A month ago, I wrote 50 how-to mini-essays, and I thought it was fun! So for April, I figured it might be worth reprising the topic, and writing 50 mini reviews, all of things I would give five out of five stars.
Maybe there’s something on this list you’ve never tried that will make your life just a tiny bit better! I do believe that people living lives full of pleasure and joy are people who have more capacity to do the really important work in the world without getting burnt out. If you feeling your ends getting a little frayed because of all the things you have to do, try something on this list. The goal is to settle a little into your body; to bring something nice into your one precious life.
Now, things are superficial, and there’s no thing in the world that can fill a need-based deficit. If you need sleep, attention, love, time, food, water, or shelter, prioritize getting those needs met first. This list is supplemental, for when you are craving a little something extra.
Also, using things to feel better is often (if not usually) a total dead end. That’s how capitalism works: companies make you think that a thing will make you feel better, and then they find ways to make you think you need to buy more and more of that thing, until you are dead. And still unhappy. The companies don’t really want to make you happy. Happy people don’t buy very many things.
Everything on this list is either free (a nice place in your imagination), something you should only have to purchase once (a good chef’s knife), or a brandless staple (blueberries). I have tried to choose things around which I don’t have ethical qualms, although there are four things that are made of plastic, one brand-specific item, and a few things that might create waste. They are all things, however, that I have used and noticed myself thinking, “Huh! This thing strikes me as purely joyful. I wish everyone could have this thing.”
Take what you can, leave what you don’t want. I am hoping there’s something here for everyone.
1.Blueberries. Let’s start with something so amazing, so perfect, that I honestly can’t believe it’s real. The blueberry is a feat of natural design so extraordinary that it feels like it must somehow be a trick. How can something taste so sweet and bright and still be so good for you? Blueberries are filled with immunity-boosting nutrients and they strengthen your metabolism and they can reduce the risk of heart disease. Friends, I’m not making this up.
A good blueberry is as satisfying in size as a hefty marble. A bowl of firm blueberries is the summer breakfast of royalty.
Have you ever put a pint of blueberries in a Zip-Loc bag in the freezer? Blueberries turn into a whole different FOOD in the freezer! They become an indulgent dessert! How is this possible? Nature MAKES THESE! All by itself!
As a bonus, going to a farm to pick blueberries in the summer with your friends and then swimming in a nearby lake is the perfect day.
2. Picture frames from the thrift store. Every picture you love can be elevated with a picture frame. Frames can be expensive, but at the thrift store they’re cheap. You can get four perfectly fine picture frames for a dollar! Frame birthday cards you like, or pictures from magazines for a sort of chic vision board. Decorate the entire wall of a boring bathroom with images from a book about birds (that you might also find at the thrift store), individually framed and gallery-ified.
3. A button that screams, for you to put on your table. Last year, my friend and roommate Bethany bought me a small screaming goat from the novelty section of The Paper Store. Initially skeptical, I placed the goat in the center of the dining room table.
Sometimes we are sitting around the table as a house talking about something tense — like the electric bill, or whether we should get rid of our front door wreath — and the tension can be immediately diffused with one push of the goat. Or maybe I’m sitting at the table trying to explain to my husband about how stressful school was that day, and he is just not getting it, and I am not doing a great job of explaining it (it’s hard to talk when you’re stressed!), and I push the goat in frustration, and he understands.
I have seen a lot of screaming / shouting buttons in novelty sections of other shops — there are even ones you can record yourself. Everyone should have one of these.
4. Your own jigsaw. Not to be confused with a jigsaw puzzle (also a good thing to have), this elegant power tool is a must-have for all adults. It is easy to hold and easy to use, and it makes you feel POWERFUL. Sure, you can use it for practical things: cut the excess off a bit of wooden furniture that doesn’t fit in your room, or trim a thick stick that’s too long or poky.
But you can also use it in the afternoon after a hard day to cut a salvaged piece of wood into a weird shape (human head? Butterfly wing? State of Oregon?). This will calm you. I don’t know the magic of how that works, but it does. And, bonus: your new state-of-Oregon piece of wood can be stained and finished and given to your friend in Oregon as a cheese board birthday present!
