How to put together your first smarthome (without getting overwhelmed)

Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile. Read more.

You’ve decked out your house with all of the coolest smarthome products, and now you’re moving. What should you do with all those sweet smarthome gadgets?

It’s easy to get comfortable and settle down in a new house (and you should!), but there’s always the possibility of moving in the future—even if you think you’re in your forever home. If you ever do decide to move, there are a whole host of things you have to do, but what about all your smarthome gear? There are a couple options at your disposal, as well as some things to keep in mind for the future.

Leave The Gear and Use It As a Negotiating Tool

Smarthome devices are expensive, and if you’ve decked out your entire house with all sorts of fun smarthome toys, that’s thousands of dollars of extra value added onto your house, which can make for a great negotiating tool when it comes time to sell.

Of course, it really depends on the buyer and whether or not they’re even interested in smarthome devices in the first place. But if so, you may have the upper hand when it comes time to negotiate the final price for your crib, and there are several different ways you can handle it.

The easiest way would be to negotiate a specific amount of cash that you would want from the seller in exchange for all your smarthome gear, or you could just include it in the price of the house. Be prepared to provide an itemized list of every smarthome device, and don’t be surprised if the buyer wants to negotiate each device one by one.

Keep in mind, though, that using your smarthome devices as a negotiating tool really only works if the buyer is even interested in all that stuff in the first place. If you have a buyer who could care less, you either have to take the loss or just uninstall everything and bring it with you to your new house.

Take It All With You

The last thing you probably want to think about when selling your house is taking the time to undo all that hard work that you did installing your smarthome devices, but if you couldn’t come up with an agreement with the seller, it’s probably for the best.

If you do this, you’ll still want to talk to the buyer about whether it’ll be your responsibility or their’s to replace any of the smarthome devices with their dumbhome counterparts. Switching back to regular light switches or thermostats are a good example of this.

Again, there are several ways you could negotiate this, such as having the buyer pay for the replacements and time to replace them, or just leaving it all bare for the buyer to take care of themselves. Do be aware, though, that in some area, it’s the seller’s responsibility to fix anything that is considered attached to the home. Leaving a heating and cooling system without a working thermostat might just not fly.

Always Have an Exit Strategy In Mind

When it all comes down to it, it’s best to always keep the future in mind and assume that you may have to uninstall some of your smarthome devices down the road.

When my wife and I were shopping for our first house, our real estate agent always told us to have an “exit strategy.” That is, since it’s our first house, it probably won’t be our last, so it’s important that we do things to the house to improve its resale value once we decide to move on to a better house in the future.

The same can be said when you’re installing all your smarthome devices, albeit in a different sense. For example, when you’re installing your smart thermostat, smart light switches, or anything else for that matter, always ask yourself questions like: “How can I make it easier for myself or the next homeowner when this might need to be uninstalled?”

And if you’re drilling holes into the wall to run cable for cameras or other stuff, it’s always a good idea to keep it as clean and up to code as possible in case you or the future owner of the house decides to remove any of those things—the last thing you want to do is scramble to fix a mess you created in order appease the inspector when you sell your house.

It’s also probably a good idea to save any of the old components—like dumb switches or thermostats—so that you can reinstall them in the future rather than buying new ones.

Make Things Easier for Yourself from the Start

I know it can be tempting to change out all of your light switches with nifty smart versions and run hardwired security cameras all over your house, but there are other options out there that are easier to install (and uninstall if that time comes).

For example, instead of wiring up smart light switches, you can opt for smart bulbs instead. They’re as easy to change out as a screwing in a light bulb—literally. They can be a bit more expensive than smart light switches, but when it comes time to move, it’s a lot less work you’ll have to do.

You can also use battery-powered security cameras instead of running power cables all over the place. Netgear’s Arlo Pro system is a great choice and the battery lasts a solid few months on a single charge.

In the end, it’s up to you how you want to put together your smarthome, and a lot of it depends on how handy you are with certain tasks (like wiring and various DIY stuff). Just keep in mind that you may not be living in that same house forever, and think about how your smarthome gear could be affected when it comes time to move out.

Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile. Read more.

The more smarthome products you pile onto your house, the more complicated it gets to integrate all of them together and seamlessly control them. If you’re in this situation, here are the best ways you can control all of your smarthome devices.

The Problem

Smarthome is still a very new and sometimes confusing area of technology, and there’s no single standard for integrating all of your smarthome gadgets so that you can control them from one simple interface.

The biggest problem is that you have all these smarthome devices set up in your house, each with its own unique app to control only that specific device. I currently have about ten smarthome apps organized inside a folder on my home screen, and if I want to adjust the thermostat and the lights, I need to open up two different apps to do that.

In a perfect world, you could control everything in your house from one app or interface. There’s currently no standard to manage that, but there are multiple ways to attack the problem. We’ll go over some of the best methods for bringing all of your smarthome devices together for quicker and easier control of everything.

Use a Voice Assistant

A great device for controlling all of your smarthome gadgets doesn’t even require using your thumbs and fingers. Instead, you can control everything with your voice by using Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri.

You can access these voice assistants on your phone, but your best bet is buying a dedicated device to handle all of your voice commands instead—something like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple’s HomePod, which will be released later this year.

You can integrate most (if not all) of your smarthome devices with your voice assistant, and then control them with your voice instead of a touch screen interface, by saying things like “turn the bedroom lights on”, “set the thermostat to 75”, and “lock all the doors.”

