Things You Can Just Do And/Or Buy
big long list of stuff
I really like posts that are lists like this, or this: things you might not have thought were possibilities or just might not have thought to do if someone hadn't suggested it. I also like posts that are lists of items that you use and recommend, like this, this or this.
While trying to write these in parallel, I realised the two cross over when "introducing you to a category of item you didn't realise existed", so I have, in a revolutionary move, combined the two. (Some of this stuff will be UK specific.)
- The HiccAway straw is a cure for hiccups. It actually works. Obviously you either need to be at home or take it around with you but it works! You don't have to try and drink from the other side of the glass or whatever.
- If you cook at all, getting new, better kitchen knives (or a knife sharpener if you've already got decent knives) is extremely worth it. I got this Wusthof chef's knife a few years back and it genuinely reinvigorated my desire to cook, after having used pretty rubbish old dull blades for years had reduced it. While a bad workman blames his tools, sometimes bad tools significantly reduce your incentive to do something.
- To go with your newly sharp knives: if you're a clumsy so-and-so like me, these knife-resistant gloves are pretty good if you're cutting stuff like onions.
- This Lakeland garlic press is the best garlic press I've every used, virtually no wasted garlic. You don't need to worry about removing the skin, just pop a clove or two in the chamber and squeeze.
- Quite a common one for these lists is a microwave rice cooker. We got one from Sainsbury's for about £10, I think, which promised "perfect rice, every time", and it delivers on that. It's just better and easier than making it on the hob, stays warm for a while after cooking, and while I trust everyone who says electric rice cookers are the bomb, the combination of low kitchen space and cost makes the microwave alternative preferable for us.
- If you've got odd bits of space in your house or flat, particularly around things that take up space in odd ways, you can maximise storage area in any number of ingenious fashions: for e.g. we've got one of these shelving units with the bottom few shelves removed, and that stands over our bin and recycling. Add these covers for the shelves so you can put more things on, and these hooks to hang e.g. pots and pans things from the side—you can have all sorts of fun.
- If you're a vain man who's starting to thin a bit on top: Regaine helps. As far as I can tell you can't get cheaper non-brand minoxodil from non-dodgy suppliers in the UK but I'm very open to being corrected on that.
- When I moved out of my last house, which had all its own tableware, it was a pain finding plates and bowls that I really liked. Lots of the stuff I found online was too busy or too plain. Cornishware is great: it's simple but not plain, and while a bit pricey, two-and-a-half years in is proving extremely hard-wearing. I dropped one of the mugs on our glass oven worktop and it was the worktop that ended up needing replacing (it'd have been a lot cheaper replacing the mug but certainly speaks to their manufacturing quality) If any of it does ever break, it'll be easy to get new ones. I have it in Brighton & Hove Albion trademark blue-and-white, but you can get it in all sorts of colours.
- Crystal deodorant—another favourite of the product-lists—really is good, really does work, and saves you a fair bit of money too! I've been using this one.
- Pillboxes for the week: not just for your grandparents, if you're (say) a vegan with hayfever there are tablets you should be taking every day, particularly in the summer, and this makes it nearly impossible to forget.
- If you're a vegan in the UK, Aldi's own-brand oat milk is 90% as good as Oatly/Alpro/Minor Figures but only costs ~80p for a 1l carton rather than ~£2. In general, Aldi (and probably Lidl too—we just have an Aldi very nearby) have a lot of food and household goods that are as good as what you'd get elsewhere at a far better price. Their 1kg tubs of peanut butter are as good as Meridian/Pip & Nut for half the price (if you just add in 10g of table salt), their maple syrup is cheaper than and as good as any other supermarket (this difference has been eroded somewhat recently), their Blast kitchen towels are as good as Plenty but much cheaper and cruelty free, their vegan brioche burger buns are the best burger buns out there, full stop. There are some bizarre gaps in what they sell (they don't have tofu, for some reason) but they handily cover a good 75% of our shopping needs for a decent amount less than most other supermarkets. When I was a student, I used to live right by a Sainsbury's and I'd shop there out of habit even over the summer when my budgets were such that I was surviving on toast made from dry old bread. Beware that local optimisation!