5. Skirts. In eighth grade I decided that no matter how cold it got, I would only wear skirts. I was going through a growth phase and my body was not easy to predict, size-wise. A skirt accommodates days where you are bloated and days where you wake up feeling thin and come home from a long day feeling like you gained 90 pounds; just pull the skirt up and down accordingly throughout the day.
In the summer, a good skirt allows for a nice breeze exactly where you want it. In the winter, a good skirt doubles as a blanket over a pair of wool tights or leggings, and keeps you snuggly and warm. My one caveat is that a long skirt on a bike can be a vibe-killer, so tie your skirt in a knot on your waist and wear bike shorts.
6. Bike shorts. My husband says these are the ugliest clothing item and no one can look good in them. Luke, they are not there to look good in; they are there to be soft and practical. You put them on underneath anything, and now you can do a cartwheel, or sit cross-legged on a carpet, or experience a gust of wind from a subway grate, and no one will be offended.
7. A visit to the chiropractor. I am a human being, and so I have lower back pain. It took me years to finally swallow my pride and go to a chiropractor. After Keith the chiropractor stretched me out and twisted me around and pumped my muscles with a bordering-on-sensual-looking metal knife, I climbed off the table and stood a full inch taller. The pain was gone. Without insurance, this cost $50. I hated myself for waiting so long to do this for myself.
8. And while we’re at it, a kneeling chair. I bought a cheapish one that rocks back and forth. It isn’t especially comfortable, but I swap it out for my comfy chair whenever the low back pain comes back up, and within three days of using the kneeling chair, the pain is gone.
9. Chickens. What a journey I have been on with my flock of chickens! Many horrible things have happened to the chickens. Dogs have happened. Maggots have happened. Old age has happened. These are hard things to which one must bear witness, but on the other hand, life is full of hard things, and chickens are a relatively easy way to learn how to endure a little ugliness.
But maybe the main thing is that our neighbors love to look at the chickens, and I have had the chance to meet so, so many neighbors because they stop at our house to talk to our chickens. I think it’s quite important to know one’s neighbors. This is how we take small steps towards a more empathetic, more peaceful world: we learn about the people with whom we share space. Sure, I could have made 35 casseroles and brought them to all my neighbors’ houses, and I would have met and ingratiated myself to many of my neighbors. But you never know about food allergies these days, and honestly, chickens are easier. Plus: farm fresh eggs every day!
10. Hand lotion. Once, my mom spent a lot of money on some hand lotion from a boutique store at the mall. It was called “gardener’s hands luxury lotion,” and I felt startled by its price tag. Later, secretly, I put some on my nine-year-old hands, and I was startled again. How could anything feel so rich and soft and thick and smooth? It was worth every penny, I decided.
In my thirties, I started investing in good hand lotion, too. I read a little about pressure points in the hand that relieve stress, and I started taking ten-minute breaks to rub the fabulous cream into my knuckles and wrists, pressing into the parts that are connected to the brain, self-soothing and quietly humming when things were particularly bad. It is worth every penny.
11. A better can opener than you have. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like whenever I go to someone’s house and am helping them cook, I go to open a can and hear them say, “Our can opener is kind of shitty, but it’ll get you there.” A good can opener is like $12! And the satisfaction you get from easily opening a can with no struggle is worth that amount or more. You don’t need a fancy electric can opener or anything like that: just one that feels good in your hand, with a sharp blade and dynamic gear, so opening cans might be a pleasure and not a persistent annoyance.
12. Ribbon. Many times I have said to myself, “I am so glad to have this large box of errant ribbons,” while digging through my ribbon box. Here are examples.
- I’ve wrapped a present in a shitty newspaper, and it looks bad and dumb, but a ribbon elevates it twenty-fold and makes the present INSTANTLY look fancy. (Is this where the phrase “ties it all together” comes from?)
- The cucumbers are growing faster than I am prepared for, and they need somewhere to go! I tie some ribbon to the stake and then attach that to the fence, and the cucumbers take to it like a kitten to a cream bowl.
- It’s a costume party, and my hair needs a little something extra.
- The cats are bored.