Of course, using your voice is still pretty new for some users and isn’t quite mainstream just yet, but if you don’t like interfacing with a touch screen to begin with, voice is a good route to go.

Get a Smarthome Hub

If you enjoy being able to control all of your smarthome devices from your phone, then that’s great. However, having to deal with all of those different apps for different devices can be cumbersome (as explained above), and having just one app to control everything is probably more your speed.

Fear not, because that’s what smarthome hubs are here to do. Not only do they allow for smarthome devices to integrate with each other to perform all sorts of complex tasks, but you can use the hub’s app to control multiple devices in one interface. Instead of having to opening up your smart thermostat app to set the temperature, and then opening up your smart lights app to adjust the lights, you can do all of that within the same app.

Plus, you can connect different remotes (like this Z-Wave remote) to the hub and assign its buttons to different tasks that you frequently perform with your smarthome devices, making it all even easier to control.

We’ve tried out multiple consumer-friendly smarthome hubs in the past, including Wink, SmartThings, and Insteon. All three can do the job, but we found Wink to be the best. Of course, you can also use a software platform like Apple’s HomeKit, but the list of products compatible with HomeKit is way shorter than the list of products that work with most smarthome hubs.

Use a Dedicated Tablet

If you want to take things up a notch, you can use a dedicated touch screen device to control all of your smarthome gear instead of always relying on your phone.

Repurposing a tablet as your smarthome control device gives you a bit more freedom and allows you to customize the home screen to cater towards smarthome control. You can place all of your smarthome apps on the home screen, and even use shortcuts and widgets for different things (if it’s an Android tablet, that is).

You don’t even have to spend that much money on a tablet if you don’t already have one. You can grab an Amazon Fire tablet for pretty cheap and do a few things to it to get rid of the awful FireOS interface.

From there, you can leave it somewhere always plugged in and powered on so you can quickly control something with ease. If you’re really handy, you can even install a recessed outlet and mount the tablet on the wall to give you a really nice smarthome control system that looks like it fits right in with the house.

Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile. Read more.

If you want to make your home a little smarter, but aren’t sure where exactly to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best starter smarthome gadgets, and how to find ones that will work well together in your house (or apartment).

Smarthome is more accessible than ever. Once upon a time, you either needed to install a complex X10 system, or you needed an expensive, dealer-installed whole-house system like Savant or URC. And while all of those are still options, most people are opting for a more user-friendly, wallet-friendly piecemeal approach: buying individual smarthome gadgets from tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Samsung, and integrating them together. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.

Ask Yourself: What Do You Want to Do?

Before you start completely decking out your house with all sorts of smarthome gear, it’s important to establish why you want a smart home in the first place. Is it for convenience? Then you might want devices that support voice control through something like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Do you wish everything was automated? Then you’ll probably narrow down products with good automation features or IFTTT support. Do you want good home security? Then you’ll want a line of products with sensors and sirens. Maybe you want a bit of everything.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of things to look for as you shop. Not every smarthome product works with other smarthome products, so as you build your home, you’ll want to pick ones that support the devices and services you want.

For example, if you want voice control for everything, then the Amazon Echo is the “glue” that holds your entire smarthome together, and you’ll want to only pick products that work with the Echo. Or, if you’re an automation nut, search for products that support IFTTT. If everyone in your house is an iPhone user, and you want to control all of your devices with Siri (or through the Home app), you’ll want to make sure as many products as possible are compatible with HomeKit.

Luckily, it’s easy to narrow down products by which standard they support. Not only can you look for the proper badge on the packaging, or look at its website for compatibility, but many devices and services have pages with official lists of products they support, which can instantly narrow down your search:

Once you decide which services will be central to your smarthome experience, it’ll be a lot easier to decide which products to buy.

The Best Products to Start You Off

When you begin to finally buy your first products, things can feel overwhelming—where do you even start? Here are some of our favorite smarthome products perfect for beginners:

  • An Amazon Echo or Google Home (for getting information and controlling your other devices)
  • A smart lighting system like Philips Hue
  • A Nest Thermostat or Ecobee3 Thermostat
  • Some Belkin WeMo Switches (for controlling anything that plugs into an outlet)
  • A Nest Cam or Canary Camera (for security or keeping an eye on your pets)
  • A SkyBell HD or Ring Doorbell (for security and knowing who’s at the door)

Most of these products connect directly to your Wi-Fi network with no separate smarthome hub or device needed, which makes things easy and perfect for beginners. The process usually consists of plugging in the device, downloading and opening up the device’s companion app on your phone, and then connecting the device to your Wi-Fi network via the app. From there, you’re ready to go.

The only exception in that list is Philips Hue, which is a bit more complicated since there are multiple components to deal with, including a central hub (although you don’t absolutely need the hub). However, they’re pretty easy to set up—once you have the hub ready to go, it’s a matter of screwing in the bulbs and letting them pair with the hub. This makes Philips Hue perhaps the easiest hub-based system to set up.

Once you’re familiar with some of the more basic devices on that list, you can get an all-around smarthome hub that supports all sorts of other niche devices. The most popular options are Wink and SmartThings, which allow you to connect different sensors, switches, and hundreds of other Z-Wave and ZigBee devices, making them great to perform all sorts of automation tasks or use as a DIY security system of sorts. Just make sure that the sensors and other devices you buy for it are supported by that hub—even though Z-Wave and ZigBee are open protocols, manufacturers put their own proprietary twist into their hubs.

