[ Question ]

What are objects that have made your life better?

by Mark Xu1 min read21st May 202053 comments


Life ImprovementsRationalityPractical

If I wanted to buy things to make my life better, what objects would I buy? What objects do you own that spark joy every time you use them?

I'm looking for statements like "X are the best wireless, noise-canceling headphones" or "Y is the best shirt" with appropriate reasons, if they can be provided.

You can think of buying this object as a weak version of one shot life improvements.

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24 Answers

A second laptop charger.

It's nice to be able to charge your laptop at your desk, with a cord that snakes behind the desk, and not have to go in and undo all that just to get power to your laptop when you're out and about.

And if you're not getting out with your laptop, having a second charger is still useful. I have a makeshift standing desk with my laptop on top of my dresser. With a second charger set up like this, I can shift from standing to sitting on my schedule, not my laptop's battery's.

Ahem: a fifth laptop/USB-C charger. (One each for my couch, desk, and bedroom; two stay packed in my travel luggage.)

h/t to Zvi for making this suggestion in Dual Weilding, under the general heading of More Dakka.

2quanticle9moI think the advice would be best phrased as, "nth laptop charger," where n is the number of locations you use your laptop regularly. For me, one at home, one at work and one in my bag is sufficient. PS: why do you pack two in your travel luggage? Just in case one gets lost/left behind in a hotel room?
1rossry9moStrictly speaking, they're not both laptop chargers, but laptop/phone/USB-C chargers. So two of them are useful on the road for charging laptop and phone simultaneously.

A really nice set of screwdrivers.

People underestimate the deterrent effect that small obstacles have. Having a nice set of screwdrivers means that random things that come loose can be tightened easily. Things like door handles, the panels around electrical switches, that rattling armrest on your chair, etc, etc. They make assembling furniture oh so much more efficient, since the tools that ship with furniture kits are the absolute cheapest pieces of junk that manufacturers can get away with. A proper set of precision bits makes certain "impossible" projects easy. For example, when the RAM in my laptop died, I was able to open it up, and replace just the bad RAM, instead of having to throw away the entire machine and get a new one.

I have both the "Mahi" 48-bit 1/4" driver kit and the "Mako" precision 4-mm driver kit from iFixIt. If I had to choose one, I'd take the Mahi, since the precision bits are useless in a non-electronics context.

I did a full accounting, including vague cost-benefit ranking:


Ignoring the free ones, which you should just go and get now, I think the best are:

  • Sweet Dreams Contoured sleep mask. Massively improved sleep quality, without having to alter the room, close the windows, whatever. 100:1.

  • Bowflex SelectTech dumbbells. A cheap gym membership is £150 a year; using these a couple times a week for 2 years means I’ve saved hundreds of pounds and dozens of hours commuting. They should last 15 years, so maybe total 30:1. (During the present lockdown, with gyms closed, the dumbbells get a temporary massive boost too.)

  • [Queal, a complete food powder] once a day. Saves money (if a lunch would otherwise be £4) and time and the delivery vector means I actually use the other powders I buy (spirulina, creatine, beta-alanine). Big discount for verifiable EAs. Also a handy automatic prepper store. 10:1.

  • Filco Majestouch 2 Tenkeyless mechanical keyboard. Assuming this decreases my RSI risk by 1%, it will have paid off 10 times over. But also in comfort and fun alone. 10:1

For the people who don't know acronyms (me), RSI stands for repetitive strain injury.

I have three of the things you mention and would immediately buy them again if necessary:

  • A sleep mask (I've actually bought several of these because I lost them). Mine is the "Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask" since I sleep on my sides sometimes and find the flat kind more comfortable.

  • Adjustable dumbbells. I have the "Ironmaster 45 lb Quick-Lock Adjustable Dumbbell System", which get points of durability, but I actually wish I had bought the Bowflex ones since they can be adjusted much more easily.

  • Bose Quietcomfort headphones. I have the blueto

... (read more)

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After nearly 2.5 years nomading, which items spark joy?