- Songnomics-style hangers with the notch that lets you slide things out without stretching the neck really make putting away the laundry very easy. I don't have a chest of drawers any more: socks and pants go in baskets at the bottom of the wardrobe and everything else lives on these hangers (bar a few coats and jackets that are too heavy for them, which live on the over-the-door coat rack). This also has the happy side-effect of everything being visible: it's very difficult to forget clothing when it's all right in front of you all the time!
- I realised that I have a tendency to wear clothes past the point where they're really not pleasant to wear (socks in particular gain the texture of cardboard after enough washes) so I've instituted a 6-monthly "basics refresh", where I replace socks and pants, with t-shirts usually being replaced ~annually (sometimes more often—I wear a lot of white t-shirts and I'm a very clumsy eater). Uniqlo are my current preferred provider; I get the colour socks, the Airism low-rise boxers and the Supima cotton crew-neck t-shirts.
- While we're talking about clothes: shopping in charity shops and second-hand is great for saving money, but if you're time-poorer or sit too far outside the middle of the main sequence of clothes sizes, it's often easier to use services like Vinted (which I've had best results with), where you can find good, cheap stuff that you're looking for and fits without having to spend all afternoon trawling (though I'm aware that's part of the fun for some people). If you have specific size measurements I've found it easier searching for those than using the size filters.
- If you've got finer hair, hair powder, a thing I did not realise existed until my barber introduced me to it a few months back, works better than gel and doesn't make your hair look wet. I use Fudge, as it's easily available in Boots and Superdrug and cruelty-free, unlike VO5 which is the most easily available other brand.
- My skin's a bit sensitive, so I've used this Braun Series 7 electric razor for nearly 10 years—it's a bit pricey but really good, and provides a shave that's ~95% as close as a standard razor. (It gets a bit less use these days as I've kept my lockdown beard, so it mostly just shaves outside my beard neckline (if you have a beard and don't know what I'm talking about, please have a look at something like this), and I'm using this cheapish Wahl beard trimer for keeping my beard short.)
- The containers that many foodstuffs come in often aren't the nicest, buying things in bulk is cheaper and you can spend the savings on more visually appealing re-useable containers. Nice bottles for oil, nice Kilner jars for flour, sugar, pasta, rice, etc. Dispenser bottles for hand soaps and shower gels/shampoos etc, too!
- If you're into making cakes and you haven't considered it, something like this cake decoration kit is worth it for the turntable and palete knives—it makes evenly icing way easier.
- If you live in flat you might not have space/wall-drilling permissions for a normal spice rack, or one big enough to accomodate all your spices. Spicy Shelf, which is also a very funny name for a product, allows you to make the most of inner-shelf space.
- If you struggle with sugar, like I do, Protein Works vegan protein bars are very low-sugar but satisfyingly sweet. The Chocolate Caramelicious ones are the nicest, for my money. It satisfies the bit of my brain that wants something sweet after lunch.
- If you've got limited space, these desks on Etsy made from reclaimed wood are robust (solid wood!), have a built-in shelf to put your monitors on (they do models of desk without it too if you don't want that) and can be made in a wide number of sizes (I believe they also do custom sizes if asked). They also look really good, and you can choose what colour you want the wood stained! Pair with an under-desk cable tidy to keep things organised, and a big mousemat/desk protector... thing to keep the desk from getting scuffed up too.
- Monzo is genuinely a lot nicer and easier to use and interact with than most high-street banks (providing you don't have to deal with a lot of cash). I was talking to a friend about budgeting the other day (running through the UKPF flowchart, an invaluable resource if you've not encountered it before!) and recommended opening a Monzo account simply as a day-to-day "spender" account to more easily keep track of outgoings. They're starting to try and upsell their premium tier and their loan products, but if you're easily able to say no to that, I would strongly recommend going for it.
