How I Outsource My Life: 5 Services for Avoiding Chores

January 21, 2015 · 21 comments

I hate chores. They keep me from doing things I enjoy, like working on my business, spending time with family or simply relaxing.

But I always felt like I had to do them. Like chores and errands simply weren’t avoidable, that I had no choice but to work through life’s red tape.

My view on this has slowly shifted over the last couple of years, as I realized I can’t do everything, and so I might as well cut out the parts of life I don’t like. Then I read Ari Meisel’s book, Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier, and that put the nail in the coffin of chores. He writes:

I don’t want you to run errands, ever ever ever again. They’re not efficient, and there’s no way to make them efficient. They’re a waste of your time.

I took that as permission. This year one of my goals is to simplify and streamline and outsource more of my life. I’ve already got a good start, so I want to share that here by detailing five services my husband and I use to outsource chores.

This list, by the way, was inspired by a post on Chris Ronzio’s blog about how he saves 10-20 hours each week. Outsourcing little by little truly does add up — so you have more time to do things that you enjoy.

1. Peapod: How we avoid grocery shopping

We rarely go to the grocery store anymore; instead, we get our groceries delivered to our home. Lots of services like this exist around the U.S., and your options often depend on where you live. For our home just outside Washington, D.C., we use Peapod, Giant’s delivery service.

Because grocery shopping EATS hours.

Because grocery shopping EATS hours.

What I love about PeaPod: It saves our previous orders in one massive grocery list, which makes for super quick shopping. Since we often order the same things, we simply browse the list and click what we want.

If you put in an order by 6 p.m., it will arrive the next day. They give you a two-hour window during which your order will arrive, and I like that we get a text message or email when the driver is on his way. When we traveled overseas for the holidays, I even ordered a delivery during our flight home, so we’d be stocked with groceries the day after we arrived.

Cost: Delivery cost is based on how much you spend, and for us it’s usually about $8. Plus a $3-5 tip for the driver.

I’ll happily pay $12 to save myself the 90 minutes it often takes to drive to the grocery store, do a big shop, and drive back. Or, since we live in a city, walk there and back, which limits how much food we can carry.

I used to feel guilty about ordering groceries online, like it was lazy, but it’s actually quite smart from a financial and energy-management perspective — just like many, if not all, of the items on this list. If I spend 90 minutes working on my business rather than grocery shopping, I can earn far more than $12. If you have trouble wrapping your mind around outsourcing, this is a good calculation to try: Could you make more money with the time it frees for you than you spend on the service?

Drawbacks: Peapod’s main drawback is you have to be home to collect the items. They will deliver while you’re not home, but I’m not keen on leaving bags and cartons of food on our front porch all day. This isn’t a problem for us since my schedule is flexible and I often work from home, but it does require some planning.

We also don’t order eggs through Peapod because they sometimes arrive broken.

Their offer: Peapod always seems to have a special for first-time users, either $20 off your first order or free delivery. (I couldn’t find a link, but just visit their site and you’ll likely see one if you haven’t ordered before.)

One other tip: Drivers appreciate it when you tip with cash. I used to tip through the site until they let me know the company keeps a portion.

2. Blue Apron: Easily cook yummy meals

Even when we save time by avoiding trips to the grocery store, we sometimes struggle with ideas for what to cook at home. That’s where Blue Apron comes in.

Blue Apron delivers all the fresh ingredients for meals to your doorstep, plus instructions that show exactly how to cook each recipe. You can order different quantities, but we go for three meals, each for two people, in each box.

This is a REAL Blue Apron meal we made. Yummy!

This is a Blue Apron meal we cooked recently. Yummy!

We love Blue Apron for so many reasons:

  • It saves us from having to figure out meals for the week
  • It helps us eat healthy (each meal has healthy ingredients and is under 700 calories)
  • It encourages us to eat interesting meals we likely wouldn’t have explored otherwise
  • We never waste food, since they send only enough ingredients to make each meal
  • It’s fun to cook together!

Cost: The service costs $10 per meal per person. So our evening meal costs $20, and a box of three meals costs $60.

While this might sound like a lot, we did a few calculations that showed how it’s worth it for us. Blue Apron does cost more than a spaghetti-and-sauce meal at home, but it’s far less than we’d spend eating out at a restaurant in D.C., and even less than our default take-out meal from our favorite salad place, Sweet Green. We figure that if we wanted to make any of the meals they send us, we’d end up buying more of each ingredient than we need (you can’t buy just one beet, for example), which means higher cost and potentially wasted food. Using this service eliminates all those half-used or even a-tiny-bit-used bottles of apple vinegar and molasses and cornstarch, ingredients I’d have to look for a reason to finish.

