A Personal Code.

By: Jen Shoop

*Photograph above by Claire Harvey. Wearing this dress.

I was charmed by this recent post titled “Life Hacks,” in which writer Aja Frost collates a miscellany of little lessons learned the hard way — e.g., “Take a picture of coat check stubs, dry cleaning tickets, etc. so that if you lose them (every time), you can still get your stuff,” and “If you need a new or renewed passport in a hurry, write to your congressperson; their office will expedite it.”

What are the little rules, hacks, and codes of personal conduct you, too, live by?

Here are a few of mine —

01. Have lots of small “nibbly bits” scattered in dishes around your home when guests are over. I find people are much less likely to tuck into a platter of cheese or a tray of snacks when it’s in the center of the room, difficult to access without making a big show of it! Related: pre-slice cheese (even the kinds you don’t think should be sliced) and generally avoid anything that requires a fork and knife when you’re entertaining in a living space (versus in a seated dinner). Make it easy for people to serve themselves.

02. Never arrive as a guest at someone’s house empty-handed. Doesn’t have to be fancy — a bar of soap, a parcel of cookies, a small rosemary plant!

03. Send a hand-written note whenever possible, but especially for thank yous and condolences. When you are writing a condolence card, share something specific about the deceased — a memory, something you loved about them, something they once told you. These details mean so much to the bereaved.

04. When in doubt, send food. When my friends are going through hard things, I like to send a meal, or an Uber gift card for a meal, because even if I have nothing material to offer that can assuage the pain or stress, I know that having one less thing to think about helps.

05. “Let me think about that.” I lean on this all the time when I’m being asked for something on the spot — a favor, a high-stakes answer, etc. You can and should buy yourself time to collect your thoughts.

06. An apology asks for nothing. I keep this top of my mind when making and accepting an apology. A true apology has no strings attached and makes no demands of the recipient.

07. Using a password saver like 1Password avoids an entire world of trouble and headaches. Once you get over the fear of forgetting the master password, you can log into anything from anywhere, securely share passwords with family members, and keep your financial and personal data safe.

08. Dress for the weather. Cold feet or wet clothing can sabotage the best laid plans.

09. In a public speaking setting, focus on delivering your first sentence as slowly and calmly as possible. Make that your specific and primary objective. If you can get through the first line with confidence, it sets the tone for the remainder.

10. Say I love you to the people you love as often as you can.

11. If you’re feeling out of sorts, get outside, drink a lot of water, and go to bed early. I swear that these three things resolve most of my anxieties.

12. When estimating how much booze to buy for an event, the rule of thumb: guests usually have two drinks the first hour and one drink each subsequent hour.

13. Show up early. Round up when estimating how much time it will take to park, get inside, find the room. Use Google Maps “Departing at” / “Arriving at” function to get a realistic view as to the transit time at a particular time of day.

14. Overestimate how much time you’ll need when paying a parking meter. I’d rather lose a dollar than spend a meal stressed about getting back to the car.

15. The iPhone “notes” and “reminders” apps are hidden gems. You can use the reminders app to create and share shopping lists, to-do lists, and more with a spouse and you can both dynamically add and check them off. You can also assign to people and add due dates. The reminders app even has a function where it will auto-sort your grocery list by category — e.g., dairy, meat, frozen foods! In the “notes” app, tap the camera icon in a note in order to scan documents and even text (!). The scanning is helpful if you need to upload a signed document for school, work, medical offices, contracts of various kinds — and the scanning text is SO helpful if you have a phone number, code, tracking number, etc on a piece of paper and want to quickly convert it to text on your phone.

16. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. In every situation! This is a great trait as a conversationalist; it ensures you understand what’s happening at the doctor’s office, in the meeting room, within the parent-teacher conference, and it will put your mind at rest later.

17. Related: keep a list of questions to ask the doctor. Even the small things that randomly occur to you. True as a parent, too — write down any observations and hand off to the pediatrician!

18. When you are thinking about someone, let him or her know. Send a quick note or email or text — “thinking of you…remember when…?”

19. Invest time in getting to know your neighbors. These are not only the people who will bring in your trash cans and mail when you’re out of town, run over to look after your children in an emergency, and lend you a cup of sugar, leaf blower, or what have you when you need it, but likely the folks you will see more often than anyone else in your day to day life. One of the greatest draws of our life in Bethesda is our vibrant and loving neighborhood.

