11 great digital tools for home life

Photo by Johan Larsson

It’s been well over a year since I first wrote about the digital, paperless tools I use to be more efficient around the home.  It’s time for an update.

It’s easy to feel absolultely overwhelmed when you look for a tool or useful website online.  There are hundreds of choices, and sometimes, it feels like they’re all pretty similar. There’s a theory that in this age of information, our range of choices — from toothpaste flavors to online calendars — stress out our bodies and our minds to the point that we’re actually less able to make sound decisions. I know I feel that way sometimes.

Here are my favorite digital tools I use around the home.

1.  Gmail

gmail-logo-fadeGmail is my email client of choice, because I can check all my email addresses in my one inbox.  And I love the labels and archiving system — a quick word search, and I can find most any email I need.

I also “star” emails that become my online to do list, and I frequently use the chat feature for online meetings.

The key to successful email sanity is to only check your inbox at a few set intervals throughout the day. For me, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening is plenty.  I get a ton of email, so if I kept it open, I’d be tempted to pop over to my inbox anytime something came through.  That’s a recipe for stress.

And just like I don’t always answer my phone when it rings, I only open an email when I have enough time to give it a quick, five sentence or less response.  If I don’t have that time, then I don’t open it. It can wait.

If it requires a longer than five sentence response, and I can devote the time for an appropriate answer, then I’ll write it immediately.  If I don’t, the email gets a star.  That means I need to make time to give it a complete response in less than 48 hours.

2.  Google Calendar

logo-google calendarI click on my Google Calendar from my Gmail inbox, and I host a wide number of calendars on one screen.  I’ve got our basic family events calendar, my husband’s work calendar, our menu plan, my writing schedule, our homeschool routine, the advertising schedule for my blogs, and the Book Club schedule.

My husband and I share our family appointments and work calendars, so that we’re always in synch with each other.

3.  Last.fm

logo-lastfmWe’re a music-playing family.  We’ve got plenty of downloaded songs in our iTunes account, and with their recent home sharing feature, my husband and I can now share mp3s for both of our iPods.

But last.fm is our daily radio programming of choice for background music.  It’s free for 90 days, but after that, it’s only $3 a month.  I get my money’s worth and then some, in my opinion.  Here’s my profile, if you want to see what we listen to around our house.

It’s similar to Pandora.com, but Last.fm is available anywhere in the world.  Pandora is available only in the U.S.

You simply enter an artist or type of music you enjoy, and it will play a “station” of similar music.  If you really like a song, you can “love” it, and it will play it more often.  If the song is atrocious, you can “ban” it, and it’ll never play for you again.  You can also just skip a song if you don’t necessary hate it, but you’re not in the mood to hear it, either.

Last.fm has been my book writing sanity.

4.  Pear Budget

logo-pearbudgetI’ve written about Pear Budget a lot — it’s where we handle our family’s budget and accounts.  It’s got a great interface, and it’s incredibly simple.  For a bit more on what I’ve written in the past head here.

5.  Delicious

logo-deliciousIt’s a classic. Delicious.com (formerly del.icio.us) is one of the oldest bookmarking sites, but it’s incredibly useful and easy to use.  I have the bookmarklet in Firefox, so anytime I want to bookmark a site or URL, I simply click on the tag button, enter my tags, and save.

When I need to access my account (which is several times a day), it’s just one click, and Delicious opens in a separate tab.  I keep my recipes, book research, website coding helps, and much more here.  This is where people can send me links that they want me to consider sharing on this site.  My husband and I also send links to each other from here when we’ve got something we need the other person to see.

6.  Spark People

logo-sparkpeopleI’m working on losing a little baby weight, so I’m currently logging my food intake and exercise habits on this free site.  Spark People worked well after my first birth, so I’m confident it will do the same again.

There are a plethora of things this site will do for you — almost too many.  It’s easy to get distracted from its main purpose of food and exercise logging, but because it’s free, it’s still a great resource.  It also saves the nutritional information on your own recipes, and it’s easy to record the basic things you eat often.  I also like that I can map out and track my jogging routes from here with Google Maps.

7.  Recipezaar

logo-recipezaarThere are tons of recipe sites, but Recipezaar is my favorite.  It has thousands of recipes, and almost every one I’ve tried is good.  It’s easy to search for recipes by ingredient or meal type, and for the designer in me, I love how these recipes print.  Very streamlined and easy to read.

8.  Flickr

logo-flickrWe store all but the blurry and redundant family photos on Flickr.  It’s a breeze to share with grandparents, and the tagging feature and the ability to create sets, it’s easy to find photos.