A gaming laptop. Actual good thermal management, high quality screen, and mechanical keyboard blows prosumer laptops out of the water for productivity.

Nexstand laptop stand plus compact keyboard and mouse turns a large screen laptop into a passable desktop replacement. Ergonomics are important.

A nalgene water bottle wrapped in cloth tape doubles as a foam roller. Super useful for meditation retreats.

Kuhl konfidant air pants have low profile vents and are the only long pants I actually like wearing.

Columbia Ascender is a hooded soft shell that serves as a light jacket in spring but pulls double duty as the top layer in winter. I get by with this one jacket.

Bamboo rayon shirts and underwear. I get the cheap David Archy ones off amazon.

Packing cubes live up to the hype.

Grifiti band wallet replacement. Holds a few cards and a spare $20 which is all I need.

Altra Escalante, very long lived, very comfortable. I replaced the laces with elastic so they are slip on.

Remington HC4250 Beard trimmer. Actually works. If you've used trimmers before you know that's saying something.

Imported japanese toothpaste that has hydroxyapatite. It's under patent dispute in the USA. Remineralizes teeth.

Hanging toiletries kit. Keeps everything organized.

Linen towel. Packs very small, but unlike microfiber towels is naturally antimicrobial.

I live in Japan. What’s the brand?

2romeostevensit9moSangi Apagard
Imported japanese toothpaste that has hydroxyapatite. It's under patent dispute in the USA. Remineralizes teeth.

+ 1 on this one. Hope the availability does not disappear. But it also seems hydroxypatite is available on its own so one might be able to just add to any toothpaste.

3romeostevensit9moit looks like a more widely available brand picked it up. Not sure if the patent dispute was resolved or what: https://www.dentist.net/products/dr-collins-biomin-toothpaste?variant=31738328416327&dfw_tracker=8011-31738328416327 [https://www.dentist.net/products/dr-collins-biomin-toothpaste?variant=31738328416327&dfw_tracker=8011-31738328416327]

The Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto 4 is the best pen I've used among 10+ pens. The ink is very smooth, it's highly customizable, and it's narrow enough to fit comfortably in the hand. The Coleto 5 is too thick. The downside is that the ink in the individual cartridges runs out very quickly. This is mitigated because replacing ink cartridges in a pen feels exciting.

Does the pen require custom ink cartridges or does it accept standard ones?

1Mark Xu9moCustom - the ink cartridges need to be designed for the pen specifically.

Is the Coleto just the multi-pen version of the Hi-Tec C? If I don't need a bunch of colors (I can't remember the last time I used anything other than black ink), a standard Hi-Tec C would work just as well, right?

1Mark Xu9moProbably? The reason I like the coleto is primarily for the multiple colors. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/NfdHG6oHBJ8Qxc26s/the-zettelkasten-method-1#Use_of_Color [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/NfdHG6oHBJ8Qxc26s/the-zettelkasten-method-1#Use_of_Color] describes the basic partitioning of content that I assign to colors, which I have found super useful so far.

Here is my list:
1. Peltor Optime 3M earmuffs. Without them I would not be able to work, vacuum the house, be in the same room as a spinning washing machine or allow my husband to control the volume on the TV.
2. Poundland earplugs. They block more noise than any other brand that I've tried.3. Tangle Teezer hair brushes. As a child, if anyone tried to touch my hair I would run away or, if cornered, kick and bite the aggressor. I refused to brush my hair or to cut off my dreadlocks myself. Instead, every time my hair needed to be cut or washed I would be physically restrained and I would be screaming during the whole procedure. Tangle Teezer brushes solved the whole problem.
4. Poundworld has closed down but my list wouldn't be complete without mentioning Poundworld comfort bras. Poundworld boys socks were also great; if you turned them inside out they were actually more comfortable than many expensive brands of seamless socks.
5. Primark full briefs. They are more comfortable than Asda full briefs.
6. Any smartphone, e-reader or other portable boredom-reducing device.