Also keep in mind that if you’re renting, you may not be able to install everything you want, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask your landlord about any limits when it comes to smarthome devices.

Put It All Together

So you’ve bought a few devices, and maybe you’re even controlling them with a voice assistant or an app on your phone. But that’s not everything smarthome can do. Once you have everything set up and you’re familiar with the basics, you can then dig deep and truly bring out the best in your smarthome products by integrating them all together.

In other words, you can use services like Stringify and IFTTT to automate a number of tasks all at once. For instance, you can use Stringify to turn off a set of lights in your house all at once, but keep a certain set turned on—something you can’t do natively with Philips Hue.

Furthermore, if you have a smarthome hub set up, you can connect your Wi-Fi-based devices to it and set up all sorts of automation tasks, like turning your thermostat down whenever you turn off your lights, or having a certain light turn on when there’s motion detected at your front porch. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Where to Go From Here

With so many smarthome products filling up your house, you might think you’ve reached the end of adding all you can, but believe it or not, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

After you have all of the main stuff set up, you could look into other smarthome devices that are a bit off the beaten path, so to speak—products that you may not have thought about at first.

For instance, you could grab a Logitech Harmony Hub to be able to turn your TV on and off automatically, as well as equip your windows with some smart blinds or curtains. If you’re really into it, you can even get a smart sprinkler system to make your lawn look as luscious as ever.

Don’t Forget About “Dumb” Automation Products, Either

As you shop around, remember that smarthome isn’t just about fancy Wi-Fi devices that you can control from your phone. There are also plenty of simple and cheap products that you can buy pretty much anywhere that allow you to dip your toes into smarthome without it getting overly complicated at all.

Things like outlet timers, light bulb motion sensors, remote-controlled outlets, and standalone door and window sensors are cheap and easy products to set up, and they can tack on a lot of added functionality inside your home.

It’s a very frugal route to go, but it’s also a great way to get your feet wet and see if smarthome technology is right for you without having to spend a lot of money to find out. And who knows, maybe the cheap and basic devices are all you’ll ever want.

Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile. Read more.

The initial appeal of smarthome devices can be one of intrigue. Furthermore, these products can do a lot more than you might think from first glance.

When most people think of how you control smarthome devices and what you can do with them, they most likely envision the ability to control things from their smartphones or using their voice with Alexa or Google Assistant.

All of this is true, and it’s certainly the basis of controlling smarthome devices, but there’s also a lot more you can do with this stuff. Let’s go over a few cool ways you can improve your smarthome experience.

Automating Devices

Using your phone to control things like the thermostat and your lights is pretty cool, especially when you can do it while you’re away from home. But the real superpower is not having to control them manually at all.

In an ideal smarthome, everything is automated—devices control themselves based on some parameters that you’ve set up ahead of time. There are several different ways you can automate everything, including by motion, scheduling, geofencing, or triggering by a separate action.

You can even automate stuff in your house without spending a lot of money on actual smarthome devices—things like outlet timers, remote outlet switches, and light socket motion sensors are incredibly affordable but can provide you with a great glimpse into the smarthome world.

Link Devices Together

Another great feature of smarthome devices is that you can usually link them together to have multiple things happen at once.

For example, instead of having to manually control your lights, thermostat, and other devices individually, you can initiate a single command and have everything happen at once. For example, you could set up a single routine that configures everything the way you want it when you leave your home or head to bed for the night.

Some devices natively support integration with other products, but you can use a service like IFTTT or Stringify if you want even more flexibility. With these services, you can link together smarthome devices that you wouldn’t normally be able to link together and have them work together to do certain things with a single command, like blinking your lights when your Alexa timer goes off or turning on the lights when your Wi-Fi cam detects motion.

Use If/When Commands

This is similar to the previous section; only it doesn’t necessarily need to rely on devices themselves. Some smarthome devices allow you to control them using various metrics, like the time of day, the temperature outside, the temperature set on the thermostat, and so on.

With IFTTT, for example, you can have your smart thermostat automatically shut off when the outside temperature reaches a certain point. So if you have your AC on, but it’s 65 degrees outside (which is definitely cool enough without AC), you can have the thermostat turn off, and even send you a notification telling you to open the windows.

Similarly, you could have a porch light automatically turn on and off based on when the sun sets and rises. Not every smarthome device can do this, but at least with Wink, it will get your location and figure out when the sun sets and rises in your area. From there, it will turn on and off your smart bulb in your porch light accordingly.

In the end, there are a lot more ways to control smarthome devices than you might think—they’re not just devices that you can control from your phone, but rather control a different number of ways. Heck, sometimes there’s no controlling you have to do at all. Just set some parameters and let it automate everything for you, which is really where smarthome tech shines in the first place.

Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile. Read more.

A hub for this and a hub for that. When you dive into the smarthome market, you’re inevitably going to end up with a handful of smarthome hubs taking over your house. It’s annoying, but it’s probably not going to get any better.

Don’t get me wrong; these hubs are an important component to any smart home and they have purpose. They make it a lot easier to manage a ton of devices when you end up having a sensor for every door and window, and a smart light switch in every room. But it gets a little ridiculous when so many smarthome products not only require a hub to function, but require their own proprietary hub.

