot of time cooking

+1 Slow Cooker and also add a Rice Cooker.

My fav recipie is beef stroganoff. I buy cooking steak from the local butcher shop who is happy to cut it into diced chunks for no extra cost. In the morning I chop up mushrooms & onion and throw them with the beef into the cooker with a half cup of ketchup and wostershire sauce and set it on low.

In the evening when I get home I put on a rice cooker (cheapest automatic machine ever) and pour sour cream into the slow cooker and then pretty much serve it up.

It probable took me about as long to write this as to put it on in the morning.

Similar recipie: https://www.gourmetgetaways.com.au/day-slow-cooked-beef-stro...

I've heard people sing the praises of rice cookers before and I just don't get it. I cook rice in a pot and it takes barely any effort. The most time consuming steps are measuring out rice and cleaning the pot afterwards, and you need to do both of those things with a rice cooker? In fact there might be more parts to clean?

For me, there's a noticeable process difference :

1. In a pot, I have to get water to a boiling pot, which means periodically checking the water, and this point add salt and rice. Be there exactly (ok, more or less a minute) the good time after that, stop the cooking, drain the rice, and ideally make it that it's now time to eat, implying everything and everyone else is ready.

2. In a rice cooker, I put salt, rice and water (have to measure those), tap "start", and then, from about 40 minutes onwards I have a perfectly cooked rice ready to be eaten for the next 8 hours or so, since it's keeping it hot until I decide to open the thing.

For me, it's just that more versatile, since it no longers needs any attention between the moment where I decide I want to have rice, and the moment I want to eat it.

I always burn or undercook rice when I use a stove. For me, the rice cooker is amazing, because it comes out perfect every time with no trying on my part.

I don't know how you do it without, you must be magic.

I measure 1 cup rice to 2 cups water (often boiling, from the kettle), check it every now and then, and when it's got "holes" - gaps where water has bubbled and evaporated - I turn off the heat underneath. I never add salt. I can't remember the last time I've burned it but I've made sticky, underdone rice plenty of times. Maybe I'm just not that picky?

Edit: I use a non stick pan, tefal ingenio pans with removable handles which are a great time saver. Nothing ever sticks to them! So maybe I do burn rice and I just don't realise

It's an interesting question. I just use loads of water and keep the rice boiling for 12 minutes. Test and if it's crunchy then leave it in for a couple of extra minutes. Once the rice is soft then throw the whole pot in a colander and rinse the pot straightaway. It just feels simple and faster

For me, the big advantage of the rice cooker is the auto 'keep warm' mode after it's finished. I can set it going earlier in the evening and leave it, so it's hot and ready whenever I've finished cooking the main dish. Plus, as long as I stick to the measuring markings, the result is fluffy restaurant-type rice with zero chance of error on my part.

Some people make rice with exactly the right amount of water, others use lots of extra water.

The first group have to be very careful not to burn their rice. The second group get watery rice with fewer nutrients, such that there are in rice.

I have a tendency to put things down in stupid places and just leave them there. Over time the clutter builds up which means eventually I'll have to spend time sorting it out and I also can't necessarily find things when I need them.

My "brain hack" for this is to instil a habit: whenever I put something down I ask myself "is this where I want this object to be forever?" The answer is usually no, so I put in a place I'm happy for it to stay forever.

How old are your children? Get them started helping out around the house as soon as possible. I highly recommend finding a Parenting the Love and Logic Way course near you and taking it. It's been a life changer for me. Less stress at home, children listen, help, and solve problems at home.

P.S. 3-4 years old is a good time to start them helping around the house. They can't do a ton at that age but every like bit helps. Macro effect of many micro optimizations.

Our oldest is almost four and we're trying to teach her to tidy up in the evenings with us, making it a family activity

We used to hire cleaning crew to come weekly but stopped due to not liking random people strutting through our home.

Then we started including our kids in the weekly cleaning. We don't give them money "for nothing" so they see this as a chance to earn some income instead of a chore. Now everyone does their part and noone is feeling like it's a giant deal.

Definitely trash your TV.

It's amazing how much extra time you'll get. Freeing 1h a day adds up to 7h weekly.

Depends what you watch, surely?

Bit like saying trash your phone because it's possible for boring people to call you.

Trash the phone too. Got it.

1 hour a day = 9 x 40 hour work weeks a year

Sounds amazing when you put it like that. I could be putting nine weeks into a project instead of watching Netflix

+1 for Roomba, I'm on my 4th one since 2002, for me it's worth it, I wipe down the tops while he scoots around, unlike many 'gadgets' it really does something I used to spend time doing.

Cooking for multiple days is great. Which is another good reason to use a slow cooker. Just put 2x the amount of ingredients in and freeze half. No more cooking the next day. (And simpler washing up)

This one might seem trivial, but I start cleaning by picking up the floor first. This makes it easier to move around, which is a prerequisite for almost every other task.

How bad does the situation have to be that picking up stuff from the ground enables you to move freely?

I’ll let my kids roam your house freely for 15 minutes and we’ll see just how bad things can get.

+1, it only takes ten seconds for them to up end a box of toys and make it hard to walk across the floor

It doesn't take much! A shoe in the middle of a hallway makes it slightly more trouble to move past without tripping, or a box under a desk makes it slightly harder to vacuum. Over the course of cleaning, each time you think about something like that is a small source of stress that makes the task less pleasant.

It's the same thing in a codebase. If your functions mutate arguments, even a little, or if the code is not formatted consistently, the resistance to movement increases, and tasks become less pleasant. If you wait for real spaghetti code it's already too late; if you're used to chaotic code, you won't understand what I'm talking about.

It's sort of like test driven vacuuming ;)

I love the comparison to codebases. I just wish I could commit the perfect tidy version of the room to a git repo and then reset to that every night. :)

If you have kids it takes about an hour for the house to become hard to move around. We're taking about tiny pieces of lego all over the place, cars building blocks, train sets etc

Sorting those out is the hardest chore for me.

Live near your job, less commute time. Cook once, eat two days.

I work from home already. I literally can't love any closer :)

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