Comply's foam tips: they replace the more common tips for in-ear earphones and isolate you from the outside world much more than noise canceling. It's basically having earphones + earplugs, thanks to the foam. If you live in a noisy environment they may radically change your life for the better. You need to learn the correct procedure to fit them properly (it's easy, you can find videos on how to do it for earplugs. It is the same procedure). I recommend them for watching movies or reading/studying while listening to nature sounds.

A gaming console: I bought a PS4 a couple of years ago and it has been one of the best decisions in the last four years. This is valid if you already plan to allocate some time to gaming and if you manage not to get addicted to it.

A beach chair or a big chair with the same inclination to read more comfortably and not fall asleep (this is the problem if you read on the bed). I can't recommend a specific chair, because I don't know exactly where you can find my own.

Tablet: much better for reading anything on the internet. I find it strains my eyes much less. I can't recommend a particular one... I owned two and both were great.

A Kindle e-reader: much cheaper to read, easier due to less weight and having many books in the same place. As a result you will probably read more.

A big desk with adjustable height with a big chair with adjustable height.

I probably have left something out.

A quality pair of active noise-canceling headphone or earbuds. They may seem pricey, but I found that my Bose QuietComfort 20 are worth every penny because:

  • They allow me to focus when I have to work in a noisy environment (open office, home office with a lawn mower outside)
  • They make travel less stressful and more pleasant. Wailing babies are barely audible. I can actually hear audiobooks and movies amidst car and jet engine sounds.
  • I get stress headaches. Cutting out noises help with both prevention and speeding up recovery.
  • They're a godsend when I have to sleep in noisy environments. Thye work way better for me than several ear plugs I've tried.

Apple airpod pros, Bose QC35, and Sony wh1000xm3 are top alternatives if you have different preferences for things like over-the-ear vs. earbud style, bluetooth vs. wired, different shapes for comfort, etc.

Also be aware that these can sometimes be substantially cheaper on ebay if you're ok with used. I got Bose Quietcomfort 35's (retail for $300) for $120 used.

Acoustic guitar.

Learning and playing an instrument is fun, rewarding and therapeutic (or at least can be with the right attitude).

The acoustic guitar is a good option due to its versatility and portability. You can learn some camp fire songs in a few days, but the possibilities are endless if you want to keep learning forever.

Yeah. A steel string acoustic guitar is "a friend for life" as Mark Knopfler said. Another versatile instrument is the electronic keyboard.

Erasable gel ink pens in lots of different colors.

Working on paper still beats tablets etc. sometimes, and instead of crossing out stuff and trying again, you erase and overwrite – looks much cleaner, even if this was your very first draft / rough diagram / whatever. Instead of copying / re-writing the whole thing a half-dozen times or more to get a final clean version, you copy maybe once, at most twice, often not at all. (You just erase small mistakes that happen while making the clean version, instead of starting over yet again.)

Beats colored pencils by a wide margin, both in handling when writing/drawing as well as in ease of erasure. (The ink becomes completely invisible when heated, no need to scrape pigments out of the crevices of the paper / abrade the paper surface.)

Muji (the "Japanese Ikea") had great ones, but they got rid of most colors (no more green/cyan/purple/…, only black/red/blue.) Luckily, lots of others are producing them now, so I can get new ones when mine (and their refills) finally run out.

My only warning: If you're writing double-sided in a notebook with thin paper, don't be too vigorous when erasing. Normal corrections are no problem, but taking out a whole shaded diagram might also erase parts on the back. Other than that, while I'm not sure how long-term stable these inks are, my 5+ year old notes still look fresh. (I still made backup photos just in case…)

Window opening limiters (window restrictors with several positions). It's a cheap way to decrease common dilemma "very cold or very stuffy".

I once heard excellent advice: spare no expense on buying the most comfortable shoes, chairs (eg work chair), and bed/mattress you can find. Because you spend almost 100% of your life standing, sitting, or lying down.

The corollary to that advice is that most comfortable doesn't necessarily mean most expensive.