There Are Agreed-Upon Wireless Standards, but It Doesn’t Matter

While some companies do create their own wireless protocol, it’s not a super widespread practice. There are agreed-upon standards already in place. Z-Wave and ZigBee are the two most widely-accepted wireless protocols used in the smarthome world, and a huge chunk of smarthome devices use one or the other (or both). This alone should make you believe that connecting smarthome devices together is pretty straightforward, but that’s far from the truth.

As I mentioned in the past when discussing Z-Wave and ZigBee, many smarthome companies add a bit of their own proprietary nonsense to their products, even if they end up utilizing Z-Wave or ZigBee, which makes it difficult to know if one device will connect to another, even if they use the same exact protocol.

For example, this Z-Wave garage door tilt sensor from Monoprice won’t work with the Wink Hub, even though the hub fully supports Z-Wave devices. Why? Who knows.

Furthermore, the ever-popular Philips Hue lighting system uses ZigBee, which numerous smarthome hubs support. Yet Philips requires its own “Hue Bridge” in order to set up and use the bulbs. On top of that, third-party support for other ZigBee smart bulbs is limited. And the same goes for Belkin’s long-gone WeMo Link hub—it used to work with any ZigBee bulb, but eventually was updated to only work with a very small list of pre-approved bulbs.

I’m sure this is largely due to some of these companies not wanting to put up with any weird inconsistencies when you add third-party devices and mix them in with their own devices, but it’s still pretty frustrating.

Every Company Wants to Corner the Market

So why are we in this chaotic mess? Because by making their products proprietary (even though the protocols in use are open), Smarthome companies can lock you into their ecosystem. You already have their hub, so you’re more likely to buy other products from them that work with that hub.

Several companies are doing a “great job” at just that, including Insteon. They sell their own smarthome hub, but it only works with devices that they make and sell, which use a proprietary wireless protocol that goes by company’s name. So if you decide to go with Insteon and want to add more door sensors in the future, say goodbye to brands like Monoprice, Aeotec, and Ecolink (all of which make solid Z-Wave devices), and get yourself familiar with Insteon-only sensors.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything particularly wrong about having a single, proprietary ecosystem in your entire house. It can be more reliable and easier to manage, for sure, and it’s perhaps the best way to keep smarthome hub clutter to a minimum (more on that in the next section). However, the problem is that should Insteon (or whatever proprietary platform you go with) go out of business, you’d have to replace your entire smarthome setup. Whereas if you had (for example) a Wink Hub with a bunch of third-party devices connected to it, you would just need to get a different hub if Wink were to ever go under.

Plus, if you ever want to expand to more devices in the future, you’ll have limited choices on what you can do if you have a proprietary setup. So keep that in mind.

So How Can I Avoid a Smarthome Hub Mess?

If you want to deck out your house in smarthome gear, it’ll be hard to completely streamline the hub situation. The good news is that there are at least some things you can do to keep your smarthome clutter to a minimum.

Namely, it’s a good idea to have one main smarthome hub that you can connect everything to, preferably one that has a huge support list for a large number of devices. But that still means you’ll need to be extra vigilant when you go to buy sensors, light switches, bulbs, and more—you’ll need to make sure that your hub supports them.

With that in mind, be careful with some products that say they work with certain smarthome hubs. That’s true and all, but they still may require their own hub. For example, Lutron Caseta light switches can link to the SmartThings hub, but the switches still require their own hub to function—the SmartThings integration is merely for the benefit of controlling the switches from the SmartThings app.

And that’s another piece of advice to keep in mind. If you want the least number of hubs in your smarthome setup, try to stay away from products that require their own hub no matter what, like Lutron Caseta or Philips Hue. Both of these product lines are fantastic and I personally recommend them, but they require their own hubs. If that’s not your jam, perhaps aim for Z-Wave light switches (like this one from GE), or smart bulbs that don’t need a hub (or that can connect to third-party hubs).

In the end, though, it’s fairly difficult to achieve a perfectly-streamlined smarthome system right now. You can get close, but it does limit your choices.

We talk a lot about automating manual processes on the Zapier blog. It’s kind of our thing.

But something we’ve realized over the years is that an automation mindset is something that takes time to develop. People don’t always know where to start. Some don’t even know why they should automate in the first place. Even for people who’ve automated a task or two, it’s a big leap to go from automating their Slack status to overhauling their sales process with automation. What if something goes wrong?

I turned to two Zapier Experts—Zapier-certified consultants who help businesses automate their work—to learn their strategies for turning a manual process into an automated one.

Need help with more complex automation? Zapier Experts are certified consultants, freelancers, and agencies that can help you do more with automation. Visit our Experts directory to help you find the right Expert to work with.

Steps to follow

Start with an outline

Before you start tinkering with an existing process, both of our Experts recommend you start by outlining how it currently works.

“I ask clients to tell me the story of their users,” said Paul Kortman, founder of automation agency Connex Digital . “How do their users come into their sphere of influence and what is the flow from there?”

An old-fashioned paper-and-pen outline can help you break down an existing process, step-by-step. Start with the trigger—the event that starts your process, such as a new purchase in your Shopify store—and go from there.

“If you can do that first bit on paper or in a spreadsheet—map the start, what happens in the middle, and the end—then it’ll be much easier to go into the Zapier editor,” Andrew Davison, founder of Luhhu , says.

