How I’ve Automated My Chores

“I shall get the laundry for your majesty in 15 minutes.” Wouldn’t it be nice for someone to say that to you? Well, my phone does. Every Sunday afternoon. Over the past few months, I’ve been putting together a chores automation system to automate or outsource some of my most painful and time-consuming household tasks. I’m sharing this with you to give you ideas on how to spend less time on the drudgery and more time on the important things in your life—like, you know, watching Better Call Saul or Mr. Robot.

Fed up with housework

Chores like buying groceries, cleaning your place, and doing the laundry can easily suck up a lot of time and energy, but there’s just no escape from them. Unless, of course, you have a maid. Which we don’t. Living in a 30 square meter condo unit with my boyfriend and three cats doesn’t leave space for a lot, much less an extra body. Unless I stuff them in a cupboard. Some people do, apparently, but that’s not my thing.

The Chores Inventory

Before using tools to automate the chores, I made a list of all our household chores in Evernote.

chores-inventory

I divided the chores by frequency — a section for each day of the week, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and so on. For each chore, we assigned a responsible person or marked it with “Outsource” for those we believed could be assigned to an external party.

After doing the inventory, we identified the most time-consuming or dreadful ones and focused on those areas. I’ll discuss them next.

Grocery Shopping

We used to buy groceries whenever we felt like it, which meant that we frequently ran out of stuff and ended up eating out or ordering takeout, which gets expensive real fast. For many people in Metro Manila, it’s also painful because of the terrible traffic. For the longest time, this was the missing part of the puzzle.

Good thing that a fairly new personal shopping app called MetroMart launched their service in our area. They can deliver orders within 90 minutes or you can schedule deliveries.

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While the selection is not as comprehensive as actually going to the supermarket, most of our recurring food items are there, which means that we can have the bulk of the weekly grocery items done and just fill up the rest from time to time when we go to the stores.

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To simplify tracking what we need to buy and what’s available, we use a Trello board with lists for Grocery List, Fruit Store, Ref , Pantry, and Banyo/Closet. Items on the Grocery List are what we need to order from the grocery; items in the Fruit Store list are what we need to buy from the neighborhood Fruit Store; items on the Ref, Pantry, and Banyo / Closets lists are what we currently have. Trello makes this super easy because we can just drag and drop the cards in between the lists.

trello-grocery-list

I can still improve this. Currently, I haven’t built any sensors into our pantry or refrigerator that would automatically tell us when, say, the milk has run out and move the cards accordingly. That’ll be a future project.

Cleaning

With three cats, things tend to get messy around the apartment–fast.  And I like things clean. Unfortunately, commercially available robots that do general cleaning don’t exist yet, so I’ve had to resort to human labor (gasp!), which happens to be cheap here in the Philippines.

I used to use a service called CMDA that serves apartments and condos but they were unresponsive. Fortunately, a friend of mine referred me to a freelancing cleaning lady. I tried it and worked out well, so I continue to get her every week, generally on Sunday mornings when she’s available. Strangely, I had to overcome some psychological barriers to doing so. Read about that experience here.

At Php500 for 5 hours of work, it’s well worth the money since I get to use those hours to do higher value tasks like writing or working on my business. I do give her a bonus every time.

So that I don’t forget to text her, I also made a recurring text message sent to her every Thursday to book her for the following Sunday.

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Laundry and Ironing

We have a small space that doesn’t leave much room for a washing machine. Fortunately, there are laundry services downstairs that aren’t that expensive (Php25 / kilo = $0.515 /kilo). They also offer free pickup and delivery. Even with such convenience, I still kept forgetting to contact them before I ran out of clean clothes, leaving me with nothing to wear sometimes but my most ugly ones. To solve that, I used Tasker for Android to schedule the SMS message to the laundry every Sunday between 1:30PM – 2PM. For iOS users, the closest alternative would be IFTTT, which looks good and is very easy to use but doesn’t offer the same level of flexibility as Tasker.

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What if we have something else scheduled? Well, that’s why I put a 15 minute warning before my phone actually sends the text. It will first say out loud, “I shall get the laundry for your majesty in 15 minutes.”

For real! Here, listen to it.

It’s a workaround, albeit a fun one. I’ll be working on making it a prompt instead of just a warning and then integrating it with my calendar so that it knows my schedule.

Another issue is that once the laundry arrives, sorting, ironing, and putting the clothes into the appropriate areas of the closet is still very much a manual process. While computer vision is advancing leaps and bounds, robotic laundry sorting is still not available for the mass market.

For ironing, thankfully, the same cleaning lady I’ve hired agreed to allocate the last 30 minutes to do some ironing instead of cleaning. The rest of the sorting we still do ourselves.

Chores are Never Done

Having a system and making improvements feels good. But by no means have I already automated everything. I still dream of the day when I’ve made a system that will run continuously with almost no intervention on my part. Until then, I’ll keep on improving this system. What about you? How are you automating your chores?