13. The cheapest plastic sled. I’m talking about the $3.99 saucer sled from the hardware store that looks like it was designed to go straight into a landfill. Put that in the back of your car and forget about it. Then, when it snows, and you’re driving home from the doctor’s office, and you see a little hill in the distance, you can pull over and take your saucer sled out and experience a little burst of joy. You deserve it! You just went to the doctor.
14. A bowl specifically for popping popcorn in the microwave, or a lot of lunch-sized paper bags. I grew up with a fancy 1980s-style air popper for popcorn. Later, my hippie friends taught me how to make popcorn with oil in a pot. I got in my head that popcorn had to be the slightest bit complicated. It BLEW MY MIND when I found out you can just put a third of a cup of popcorn kernels in a paper lunch bag, fold it closed, and microwave it for three minutes. Truly: that’s ALL YOU HAVE TO DO. No potential burning, no cleaning out of a pot or a popper — just a paper bag and some popcorn kernels and you have a perfect bag every time. I started doing this so often that I started to feel a little guilty about the speed at which I was going through the paper bags, so I bought a collapsable, microwavable bowl with a lid that did the exact same thing as the paper bag.
15. White pens. White gel pens are great for writing on brown paper bags or darker envelopes, adding a little light glimmer into the dark eye of a bird you’ve drawn, or creating crests on waves. I use my white pen every day.
16. An outdoors chair you love. Sometimes the weather is great, and you want to sit outside. Have a chair that leans back a little bit and is conducive to reading. The chair should be only for outside. Ideally, you never have to bring it in. Even if you live in an apartment, put this chair in some public space where you like to sit outside. Usually, people will leave your chair there. They’ll be grateful there’s a chair. But, just to be safe, make your chair cheap so you won’t be sad if you lose it. This is an item to which it is best not to grow too attached.
17. Field guides. The world expands when you can identify and differentiate between living things. Learning the names, shapes, colors, and habits of birds, animals, mushrooms, and plants is perhaps the single greatest gift you can give to yourself while you’re alive. Apps that help you identify wildlife (like Seek or Merlin) are terrific places to start, but actual, book-format field guides are more comprehensive and will be there for you when you’re like, “This robin-sized bird has a long neck!? And Merlin has no idea what I’m talking about?!” Use a sketchbook and draw pictures from the pages of your field guide to learn intricate details about stripes and curves that you’d miss when just flipping through.
One of the best field guides I ever bought was about spiders. Spiders are quick and silent and inherently a little scary. But reading about them and learning their differences changed them for me. They became creatures of curiosity, divorced from fear.
The difference between being a person who reads field guides and being a person who does not is the difference between going on a walk and seeing snowdrops, startling daffodils, delicate primroses, winter aconite, bowing crocuses, Siberian squill, and grape hyacinth; and going on a walk and seeing a bunch of flowers.
18. An excellent chef’s knife. These are expensive, but if you do it right, you’ll only ever have to buy one. (Get it sharpened at least once a year, never put it in a dishwasher, and always hand-dry.) It isn’t just the feeling of ease and wonder when you slice through a hunk of ginger like it’s warm butter; it’s the amazing texture and smell that you can only experience this one way: with the startling sureness and quickness that takes a root vegetable by surprise.
19. Lip balm. I’m going to advocate for spending a little money in this category, too. Lips are like hands, in that they love to be touched; they love to feel soft and nurtured. A pot of semi-fancy lip balm will go a long way in terms of simple, sensual pleasure. I keep a supply by my bed and I can’t sleep without spending at least a dozen seconds giving some deep attention to my lips.
20. A cookbook you can cook your way through. Get a cookbook where every page has a recipe that looks good to you. Then, begin moving through it page by page, making one thing a week — or, if you’re feeling feisty, one thing a night! Recipes are such interesting and thoughtful pieces of writing, and they belong in books, away from the excess ads and general superfluousness of the internet. A recipe in a book doesn’t distract you with Melody’s three-star rating (“this didn’t rise for me and my kids hated it, but it was easy”), or lengthy anecdotes about the cookbook writer’s wife’s tree nut allergy. A cookbook centers you to be present with the task at hand, which is cooking. Or baking. A good starter cookbook is one about snack cakes, or cookies. If you choose a dessert cookbook, you’ll always have dessert in the house. Who can complain?