Audit your workflow for inefficiencies

Next, it’s time to comb through your outline and highlight areas where there are inefficiencies. Copying and pasting lead information into a spreadsheet is a process. So is automatically adding new leads from a form into a database. The difference: One is efficient and one’s not.

As you create your outline, here are a few areas to pay attention to:

Time-wasting tasks

For businesses trying to scale, inefficient processes can get in the way of that potential growth. Time is precious. And the extra five minutes it takes to manually update a database, for example, will add up as you keep doing it.

“I try to have people tell me where they’re spending their time in these processes, how frequently they do it, and how long it takes,” Paul says. “The more we automate, the more knowledge workers move to higher-level thinking and tasks.”

Risks for human mistakes

Humans can do amazing things. We can also make really silly mistakes. We forget important calendar days or tasks we’re supposed to do.

In business, those human errors can have major consequences. For example, losing a lead because you forgot to respond to them within a certain timeframe. Automation can pick up the slack where humans fall short.

“If someone tells me, ‘I keep telling Susan to do it this way and she does it wrong every time!’ That’s often a good sign we can automate it,” says Paul.

And if Susan’s a pro at converting prospects and closing deals, automating a process that’s giving her trouble allows her to spend time on what she does best.

Repeat data entry

As you review your outline, ask yourself why you’re sending information to a particular app for each step.

“If data is going to an intermediate spot that it doesn’t need to, it’s always good to cut the number of links in a chain,” Andrew says. “There needs to be a single point of truth.”

For example, Andrew and Paul often see clients using spreadsheets to transfer information to their Customer Relationship Management tool, but then don’t use that spreadsheet for anything else.

“A lot of times people do things because it worked and there was a reason for it at one point,” says Paul. “If the information needs to go straight into the CRM, then let’s skip [the spreadsheet] and make it more efficient.”

Andrew also encourages his clients to simplify as much as possible, thinking about processes as a flow of information instead of disparate places to park information. Refer back to your process outline and identify specific roles for each step.

“If everything starts at A, everything goes to B, and everything gets updated at C, the process stays more rigid,” Andrew explains.

Some tasks are perfect for automation. Learn how to identify when to automate a task.

Review the decision points

Now that you’ve created your outline and marked it up, review any steps where a choice has to be made.

Andrew and Paul say that often, people assume there are points in a process that requires a human to make a decision. However, computers are pretty good at making decisions based on conditions you set in advance.

“When it comes to those decision moments, it doesn’t have to have human intervention if it’s a defined thing,” Paul says. “For example, ‘if a project is worth over $50,000, it has to go here. If the project is under $250,000, it goes here.’ That’s a decision tree.”

While some decisions need human intervention—such as getting a signature or final approval— there may be steps within that process you can automate to expedite things. For example, perhaps when a deal has reached a particular stage, you can automate an email requesting a contract signature.

Still intimidated? Start with something simple.

Now that your process is completely outlined, it’s time to create your Zap—the automated workflow you create with Zapier.

Andrew recommends not to overthink it and just dive into the Zap editor. “If you can do that first bit on paper or in a spreadsheet, then it’s much easier to [create a workflow] in Zapier.”

Start with your trigger—the event that starts a Zap—and then take it step by step.

“Go with the simplest version of the process and build out from there,” Andrew says. “It’s super easy to build that first Zap.”

Need a simple place to start? Here are 5 things you should automate today

He also warns against perfectionist tendencies when automating a manual process.

“I’m sure there’s some people that love to see sort of big-picture perfection in what they built and it can probably be quite hard to just zoom into a specific part,” he says. “Try not to do that.”

Once you automate a manual process with Zapier, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve on it later on. As your business grows, your needs change, and your automation skills increase, you’ll spot opportunities to clean up your processes even further.

Stay flexible

It’s helpful to bring a beginner’s mind to any new Zap you set up—and to not get frustrated when things don’t work as expected.

“Problems will happen,” Andrew warns. “When Zaps go wrong or app APIs go wrong, that can be intimidating.”

However, he urges people not to panic when this occurs. Instead, put on your problem-solving hat.

“Processes are living,” he says. “Be iterative and try to fix things as quickly as possible. When Zapier is built in your process, think about the changes you might be making and the downstream consequences.”

And when you can’t quite figure out a solution? Don’t be afraid to call for reinforcements, like a Zapier Expert or the Zapier support team.

New to Zapier? It’s a tool that helps anyone connect apps and automate workflows—without any complicated code. Sign up for free .

When you’re overwhelmed by clutter and mess all over your house, it’s hard to know where to begin cleaning it up. These simple steps will help you take back control of your home today!

I know the feeling. I honestly do.

I know how it feels to look around at your messy house, and even your life, and say the word “impossible.” I know what it’s like to think there is too much to do and not enough time…or energy…or arms. I know the discouragement of waking up full of ambition for finally tackling the out-of-control toys and the stacks of dishes, only to have your plans derailed by a fussy baby or a disobedient child.

I know. I’ve been there. Many days, I’m still there in some shape or form.

Sure, if you were to stop by my house this afternoon, you might think it’s lovely and clean, but I can see the piles all over the desk that drive my husband absolutely crazy (although he’d never say so). And I can’t forget the mess that hides behind a certain bedroom door where there’s barely a path to get from the bed to the closet.

I know the shelves I promised to straighten up months ago, last season’s clothes I never put away, the sticky spot that’s been on the kitchen floor for at least a week.