20. Admit when you’re wrong, or don’t know. I spent way too much time in my younger years pretending to know the answer, or insisting I had the right answer when I clearly did not. Who cares?! As I get older, I respect people who know what they don’t know, and aren’t afraid to acknowledge it. Plus, people love to share what they do know — so just own it and let someone else step in.

21. Store peanut butter upside down in the fridge. This prevents it from separating (to some degree!)

22. Keep bananas separate from other fruits, especially avocados — bananas release a chemical that advances/expedites the ripening of fruits around them!

23. Potatoes should be kept in dark, cool places, or they will sprout and grow eyes.

24. My mom taught me this one: if you wake up in the middle of the night with an urgent to-do, open the drawer of your bedside table. You’ll wake up the next morning, wonder why it’s ajar, and remember the thing. I now principally use my notes function on my iPhone for this because my midnight “OMG, I can’t forget…!!” moments typically come in multiples, but this is a good hack for a specific thing you need to remember.

25. If you’re going somewhere and can’t forget to bring xyz (tickets, voucher, receipt, form), tuck the item inside your wallet or keys. You can’t leave home without those!

Your turn!


+A great roundup of travel tips.

+Magpie Desiderata — life lessons that run a bit more philosophical.

+The Dirge of Deronda.

+”I don’t know, and that’s OK.

Shopping Break.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links below, I may receive compensation.

+Under-$300 dress that’s perfect for a graduation, summer cocktail party, etc. Reminds me of Alemais. (Use code YOUROCK for 20% off.)

+Gingham is having a moment, and I love this top (and dress)!

+Would really like to buy a pair of these for my backyard.

+Mamas: you need a bath rinse cup.

+ICYMI: sharing a blend of my favorite undergarments with the ones Magpies most fervently recommend here.

+I can’t stop thinking about this bandana-print caftan.

+I started using this SPF-infused primer again the minute it turned warm. It’s a fabulous first layer — adds glow and has a diving blurring effect, while also providing sun protection. Plays really nicely beneath other makeup / foundation / concealer, too. I also just got their new bronzer in and can’t wait to test.

+A folding tabletop ironing board — great solution for a small space, college student, etc!

+Just bought these fun hair clips for my girl.

+Straight up obsessed with this tote.

+Bond girl vibes. I love this brand! I own several of their suits and they’re all very flattering.

+A spectacular mini.

+The kind of heel that goes with anything.

+My friends and I rehydrated after a late night with these Moon Juice powder packets. You mix into water. The taste is not fabulous, but if you drink it quickly, it really does help with rehydration. I’m keeping on hand for when I’m under the weather, or the next time I do hot yoga!

+This collapsible bucket seems very handy for lots of implementations — cleaning, gardening, housework, soaking things, etc. My kids would also have a ball with it outside filled with water.

+Above, I shared a bunch of recent Amazon finds. You can shop them all in one place here!


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20 thoughts on “A Personal Code.

  1. I just thought of two more! I time myself doing various things so I know how long they take. For example, my makeup routine during the week is pared down and I can do it in under 3 minutes. Unloading the dishwasher takes around 5-7 minutes. I find that we always overestimate how long things take, so if you know that unloading the dishwasher only takes 5ish minutes, you’re more likely to do it quickly versus letting it hang over your head. I also have my husband saved in my phone with a heart emoji next to his name. When he texts me, even if its “what should we do for dinner,” I see the heart and get a little dopamine boost even after all this time. I don’t know why it works – but it does!

    1. OMG I love these! So smart, and so sweet. Going to keep the timer trick in mind. I’m curious how long it takes me to fold a basket of laundry. It feels like it takes forever but it’s probably a few minutes max! Easier to motivate myself to get it done if I know it’s actually going to be off my list in 3 minutes flat! Thanks for that suggestion!

  2. Wow I had no idea you could sort grocery lists in the Reminders app by category! I immediately put that into use. I have a rule that if something takes 1 minute or less, I do it immediately. Think responding to a text, hanging up a jacket, putting a dish in the dishwasher etc. These little things build up if not done right away but if you are always on top of it, it helps your life run smoother! Also any time I am leaving a room, I grab something to bring with me into the other room to help tidy up. So if I am going to the kitchen I bring a glass I am no longer using, or heading into the bedroom I bring my kindle in there for later. Also as someone else mentioned I always always think of my future self. Don’t want to pack school lunch the night before? Well, my morning self will be grateful that I did. It really helps me stay on top of things because I am looking out for myself, just as I would do for a loved one.