Blue Apron isn’t the only company that offers this type of meal service; if you look around, you’ll find others like Plated, which also offers a deal for first-timers. We’ve been impressed with Blue Apron’s geographical reach: we recommended them to friends in middle-of-nowhere North Carolina, and the company delivered right to their door.

Drawbacks: Our main beef with this service (pun intended) is its affect on the environment. Most of the packing in the Blue Apron box can be recycled, but between the ice packs and the box, it still feels like a lot of material; we wish they’d offer pickup and reuse the packaging. Then again, you could also argue that when we get Blue Apron, we’re saving the million plastic bags Peapod uses to carefully wrap our groceries.

It also takes considerable time to cook the meals. This sounds obvious, but it’s often a shock to people (including me) who order this service for the first time. It’s marketed as a done-for-you service, but you still have to spend 30-60 minutes cooking the recipe. This is also part of the appeal, of course: the food is fresh because you cook it yourself.

You also have to remember to cancel meals in advance if you don’t want them. The default setting is a box each week, but that’s too much for us; we’re good with a box every 2-3 weeks, so I have to remember to go into our account and cancel our box when we don’t want one.

Their offer: If you’re new to the service and sign up through my Blue Apron link, you’ll get two free meals. (I don’t earn anything when you sign up.)

3. Stitch Fix: Look stylish without the effort

I hate shopping for clothes. Actually, that’s not completely true; I do enjoy browsing occasionally at a few of my favorite stores. But I hate shopping when I need clothes, because it feels like a chore.

Enter Stitch Fix, which acts as my personal stylist. You tell them what types of clothes you like as well as what looks good on you, plus your sizes, and they send you a box of five items. I first tried this when a friend gave me a gift certificate, and I’ve now received a total of three boxes over the last year or so.

Here’s why I love Stitch Fix:

  • It makes shopping fun. I get excited when I see the Stitch Fix box on my doorstep
  • It helps me be stylish — because my default wardrobe is sweats
  • I try on — and often end up buying — clothes I never would’ve picked out for myself in a store, adding diversity to my wardrobe
  • The stylists improve over time at sending outfits that are a good match for me. A friend of mine who uses the service noted this, and I’ve found it to be true, too
  • It’s easy to send back anything you don’t want, and you can check out online

Cost: Stitch Fix says the average cost of their items is $55, and you can specify whether you’re OK with pricier items or want to stick to more of a budget. A few years ago, I never would’ve paid $65 for a sweater or $89 for a casual dress, but my standards have changed: I now prefer to spend a little more for high-quality items that will last. I usually end up keeping two or three of the items in my Fix, which might run me $160 or so.

Night out with my girlfriends before the wedding = Stitch Fix outfit!

Night out with my girlfriends before the wedding = Stitch Fix outfit!

When you order, Stitch Fix charges a $20 styling fee, but so long as you keep just one of your items, that goes toward the cost of what you purchase. So if you end up returning all the items, the experience costs you $20. If you decide to keep all five items, you get a 25 percent discount.

Drawbacks: The biggest challenge is it takes so long to receive a Fix. I imagine it’s faster if you auto-schedule a box to arrive every month, but if you only ask for a box once every few months like I do, there’s often a wait of several weeks or even months. I was hoping to get a Fix before the holidays, for example, so I’d be stylish when we traveled to see family, but when I ordered in November, I had to wait until January to receive it.

This company also got a lot of bad reviews on its Facebook page when it launched, but I chalked that up to them being a startup: startups often have difficulty meeting demand, especially when they become popular quickly.

Their offer: Stitch Fix doesn’t seem to have a discount for first-timers, but if you sign up through my Stitch Fix link, I’ll earn a $25 credit when you receive your first fix. You becoming more stylish = me becoming more stylish, too!

4. Task Rabbit: Outsource your errands

Whenever there’s an errand I don’t have time for or simply don’t want to do, I turn to Task Rabbit. You can find someone to do absolutely anything on this site, from running errands to putting together furniture to cleaning.

We’ve used it on two occasions. Once, when we needed more plates to match our Ikea set, and we didn’t want to make the trip to Ikea, which takes more than two hours from our house once you include driving and walking through the entire store (which they force you to do with their layout). Ikea doesn’t deliver, so we asked a Task Rabbit to buy the plates and deliver them to our house. We saved two hours with just a few clicks of a mouse!

