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 after reading our review last January and discovered the joy-inducing power of an organized suitcase. 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.
—Lesley Stockton, senior staff writer
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.
—Michael Zhao, deputy editor
A robot vacuum that makes you cleaner, too
Eufy RoboVac 11S ($220 at the time of publication)
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.
—Thom Dunn, updates writer
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.
—Tim Heffernan, lead editor
A backup duvet for a shared bed
The Company Store Alberta Euro Down Comforter ($270 to $430 at the time of publication)
For years, I’ve been the person who always ends up without any covers in the middle of the night, but this year I finally found a solution: I keep a twin-sized comforter on my side of the bed that is just for me. I call it “the backup blanket program,” but in the bedding industry it’s known as “Scandinavian-style bedding.” Whatever you call it, it works. When I wake up in the middle of the night to find my husband snug underneath his side of the queen duvet and our dog curled up on top of my share, I pull my backup twin duvet over me and go right back to sleep.
—Erin Price, community lead
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.
—Thorin Klosowski, staff writer
A quiver-killing travel bag
A suitcase is easier to pack, a backpack is more comfortable, and dry bags are more waterproof. But the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel – 60L is very good in all of these respects, which is why it’s now the first bag I reach for regardless of where I’m headed. I’ve brought it on trips ranging from weekend camping overnighters to multi-week international excursions and haven’t found anything to complain about yet—nor do I expect to anytime soon. I have friends who’ve owned their Black Holes for the better part of a decade and the bags look no worse for the wear. My only regret is that I didn’t join their ranks sooner.
Smoothies on demand
I’ve always wanted to make my own smoothies—they’ve been one of my favorite treats since I was a kid. But a decent full-sized blender is expensive and large, and can be a pain to clean. When visiting a coworker’s house, I discovered a cheaper, more convenient option: personal blenders like the NutriBullet Pro 900. The cup, which you blend in and drink straight out of, is way easier to clean than an unwieldy blender jar; and because the seal and blade aren’t built into the jar, the jar can go in the dishwasher worry-free! Now smoothies and protein shakes are more accessible, so I’m staying healthier while achieving my lifetime dream of having a smoothie whenever I want.
—Kimber Streams, lead editor
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet ($20 at the time of publication)
With one inexpensive pan I can now get a beautiful sear on steaks (or tofu!) and make the perfect quesadilla. Cast iron holds heat really well, which makes it ideal for getting a nice crust. It also transfers to the oven seamlessly, where I use it to make pizza and chili pie. And, if seasoned well, the Lodge’s nonstick surface can even be used for frying eggs. I usually don’t like to buy kitchen tools that can’t go in the dishwasher, but the Lodge Cast Iron Skillet is the rare exception. It takes less than 30 seconds to scrub it with water and a drop of mild dish soap, and then thoroughly dry it over low heat in the stove or in the oven.
—Signe Brewster, staff writer
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.
—Rachel Cericola, staff writer
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” from our review of the best cat scratchers. 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.
Boots made for talking
I bought a pair of Red Wing Iron Rangers for my boyfriend last Christmas and they are now his most talked-about possession. He wears them almost every day in spring and fall and they’ve broken in beautifully. These are the type of welted leather boots that can last decades if treated properly, and they’re priced accordingly. But you can frequently find a good deal on Sierra Trading Post (that’s what I did; his were refurbished) or Nordstrom Rack. And if you ever need your boots repaired you can take them to a cobbler, or send them to the company. Everything from the hard-wearing sole to the lacing gussets can be repaired for a reasonable fee within a few weeks.
—Sarah Witman, junior staff writer
A cozy bra to relax in
The time between ending work and getting in bed is too early for pajamas, but the perfect time for house clothes. For me, that means trading jeans and a shirt for leggings and an oversized tee. But, for as long as I’ve had cause to wear a bra, I’ve been searching for a decent “house bra”—seductive, I know. As a D-cup, taking it off simply isn’t an option when there’s still dinner to make, a dog to play with, and headstands to do for my niece over FaceTime. My long search finally ended this year in, of all places, the aisles of a local pharmacy. The Hanes Get Cozy Pullover ComfortFlex Fit Wirefree Bra lured me in with the word “cozy” right there in its name. Thankfully, it lives up to its moniker. Soft, stretchy, and seamless, it gives me all the relief of being braless with just enough support to still feel comfortable being active around the house.