  3. I have a knack of getting lost so I always take a picture of where I park — often parking lots or garages have pillars marked with a letter and/or number.

    I do similar things with my phone — take pictures/screenshots of important receipts/tickets/QR codes; scan/take pictures of our drivers licenses, passports, insurance cards and other important documents and save them in a separate folder on my phone. They do come in so handy when I’ve had to upload one of these for school registration, etc.

    Totally agree on thank you notes!

    I also keep a few special pantry items as food gifts like local honey, jam, olive oil, etc. Having a gift closet gives me such joy!

    1. Oh I remembered something else! I always salt and pepper a sandwich (savory ones). It sounds obvious but it surprises me how this can often be overlooked in many sandwich places. It makes a big difference! And always slice a sandwich on the diagonal. I don’t know why this is a quirk of mine… but I swear it makes the sandwich experience better.

    2. Love all of these – I’m also big on taking photos. I also use the search function in “photos” A LOT. It will read text from photos! I often take screengrabs from Instastories to make sure I remember a promo code, or a brand, and then search my photos to find the codes/details later. And you can search for things like “Los Angeles” or “dogs” and it will pull up all relevant photos! Incredibly powerful search function.


  4. When I feel stuck, unproductive, or drowning in analysis paralysis, a timer helps to pull me back on track. I pick one task and work for five minutes. If I still feel fraught or stuck when the timer rings, I move on to the next task and work for five minutes. And so on. Not always a perfect solution, but it usually helps me tap into a flow, and pretty soon I’ve recovered my focus and don’t need to stop after five minutes. This also works to quickly clean up a house: five minute pick-up in every room. Sometimes (not always) this even helps my kids to clean up!

    This post reminded me that one of the reasons I love your blog so much is that it’s always a gentle example of how to practice good manners and etiquette in our fast-paced and unprecedented times. (internet, iphones, apps, Amazon…) So much has changed since I came of age in the 90’s and early aughts, and I am sometimes unsure what counts as “good manners” nowadays, but your writing always reminds me that old-fashioned thoughtfulness of others will never go the way of the landline. Thank you for this Jen!

    1. Thank you so much for that note! Honestly, I feel that the way all of us Magpies interact with one another in the comments sections is a reminder that good manners, civility, and etiquette are live and well!

      Love the timer ideas – especially the five minute pick up! Going to try that with my kids.


  5. One of my hacks is to do small things for future me. For instance, before evening plans that involve returning right before bed, I’ll fill up my water bottle and place it on my nightstand, shut the blinds, and set out pjs. Before a run, I’ll make sure my water bottle is filled with water for when I return. I’ll sort the laundry the night before if I want to start it right away in the morning.

    1. Ooo I love this – the sort of thing you’d do for a loved one. Why not do it for yourself? I do something similar with chores/dishes — I push myself to do it now because I know my future self will enjoy relaxing later on!


  6. I LOVE these posts and always take so many new hacks away from them!! My most recent hack is bulk-buying things I need in advance even if I don’t know when I’ll need them– key examples include classmate birthday gifts (From September to May, I am giving every 7 year old girl gift A, 7 year old boy gift B, 5 year old boy gift C, etc!) and mailing supplies (order a variety of boxes and envelopes from USPS.com). I have multiple kids birthday parties every weekend, and I also sell a lot of stuff on Poshmark, and now I can just reach into my closet for what I need instead of finding time to go to Target or the Post Office!

    1. Absolutely brilliant and I’ve begun to do the same thing. I am like this especially with gift tags, wrap, tissue, tape. I can’t stand having to run out to buy a gift bag! I just buy in bulk and keep in waiting.


    2. Hi Gina, I do the same with USPS shipping supplies! So great to have on hand and print labels at home and just have USPS pick up your outgoing packages or drop them off without standing in line.

  7. When expecting house guests, ask them what they like to have for breakfast! Having your usual breakfast is such a treat

    On long travel days, stash an extra pair of socks in your bag. Fresh socks will reset your whole mood.

    Find a “third place.” My yoga studio is beautiful and brings me such a sense of community.

    The Forest app is GREAT for focus. You set a timer and a little tree starts growing; if you navigate into a forbidden app, the tree “dies.” This + a good playlist or podcast is the only way I get anything done some days

    1. The sock trick is brilliant! Adopting immediately. And hadn’t heard of the Forest app — such a clever idea!


  8. I have to say, this is my favorite kink of post!!! I love these important tips for living life. We need all the help we can get.

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