Sometimes it seems like everyone in the world must have their lives put together.

And color coded.

And stacked in cute little bins.

Everyone except for you and me, that is. No, we feel just plain overwhelmed by homemaking.

We really want our houses clean and our stacks of mail sorted and filed away, but it’s just out of our grasp. We have every good intention of getting things done, but then we’re so weary and overwhelmed by clutter and mess that we make the choice to eat chocolate today and attack the work tomorrow instead.

And we spend one more day feeling like a homemaking failure. See? I told you I know.

At some point we have to decide that enough is enough. We must stop making excuses and then guilting ourselves into inaction. We have to quit the dramatic swings between comparing ourselves to others one moment and being satisfied with our own laziness the next. We don’t have to live like this. We really, truly don’t.

How to Clean Up Your Messy House

Your homes didn’t fall apart in a day, and it won’t be glued back together in one, either. That’s alright. Every step you take toward dealing with your overwhelming homemaking issues – big or small – will be one step better than things were when you started.

One of the best “first steps” you can take is to challenge yourself to turn off the phone, the computer, the iPad, and the television for one hour each day. This one hour challenge will sting a little, kind of like ripping off a band-aid, but it’s amazing what can be accomplished when you aren’t checking Facebook or replying to email. I double-dog dare you to give it a try.

Also, you need to keep in mind that what someone else’s home looks like does not matter. Your husband will not be more or less blessed because of how clean Suzy Homemaker’s kitchen counters look in those pics on her blog. And your children will not feel neglected because their toys aren’t organized just like that magazine article described.

Everyone lives with different situations, limitations, and starting points. Don’t let all those perfect images bully you into thinking it’s hopeless. That’s just a lie.

Still, even with the best attitude and resolve, the mountain of work in front of you can be daunting. Catching up is always harder than keeping up. This means the path to getting your homes into the proper condition won’t be easy, but maintaining that level of clean will be much, much easier. Trust me on this one!

Where to Begin When You’re Overwhelmed by Clutter and Mess:

1. Take care of time sensitive issues.

  • Check for any appointments or activities you may have forgotten.
  • Look for bills that need paid.
  • Think about other things with a time associated, such as library books needing returned, dry cleaning waiting for pick-up, or the permission slip begging to be signed.

2. Focus on food and clothes first.

  • Figure out what you’ll feed everyone today, and then make a meal plan for the rest of the week.
  • Decide what day you’ll go grocery shopping and start jotting down a list.
  • Gather the laundry and work at it until you see the end in sight.
  • Don’t worry about anything else until you can feed everyone and have enough of the laundry washed, dried, and folded so there will only be one or two loads each day from here on out.

3. Make a simple morning routine.

  • Follow the steps for making a simple morning checklistlist that works for you.
  • You can also grab these Simple Everyday To-Do Lists right here if you’d like to follow my Morning To Do List.
  • Start small and don’t worry if the list takes most of the day instead of just the morning. It will get easier with time!

4. Make a simple afternoon and evening routine.

  • Make a list that includes only what must be done to keep things running smoothly (such as finishing the laundry, making dinner, washing dishes, etc.)
  • Get comfortable with your basic routines before adding additional tasks. Even a few chores in the morning and afternoon will be a huge improvement!
  • Don’t get discouraged if it takes a couple weeks for your morning and afternoon routines to become habit. Keep working and you’ll become more and more efficient at completing the tasks.

5. Choose one special task to do each day.

  • Pick one weekly cleaning task to do each day, such as running the vacuum or dusting.
  • Or, set a timer and work on one area of your home that needs cleaned or decluttered.
  • Don’t worry about perfection, just do something!

The company my husband works for has this motto: “Better today than we were yesterday; better tomorrow than we are today.” You don’t have to feel continually overwhelmed by the clutter and mess in your home. Keep working to make it just a little better today than it was yesterday and better tomorrow than it is today. You can do it!

If you’ve already decided to build your own home, you probably don’t want to end up with a one-size-fits all cookie cutter. The best part of building your own home is making it your own, and that in and of itself is priceless for aspiring homeowners nationwide.

This is probably the first time you’re finding yourself in the position of planning and building a house, and it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by all the minute details, terminology, and bureaucracy involved. All too often prospective homeowners lose sight of the real reason they chose to build a new home in the first place – making it a unique living space with the perfect features and comforts for them. To give you a bit of inspiration, we’ve put together five of our favorite picks for cool things to include when building a house.

Heated Floors

Cold feet are no fun, especially when you’re stepping out of a nice hot bath. But are heated floors really worth it? Heated floors are a surprisingly economical heating solution, saving you an average of 15% on your heating costs. Radiant heating systems such as heated floors also require very little maintenance when compared to other heating methods – simply install during the build and forget about them for at least a few decades.

Smart Home

When you’re building a house, you should focus on making your house work for you. Do away with all those little inconveniences throughout the day: waiting for your house to warm up when you get home, forgetting the lights on when you leave a room, getting out of bed to adjust the thermostat, getting up to check who’s at the door – all easily remedied with a smart home system. Smart home systems allow you to easily and conveniently manage your home from your smartphone, even when you’re away.

