2020 was ripe with horrible lessons, a real year of realizing things, but one of my most annoying and rather late realizations was finally understanding that products suck.
Stuff is bad. The stuff on the shelf, bad. The stuff on my Pinterest board, awful. The shit in my Target cart, abominations. Why do I need to buy a whole new food processor when only the top is broken? Why is all my new Abercrombie loungewear already fraying after less than a year of ownership? (To be fair, I live in my sweatpants now, but come on!)
Still, there are a few purchases I made in 2020 that I don’t regret with the whole of my being. As I spent much of the past year completely disassociated, below are the purchases significant enough that I actually remembered them.
My Alphasmart Neo 2, $30ish
Well, this one’s easy. I’m working on a book (who isn’t), and this dated piece of technology has, I’m not joking, at least doubled my word count. I wrote 1500 words about why I love it so much, so you should go read that, but in short: for anyone who struggles to focus on their writing projects because of the enticing circus that is the internet, I highly recommend an Alphasmart word processor, an early 2000s device that was originally designed to teach kids how to type. It’s better for drafting than editing, which means it’s not so good for journalism and other research-heavy writing, but brilliant for getting the pages down on a first draft of a creative project. I got mine for about $30 on eBay, though it looks like the prices have climbed a bit since spring.
A light-up pizza binder, $7.99
Prior to this purchase, my hundreds of printed recipes were stashed haphazardly in a thin black binder I used for my college thesis. It wasn’t up to the task, in particular because when I moved from SF to NYC in 2016, I left behind my three-ring hole punch. I have suffered ever since.
Because of what a mess my old binder was, I had at least four printouts each of Perfect Pinto Beans, Syrian braised green beans (my favorite green beans recipe — cook longer than the prescribed half hour if you can!), and osso buco, which we only make once a year at Thanksgiving and apparently have to print out anew every time.
But with my new, pink binder with a light-up pizza on the front, as well as thanks to the three-ring hole punch, my recipe binder is now practically heirloom-worthy. It’s sorted into sections, and it’s wide enough to accommodate a couple more years’ worth of printouts. I’ll never go digging for 15 minutes for the best macaroni and cheese recipe ever again.
A linen duvet cover with a ZIPPER, $100 (half off)
Shopping for bedding is, pardon the semi-unintentional pun, a nightmare. It’s expensive, there are feathers everywhere, and suddenly my expensive West Elm duvet cover is missing most of its buttons. The end result: waking up at 2 am to discover the duvet insert is no longer inserted in the duvet cover (yes I know what a needle and thread are, no I am not interested in acquainting myself with either).
The easy solution, of course, is a duvet cover with a zipper. Unfortunately this is hard to find, for reasons that are unclear; some companies that do offer zippers on their duvet covers don’t offer that information upfront, as if they’re unaware of the value of a zippered duvet cover. But Casper, the mattress company, has a few duvet covers with zippers. I have two, one in percale and the other in linen (they stupidly no longer offer the linen). Both are excellent.
If you love to sleep, and wish your comforter would actually remain in its clothes, get a duvet cover with a zipper. If you want one a bit more visually interesting, Schoolhouse Electric has a gorgeous forest green floral duvet cover. I don’t own it (I wish I did), and all Schoolhouse duvet covers indeed have zipper closures (I emailed to check). Buy one and report back.
L.L. Bean slippers, $79
It took a pandemic, and the ensuing lockdown, to convince me to finally upgrade from my ten-year-old knockoff Uggs to a pair of fresh new slippers. I can’t imagine anything more comfortable for my feet to have spent the past several months in. L.L. Bean’s “Wicked Good” slippers are made with real shearling, so they’re not as sweaty as a synthetic version would be, but they’re also delightfully warm. They’re soft and fluffy, even after months of stomping around my apartment in them, and the thick tread on the bottom means I’m not likely to slip in the kitchen when I’m doing dishes for the ten thousandth hour. $79 isn’t cheap, but if the 5000+ happy reviewers on L.L. Bean are correct, I probably have at least a few more years in these. Granted, it’s a bit of a slipper-heavy year, since I now only wear real shoes to walk my dog at night, but four months in, they look and feel as good as new.
Kitchen storage, $195
Prior to buying this, most of my pots and pans were stored either in the lower cabinet right next to the oven, on the stovetop, or on top of the fridge. It was ridiculous. I’m angry just thinking about it. Whenever I wanted to get the larger nonstick fry pan, I’d have to remove all the smaller nonstick fry pans I had little choice but to keep stacked within the larger one. If I wanted the small Dutch oven, I’d have to move the stock pot out, heft the Dutch oven up onto the stove, and then put the stock pot back.
Like duvet covers with zippers, it’s hard to find kitchen shelving with space beneath large enough for a trash can. I’m not entirely sure why this is — my kitchen is bigger than many NYC kitchens, and even still, I don’t have space for a freestanding shelving unit unless it serves multiple purposes, namely, it can sit above my trash can/recycling bin the way bathroom storage units fit over toilets. Thank god for Yamazaki Home, then, which makes a simple, relatively affordable, and from what I can tell, well-made shelving unit that I’ve tucked over my recycling containers.
