6 Problems Solved by 6 Life Hacks (That I Should Have Tried Earlier)

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Motivational framed poster in a store, Ottawa, June 2017

A few weeks ago, I switched to Gmail. “Welcome to the 21st century!” one of my clients joked. “Let me know if I can help.”

I thanked her and felt the need to point out I didn’t completely suck at technology—it wasn’t as if I had just cancelled a paid AOL account. In fact, switching to Gmail had been on my “long-term to-do list” (seriously, that’s the name of that list) for quite a while. I just hadn’t had the chance to tackle the task because it wasn’t just a matter of signing up with Gmail—I would also have to back up all emails and contacts and set up a forwarding service to the new account.

In 1999, I created a first name/last name Yahoo Mail address because this provider had a French interface and sixteen-year-old me didn’t speak English. And yes, I’m that person with one, single email address and no, I wasn’t drowning in spam. I probably would have kept on using it if Yahoo hadn’t started making puzzling business moves, pissing off many users in the process. There was the data breach, the broken redesign, ridiculous efforts to prevent ad-block users from accessing their mail, and lately, Yahoo decided my Android phone was an “unsecured device” and constantly logged me out.

I had enough of the slow undoing of Yahoo—email was the only service they were offering and they weren’t even doing it right. Meanwhile, Google was inventing driverless cars, so I decided to give the company yet another piece of my life. I opened a new Gmail account (one of the perks of having an uncommon last name, it’s always available!), clicked on a few buttons and I was all set. I’ve been using Gmail for a few weeks now and I’m forgetting Yahoo even existed.

This reminded me that trying a new way to do things can be worth the trouble in the long run.

When it comes to change, I’m an imperfect mix of European and North American attitudes. Europeans tend to approach change with circumspection and would rather put up with issues than take a chance and experiment with a potential solution. At the other end of the spectrum, I find Canadians and Americans are novelty seekers, overly enthusiastic about new ideas, concepts and products, even if they never stick to anything long enough to actually see any benefit and tend to fall into marketing traps.

Over the years, some of this experimenter attitude rubbed off on me. I don’t just give a Gallic shrug to new ideas or solution. I, too, started to look for life hacks. My quest was mostly contextual, triggered by two consecutive milestones—choosing self-employment and becoming a parent, two time-consuming activities for which there is no perfect instruction manual. Suddenly, I needed to be more productive and I didn’t have much patience for, or flexibility with, small everyday annoyances.

I ended up finding six solutions to six problems. Most of them are already popular, but they really helped me—and maybe they will inspire you as well!

Problem? Hardcovers are heavy, expensive and you need light to read (duh)

Solution? Kindle Paperwhite

I was on dozens of waiting lists for bestsellers at the Ottawa public library and lugging around hardcovers when, in 2011, a friend lent me her Kindle for a test drive. I’ve never looked back since. The Kindle Paperwhite I currently have is sleek and sturdy with a great battery life. With its built-in light, I can read in the dark, which is very useful when the three of us share a hotel room. The ebook format is also the best way for me to buy French or foreign novels—goodbye high shipping fees!

Problem? Cooking on the stove top require constant attention and you need to use several pots and pans

Solution? A slow cooker

Again, why didn’t I try that earlier? I’ve been using my slow cooker for a year, mostly to make various combinations of grains (rice—basmati, brown, wild …—farro, oatmeal, etc.), vegetables, beans and spices. I make a big batch, portion it into two or three containers, store them in the fridge and I have dinner ready for nights I’m too busy to make anything but Mark’s lunchbox. Contrary to what I thought, most meals don’t need to simmer overnight, mine usually take a couple of hours to cook fully. Pro-tip: put veggies at the bottom and grains on top, then mix well towards the end so that grains aren’t mushy.

Problem? Earphone cables break easily and earbuds don’t always fit right

Solution? Bluetooth earbuds

I can’t believe I spent years replacing broken headphones instead of going wireless. Bluetooth earbuds are much sturdier, sound quality is great, no cable is going to get caught on something with earbuds flying out of your ears. I lucked in with Anker, a great company. When the sound button on my earbuds became loose a couple of weeks ago, they shipped me a brand new pair (!).