High Ceilings

High ceilings are a foolproof way of making your space feel brighter, inviting, and roomy. Adding as little as a foot or two to the standard 9’ ceilings will make your home instantly feel more spacious without actually adding any square footage. High ceilings also allow for larger windows that invite in plenty of natural light, giving your home a bright and spacious feel. Keep in mind, however, that the higher your ceilings are the more space you will have to heat or cool, so consult with your architect on what the ideal ceiling height would be for your climate and budget.

Outdoor Outlets

Make your outdoor living area as convenient as your indoor one by installing a few outdoor outlets. A few strategically placed weatherproof outlets come in handy when you’re enjoying a lovely afternoon in your backyard and want to charge your phone or use your laptop. They’re also super handy for when you’re entertaining and make outdoor gatherings a breeze! Plug in a mini fridge, a speaker, or a portable fan and keep you and your guests happy without worrying about someone tripping over extension cords.

Built-In Cabinetry

Convenient and classy, bespoke storage is a great way to get the most out of your new home build. Bespoke storage units are suitable for every room in the house, and allow you to use your storage space as efficiently as possible. From a built-in library and media console combo in the living room to an elegant bespoke linen closet in the master bathroom, built-in storage instantly upgrades and organizes any room. Think where you could use extra storage in your current home and consider if incorporating built-in storage into these rooms in your new home could be a good idea.

Deck Installation Guide

What does it take to install a deck? Find out with our series of deck installation tutorial videos and downloadable guides. Learn the basics of measuring, scoping and installing your decking and railing, and go from dream to do. And if you’re still feeling overwhelmed, consider hiring a TrexPro® to build a deck for you.

Your Complete Guide to Trex Decking

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HGTV, HGTV Smart Home, HGTV Smart Home Giveaway and their associated logos are trademarks of Discovery or its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved. Photos ©2022 Discovery and its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved.

HGTV, HGTV Dream Home, HGTV Dream Home Giveaway and their associated logos are trademarks of Discovery or its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved. Photos ©2021 Discovery and its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved.

HGTV, HGTV Smart Home, HGTV Smart Home Giveaway and their associated logos are trademarks of Discovery or its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved. Photos ©2022 Discovery and its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved.

HGTV, HGTV Dream Home, HGTV Dream Home Giveaway and their associated logos are trademarks of Discovery or its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved. Photos ©2021 Discovery and its subsidiaries and affiliates. All rights reserved.

Essential oils can be kinda overwhelming at first, huh?

Not only are there a million-and-one different oils to choose from, but then comes the question of accessories… Oh, the accessories.

Two of the top questions I get are, “What oils should I start with?” and “What else do I need to go along with them?”

Today I’m going to introduce you to my most-used oils, along with the tools that you’ll want to have as you dive into the world of essential oils.

The Oils You Just Gotta Have:

It’s easy to go cross-eyed with all the different varieties of essential oils out there. I remember the feeling of wanting all of them when I started, but knowing my budget would definitely not allow that… So then I was left with the process of picking out the ones I wanted… Lemon, ok sure, that sounds familiar. But what the heck was Vetiver, and did I need that one right away?

My Four Most-Reached-For Oils

  • Lemon – Lemon is the queen of homemade cleaning products. It’s an incredible deodorizer, and can cut grease (and crayon marks!) like no other. Add it to your DIY Protective blends, carpet cleaning projects, or homemade laundry detergent.
  • Lavender – When in doubt, use Lavender… It is also well-loved for its ability to support healthy skin, ease stressful situations, and promote relaxation. It’s one of the main ingredients in my Homemade After-Sun Spray.
  • Peppermint – Peppermint is a tasty addition to homemade milkshakes and hot cocoa, but it’s capable of a whole lot more than that. Whenever I have a spot of tension in my body, Peppermint is the first thing I reach for. It’s also my favorite for supporting digestive health.
  • Melaleuca – Melaleuca (aka Tea Tree Oil) is a really “trendy” oil right now, but incredibly useful. Melaleuca is renowned for its cleansing effect on the skin, promotes healthy immune function, and protects against environmental and seasonal threats.

A couple of others that are handy:

  • Frankincense – Frankincense, of Biblical fame, is a powerful oil. You really can’t go wrong reaching for this one, no matter what is ailing you. It’s wonderful for skin and emotional support as well.

Carrier Oil

(This post contains affiliate links)

Carrier oils are a must-have if you plan to use essential oils for anything other than homemade cleaning products. A carrier oil is simply a liquid vegetable oil of some sort that is used to dilute the very concentrated essential oils.

I usually pour a little carrier oil in my palm, mix in a drop or two of EO, and then apply.

My favorite carrier oil is Sweet Almond oil. Other options would include olive oil (kinda greasy, but it works), avocado oil, apricot oil, and fractionated coconut oil.

You can usually find these at your local health food store, or Amazon carries them.

*Fractionated coconut oil is simply coconut oil that has had the long chain fatty acids removed from it. The benefit of FCO is that it stays liquid at room temp, and is a lot handier to use for essential oil applications than regular coconut oil, which is usually solid at room temp.

Use a carrier oil if you are applying a “hot” essential oil like Oregano or Peppermint, as well as well you are applying essential oils to a child or someone with sensitive skin.

A Good Reference Book

If you are looking for a book that is not brand-specific, try The Complete Book Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood. And a couple of handy animal reference books are Essential Oils for Horses by Carole Faith and Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals by Kristen Leigh Bell.