21. A designated singing-loud place. Maybe this is your car, or the bathroom in your basement, or standing by the lake on a windy day. Bodies are designed to sing sometimes, and you shouldn’t have to hold yourself back.
22. Whimsical water bottle. I drink a LOT of water, and I credit my Nalgene from Powell’s, which glows in the dark and is decorated with cheeky in-jokes about science fiction novels. My water bottle is always with me, and I always have a genuine reason to take breaks from lengthy, awkward meetings. (The reason is that I have to pee.)
23. Floss. Maybe six years ago I got really into floss. I keep some by my bed, in my desk drawer, in my backpack, in many of my coat pockets. The more you floss, the easier it becomes to floss more, because your gums stop bleeding. Flossing is a good thinking activity. You can floss while brainstorming about a part of a piece of writing that has you stuck, or while looking at a confusing crossword puzzle. Please do floss alone, especially during an airborne pandemic. The bottom line is that dental work is expensive. You don’t want to need $12,000 worth of root canals in four years. Flossing helps.
24. Kale. I went back and forth about including kale on this list. To me, kale is truly magical. But I know that it’s a divisive food. I’ve read a lot of criticism of kale. I’ve heard people say that they think people who like kale are lying. I can only share with you my own experience, and assure you that it is totally honest.
I became a vegetarian when I was three, to the chagrin of my meat-eating family. I just couldn’t deal with the reality of it. I went vegan at sixteen. But see, I hated vegetables. Like, okay, a raw carrot was fine — what kid hates a raw carrot now and then? But pretty much everything else was gross. When I was forced to eat a salad, I wanted it dry, no dressing, with only lettuce, so that it was as close to eating air as a thing could be. I ate basically only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Oriental flavor top ramen, and bagels. (Yes, I was weak and pasty.)
After I graduated from college, however, someone made me a kale salad. They massaged the kale for a long time until it got soft. The dressing was made of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, and red pepper flakes. The salad had shredded carrots in it, and peanuts. It tasted like take-out Chinese food. I loved how the kale greens were so tough and hardy and could handle the intense dressing without wilting or bending under its weight. I loved how the salad was crunchy. I loved that the kale didn’t really taste like very much but had a texture that wasn’t fucking around.
And truly, this changed my whole life. This was the first time I thought, “OK, vegetables. Let’s see what you’ve got.” Maybe I just needed to age into my taste buds, I don’t know. But the fact that kale is so nutrient-dense and good for you and helps you poop and is so easy to grow even when it’s cold outside makes me feel like it shouldn’t be possible. It is too amazing. It is too magical. It is too good. And I get that you might not agree with me, but the bottom line is that I am right.
25. Hemp protein. Speaking of helping you poop! This is a great colon-cleanser, and it is the only protein isolate I’ve found that really is basically flavorless. I put it in every smoothie. I have a smoothie every day. And I think I have a smoothie every day because I can’t stop writing home about the undeniable results of the flavorless hemp protein powder.
26. Alvin brass bullet pencil sharpener. This is the only brand item on this list, but I can’t help it. This is a gorgeous pencil sharpener in its simplicity and sophistication. Its blade is as sharp as a blade can be, but it’s nearly impossible to hurt yourself with it. It’s easy and intuitive to change the blade, too, using the little screws on the side. It’s well-made. This pencil sharpener will never break, not ever, no matter what you do to it. It’s small. You can put the brass bullet in your front pocket and no one will know you’ve got anything in there. And at just over $5, it’s cheap.
But perhaps my favorite thing about the brass bullet is how it behaves as an Object of the world. I have used a capital letter to indicate that I mean “Object” in a way that transcends the object’s function or use. There are certain Objects — wooden stamps, excellent marbles, durable thimbles — that are joyful to touch or hold or gaze upon. The brass bullet has a surprising heft. You hold it in your hand and you feel like it is rooting you to the earth in a way. It is like a little weight that you can carry around, just to remind you what something feels like when it is really solid.This is the rare object that could not be improved upon. There is nothing you could do to make this pencil sharpener better. It has reached its apex. It’s transcended.
