Buying things may not lead you to happiness, but having the right stuff can make each day just a little more joyful, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Among this list of our favorite things, we hope you’ll find a helpful solution to a stubborn problem, or even find a great gift. Some of these are things we found after hours of research and testing, others were impulse buys in a drugstore, and a few we stumbled upon serendipitously during our travels, but they’ve all made our lives a little brighter, and a little easier, over this past year.
Order among the chaos of travel
Packing for a trip used to entail hastily throwing everything into my luggage and hoping the shampoo doesn’t leak. That ended when I bought the Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Cube Set . This set of three zippered pouches hold enough shirts, jeans, underwear, socks, and toiletries for seven to nine days. (I also opted for a separate garment folder for dresses, skirts, and wrinkle-prone garments.) All of this, along with three pairs of shoes, tucks into our budget pick for carry-on luggage. Now after a long day of airports and cramped seats, I arrive at my destination with a tidy bento box instead of a trash heap of wrinkled clothes peppered with makeup and lotion bottles.
Keep drinks hot (and homey)
My home office is in the draftiest room in my apartment. Even though I cherish my carefully curated hodgepodge of thrift-store mugs, they can’t keep my morning coffee or afternoon tea hot during the winter months. The Bodum Pavina Double Wall Glasses are the perfect size, a delight to hold, and ensure me a warm beverage to the last sip. I know my Zojirushi travel mug would do the trick, but it lacks the comfy vibe I so desperately want at home. In my opinion, locking flip tops and house shoes don’t go together.
When I stumbled upon the Yamazaki Rin Magnetic Key Rack with Tray in the aisles of the Tokyu Hands department store in Shibuya, I was immediately struck by how much it manages to accomplish using so few materials; like a haiku written in the language of industrial design. Despite its small size and minimal design, the Rin brings order to an entire household’s worth of keys and a day or two’s worth of snail mail, all without occupying any counter space. The Rin is meant to mount onto a front door, which cleverly makes it impossible to leave home without confronting one’s keys. (If you’re as forgetful as I am, sticking your wallet in the mail slot also helps.) For a fireproof front door, the Rin’s magnetic backing simply sticks onto steel with no additional installation, but it also comes with screws for mounting onto other materials.
A robot vacuum that makes you cleaner, too
I had never given much thought to robot vacuums beyond the cheeky delight of DJ Roomba. But earlier this year, I saw a deal on a since-discontinued top pick (the EcoVacs Deebot N79) and decided to give it a shot. (Our current pick, the Eufy RoboVac 11S, is based on the same model as the Deebot, a fact that we’ve confirmed with the manufacturer.) Aside from picking up the tiny leaves that track in on our shoes, or the bits and flecks from dinner prep, our robot vacuum has actually trained us to keep our house cleaner. Within a few weeks of owning it, my wife and I found ourselves pushing in the chairs more often, and taking better care to put away possible vacuum-killing obstacles like cables and chargers before they develop into messes. As a result, it’s much easier to enjoy the time we spend at home. I only wish that we’d tried it sooner.
Reclaim your kitchen storage
This clever pot-lid rack—a recommendation from our resident kitchen expert Lesley Stockton—is designed to be mounted inside a cabinet door, but mounting it on the wall is the way to go, especially in a small kitchen. It keeps your lids organized and immediately at hand, and frees up valuable storage space. In my case, I got an entire drawer back, making it easily the best 16 bucks I spent in 2018.
The right tool for most jobs
The first time I used the MegaPro 13-in-1 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver, our pick for best screwdriver, I felt the ghosts of blisters past that I’d endured from non-ratcheting, cheap screwdrivers disappear. The hum of the ratchet as it clicks in the palm of your hand makes household projects a minor delight. With the 13 included bits stored away in the base of the handle, you’re less likely to lose them, which means you’ll be able to work on everything from large electronics to IKEA furniture without having to worry about finding a bit that fits.
The high-tech sous chef
My marathon cooking sessions have gotten a lot easier since I’ve added a secret ingredient to my recipes: the Amazon Echo Plus. The integrated voice assistant everyone knows as Alexa provides the company I need to get through hours of slicing and stirring, in the form of news, podcasts, weather reports, and a round of Jeopardy. The Echo Plus sits on my kitchen counter, delivering hands-free guidance when I can’t convert measurements in my head, need a substitute for buttermilk, have to set a quick timer, or want to add things to my shopping list. I used to rely on the Echo Dot, which is cheaper and more compact, but this newer model has a better speaker for blasting music and podcasts, and as a smart-home-gadget reviewer, I love that the Echo Plus has a built-in Zigbee smart-home hub that connects directly to my outdoor and living room lights without needing to plug an additional bridge into my router.
Save a couch, buy a scratching post
I love my cat, but I also love my couch, which he had taken to scratching. We’re all much happier since I got him “The Ultimate Scratching Post”. It’s tall enough that my cat can stretch out while he digs his claws in, and heavy enough that it doesn’t wobble when he throws his little 10-pound body into it. And the platform on top also makes for a nice perch in a pinch.
Block out distraction
This year, I finally bit the bullet and sprang for the Bose QuietComfort 35 Series II, aka the noise-cancelling headphones of my dreams. I have a toddler-like attention span and my ability to maintain focus in our open-plan office is an everyday challenge. These noise-cancelling headphones muffle most errant noises, conversations, and echoed rips of packing tape, making me more productive and focused. But the biggest unexpected benefit for this anxious New Yorker is that I find the reduction in ambient noises very calming, even if I’m not listening to anything. I never noticed how much the clanging of a subway train barreling into the station stressed me out. Five stars for sensitive souls.
The best trash can—for small kitchens
Like all Simplehuman garbage cans, it opens and shuts smoothly, silently, and reliably with none of the clang and bang you’d expect from cheaper, plastic cans. We picked this specific model for our small apartment kitchen because its butterfly-hinge lid requires less vertical clearance to open than a single-hinged lid, allowing us to place it on otherwise unusable floor space. But out of all of its benefits, nothing gives me greater satisfaction than the fact that its custom liners fit perfectly every single time.
Store leftovers like an adult
A classmate of mine once told me that Glasslock is the Tupperware collection of a person who has their life together. After buying the 18-piece set, I can’t say that my life feels more “together,” but the way they pieces match up perfectly does make me feel like a grown-up. More to the point, they’ve helped me cut down on the amount of disposable plastic bags and Tupperware I was previously using for food storage.