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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

These Apps Saved My Sanity (and Probably My Marriage)

After we got married, my husband would forget … a lot. He’d take out the trash and forget to put a new bag in the bin. He’d jot down a grocery list, hop in his car, and take off … sans grocery list. He’d drop the kids off to school and jet off to work, forgetting to mention that they’d decided to be car riders, not bus riders. These slips drove me bonkers.

To make matters worse, I wasn’t faultless either. I had a habit of overbooking appointments, once even quadruple booking us to be in different places across town in a single afternoon. I was tired of bickering, exhausted of upsetting friends I’d promised to carve time for, and completely over my husband’s and my endless cycle of forgetfulness.

One day, I reached my wits end. I’d triple booked, committing to a birthday party, a lunch date with friends, and dinner at my mom’s all without realizing until the day of. By the time we arrived at my mom’s, we learned she’d left on a grocery run and locked her keys inside the home. Even better, my husband’s forgetfulness kicked in. He reassured her he had her spare set stowed in our glove compartment, but after scouring the car in a frenzy, muttering he knew they were there somewhere, he turned up empty-handed. In the end, I jumped the fence and learned how to jimmy open a window, tearing my favorite skirt in the process.

By the time we made it home, we fell into bed exhausted by the spectacle that had become our lives. I began wondering if, in this age of technology, there was a magical app for couples like us who had trouble keeping our heads on straight. Full disclaimer: I get that “there’s an app for that,” and there are people for that app—I’m just not one of them. (I still use the browser version of YouTube on my phone!) However, users downloaded over 36 billion apps from Google Play and the Apple App Store combined in just the first quarter of 2021. And I was about to become one of them.

After a bit of research I found a few apps that let every family member (and even babysitters) with a smartphone keep in sync with one another.

One, called Cozi, sounded like a dream come true for our family. I hesitated, he didn’t, but we both gave it a try. A week passed, then two. And then something strange happened. The bickering eased. The forgetfulness abated. And we were booking only one commitment a day. And unless my husband forgot his phone (which, let’s face it, would be like forgetting his big toe), he’d never leave behind another grocery list. Soon, even my kids were begging to get in on the magic.

This isn’t about a specific app though. Several family-friendly organization apps exist—and families of any size can benefit from one that works for them. Cozi worked for us. But others like Picniic and Our Home boast several similar features that keep you organized—and all three have free versions that are more than sufficient at keeping your family commitments and tasks organized and running smoothly.

Whichever app you choose, you’ll benefit from features like grocery lists that every person in your family (including the kids) can add to, so the responsibility of reporting an empty carton of milk or eggs doesn't fall on just one person.

Similarly, the shared calendar feature, which is perfect for the back-to-school season, is a lifesaver for us. Everyone in the family can enter their personal commitments on one calendar that the whole family can view. You can set alerts for a predetermined time prior to get a reminder well in advance so no one, especially the person who has the commitment, will miss it or forget about it.

These apps also all have to-do lists you can create for the family as a whole, or even individual members, that each of you can then view. I don’t have to keep reminding my husband to call the plumber or reschedule an appointment with the dentist. I just put it on his to-do list and, voilà, my work is done.

While these apps share several features, they each have notable differences that could make one a better choice than another for your family. If you’re a recipe lover or need someplace reliable or handy to jot down recipes from friends or family, Cozi has a feature that lets you quickly store recipes and even gives you a running list of meal ideas, including ingredients. If you realize you don’t have an ingredient for something you want to make, simply tab over to the grocery list feature and jot it in.

If you’re all about keeping tabs on where your kids or other members of your family are throughout the day, Picniic’s family locator is perfect. This lets you track where each of your family members are at any time—in real time. Its Event feature is also spectacular for keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries for people notorious for forgetting these milestone events.

According to the the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, having elementary-age kids perform chores is associated with the development of self-competence, prosocial behavior, and self-efficacy in later years. However, many parents, me included, struggle with both assigning and then tracking completed chores. An app called OurHome gamifies those tasks so that kids are always on top of their responsibilities. Even better, it lets you award points for completed tasks, making it easy to reinforce positive behaviors regularly without having to keep track of it all in your head. Those points can then equate to prizes or awards of your choosing.

According to Brent Sweitzer, a private practice professional counselor in Cumming, Georgia, who works with families, technology for families gets a bad rap. “We've all seen examples of where personal screens have gotten in the way of communication and connection,” says Sweitzer. “However, in using apps and other tech tools, the wisdom is in knowing what the technology or app or tool is facilitating—such as more time authentically being with people we care about, enjoying the natural world, playing and laughing together, and living a connected life. Find tech and tools that can help with that.”

Sweitzer also acknowledges the positive effects an organized, well-structured environment can have on kids, with technology, such as apps, paving the way. “Children thrive with structure and where healthy expectations are clear. Consistency leads to predictability and a sense of safety, which leads to feelings of security,” he says.

If you’re new to the concept of using a family app to stay organized, having everything captured in the frame of your phone—that everyone else in your family can have captured in theirs too—is a game changer. In our home, there’s no more fear of missed communications or conflict of events. With organization apps very much a part of our daily routine, adding things to the to-do list, grocery list, or even the family calendar are second nature. I’ve caught my tween dancing to TikTok while punching in items on our calendar and seen my 9-year-old cracking open the fridge, then tapping missing grocery items into our running list. I’d say these apps don’t just make life easier. They take responsibility and organization to a whole new level, both for budding adolescents and bickering spouses.

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