27. Sunflower seeds. Black oil sunflower seeds are the favorite food of many songbirds. If you are hoping to hand-feed birds, a cup of sunflower seeds is what you want to start with. Sunflower seeds also make the easiest and crunchiest microgreens, and sunflowers themselves grow in most climates and bring everyone dizzying delight when they climb to their great heights. Then, when the sunflowers die, goldfinches will come around and eat them — so, more good bird stuff! Shelled sunflower seeds soaked and blended with salt and herbs makes amazing spread to put on crackers. When did a seed ever do so much at once?
28. Nail clippers. When your foot is too crammed in your running shoe, or your fingers are doing an annoying tapping thing on the keyboard, allow the intervention of nail clippers. Keep them by your bed and in your desk. Clip your nails over a large piece of junk mail, and enjoy the satisfying clicks that emit when you toss your old nails in the trash.
29. A hunk of petrified glass for pet hair. This is not a brand-specific thing, because there are a bunch of different brands that make this thing, but it is made of “foamed” recycled glass, which makes it sort of miraculously simple, since there’s nothing more to it than that. I have struggled with cat hair my whole life, especially on furniture. Lint rollers are satisfying, but you only get so much hair off before you have to peel and start again. This weird hunk of almost-weightless glass scrapes across virtually any fabricated surface and clumps the hair into a neat little pile that can be tossed or vacuumed in a pinch. I appreciate a tool that is inexpensive and sturdy.
30. A pet. you will only get to enjoy the pleasures of the weird glass rock thing if you also have a pet who has hair. But your pet doesn’t need to have hair to give you all the benefits of pets! Pets are the best conversationalists, and they come in all kinds of styles in order to match your very specific personality.
Perhaps you are not a person who can be trusted to keep something alive. Try fish! You just feed ’em and talk to ’em, and that’s it. Maybe you like to have a lot of control. Might I suggest a young Labrador retriever? Amply trainable and willing to do basically anything you need them to do, a Lab will become your best friend VERY quickly. If you don’t want to force an animal to live with you, go for bees! They are happy to live with you. They volunteer!
If you feel you don’t have time for a pet, I would suggest that maybe you need to cut something ELSE out of your life to make ROOM for a pet. Is that side hustle REALLY bringing you joy? I mean, REALLY? Or, isn’t your friendship with Marco feeling a bit toxic? Maybe cut that off and make room for a leopard gecko.
31. Quarter length (or “short crew”) socks. This is the ideal length of sock. I don’t need a bunch of extra sock for my calves — that’s what pants are for. I also don’t want my socks to droop into my shoes. I want a sock that can fit exactly one dignified picture of a cat on its side, and that’s it.
32. One cup that is only for high-quality black ink pens that are pleasurable to use. Have you figured out your favorite pen yet? If the answer is no, do I have a fun Saturday plan for you! Go down to the local office shop, and grab at least 10 pens that look promising. Go with black to start; you need a baseline, and no one ever didn’t need a black pen. Sit at a desk, and write sentences on printer paper with your new pens. Then rate each out of ten. Establish a favorite. Buy more of those. Fill a cup with them and have the cup nearby the place you sit most often. The singular joy of having the exact right pen with which to sign a legal document always in abundance and within reach cannot be quantified.
(Alternatively, I Stan the website JetPens.com. And THEY sell PACKS of black ink pens by many different brands for you to sample. So you can just order one of those instead. You won’t be sorry. You might be sorry, however, that you have discovered this website and now all your money is going to go there, because you won’t be able to help it. If you think their pens are great, don’t get me started on their singular selection of washi tapes.)
33. Shaker egg or vegetable. You need a small and pleasant-sounding maraca. They will have them at music stores. I have a banana one and an avocado, so there must be something about foodstuffs that make good shaking instrument shapes. You will use your shaker whenever there’s a random celebration in the street and you have to go out and be a part of it. Or when you are at a singalong and you don’t really want to sing, but you are open to providing quirky rhythm. Or home alone on a Friday night, listening to a great record, and you just wish you could be a part of it.
34. A rock or chestnut that feels nice in your hand. I feel very strongly that people need good rocks. Rocks are old, and they have a certain wisdom that can’t be overstated. You should put big rocks in and around your garden, or on your front porch. (These are great to look at when you are having to solve a big life puzzle, like if you should quit your job or not.) You can have medium rocks on the mantle or kitchen table, next to some plants or flowers. They give your home something a little ancient, and homes warm up around ancient stuff.