Now, I have a place where I can fit my Dutch ovens, stock pot, strainers, egg pan, et cetera without digging around in my cabinet like a bear looking for his dinner in a garbage can.
Bonus: I also purchased a small vertical shelving unit for the cabinet to fit the remainder ($19.99). It only fits smaller fry pans, lids, cutting boards, baking sheets, and so on, but that’s fine by me. Those need a home too.
“Tea” canisters, $21.07 each
Another strangely difficult-to-find item? Attractive canisters for storing small amounts of loose tea or other herbs. These containers need to be airtight, so not just any old box or bag will do, and they need to protect what’s inside from exposure to light, making jars a less-than-ideal storage method.
These ceramic tea canisters from Etsy are perfect for the job. I was a bit worried about whether they’d be airtight, as the listing doesn’t make that clear, but the lids have a nice seal. Because the opening is a bit narrow, it comes with wooden tongs to make it easier to reach the bottom. I bought two, one with a euphoric-looking cat, the other with a cat that looks rather blissed out. And though they shipped directly from the company in China, it was pretty quick, and everything was well and safely packaged.
A desk ($330), a Steelcase desk chair ($415), and a rug ($110)
Prior to the pandemic, I worked at my husband’s blinged-out desk, with its big fancy Steelcase chair, its mechanical keyboard, and its multiple monitors. But when his company sent him home, I, like many wayward office workers, was relegated to either the couch or the cozy armchair where I do my reading. Months in, I felt my shoulders starting to cave inward, my neck in a near-constant bend. Pain compelled me to finally bite the bullet and invest in a home office setup, and though there are still some outstanding purchases I need to make (a bookcase, as all my galleys are in precarious stacks on the floor between the desk and the radiator; a monitor so I’m not staring down at my laptop screen), my working life is much improved.
I’ve had bad experiences buying furniture at most large furniture brands, so I elected to buy my desk, at least, from an independent seller on Etsy. Though I did have to wait a month or so to get it, I’m very glad I went the indie route, as my desk is gorgeous. It’s solid wood, not manufactured wood, plywood, or other cheap materials companies like West Elm and Crate & Barrel rely on, but it was also well-priced, considering the high quality of the materials. Unfortunately, this specific seller seems to be on a break, but if you’re looking for a beautiful well-made desk, it might be worth emailing him to see if he would make an exception. I freaking love mine.
And the desk chair? Well, it’s purple, which is good. It was kind of expensive, but it’s extremely adjustable — useful when you’re not a “standard” human size (most desk furniture is designed for people between 5'8 and 5'10, and I am five feet tall, making most desk configurations misery). The round woolen Rifle Paper Company rug beneath it is the perfect shape and size to fit in the awkward space between my desk and the bed.
PS. Please forgive the stack of books to the left. And if you have a bookshelf or cart recommendation that will fit into this very narrow space, I would desperately love to hear it.
Biossance 100% Squalane Oil, $32
I’ve cut down on my skincare and makeup use, relying on the absolute basics — Cerave hydrating face wash, Dr. Jart ceramidin cream, a retinoid, and occasionally the Paula’s Choice salicylic acid for skincare; the only makeup I wear now is, occasionally, the NARS radiant creamy concealer and the Maybelline brow definer pencil.
Even with the best moisturizer I’ve ever used, though (the Dr. Jart, god bless), my skin is still prone to dryness, especially in the winter. I’ve used a couple facial oils in the past, some of them very expensive (an advantage of my years working in women’s media was the practically unfettered access to expensive beauty products, though that also comes with significant downsides, a tale for another blog), but the Biossance squalane oil is exceptionally moisturizing and protective, saving my skin from the facial creases I’ve started getting after sleeping this past year. I add a drop or two to my moisturizer morning and night, which makes a huge difference in my skin’s hydration but has barely had an impact on what remains in the bottle; the thing is practically still full, even though I bought it in May. I have never had a skincare product stretch this far while maintaining effectiveness. It’s impressive. Great for those with dry skin, though reviewers say it’s not too greasy for acne-prone skin, either (it’s worth remembering that many breakouts are a result of dry, damaged skin, so keeping your skin hydrated can keep acne at bay if that’s your concern).
I was lucky to get to devote much of 2020 to improving small details of my home and my life. I also made a lot of mistakes and bought a lot of stupid crap that makes me hate online shopping with a passion (go to hell, CB2!). I hope the purchase decisions I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned over the course of the past year will guide you in your shopping future. If you’ve bought anything you think was more than worth the money, I’d love to hear about it, and if you end up buying anything that I’ve discussed above, I hope you’ll tell me! And if you liked this blog, a) please subscribe, and b) read Maya Kosoff’s original blog in this vein, which I am fairly certain inspired me to write my own version.