Life Hacks that Actually Work for a Military Spouse
We are ambitious military spouses just like you and we’ve got a few years under our belt (so long 20’s). So we started thinking about the Life Hacks we've learned to incorporate along the way that help us keep life on track in the midst of crazy military life. To be truthful, we don’t “always” get everything done we need or want to, but we do get things done that matter. Our most important Life Hack? We live by grace, upon grace (oh and coffee, calendars and list pads too :)
Before we jump in, we wanted to share perspectives we have learned to embrace.
Be wise with how you spend your time. We encourage you to track your time for two full weeks (read 168 Hours if you need advice.)
Figure out what is most important to you now and in the future. Imagine you are 80- what do you want your life and other people to say about you? Need inspiration? Check out one of our favorites: Lara Casey’s Powersheets.
We are lovers of making sure we do the really, really good things and let the other things go. We also are careful of what we place our value and identity in. Does keeping our house spotless mean we are thriving in life? Not always. Does having kids in perfect clothes and hair bows mean we are taking time to teach them to grow into kind and inclusive adults? Not necessarily. Be careful where you place your value. Sometimes the best “Life Hack” is letting go.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
- Annie Dillard
We're starting with this one, because it often gets put on a back burner. Take time to decide what true refreshment means to you and remember not all resting is equal.
Be an early riser. This might not feel like a "hack", but giving yourself a 10 minute morning boost might just change your entire life. Bonus: In the morning, trick yourself into thinking it's daytime with a sunlight clock.
We would all love a week at a spa, but let’s be realistic here. Instead, we encourage you to check out the Military Spouse Wellness Summit this March! It’s an incredible event you attend from your couch at your leisure with some truly incredible speakers. It’s all about YOU- military spouses and (first responder spouses too!)
-Megan often paints her nails on Sunday nights. It takes 10 minutes to put a quick two coats on after the kids go to bed. Feeling more “dressed” or presentable each day ups my confidence and productivity in all areas.
-Take a 10 minute bath before bed.
-Keep cookie dough balls in the fridge as a quick afternoon snack instead of needing to run to the store.
-Hide post it notes in key places to keep you as a surprise motivation.
-Alana has discovered a great skin care site with quality products at a decent price. She now has a quick routine that is good for her skin and gives her a little self care time each day.
Give yourself a break. We are military spouses with a lot on our plates so one of the best “hacks” is to let go sometimes. You do a lot so cut yourself some slack.
Meal plan and prep- this is one of our biggest hacks and it really works!
Once a week take time to plan all the meals so you aren't scrambling each day for food. It really makes a difference!
Meal Prep - Easy meals to use again and again
Use quart-size freezer zip-lock bags to prep 1-4 servings of a dish. Because you don’t always want to eat a big ol’ casserole for several days! Especially if your spouse is gone and you’re the only adult at dinner... Press the zip-locks flat and freeze them in stacks. They fit easily into the freezer that way and thaw very quickly in cold water because they’re so thin. Some of our favorite dishes to prep with this method:
• Shredded salsa chicken (simmer a few pounds of chicken breast with a jar of salsa, shredded it quickly using a stand mixer, and divide into zip-lock servings based on how much you would eat in a dinner or lunch). We use them to add extra protein to a salad, soup, or wrap, or to bulk up a quesadilla, or to just eat with a bit of brown rice and veggies...the possibilities are endless.
• Cooked quinoa, pasta, or rice for a quick side of carbs without having to eat a whole pot worth of leftovers
• Bolognese sauce to throw on top of spaghetti for a super quick dinner
• Stews and soups
One Pan Meals. One pan, little to no dishes and good food, enough said.
Get groceries delivered. Ok, this is not necessarily a great way to save money, although it does cut down on impulse buys. But think of the time saved! No sitting in traffic, wandering through the store trying to find that one last thing, waiting in the checkout line, or taking multiple trips to unload the car when what you really need to do is nurse the baby.
If you have trouble working out in the morning or after work then try laying out workout clothes the night before or sleep in them.
Don’t have time or money to get to the gym? There are tons of free YouTube videos or minimal cost apps and more.
Here are some suggestions:
My Fitness Pal (tracks what you eat and your exercise)
Barre3 has a low cost for monthly routines.
Aaptiv. For less than $10.00 a month you get audio based fitness classes led by personal trainers.
Here's a great list of more awesome apps for yoga, squat challenges, strength training and more.
If you can, invest in a home gym! Ok, we get that this is not always practical. But if you have a garage, a squat rack, bench, barbell, and bumper plates are great investments. We save so much time not driving to the gym and not having to arrange childcare for lifting sessions.
- Sometimes you only have 20 minutes to spend (or not even that) - get the most out of it by spending that time lifting heavy weights. We’ll throw on a show for the toddler, put the infant in a swing by the garage door, then head to the garage gym and do a quick warm up and three sets of deadlifts. It’s the best way to tone your muscles quickly. Plus, you can’t beat the mood boost that comes from lifting heavy things and feeling like you can do anything!
Bonus: We’ve both learned so much from the book, Thinner, Leaner, Stronger and can’t recommend it enough!
Reading more, going back to school or just trying to "grow" as a person might seem out of reach, but it’s not that far!
Download the Kindle app for your phone (and consider getting a Kindle Unlimited subscription.) We find this is the easiest way to get through a chapter here and there - while nursing, waiting at the doctor’s office, or just instead of browsing social media. Before you know it, you’ll be working your way through your 2018 reading list, even though you still have “no time.” Be sure and get the OverDrive app, too - this is how we get FREE ebooks and audiobooks from the local library, which has a great catalog.