- If you're looking for a savings account, or cheaper bills (or almost any other advice on how to save money) the MSE site has frequently-updated advice as to the best providers (and I mean frequently: I opened a new savings account about a month ago and it's already been displaced by another provider as their top pick).
- If you read a lot of articles but you find they go right through you, be more selective about what you're reading. If you feel like they had things you'd like to remember but it doesn't happen, I make pretty extensive use of Pocket to read later and highlight/note up passages, and then use Readwise to review what I've read (though I've fallen off the wagon a bit with that and I need to pick it up again!).
- I'm not always the best at sticking with a meditation habit, but Calm is my current favourite app, the right balance between daily guided meditations and some 'standard' meditations for various moods etc.
- Pinboard is the simplest and best social bookmarking tool in the game. Maciej, the guy who runs it, is a legend and a genuinely excellent writer. I bumped into him before he gave a conference in Brighton and gave him a hug and gushed effusively about how great Pinboard was—he seemed confused but appreciative.
- Overcast (iOS only) is the best podcasting app. Great to use, and pioneer of many of the features (e.g. smart speed) that have found their way into other podcasting apps. Free to use with an optional small subscription.
- If you want to start running, Couch to 5k is probably the best place to start—the NHS has a free app here. If you want to start weightlifting, either Stronglifts 5x5 or Starting Strength are good, and Strong is really great for keeping track of your workouts.
- Password managers, which store all your passwords and allow you to quickly generate secure ones when creating new accounts, are phenomenally useful; I use 1Password as I've found it to be the nicest experience of all the different solutions out there.
- Getting a clipboard manager—a piece of software that 'remembers' what's in your clipboard so you can paste the thing you copied three copies back or whatever— has been genuinely transformative to the way I interact with text. If I'm writing or editing and I'm trying to move stuff around I can just stick it in this 'buffer' and come back to it. I use Flycut on Mac (Windows has it built in).
- Some Mac-specific recommendations: for writing, IA Writer; for emails, Spark; some general quality-of-life improvements: BetterSnapTool lets you resize windows by tapping them against the top or side of the screen (as Microsoft Windows does); Amphetamine lets you suspend your Mac's going-to-sleep behaviour (this replaces an app older users may remember called Caffeine, which stopped being updated a few years back); if you use multiple different browsers OpenIn is a nice little tool that lets you select which browser you want a link to open in rather than just the default; Rocket lets you enter emojis by typing a colon, Slack-style, anywhere.
- If you work from a laptop but like to get out of the house, a Nextstand K2 and a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse (I use an external Apple trackpad and keyboard because I'm a sucker—though I was able to get them refurbed on eBay) let you work in a more ergonomically friendly position, rather than hunching your shoulders.
- As someone who spent most of his teenage years completely destroying wired earbuds at a rate of around one a fortnight, wireless earbuds are transformative (I have the previous version of these ones, three years old and still work perfectly and have pretty solid battery life).
- If you live somewhere with dark short-day winters and suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a lightbox (the Lumie Vitamin L is the one I use) really does help lift your mood! I keep mine on my desk to give myself a blast soon after waking up in the morning.
- If you've got an iPad and like using the Pencil, this JETtech matte-effect screen protector (or similar) make writing/drawing a much nicer experience.
- If you live somewhere where running cables around the place is a huge pain, these TP-Link powerline adapters for ethernet will make your life a lot easier. It's remarkable how often internet connectivity issues are actually wi-fi issues, so if you spend a fair amount of time at your desk anyway it's worth plugging in.
Wellbeing and organisation
- If you find yourself wondering whether you might have some kind of treatable or manageable neurodivergence, it's worth googling "[condition] diagnostic form" (you probably don't want the Buzzfeed quiz, or whatever the current version of the Buzzfeed quiz is, I'm old and my references are old too) and running through it to at least get an idea of whether this is plausible. It took me way to long to realise I had ADHD, and the sooner you get that looked at the better off you'll be! Alternatively, get yourself a fidget toy.