9.  Wishpot

logo-wishpotWishpot is the perfect place to store gift ideas for grandparents or events.  With the bookmarklet for Firefox, all you have to do is click a button when you’ve found something you like, and it’ll toggle a pop-up screen where you can enter the item in a wishlist, along with pertinent information you need.  Here’s a few of our wish lists, along with a few recommendations for kids I’ve created as a Wishpot “expert.”

It’s also a great way to create a wedding or baby registry, so that you’re not limited to a few select stores.  You can store anything found online.

10.  Skype

logo-skypeSkype has been our sanity saver.  This is the way we keep up with the grandparents as we live on the other side of the world, and with a small annual fee, we’re able to have a US-based number so that anyone stateside can call us for nearly free.

This is where I also have a host of business meetings, either by phone or by chat.  Skype has truly made the world a much smaller place.

11.  Audible

audible logo
Finally, we’re a book-loving family, and Audible is a great resource of audiobooks.  Since we live overseas, this is a frugal option for “reading” new books, and as I’ve mentioned before, an audiobook is a good entertainment choice for a child’s daily quiet timeAudible Kids has a wonderful selection.

These tools are about all we use for everyday personal use.  I’ve got another slew of digital resources for book writing and blogging, but they’re not terribly useful for productive home management.

Now it’s your turn — what are your favorite digital resources for your home life?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Ooooh… great post! So many things for me to check out …. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the recommendations. When I lived abroad Skype was absolutely useful on a daily basis.

    I need to check some new resources, especially the budget one. I’ve been meaning to use a tool like this.
    .-= Monica´s last blog ..I Love You From The Floor To The Cloud =-.

  3. Skype is essential in our household. DS “talks” to his grandparents and great grandparents in the UK on it and also to his other set of grandparents in the US. While my husband is deployed we can sometimes use it to talk to one another too.
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..Photographs by a 2 year old =-.

  4. Great list! I use Gmail as well. I need to check out Pear Budget!
    .-= Samantha @ Mama Notes´s last blog ..Body After Baby Details: Mr. Linky =-.

  5. My husband just discovered something called “Magic Jack” for phone usage over the computer. It seems to work well, but I don’t know all of the details of pricing, etc.

    Thanks for the list. I have yet to check out pandora and will do so.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Food Roots, September 24: where does your food come from? =-.

  6. I love your blog! We are also overseas, probably in the same area of the world as you! Anyway, here are some of the online tools I use:
    Google calender (personal and business)
    Google reader (I love having my favorite blogs in one spot!)
    Igoogle – I have an igoogle page that comes up as my home page. I have my calender, email, reader, devotional, news and weather on one page!

    I’m looking into lastfm and audible. Thanks for the suggestions!
    .-= Karen´s last blog ..Obscure holidays and other tidbits =-.

  7. Wow, this gives me lots of food for thought!

    Skype has been wonderful for us as well, since we’re in the US but my in-laws are in the UK.

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Celebrating Autumn =-.

  8. Great list! I love technology and web tools etc, but keeping so much important data online makes me a wee bit nervous. What are your thoughts on that – particularly budgeting and keeping ALL your data (email and calendar) on Google products. Also, what do you do when Google has hiccups – as they’ve had this week. Do you have offline backups of your email and calendar?

    Not trying to sound contrary – just curious. Thanks!
    .-= The Secret Life of Kat´s last blog ..We Hang Out With Aslan =-.

  9. Brilliant post, I can’t wait to explore!!! I absolutely couldn’t blog without flickr… And my husband and I each choose an audible book to listen to together every month… then when the kids are in bed and we are making his lunch and generally doing end of the day kitchen duty then we listen to our audible book together… great fun!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Simple Spinning Pinwheels in Se7en Steps… =-.

  10. Great list! I just discovered wishpot a month ago, and I’m loving it! I can’t wait to peruse your lists! ann 🙂
    .-= Ann at mommysecrets´s last blog ..Shared Principles of Positive Youth Development in Nashville =-.

  11. How did you know I was wondering about digital audiobooks? I don’t own an MP3 player, but was thinking about getting one to listen to during the long, frustrating bedtime battles with my two year old. Thanks for the tip!
    .-= Kendra@www.thebutterflynest.blogspot.com´s last blog ..How Sweet it Is =-.

  12. I use iGoogle as well and absolutely love having Gmail, reader, thought of the day, weather, tips, and a National Geographic picture to look at, all on one page. I also found Librivox, public domain books read by volunteer readers and completely free for download! So as I do my chores, I listen to the classics and catch up on my reading.
    .-= Amy G´s last blog ..Traveling =-.