Problem? I don’t use my credit card enough to accumulate points for cool rewards

Solution? A cashback credit card

I’ve been collecting Aeroplan miles for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never redeemed them because I think I’d only qualify for a return ticket to Toronto and I don’t need overpriced merchandise. So last year, I signed up for an American Express cash back card. It’s a basic card with no annual fee and I earn 1% cash back on all my purchases. I paid off the full balance monthly, and at the end of the 12-month period, I got about $200. I don’t mind free money, thank you.

Problem? Notes everywhere

Solution? Evernote, a cross-platform software to collect everything that matters in one place

Evernote is your personal notebook online, where you have your to-do lists, grocery shopping list, clothing size info of relatives for gifts, funny quotes that make you smile, the latest bestsellers you plan to read, hard-to-memorize codes and card numbers, ambitious projects to tackle one day, etc. With Evernote, you can clip web info, enhance your notes with links, pictures, attachments and audio, share them if you want, and just get things done. I still have a notebook in my bag and another one on my desk, but important info is recorded in Evernote.

Problem? Made-in-China gizmos with a stupid profit margin

Solution? Buying directly from suppliers in China

Technically, I can probably afford a $40 phone case, but I refuse to pay that much because I know how much it cost in Asia. China has massive manufacturing capabilities, so I buy from AliExpress. I bought phone cases, Kindle cases, cable, chargers, wall stickers, boxes, stationary and more for just a few dollars. I’ve never had any issue with my orders and shipping is almost always free. Note that it does take a while—a month or two in most cases.

How about you? What are your favourite life hacks? What’s a small annoyance you’d like to solve?


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Emmmm geeeeee! the earphone problem!! Huh! i should have bought the bluetooth one, years ago rather than buying them semi annually (sometimes quaterly) for
    Approx CAD 20! Huh!

    • Honestly, go for bluetooth earbuds, especially if you listen to music while running. The fit is amazing too! They are cheap, about $30 on Amazon (can you shop on Amazon from Indonesia?)

  2. Ah ah ah, je n’arrive pas à voir quel genre de pb du quotidien j’ai pu résoudre de même mais je vais y réfléchir. Ma réponse à “mais comment faire des lunchs rapides et complets” a été trouvée dans “faits des plats végétariens”. Plus besoin de penser viande + accompagnement. Je prends une céréale, une légumineuse, un ou plusieurs légumes, une ou plusieurs noix, du fromage, et voilà. Pareil avec mes salades 🙂 Comment avoir toujours un livre avec soi : achete une liseuse (tu connais ça!), comment nettoyer pour de vrai sa peau et ne pas user douze cotons : investis dans une brosse électrique de visage, et comment cesser les combats d’habillage le matin : achète seulement des leggings et des chandails et laisse-la se débrouiller seule 🙂

    • Pour la viande, je suis exactement comme toi. Je suis une fausse végétarienne, je ne mange pas de viande à la maison parce que c’est plus facile et moins cher de faire des plats végétariens! En plus, j’ai très rarement des “envies” de viande. J’en mange quand j’ai l’occasion, quand on voyage ou quand quelqu’un d’autre la prépare. En attendant, oeufs, tofu, haricots et un peu de thon en boîte. Feng se fait ses plats de viande tout seul, en général des côtes de porc, car lui, il a “besoin” de viande.

      Je suis curieuse sur le nettoyage de peau… ça marche variment ces brosses? Je ne sais jamais si c’est un gadget à la japonaise ou un vrai plus!

      Ah, et pas de combat d’habbilage chez nous. Je dirais bien connement que c,est parce que j’ai un p’tit mec qui s’en fout de ses vêtements, mais pas du tout, c’est juste qu’on le laisse piocher le t-shirt du jour et puis voilà.