The second occasion was when I needed to drop something off at my sister’s house. She lives 30-45 minutes away depending on traffic, and I was heading out of town that evening and didn’t have time to drive there and back. The Task Rabbit picked up a small item at our house and delivered it to my sister. Voila!

What I love about Task Rabbit: No task is too big or too small. This is where I want to push myself in the coming year, to assign more small tasks I don’t really need to do myself. I also enjoy supporting entrepreneurial Task Rabbits who are solving pain points for time-strapped individuals. Doing odd jobs is a smart way to make some cash, and anyone can do it!

Cost: Task Rabbit used to allow you to set your own price, but it looks like they’ve moved to an hourly model. You set up a task, then see who’s available and qualified to do that task, plus their hourly rates. Remember that not everything you pay goes to the Task Rabbit; the company takes a 20 percent cut on each task.

Drawbacks: While you get to choose the person you want for the task, you don’t know them. That means it’s a bit of a risk giving them an item to deliver or asking them to do any tasks in your house. The service works as a reliable middle man, but you’re still working with a stranger. Even so, we had great experiences both times we hired a Task Rabbit.

5. Amazon: Buy anything and everything online

Another way we avoid running errands is by using Amazon. Need new light bulbs? We put in an Amazon order. Kitchen appliance kicks the dust? We order a new one on Amazon. Want a gift for a family member? We add it to our Amazon cart.

What I love about Amazon: You can’t beat the convenience. For this to work well though, you have to get into the habit of ordering online and always remember it’s an option. Don’t run to the post office when you need stamps; order them online.

Cost: Amazon’s standard shipping is free. But we belong to Amazon Prime, so for $99 a year, we get two-day shipping on everything (plus lots of other perks we don’t use that much). Amazon even delivers on Sunday! Almost no one else does, so whenever I see a package on our doorstep on a Sunday, I know it’s from Prime.

Drawbacks: Amazon kills small businesses. If you don’t want to support the giant, you could order elsewhere online instead, and just eat any shipping costs.

What other services should I add to my list this year? I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments!

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica Lawlor January 21, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Whoa. This is an epic list. I’ve heard of Stitch Fix (debating trying it) and Amazon, of course, but the others are new to me. Way to go, Lexi! Loving that energy management at work. Super smart.
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Alexis Grant January 26, 2015 at 10:43 am

Try StitchFix! It’s practically no risk — all you have to lose is $20. (And maybe a tiny bit of dignity when they send you pants that are way too small in the first box… not that I’m speaking from experience =)

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Ivana January 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Alexis – yay on outsourcing.

I am trying to resist grocery delivery because I really enjoy shopping for food, and Bay Area markets are so great, BUT reading your article has made me realize that it’s been causing me some stress recently. I am trying to get up to speed in a new job, and often find myself buying things last minute at that not-so-great market late at night, and at the end of my wits. I wonder if you have smt similar to Munchery in DC. They are awesome. Very little waste, very inexpensive.

I have a co-worker who is the Queen of Outsourcing (two babies, Director of Marketing, go figure). She loves Google Shopping Express – solves that IKEA problem as well (although probably not with IKEA yet :). Keep liberating your life!

Cheers,Ivana

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Alexis Grant January 26, 2015 at 10:42 am

Oooh — Google Shopping Express, I’ll have to check that one out! Thanks for the tip!

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Dena January 22, 2015 at 6:10 am

Hello:

This is really interesting and I appreciate you filling us in on ways to use your time more efficiently. How cool that we have all these services available to us now….Well, some do. We live in a small town so things like Peapod and Blue Apron are not available to us.

Still, I hope you won’t give up on grocery shopping entirely. So much of how good a meal is is based on the quality of the ingredients and I don’t think I could trust others to choose entirely for me. We have a full year CSA from a local organic farm. That is, we pre-buy our vegetables and meats for the year from two farms in Vermont. We go to the farms rather than the grocery store for to pick up our food and make our selections. Not only is the food fresh and delicious, but it’s given me more of an appreciation of the work that goes into food production…just how precious every bite of a strawberry or an bunch of kale is.

It’s another take on modern shopping that I am very happy to be a part of.

Enjoy your day and thanks again.

D
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Alexis Grant January 22, 2015 at 8:20 am

You’d be surprised, Dena — As I wrote in the post, friends of ours in middle-of-nowhere NC got Blue Apron delivered! But I do see where you’re coming from, that city-dwellers have access to more services than others. I love how you bring up the CSA idea though; I’ve been wanting to try that! Maybe this is the year =)

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Stephen Lahey January 22, 2015 at 9:23 am

I find that outsourcing really unpleasant tasks is great. For example, my wife and I hate cleaning our house. But we’ve also found that delegating too many activities for the sake of efficiency creates a life that feels disconnected from our local community. I guess it’s all a matter of degree and personal preference.
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Alexis Grant January 26, 2015 at 10:42 am

Stephen — True. There are also some things you just want to do yourself. It’s a balance!