  13. Lots of good stuff for me to check out. I do really like gmail, which I use for my blog email. My personal email is on Outlook and I don’t like it nearly as well. Google calendar is great, but I find I do better with old fashioned pen/pencil and a cheap planner book. It’s easier for me to keep up with. I’ll have to check out the other resources you mention, especially those for music.
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Whole Wheat Pancakes =-.

  14. Great post! I already use several of these (love my audible and last.fm) but we’re always in the market for new stuff, so I’m going to check them out!
    .-= Tabitha (From Single to Married)´s last blog ..Bumpity, Bump, Bumper =-.

  15. I us allrecipes.com and one of my favorites, rhapsody.com. You can listen to 25 full songs each month for free. I like to listen to an entire song before buying it on itunes or somewhere else.
    .-= Stacie @ newmommyhelp.net´s last blog ..How to Have a More Content Baby =-.

  16. For using delicious for your bookmarks, how do you prevent it from placing the tabs on your browser? If I just want to be able to see my bookmark while on the website, can I do that? It hurts my eyes to see all of my bookmarks right on the browser, haha!

    Wonderful sites… I’m going to check out audible!

  17. Check out the Paradox of Choice theory for more information on the idea that we get overwhelmed with all our options:

    I am a HUGE fan of using google calendar and google docs. My husband and I manage our household largely through these tools (this is where our family calendar resides and where we keep our monthly budget, net worth calculator, weekly chore list, etc.).
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Playskool Lullaby Gloworm =-.

  18. I’ve been wondering about the best online calendar… thanks!

  19. Loving lastfm.com! Thanks for the recommendation. Unfortunately, not free for 90 days…just the first 30 songs. It’s made for a great morning though, and I’d say it’s worth the $3/month.
    .-= Rae´s last blog ..A Recommendation =-.

  20. This is so awesome! I was just googling how to use google calendar yesterday because I am getting a blackberry (woo-hoo!) and came across your old entry on it. Great info, I will be studying these links for a while!
    .-= Angela Mills´s last blog ..Homeschool Gadget Toolbar =-.

  21. I use imeem.com to stream music at work. It allows me to make a playlist and listen to the full song.

  22. Really cool post. Thanks for turning me on to Wishpot.com and Audible. Keep up the great work on your site!

  23. Thanks for listing all those resources! I need to go check out delicious and Wishpot, they both sound like things I could use.
    .-= Hairstyles For Girls´s last blog ..Twist To The Side Hairstyle =-.

  24. I would be lost without gmail, google calendars, mint and evernote.
    Evernote is my collection of recipes to try, crafts to make, pictures of decorating ideas and lots of other things! You can take a picture with your phone, write a note, clip a website page and find it later by category or searching for a key word. So much better than little slips of paper and torn out magazine pages!!

  25. Love audible! I’ve been a member since they started up (pre-ipods!) I love that I can get a new book every month and it’s nice to listen to something while doing dishes or folding laundry!
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Everyday something new to discover–daily blessings =-.

  26. Simplemom.net has definitely made it into my top 5 favorite blogs.
    I love gmail and I use Picassa to organize and upload photos to google from my desktop.
    I signed up for pearbudget about 10 minutes after reading this, it’s just what I’ve been looking for, going to return Quicken tomorrow! Thank you.

  27. Great list TSH. I can’t agree with you more on email. I became more sane as I learned to check it 2-3 times a day.


  28. I use most of these resources, too, but pearbudget and wishpot are both new to me. Thanks for the recommendations!

    As for my own indispensable tools, I have to mention Remember the Milk. It’s a task-management website, and I use it to keep track of all of the little things I need to accomplish in a day. I have separate lists for household, business, and personal tasks, plus lists for meal planning, future project ideas, and kids homework, etc.

    The best part for me is that these tasks can be made recurring, so that I don’t have to remember every day to put “start the laundry” on the list. Once I mark it as complete, it generates a new “start the laundry” task to be due the following day.

    I could go on, but I am already getting too wordy here. I’ve made some of my lists public, so you can see what kinds of things I use it for:


  29. My sister just told me about mint.com which is a free money online money management. I am off to try it out, has anyone else used it?

  30. Susan Sanders says:

    If you want a great food and exercise logging site, try http://www.nutrimirror.com
    It doesn’t have so much ‘stuff” going on and is great for knowing your complete nutritional profile. User tips in the journal room are great too. Oh, and it’s free too.

  31. Thank you so much for including us in this amazing list! we’re so happy to be considered one of the top digital tools for home life! 🙂

  32. yeah.. great list. . thx for sharing 🙂

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