1bfinn9moTrue. Which? magazine (the UK product review magazine) did a test of mattresses a while back in which the most expensive mattress was one of the least comfortable, and the most comfortable was one of the cheapest.
2korin438moYeah my experience is that mattress comfort is mostly uncorrelated with price (which is unsurprising when you realize most of the expense in mattress production is advertising; they pretty much all cost the same amount to make). I'd recommend for most people to go to a mattress store and try all of them since comfort is pretty much entirely about what style of mattress you want (springs / bouncy foam / memory foam, hard / medium / soft) and how that interacts with your pillows.

Kitchen Safe

My self-control when it comes to sweets has always been quite bad. Since buying my first Kitchen Safe that hasn't been a problem any more: I have a lockable metal case in my kitchen and its key is placed in the Kitchen Safe. Once a day I get access to the key (and thus to the case and therfore to the sweets).

The Time Timer Audible Countdown Timer.

This is the timer that I like to use when working, e.g. if I decide "alright, I'm going to spend the next half hour working on this thing." It is a visual timer, where the fraction of the circle that is red tells you what fraction of an hour is left. Ignore its bizarre name - its best feature is that it is completely inaudible.

Features that I like:
- it counts down silently, without any ticking
- I can (and do) set it to end silently, without any alarm sound
- it is easy to tell at a glance about how much time is left
- it is quick & straightforward to set the timer, without any button pressing
- it is a physical object rather than a program on a computing device

Features that it lacks which some people might miss:
- you can't choose a nice sound for the alarm, either it's silent or there's the one kinda annoying alarm sound
- it is not a program on your computing device, but rather a separate object you need to have with you
- it can't be set to more than an hour
- it can't be set precisely

If one is looking for a great phone timer that also does the "tell how much time is left at a glance", I recommend Clockwork Tomato for android. It has tasker support to, so I set it to block network access to most apps, as well as most of the apps themselves, while on a work period.

Seems like it potentially increases my productivity by a non-trivial amount. Just ordered one. Thanks!

A notebook and a pen. Especially the Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook for me (plain, simple, stylish, has huge amount of numbered pages - 256), but any notebook will do. My life changed dramatically when I started to write some kind of a journal/diary.

Also, Bullet Journal system. It is not an object, but a way for use your notebook more effective. This notebook management system has it's own site with instruction: bulletjournal.com.

So now I have an archive of my past life in form of a notebooks. It stores my photos, good and bad memories, poetry, analytical thoughts and daily to-do list. And somehow it is very different from digital storage of same things on the emotional level. I feel life more fully now, and I feel mydelf more present and concentrated.

A battery-case for my phone. Even though I have one for the pixel 3A, and it makes my phone noticeably more bulky due to the placement of the fingerprint reader, NEVER having to worry about recharging my phone except at night makes my day noticeably less stressful. Also noticeably less stressful than having to plug into an external battery pack which requires me being stationary.

A mobi-handle to attach to my phone. Can help me hold the phone, and I prop it up next to my work area when using it as a Pomodoro Timer, both more durable and aesthetic than a pop-socket.

Its' implicit in the previous two but... a smartphone. These get a bad rap for ruining people and their attention span but if you use them correctly and mindfully they are like the most amazing thing in the world.

A Kindle Paperwhite. Being able to save highlights, carry hundreds of books, and read in the dark is amazing. Probably one of my favorite possessions.

Noise cancelling headphones are great and really enhance flow.

If you cook a lot - A voice activated assistant in the kitchen to change music and set timers. I use an Echo Dot, which is relatively cheap.

Also if you cook a lot: A nice, labeled spice rack with a full array of spices makes things SOO much more fun than a jam-packed spice cabinet.

Keeping a BakBlade in my shower has ensured that my back doesn't become an unruly forest.

I have a plethora of objects on hand to deal with tightness and knots. Having a bag of them closeby when I work probably gives me an extra 30 minutes of productive work daily.

In the same vein, I keep a back scratcher by where I work.