- One of the items on Milan Cvitovic's list is "get couples therapy"—I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I definitely would endorse the budget option of using an app like Paired, clearly intended as couples therapy (you'll get what I mean when you answer a few of the questions) but which will gently prompt you with a question or a quiz every day, some of which will simply encourage you to show your partner appreciation (always good), some of which will prompt conversation, and all of which will (hopefully) encourage a degree of mindfulness and reflection and help keep you from taking your relationship for granted.
- On top of that, daily and weekly check-ins with your partner are a really good way to not let things build up or get lost. Our daily check-ins happen right before bed and follow a fairly simple formula: what was good about today, what was bad about today, what are you not looking forward to tomorrow, what are you looking forward to tomorrow, what can I pray for you for tomorrow? Weekly check-ins are an idea I got from Robert Heaton, and the format has morphed over the years and now has a fairly developed structure to it—I will probably write about them in detail in another post—but it's mostly asking questions about how you've felt during the week and what can be done to help in the next. One thing it provides that's really good is a safe space to bring up problems: often when you're "in the moment" and some kind of issue arises, you either don't want to make things worse if things are fraught or don't want to ruin the mood if thing are generally ok, so having some time boxed out when things can be brought up means you don't have to worry about that kind of thing.
- Everyone loves to talk about the importance of sleep but the two tips I've found most useful are a consistent wake time and trying to time your 90-minute cycles so you wake up between them (Sleep Calculator is helpful here).
- Sugar fasting—if you have a weird relationship with sugar (or anything that can be addictive but isn't typically recognised as such), see what happens if you try to take a week off. I found it to be a remarkably revealing experience.
- Getting therapy. If you find yourself displaying persistent patterns of behaviour that you feel isn't beneficial, or you find yourself repeatedly in situations you don't think you want to be, even (especially?) if you don't think of yourself as "the kind of person who has therapy", it's worth seeking out—there will often be local clinics that can do an initial evaluation, then assign you to someone they think you'll vibe with. Don't be afraid to change it up, too—I've definitely had therapists who I like but don't feel like it's clicking, and asking to change is considered fair play. I've got a therapist who I feel really suits me, and at this point even if all of my problems were solved I'd probably keep going because having a space to try and unpack events and feelings with someone who has context but is able to take an outside view is invaluable to me.
- Try not to feel beholden to Doing Everything, especially on trips and holidays. When we went to Edinburgh a few months ago, after an early flight followed by a morning/early afternoon of non-stop Doing Stuff on the day we arrived we were exhausted, so at 3pm when we checked into our hotel we went there and slept for several hours. It was absolutely great, and we were then able to have a lovely evening wandering from restaurant to whisky bar full of energy.
- My whole task/information management process is quite involved and probably needs its own post, but I can definitely recommend (if you're the sort of person who takes notes) having a weekly review of all your notes from the week to make sure you don't lose anything. I can also recommend (possibly more useful for anyone with some kind of executive dysfunction) repeating reminders. As I live pretty much entirely out of my to-do app, it has become virtually impossible for me to forget to e.g. mop the floor.
- This may sound strange, but I often forget things I enjoy doing if I don't think they're "important" or "useful" in some way. I love "fail video" compilations (for those unfamiliar with the genre, an admixture of 4/5ths You've Been Framed-esque pratfalls to 1/5th really quite full-on Russian dashcam videos) but it's surprising how seldom I think to watch them. (Even better are "expensive fail" compilations—Lamborghinis catching fire, superyachts getting dropped by cranes etc). But I feel compelled by my inner Stakhanov to focus on things that are useful, or if I must do something for enjoyment, it should be enriching. I think that, as with all advice, the opposite could be true—if you find yourself regularly losing hours to TikTok, it might be worth trying to find a challenging book or something, but if you've been trying too hard lately, give yourself a few minutes to do something you enjoy that's of no value other than bringing joy.