But you need a palm-sized one for your pocket, and this is the most important rock to have of all. The job of this rock is to be there for you when you need to hold on to something. Maybe you’re talking to someone who makes you feel nervous. Maybe you are worried about an email you are supposed to get. When the uncomfortable emotion rises up, reach for your pocket, and grab the rock. Put it in your hand, and turn it over and over and over. This will help. I recently learned that chestnuts work similarly well, as they are designed to be exactly the perfect shape.
35. One big bowl. Well, you need a big bowl. You need it for salad, especially in the summer. You need it for popcorn, especially when you’re having an at-home movie date. You need it for when it’s cold outside and the hose is turned off but you have to wash something off your deck. You need it for mixing batter. You need it for transporting Legos from one room to the other room. You need it for tortilla chips when we can finally have parties again. You just kind of need one. I have two metal ones, two acetate ones, a wooden one, and a ceramic one. I have never considered the possibility that I might have too many big bowls, because that seems impossible. On the other hand, you can make do with one. You almost don’t need anything else in your whole kitchen.
36. A reliable hammer. When we moved into our house, my friend Mary bought us a hammer. She said we would need a hammer, and that we would want it to be a reliable hammer. It was the best housewarming gift we could have received, because a hammer helps you build things. Without a hammer, you couldn’t hang up your thrifted picture frames, or make roosts for your adopted chickens, or secure into place your jigsawed artifacts. Get one that feels lovely to hold.
37. A nice imaginary place. If you’ve ever been to therapy, you’ve likely been asked to come up with a good “safe place” in your mind. If you haven’t come up with a good one, because maybe your therapist was rushing you or something, take some time and make one. Think about times you’ve felt safe or content, or at the very least, like nothing was needed of you. Spend serious, committed time building your place in your mind. Build it so meticulously and specifically that you can conjure it at the snap of a finger. You’ll use it. I promise.
38. A real public place that is also nice. Real places are not quite as good as imagination places, as a rule, but they can still be nice. I suggest you find a public park that you like, and specifically, I suggest you find a tree. No matter how wonderful your life is, there are times when you need to run away for a little while. It’s good if you have a place to go, that’s safe, and out in the open, and accessible to everyone. A tree in a park is reliable in this way. Remember that it is always there if you need it.
39. Sharp scissors. When was the last time you replaced your scissors? Spend at least $20 on a really good pair, and mark them somehow so everyone knows that these ones are ONLY for paper and fabric. They are not for things that have glue, or vegetable stems, or thick corrugated cardboard. These are the GOOD scissors. These are the present-wrapping godsends. If you do this, it will be impossible for your good scissors to ever be an object that does not spark joy.
40. Alarm clock. Many “life hack” articles recommend that you get a digital alarm clock and put your phone in another room while you sleep. I can’t do that, but I do love my alarm clock. It is the kind that slowly turns a light on for you as you approach the waking hour, and then plays bird songs when it’s time for you to be awake. I also use a feature on my FitBit that measures my heart rate and wakes me up when I’m between dreams by gently vibrating when my heart rate indicates that my body is naturally waking up. This is all just so much better than whatever BLAM BLAM BLAM noise my phone is going to make.
41. A list of smells you like. You are an adult, and it is time to know what smells you like. There are a few ways to make this happen, and they all involve having a little notebook so you can write down the names of individual smells. One method is to go to Sephora and smell the perfumes until you find one you like. Then read about the perfume online and find out what it has in it. Write down the individual ingredients. Find another perfume you like and see if there are any duplicate smells in that perfume. Maybe three perfumes you love in a row have ylang-ylang in them. Bingo. You love ylang-ylang! You can do this same thing with candles, but be careful: “gingerbread house” is not a scent note, and will not help you. (You might like ginger, cinnamon, and vanilla if the gingerbread house candle is doing it for you.)
The easiest thing would be to go smell a bunch of essential oils. Write down your scents. When you know what scents you love, you can tell people and receive gifts that you like to smell. Smelling nice things is a life perk you should waste no time taking advantage of.