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Marc Howard January 22, 2015 at 11:51 am

Hi Alexa it was so good to see another post from you–keep the great thoughts rolling. I love Fiverr.com as they never stop surprising me with how much I can get other folks to do for 5 bucks. A great resource for outsourcing digital and online things and no shortage of people willing to do tasks for you on the cheap. Anyway my theme this year is outsourcing so I’m all over good outsourcing and productivity tips like this. Thanks for sharing!

Marc

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Alexis Grant January 26, 2015 at 10:41 am

yes! Fiverr.com is a great one to add to this list!

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Brittany Berger January 26, 2015 at 10:12 pm

I started ordering as much as possible on Amazon once I started using Swagbucks. I’m a pretty hardcore user, so I earn aroud $25-$50 per month in Amazon gift cards. Combine that with Prime shipping, and I can’t remember the last time I ran errands!
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Kathy January 28, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Absolutely hate to shop for clothing, always have. Need to try StitchFix. Thanks for that.
Love Amazon and use them whenever possible. Except for a few local favorites, I haven’t Christmas shopped at brick and mortar for years – no malls! Saves so much time and delivery has always been incredibly fast.

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Betsy January 29, 2015 at 8:38 am

I’ve been thinking lately about outsourcing laundry. It is one of my most despised chores and it never seems to end! If I could frame it as being beneficial for my business”¦ then I’m in. 🙂

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Alexis Grant February 11, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Ha — totally agree. That’s another thing I need to get over the guilt factor on =)

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J.P. Choquette January 29, 2015 at 12:03 pm

This is a great list, Alexis! I’m just starting to explore outsourcing some tasks for my writing business … which is both terrifying and thrilling. I love that you and your husband choose to cook together, instead of just purchasing pre-prepared meals. AND that you mentioned your concern about the environment/packaging with this option–it’s good to weigh the pros/cons.

Unfortunately in my small none of these options yet exist (well, except Amazon of course!) but I’m definitely planning to hire a housekeeper sometime in the not-so-distant future. Stitch Fix sounds cool but I really like clothes shopping! 🙂

Some sites like eLance and Odesk may be able to help people who are looking to become more organized online, as well as take care of some personal correspondence and financial info (I’m guessing, but it seems that there would be a good fit). And of course, there’s Fivrr as Marc mentioned.
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Alexis Grant February 11, 2015 at 2:20 pm

True that you can’t get these services everywhere, but I love that you don’t let that stop you, because you still have lots of other options for online help as you mentioned. Glad Fiverr gets a mention, too!

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Melanie Meren February 3, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Hi Lexi. I do agree that outsourcing is needed in this day and age. I’ve tried really hard especially to “hire out my weaknesses” by hiring an hourly personal assistant who comes to my home office and also does virtual work, and a babysitter/housekeeper who helps with laundry and dropping my kids off at school.

But I haven’t taken the leap to buying food online, and I don’t plan to. I agree with Dena and Stephen here – there is a lot of value to buying locally and doing some things locally. For the food topic in particular, fresh, local food is one reason. Another reason is that way more of the local tax base is supported per dollar in local purchases, where as virtually none goes to local tax base for online purchases (at least where I live). But more importantly, shopping around my community helps me stay in touch with my community. To me, a farmers market in the summer cannot beat Peapod in that way in particular. Ironically, I just read this article about exactly that on a blog called LittleCoFootprints (can’t seem to paste the URL here).

It’s really important to be efficient, but as you say, it’s a balance. Thanks as always for sharing your resources! Happy shopping!

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Alexis Grant February 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm

I love farmer’s markets! We have one most of the year right near us, too. We do buy a lot there, but it’s just not my personal priority to buy everything there. Love that you work with a personal assistant =) Yes, it’s all about balance!

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Hans Fleischer June 5, 2015 at 7:13 am

Great blog post! I truly enjoyed reading. These outsource tips are indeed life saver. I’ve not been following any of these things and no doubt struggling to find relax in my everyday life. However, I like the PeoPod thing more than all.

Thanks for a nice contribution.
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Tammy Harris November 11, 2015 at 11:00 am

Thanks for the post! I also never waste food! I cook everything I buy and the little waste I have I throw in the compost, which I use for fertilizer! I really care about the environment and try to reduce my waste to minimum.

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