Really long charger cables, preferably with multiple charger types at the end. Not as important now that I have a phone battery-case, but still nice to have for guests.

" ...a smartphone. These get a bad rap for ruining people and their attention span but if you use them correctly and mindfully they are like the most amazing thing in the world."

Can you please suggest how to use a smartphone more mindfully? Thank you.

5Matt Goldenberg9moI've found the recommendations from the Center for Humane Technolog [https://humanetech.com/resources/take-control/]y to be useful.
2Thomas Kwa9moI've found it useful to set it to grayscale mode (Accessibility -> Display -> Color Filters on iPhones, or in developer settings on Android). Certain apps capture your attention through bright colors, and grayscale mode negates that for me with a surprisingly small effect on usability. I don't have a shortcut to reenable color so as not to tempt myself. Also, the standard advice is to not use your phone in bed for sleep hygiene reasons, which probably works for almost everyone.
1Raven9moGet one that's a few years old so it can't run heavyweight stuff. I use mine almost exclusively for reading/communication and utility stuff (math/searching/navigation). Games and most apps that aren't super simple lag too much for easy usage.

Uninstallable product placement sparks hate whenever I see it. Custom ROMs for my phone (LineageOS and Resurrection Remix) dramatically improve my life over commercial phone operating systems because custom ROMs avoid contaminating my attention with things I don't want.

  1. There are no uninstallable applications serving as advetisements.
  2. They do not try to sell my attention such as via Google News.

In addition, it is easy to get root access to these phones. That makes it easy to integrate it with my Linux laptop.

I've used custom ROMs before, but it's easy enough to hide whatever app you can't remove. Google news for one can be removed and I have from my pixel for attention reasons. The app timers functionality is super useful for any applications you don't want to use more than a few mins a day too.

Apple's Airpod Pro are an extremely good pair of wireless earbuds, even for people without other apple products. They're comfortable, stay in my ears fairly well, and have pretty good noise canceling.

High quality wireless earbuds in general are extremely valuable to me as they increase my willingness to exercise by a significant margin.

Do they work without an iOS / macos device though?

1Mark Xu9moyes - they work great with my pixel3a.

Uniqlo's Stretch Sweatpants are the only pants I've worn for the past month. They're fairly cheap, the fabric is high quality, and the pockets have zippers.

More umbrellas. I keep a big one at home and small folding umbrellas at work and in my backpack. They're relatively cheap and sometimes you unexpectedly really need one.

Separate travel toiletries from at-home toiletries. (The biggest win is not having to unpack exactly when you get home tired.) Similarly, separate travel phone/laptop chargers from at-home chargers, for same reason.

I haven't yet gone all the way to a separate set of travel clothes, but would like to, one of these years. The 80/20 version is making sure to lay out 1-2 full sets of clothes before going on the long trip.

(For reference, I spent maybe five weeks of 2019 traveling, though naturally 2020 has been much less than that.)

On the subject of headphones, I love my AKG K72 headphones because the ear cups are extra-large and sit around my ear without pressing on the edges. This greatly reduces the strain of wearing them and I've worn them for an entire day without it hurting, which has been a problem with every other pair of headphones I've used.

Huh, interesting. I have the same problem -- pain from wearing headphones -- but I solve it by using earbuds instead.

Not a physical object, but the Cloud9 IDE (now absorbed into Amazon's AWS suite) for programming work. If your work fits into a terminal plus text editor (which it probably does), then making the actual hardware be a cloud server instead of a laptop that can run out of charge is a big win, and being able to access your "real" machine from different interface machines is sometimes useful.

For the interface laptop itself, I've been very, very happy with a Google Pixelbook (which I got after many, many satisfied years with the original Chromebook Pixel), but that depends on whether you have tasks outside the browser, terminal, or text editor.

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Some lists that people have made of products that they use & recommend:

Sam Bowman, 2017

Sam Bowman, 2019

Robert Wiblin, 2019

Arden Koehler, 2019

Rosie Campbell, 2019