Check out goodreads.com to track what you are reading and find more awesome suggestions.
MyCAA. Many military spouses are eligible for free classes, certificate programs and more. Megan just recently signed up for a certification and the entire $4,000 program has been covered.
TEDx talks If you want to expand your mind in 20 minutes or less, TEDx Talks are an awesome way to do this in the car, while on a walk, or instead of watching a show.
Learn photography or a new language? Check out websites like Udemy.com
Need more ideas on ways to grow? Check out this awesome website: NoExcuseList.com
It’s important to be informed and know what’s going in the world.
The Skimm is a daily email full of the top highlights written in a fun, easy to digest way.
Flipboard is an app and website where you can select the categories of news you are most interested in. Regularly updated you can be informed on National news, fitness, food and more.
BBC, CNN, Fox news alerts to your phone. If you want to be up to speed on breaking news, you can always download these apps and set alerts to go off with recent news.
Alexa. While we don’t have these scary big brother devices (jk, sort of), we know lots of people do. You can program Alexa to tell you the day’s news, weather and more as you are waking up and getting ready. It doesn’t get much easier than that!
Giving & Relationships
We all have ever changing schedules which can make it hard to keep up with birthdays, special events and even the hard stuff. Here are a few hacks on how you can be more thoughtful.
Use the Notes App on your phone to keep a running list of gift ideas.
Bookmark unique gift ideas on your computer.
Set reminders in your phone a week or two before a birthday or holiday reminding you to send a card or present. (Set a second reminder on the day of the event to reach out.)
Buy a box of generic cards that you can send for special occasions instead of always needing to go to the store.
Send a text. Yep- that’s a hack, because trying to connect across time zones can be tough. You don’t always have time for long calls, so send a text.
Stock up on small goodies you can give “just because.” Bath bombs, candles, and lotions are easy to keep on hand and don’t cost much. Package them up with a heartfelt card and make a friend’s day special, without taking an extra trip to the store.
Freeze meals so you always have something on hand for a new mom or someone local who could use a break from cooking.
Systems for finances are very important. Once you have a foundation for understanding your finances you can create a system that only needs updating (not continually starting over.)
Use a spreadsheet for bills (Megan’s family has been doing this for years and it’s becoming an awesome source of tracking progress.)
Automate. Set up automatic payments to your savings, tithe and/or any other accounts you have.
Check out Apps like Qapital that rounds spare change to the nearest dollar and then move the money into your account.
Here’s a great list of apps for saving and investing from NerdWallet.
Have a daily uniform. There is truth to that capsule wardrobe. Fashion can still be fun, but it’s a waste of time staring at the closet wondering what to wear and/or hating what you have.
-Pick a few good pieces and then throw in those cheap seasonal buys or use Stichfix or the like for fun monthly surprise quality pieces (and allow someone else to shop for you!)
A few staples that we both make part of our daily “uniform” (no we do not dress to match. But when you find an awesome staple, you tell your friends about it!)
Household tasks- batch them!
Laundry is done a twice a week (unless something major happens) and it’s always washed on cold, gentle cycle. Megan loathes sorting through the clean clothes, so the kids clothes get washed together and the grown ups clothes are in a separate load.
Use containers/baskets to put things in (even in drawers) so everything has a place.
Purge monthly. Once a month or week clean something out (drawer, closet, kid’s clothes) instead of a massive yearly purge you don't get to AND you feel better about systems/maintenance It’s always easier to maintain.
Make your kids clean up. Our almost three year olds are completely capable of cleaning up after themselves so we have them do it (sometimes it is easier said then done).
Start fresh each day, which means do a quick clean up each night. Run the dishwasher, clear counters, put dishes away, etc.
Hire someone. We know this is not realistic for all, but possibly during a deployment, it’s worth it to spend that extra money on a monthly housecleaning session. Your time and sanity are valuable so look for Groupons or Amazon deals on help around the house.
Getting Work Done at Home
We are both mothers of 2 kids who are 3 and under so we have a couple rules and thoughts on this one.
Don't do anything when they are asleep that we can do when they are awake. So fold laundry when they are awake, write quick emails when they are awake BUT long blog posts? Finances? Phone calls? Things that require brain power? That’s for sleeping or child care (if we have it.)
Use the Pomodoro Technique. A time management method that encourages you to use a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. You can do it when the kids are asleep or awake really. This is a great way to knock off admin tasks, website tweaks, emails, etc. so you can save your precious no-kids time for longer projects or work that requires extra concentration. Bonus: While you work, have them work on cleaning up, art project, reading or something else.
Have a designated work space. It’s much easier on yourself and your family if they know that once mom goes in the corner or her office that she is in work mode.
Communicate. Talk with your husband, kids or child care helper about weekly schedules so you can plan accordingly. Be sure your family knows if a special deadline is coming up.
Plan to do it without help. This is a depressing life hack, we know. But even when your spouse is “around”, we all know the military can come first. Things come up and that productive work session you had planned while your spouse watches the kids goes out the window. Always planning to do it without help means we prioritize ruthlessly and obsess over efficiency. And hey, if the hubs actually does end up watching the kids for an hour or two, we get even more done. Win!
As we’ve said, we do not do #allofthethings all the time, but these hacks have made a difference. (Also, if you have even better ideas, we’re all ears!)