A Minimalist Hack: Use the Same Toothpaste

I’m no grassroots minimalist. My family has a storage room full of boxes: camping supplies, Christmas decorations, a few Macaroni-and-clay creations from the preschool era. Marie Kondo could surely help us find lots to purge. But, we appreciate clean aesthetics and are always looking for ways to reduce friction with regard to how our home functions.

Take toothpaste.

When our daughter was young, I remember debating – for an inordinate amount of time – what toothpaste flavour to select for her maturing teeth. The pharmacy aisle was full of options. Would she prefer Berry Blast, Strawberry Swirl, or Bubble Gum Twist. Each brand – and there were many – had its own combination of tube characteristics (twist cap vs. flip; hard tube vs. soft). I hadn’t even gotten to the fluoride vs. no fluoride conundrum yet and was already completely overwhelmed. Should buying toothpaste for a 3-year old really be this hard?

Then one day, during a well-visit at the doctors office, my GP happened to bring up teeth-brushing. She mentioned, in an off-hand way: “Feel free to use a rice-sized amount of whatever toothpaste you’re using.”

Surely it wasn’t right to deprive my firstborn of whatever bold-coloured, highly-flavoured concoction the big conglomerates told me she should have? But, I grew up on good ol’ Crest…and I don’t think it held me back in life.

Since then, our entire family has used the same toothpaste (Colgate with Scope); my kids don’t even know they could be frothing at the mouth with Minion-themed Cotton Candy.

Not only does it make fewer decisions at the store, since we all use the toothpaste interchangeably, I only pack a single tube when we travel (we do the same with shampoo).

What supply could you share?

A To-Buy Hack: Have a Running List

I’m a list person. Phone, paper, whiteboard, calendar, back-of-an-envelope; you name it, I’ve put a list on it.

While most lists have a designated timeline – from a list for today’s tasks, to appointments and meetings that might be scheduled weeks in advance, to the groceries I need for Friday’s supper – there are items that I recognize simply need to be addressed/purchased at the next convenient time.

These lists can involve to-do’s, but I tend to capture “tasks” in one of my other list hubs (calendar/daytimer/GoogleTasks/paper). More likely, I’m recording things that I need to buy at some unspecified time – either when they’re on sale or I’m at the store that carries said item.

And for this, I’m partial to using a phone app called AnyList. It allows me to easily create and add items to appropriate lists. I did not research this decision too intensely – the app was highly rated and one of the first that showed up in the App Store. For a maximizer, I satisficed early and haven’t felt the need to look further.

My categories include:

  • Gift ideas, largely for Christmas. Not kidding: this year, at 1:00 PM on Christmas Day, I was already adding to this list for the FOLLOWING Christmas. I may have a problem. When I think of a gift idea, I record the gift and the recipient as a single line item.
  • DollarStore
  • Costco (I only visit a few times a year)
  • Specific grocery-store chains
  • General grocery

I only visit the DollarStore every few months. There aren’t too many items I source from here, but it is a go-to for gift bags, stocking stuffers, and miscellany I can’t necessarily find elsewhere. Buying travel-sized Kleenex probably doesn’t warrant a special trip, but if I go to add it to the list and notice I’m running low on my favourite Vildea dish scrapers, gender neutral gift bags for an upcoming birthday, and sidewalk chalk, I can confidently head out knowing I’ve kept track of what I need.

For years I would trek to the store, buy a handful of things, and leave – operating under the sinking suspicion I was forgetting something. Inevitably, the moment I walked in the door, I’d remember the tissue paper shortage plaguing our family…

Now, if I’m wrapping a gift and notice I only have a few sheets of tissue paper left, I simply add it to the running list*. Then, if something critical comes up and I’m heading to the store anyway, I have all those incidental items recorded.

I do this for groceries as well; in addition to having categories for specific stores (I quickly skim the front page of sales flyers each week to identify what deals might be relevant), I also have a “General Grocery” list. When I finish the bag of Italian seasoning, realize my non-stick cooking spray is almost empty, or my daughter points out our peanut butter stockpile has gotten dangerously low (anything below 3 jars; we love our PB), I add it to the list. These are items I can get at any grocery or box store.

While this running list concept isn’t life-changing, it does make everything function just a little bit smoother and the time investment is negligible (download an app, set up categories and you’re done). You can get all fancy and link accounts with other household members, tie it to your smart-speaker so you can add items via voice command…but I haven’t yet felt the need.

Go ahead. Try it!

*If I know I can’t add it to the list immediately (i.e. my phone isn’t on/near me), I will temporarily add it to some other list, most likely the whiteboard in the kitchen. Once I transfer the item to my AnyList app, I remove the hard-copy form and move on with life!

Decide Once: The Benefits of Having a “Go-To”

According to Barry Schwartz, I’m a maximizer. This means I tend to over-deliberate on decisions – large and small – and, if that wasn’t bad enough, then spend excessive time regretting decisions once they’ve been made, all in an effort to make sure I have in fact made the absolute best decision possible. Yep, gotta raise my hand on this one.

While some of these tendencies are hard-wired, one way to combat a maximizing mindset (which can be both exhausting and paralyzing) is to reduce the number of decisions that have to be made. 

Research suggests adult willpower – needed to resist negative behaviours, like overindulging in food or alcohol, or to persist in positive behaviors, like getting enough sleep or exercising regularly – declines over the day. Similarly, our ability to quickly and effectively make decisions can be heavily influenced by the sheer volume of decisions we have faced. 

But how to reduce decision fatigue? For some regular decisions, how about deciding only once. 

Content with your shampoo? Buy the same brand every time. Does the whole family love waffles? Make them a Friday night staple. Does a particular style of jeans always fit better than all the rest? Pay the premium and get the pair that look and feel great (and that you’ll actually wear).

I overheard someone bemoaning the stressors of hosting a dinner party: the biggest pain point – what to serve. Find a menu that has a reasonable chance of satisfying a range of pallets and isn’t too much work to prepare. Then, simply prepare this over and over (maybe not to same guests, though they’re unlikely to remember or care). Based on years of feedback I now make either homemade Chicken Noodle Soup (for families with kids) or Chicken Mango Curry (adults only, something about the word curry seems to send shivers down children’s spines), crispy cornbread or biscuits in a cast iron pan, and fresh caramelized cinnamon coffee cake with ice cream. Delicious and done.

Last Christmas, instead of agonizing over the perfect gift for female teachers and friends, I bought them all the same thing – a boutique candle that had an intriguing wooden wick (that crackled as it burned) and smelled like a cinnamon pancake slathered in brown butter and maple syrup. Yes please! One decision, much reward. Could I have deliberated, Leslie Knope style, to ensure each person got the “perfect” gift? Sure, but a “perfect” gift is elusive and impossible to quantify. Instead, I decided once, saved hours of time spent considering, shopping, comparing prices…and found a great option that was more than good enough and moved on with life.

Go ahead. Try it.