Yes, it’s possible to enjoy essential oils without a diffuser, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I have 3 diffusers in my home and I adore them! I use them constantly and can’t imagine my essential oil life without them. This post has 10 of my fav diffuser blends.

Extra Bottles

Once you get your EOs, you’ll want to start playing around with blends and mixes of your own. It’s always handy to have a few extra glass bottles hanging around. I save all of my empties and reuse them for my DIY blends (use a bit of Lemon oil to remove the label). You can also grab glass spray bottles and extra small bottles at AromaTools. Choosing dark colored bottles (like the amber or cobalt blue ones) is advised to help shield the oils inside from excess light. (I’m not affiliated with AromaTools- I just order from them a lot.)

I keep a lot of sample bottles on hand…

  • Keep 1/4 dram sized sample bottles on hand if you plan to share oils with friends and family.
  • 5-15 mL bottles are useful when you are mixing up your own blends.
  • I like the 4 oz glass spritzer bottles for things like Sunburn Spray or room spritzers.
  • Roller bottles make the topical application of oils super easy. I like to place a few drops of Lavender in a roller bottle, and then fill it up the rest of the way with carrier oil. Prairie Boy and Prairie Girl love me to swipe it on their feet before bedtime.
  • If you end up with more empty bottles than you need, here are 15 ideas for using empty essential oil bottles.


The biggest complaint I hear from my essential oil team members? Sometimes it’s hard to measure out drops from the tiny glass bottles without spilling. This is where glass droppers come in handy. Sometimes you can find droppers that screw right onto the bottle, which makes mixing and blending even easier.

A Notebook

You won’t be sorry if you start keeping a essential oil notebook right off the bat. Use it to write down notes about your favorite blends, ideas you might find in your internet travels, and tips for which oils work best for your family members. You might think you’ll remember what you mixed up last week for your great-aunt Martha, but trust me, you’ll forget.

Interested in learning why I’ve stuck with the same brand of oils for over three years? GO HERE.

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Do you really know your money? You would be surprised how many people don’t know anything about their all-important relationship with their finances. You may think you’re pretty financially savvy, but if you can’t answer these five questions you may need to get better acquainted with your money.

1. Monthly Income

This may seem very basic, but more often than not people can’t answer how much money comes into their home. That means knowing the gross and net income. Almost everyone knows what their salary is, roughly, but when it comes to pre- and post-tax income per month, many people have no clue. Look at your next paystub and take note of both your gross (pretax) and net (post-tax and other deductions) pay. This knowledge really comes in handy when putting together your budget.

2. Monthly Expenses

This one goes hand-in-hand with knowing your monthly income. While knowing how much you have coming in each month is important, it’s equally important to know how much you have going out. Get a grip on your expenses. Take the time to write down everything you spend your money on in a given month. You’d be surprised what expenses you have over and above your rent/mortgage, car, utility and insurance payments. An understanding of your expenses can help you identify areas where you’re overspending and can reveal new ways for you to save. If you want to have a well thought out and effective budget, knowing both your income and expenses is pivotal. Without this knowledge, you won’t know what you can (and can’t) afford and you could easily spend beyond your means.

3. Net Worth

You may think that a ‘net worth’ is only for wealthy people. Not so fast: Net worth, simply put, is the difference between what you own and what you owe. This begins with your bank account, income and expenses. Assets such as investments, cars and real estate all factor in to your net worth as well. Knowing your net worth provides you with a straightforward financial snapshot. If your number is positive, you can give yourself a pat on the back. If it’s negative, you might want to take a closer look at your finances so you can diagnose the problem, and create a plan to get you into the positive.

4. Debt-to-Income Ratio

While your net worth compares all of your assets to what you owe, a debt-to-income ratio shows you specifically how much debt you have compared to how much money you’re making. The first step to figuring this out is to pull up your credit report (to get the most accurate estimate pull it from all three bureaus, in case there is a debt that is reported to one and not the others; also make sure there are no errors in how your debts are reported). Once you’ve checked your free annual credit reports, you can monitor for changes to your credit reports every month by getting a free credit report summary on Tally up your monthly debt payments, and divide them by your gross monthly income (money before taxes and other deductions). As you could have guessed, the lower this number is the better off you’ll be. Ideally you want to keep that number below 35%.

5. Your Invested Income

You may know the number in your savings account, (this is invested income, too, despite the small return) — but do you know if you’re making the most of your money? Ask yourself what your money is doing for you. Is it sitting in the bank to use for a rainy day, or is it working to make you more money? Work with a trusted adviser to come up with a plan. Even if you’re just starting out with your first job, wrangle your money and make it start working for you. If you already have some investments, ask yourself if you know what the money is invested in, not just the old, “oh, it’s in an IRA.” Know who manages it, what you earn, what the money is invested in and what kind of returns you get. The younger you are, the more freedom you have to make that young money work hard to earn you the most possible future money.

Finally, your money should be in line with your future goals. Know what those goals are and the compatibility with your money. Saving money alone is not enough when it comes to having good financial health. You have to make sure you’re paying attention to what amount of your savings is for what, and whether you’re not on track for the big things.

When it comes to managing your money, it’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t really know your money. Between knowing all the terms and numbers, you can quickly lose track and get discouraged. However, if you take the time get to know your money and how it impacts your life, it’ll be easy to see that financial health comes down to being in the know. So the next time you want to have a close relationship with your money situation, take a deep breath, and jump in as if you were interviewing your money for a job … to work for you.