Soft, stretchy, and seamless, it gives me all the relief of being braless with just enough support.
Fanny packs are back
The versatile Sandqvist Lex Bum Bag will continue being useful long after the fanny-pack trend has faded yet again. The Lex’s adjustable, slim strap allows me to wear it comfortably on my hips or across my body. The Lex packs down small, but unlike most other packable waist packs, it’s roomy enough to fit a full-sized water bottle, travel umbrella, or rolled-up magazine, with room to spare for snacks, sunglasses, headphones, or even a small paperback. There’s even an internal zipper to keep smaller items from getting lost in the main compartment. This year alone, I’ve used it on my daily commute, at music festivals, and while sightseeing in Mexico City; I look forward to bringing it on many more trips to come.
—Anna Perling, staff writer
Bidet on a budget
Brondell SimpleSpa ($22 at the time of publication)
After Brian Lam installed the $400 Toto Washlet C100 (Wirecutter’s current runner-up pick) in our shared New York apartment, I quickly became a bidet convert. Unfortunately, my own home that I rent in Los Angeles lacks a power outlet near the toilet, so I couldn’t get a Toto of my own. But after doing some research, I was surprised to discover a whole category of unpowered bidets that don’t need an outlet to work. The Brondell SimpleSpa stood out to me for its uniquely streamlined design and decent reviews, despite its unbelievably cheap price. It’s nowhere near as nice as the Toto—it lacks a water heater, its aim is difficult to adjust, and it lacks an air dryer. But for less than $30, it’s more than worth a shot for any no-outlet, no-money bidet convert. After six months of living with the bidet attachment, I can’t imagine living without it.
—Christopher Mascari, director of business operations
Better brewing made easy
SS BrewTech Brew Bucket 7 Gal. Brewmaster Edition ($230 at the time of publication)
After homebrewing for a couple of years, I’m still consistently surprised by how easy it is to make great beer. (Seriously, try it!) It gets even easier with the right tools. Until this spring, I relied on plastic buckets for fermentation. They work fine, but are easily scratched, which makes them a happy home for unwanted wild yeast and bacteria. Upgrading to the stainless steel SS BrewTech Brew Bucket 7 Gal. Brewmaster Edition not only improved the quality of my brews, it’s made the act of brewing much less stressful. In addition to its scratch-resistance, the Brew Bucket has a conical base to collect yeast, a digital thermometer to track fermentation temperature, a ball-lock spigot for easier transfers and bottling, and internal volume markers so I know I’m getting the right yield from each batch.
If you don’t need the thermometer, you can get a standard-issue 7-gallon Brew Bucket and save a few bucks. And SS BrewTech also makes 3.5-gallon and 14-gallon versions to suit those who typically brew smaller or larger batches.
—Ben Keough, staff writer
A new perspective on tired veggies
OXO Good Grips Spiralizer ($40 at the time of publication)
Spiralized veggies are an easy way to jazz up dinner, but skip the expensive precut stuff and get your own spiralizer. The OXO Good Grips model we recommend is easy to set up and clean, and its three blades allow for a great variety of presentations. In my home, zucchini has gone from a healthy-but-blah side dish to a quick and yummy main entree, simply by spiralizing, sautéing, and dressing it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s also helped cut down on food waste. Broccoli stems, which I used to relegate to the compost after cutting off the florets, now make a great salad topping.
—Rik Paul, lead editor
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
Simplehuman 20L Butterfly Step Can ($80 at the time of publication)
I initially balked at the idea of spending more than $20 on a kitchen trash can, which might I remind you, exists only to hold unwanted refuse. But I now see the error of my ways after splurging on the Simplehuman 20L Butterfly Step Can. 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.
—Alex Arpaia, staff writer
Ergonomic and elegant
I never thought I would be as passionate about a piece of office furniture as I am about the Fully Jarvis Bamboo from our guide to the best standing desks. But after working remotely while sunken into a couch or slouched over a kitchen table for far too long, the ergonomic Fully was worth the investment to save my aching neck and back. Having a dedicated desk space helps me work more effectively with less strain on my body, and I love that the Fully’s neutral bamboo top and slim legs have a timeless look that looks right at home in my living room.
Store leftovers like an adult
Glasslock 18 Piece Container Set ($40 at the time of publication)
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 the 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.
Read the original article on The Best Things We Bought in 2018 here.