      • Fausse vegetarienne ici aussi 🙂 Sauf que du coup maintenant a cause de soucis de santé je trouve ca plus facile de manger pas mal de poisson (salade avec du thon ou saumon fume), ou des tranches de poulet / dinde… Et mon homme se fait ses steaks et son poulets tous seuls, sauf quand je suis d’humeur 🙂
        Mon life hack du moment: Un systeme d’arrosage qui fait le boulot tout seul pour le potager 🙂 Parce que parfois j’ai la flemme
        Aussi: un endroit ou garder notre barda camping tout ensemble, du coup c’est facile quand on part, pas besoin de chercher la lampe frontale, merde ou est la crème solaire, t’as vu les oreillers etc 😉
        Et bienvenu sur Gmail!

        • J’aimerais que le poisson soit moins cher à Ottawa :-/ On atteint des prix fous ici! J’adore le saumon fumé, même si c’est un petit luxe, c’était moins cher en France et, de mémoire, il y a quelques années à Ottawa. Comment tu achètes/prépares ton poisson?

          • C’est cher ici aussi, mais je trouve du poisson congele a prix raisonnable (a superstore, dont 3 “portions” de saumon fume pour $10).
            Bref du coup soit je decongele mon saumon fume la veille ou ouvre une boite de thon (j’achete les pack familial de 6 boites ca revient moins cher). Ou je cuit mon poisson congele au four.
            Le poisson et les fruits de mer frais d’Ecosse me manquent!
            Et je ne connaissait pas du tout farmbot, je vais voir ca 🙂

          • J’achète souvent des boîtes de thon, le prix reste raisonnable. Par contre, le saumon c’est plus cher ici il me semble. Y’en a à Chinatown, mais faut vraiment le préparer (genre enlever la peau et tout) et je suis pas douée pour ça!

  3. Martin Penwald on

    En parlant de Yahoo et Gmail, on peut toujours te joindre sur Yahoo? Je serai sur Ottawa mardi si tout va bien.

  4. La flemme de cuisiner : le four ou le cuit-vapeur. Et en plus ça réduit la vaisselle. Et c’est meilleur pour la santé aussi.

    Sinon commander les courses en “collect and go” sur internet ça m’a pas mal simplifié la vie. Au moins je peux tout faire de chez moi en vérifiant les stocks au fur et à mesure de ma commande, comparer les prix-provenance-labels bio et autres des produits tranquilou. Et ça aide à gérer le budget “quoi tout ça d’€ ? Ai-je vraiment besoin de tel ou tel truc ?”. Après il faut juste aller chercher…

    Je suis aussi adepte des notes sur le smartphone histoire d’éviter les recherches acharnée DU post-il sur lequel la liste des courses était, de celui avec le matos pour partir en randonnée, etc… Et également des photos du matos de bricolage à aller chercher. Du genre la photo du paquet de vis ou de la pièce de plomberie pour être sure de ramener les bonnes choses du magasin de bricolage.

    Aaaaah et si seulement la location de bouquins en bibliothèque existait via Kindle chez nous, je serais au paradis ! Mais bon, il faut encore attendre que la technologie arrive jusqu’à nous 😉 Chaque fois que je vous lis les canadiennes à ce sujet, ma jalousie devient folle 😉 En plus ça règlerait mes problèmes de distraction aussi… Patience, patience !

    • Pour les notes sur ton smartphone, je te recommande vivement Evernote 🙂

      Le format électronique des livres n’est pas à la mode en Belgique? Ici c’est venu petit à petit, mais c’est vrai que c’est surtout valable pour la littérature anglophone (ce que je lis principalement).

      Pour les courses en ligne, jamais tenté. Je reste vieux jeu pour ça, j’ai bien voir et toucher!

  5. I am terrible for having little slips of paper all over the place with lists and reminders on them. Several people have recommended Evernote to me but I never seem to be able to figure it all out! It’s embarrassing that I can work with computers all day long and still be befuddled when it comes to online tech. Sigh.

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