42. Shoes. Have three to four pairs of shoes, and have them be high quality. You will need: sandals, waterproof everyday boots, sneakers, and maybe workout shoes, if you work out. Get the day-wear shoes in brown or black. Get rid of all the dusty shoes you never wear. When your shoes break or wear down, get them repaired. You might never have to buy shoes again!
Another good trick, although somewhat unrelated, is to compliment a person’s shoes when you’re looking for something to compliment. People spend a lot of time picking out their shoes, as this bullet point might suggest. When you tell someone you like their shoes, they will probably tell you a story about why they chose those shoes. It’s a good way to get a conversation going.
43. Spices. Get nice spices from a spice-specific store! If you want to be the kind of nerd that I am, you can also buy identical bottles for all your spices, and a label-maker, so your spice rack can be simultaneously uniquely complete and also meticulously organized. I recommend you have high quality, fresh varieties of the following spices: cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric, vanilla, and a few spice mixes like Ethiopian berbere, za’atar, or Slap Ya Mama. By the way, this particular cinnamon is the best I’ve ever had, and now I have to put it in everything. It proved for me definitively that quality spices taste different than cheap ones. And they taste better.
44. Seeds. Artisanal packets of seeds make good presents. Give them along with a nice pot. A seed packet says, “I see you doing something extraordinary in the longterm.” And watching a seed grow is a happiness that keeps on giving.
45. Tweezers. Inevitably, a person in your life will need tweezers. If you are the person with the tweezers, you are the MVP.
46. A blanket that’s easy to wash and easy to pack. Basically, it’s always a good date idea to go for a picnic. We have a park about a block from our house, and one of my happiest memories of the past year was putting crackers, a watermelon, a knife, and some sunflower seed spread in a grocery bag along with travel Scrabble and a ton of water and heading to the park at 5 p.m. for a snack-centric cocktail-and-games hour with my husband. (There were no cocktails, but that’s what you call it when you have a 5 p.m. hangout.) We listened to music on the phone and he destroyed me at Scrabble and we watched kids running around and a bunch of Northern flickers in the nearby oak trees. It took five minutes to plan.
None of this would have worked without a blanket that tucked under my arm that I knew I could throw right in the washing machine when I got home. A blanket you can take camping will come in handy even if you never, ever go camping.
47. A small box of blank cards and stamps. I buy a new box of 20 greeting cards form Blick Art Supply every December to use for the year. The rule is that I have to get through the box over the course of the year. Some mornings, I wake up and write a thank you card to an old teacher or student, or to a friend I haven’t talked to in years who taught me something important. Sometimes I write thank you cards for neighbors who have really good flowers in their front yards that I can appreciate. It is good to know that I have to exhaust the box over the course of the year, or I might feel like I had to save the cards — they’re always so lovely! But cards are meant to be used, and I love to use them. You will need to also have stamps to make this practice really work for you.
48. Backpack. I have a closet full of purses and fanny packs I never ever use because at the end of the day, I want a backpack. It’s ergonomically better for my back, and fits the things I want to carry so neatly. Backpacks even have pockets for sorting things! I don’t care that I don’t ever look like I am ready for a night on the town. It is much better that I can stop by the market on the way home from said night and buy a thing of applesauce and have a place to put it while still keeping my hands free.
49. Pill organizer. If you are taking vitamins or antidepressants or painkillers while you recover from surgery, you should have a $1 pill organizer. It’s not even worth writing much about, because it’s so obvious. I don’t know what makes us think we can remember to take pills when we don’t have one of these.
50. A box of something that no one will think you have a box of. I have library card catalog drawers with (alternately) plastic horses, parachute guys, sea creatures, and little dinosaurs. When someone comes over to my house, right before they leave, I go, “Hey, you wanna pick a prize from one of my drawers?” It’s great to be able to give a parting gift.
Also, for years I kept a plastic box of googly eyes in my backpack. One day, while teaching a class, a student said out loud, “Man, I wish I had some googly eyes right now.” And I had them! This was some Mary Poppins shit, and I knew it. I am pretty sure you can diffuse many tricky situations by saying, “I don’t have a lighter, but I do have a box of miniature felt hats, if that helps.”