Little things that just work

Sometimes I like giving Christmas presents that are practical but luxurious.  My grandmother-in-law was kind of weirded out at first when we got her a bath mat for Christmas one year early in our marriage, but it was a really nice really expensive bath mat that just felt like stepping on a little slice of Heaven’s carpet after getting out of the shower or bath.  She remembered that purchase and was appreciative years later, even if it seemed an odd choice at first.  Sure she already had bath-mats, but she didn’t have luxury bath mats.

And it’s amazing how these little luxuries can change one’s quality of life.  Sometimes in ways that you don’t even realize are possible until you’ve experienced them.  I think that makes for the best kind of Christmas present for the person who has everything– something they didn’t know they wanted.

The following things are expensive for what they are, but cheap given the happiness they bring.

Maped metal pencil sharpeners.  Sharpening a pencil has never been so pleasurable.  Pencils perfectly pointed.  After dozens of crappy plastic sharpeners that just gave out after a few sharpens, this little hand-held product is a dream.  Amazon no longer carries the two-pack we got that had the huge number of 5-star ratings, but it carries a two holed version and a one-pack.

furminator— accept no substitutions!  Big Kitty and Garage Cat were both long-hairs.  We’d tried various brushes with Big Kitty and they mostly ended up with all parties being upset.  Then a friend with a long-hair recommended the furminator.  It was expensive so I put it on my Christmas list and got it as a present.  This just works.  It combs through hair without catching.  The cat in question generally enjoys it, and you end up with enough extra fur to build another cat.

tweezerman tweezers — These just work.  You find the hair (or splinter, or what have you), pull, and it’s out.  No wasting tens of minutes trying to get purchase.  You get purchase.  There is a small learning curve where you learn not to take off skin too, but once you realize how good the tweezers are, you figure out you don’t need to grasp at skin like you would with normal tweezers.

We have differing opinions on pens and there are a lot of good pens out there.  One of us is addicted to Pilot G2, especially for grading.

Leifheit jar opener— If you don’t live with the incredible hulk, sometimes you need to open a jar by yourself, and sometimes you’d like to do it in a way that doesn’t damage the lid of the jar.  This expensive jar opener imported from Germany is a wonder.  I feel like I can open anything!  It is true that there are other highly rated jar openers on the market, also expensive and also from Europe, but we haven’t tried them.  This one definitely works.  We love it.

We have a perfect metal spatula, but unfortunately it is unbranded and we’ve been unable to find a second exactly like it.  Maybe you have a metal spatula to recommend?  Good rubber spatulas are also a great thing to have, but they are legion.

This Logitech ipad keyboard is amazing.  Sure, it’s not so little, but it is so nice.  One of my RAs had one and after she showed me all its features I had to have it.  It’s made responding to emails while traveling SO MUCH EASIER.  Note that the different colors have different prices– you can get a discount if you’re willing to go with say, red.

What little things have made your life better?  When has spending extra for quality on some everyday item been worth it?

42 Responses to “Little things that just work”

  1. Miser Mom Says:

    Reflective spokes stickers ( You can barely see these by day, but at night they let your bike be super cool & super visible from the side, with no batteries. (You’d still need lights for front and back, though). They’re $15 per bike; I’ve splurged and gotten them for everyone my age and younger in my family. Because they’re so lightweight, they also make a good present to mail across the country . . . that’s how we got our first set, actually.

    Those metal pencil sharpeners — I am now lusting. Dang you. Maybe I’ll put that on my christmas wish list!

  2. MidA Says:

    Consumables that take awhile to consume, because they make every day feel a bit special and luxurious. I usually ask for and receive these as gifts from DH and/or immediate family. Specifically:
    Mighty Leaf Loose Tea & Chuao drinking chocolate (both of which I tend to have only on weekends, so they take weeks/months to work through)
    Kiehl’s lotions & potions (daily moisturizers are concentrated and last a long time, masks/shower gel used weekly also last; plus, their products aren’t heavily scented so I can layer on my favorite perfume)
    Jo Malone perfume…many subtle scents; I usually have two so that I can either layer or wear solo, which provides variety without too much clutter
    MAC lipstick, Benefit eyeshadow & blush, Chanel eyebrow pencil (I wear most of these every day and they last, approximately, forever.)

    I also love our lemon squeezer, nice looking water kettle (since it lives on the counter), and the safe edge can opener (Christmas gift from my mom…kind of like your bath mat)!

  3. OMDG Says:

    Expensive white noise machine that has 10 different and that can be cranked out especially loud. Very useful for when I’m on nightfloat and have to sleep during the day.

  4. xykademiqz Says:

    Pens… All office supplies, really. I am a die-hard Zebra pen fan.
    I also bring myself great joy by purchasing brightly colored post-its, dry-erase markers for work and home, binders and folders in pastels.

  5. The frugal ecologist Says:

    These are my favorite kind of gifts to give and receive. Practical yet special. In my family no one ever *needs* anything and really most of the wants are taken care of too, so this type of gift is perfect.
    I put consumables in this category too – fancy candles, handmade soap, interesting jams and teas.

    Thanks for the ideas!

  6. undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

    Love love love the Logitech iPad keyboard! I’m on my second one. The only drawback is that you can’t use it on a flight because it’s Bluetooth. Otherwise, it is perfect.

  7. First Gen American Says:

    +1 vote on the furminator and a good pencil sharpener. Tweezers, YES. Other gifts that were SO good but not that expensive…an electric kettle. Everyone in Europe uses them and I bought them for all my tea drinking family members. They always comment on how much easier/faster it is. Same goes for food. Real maple syrup over the fake stuff. Harney and sons tea bags over Lipton. A box of tea lasts a while and is cheap, so why not buy the good stuff. A good mug.

    Basically, anything that is used daily and you can get a luxury version makes a good gift for me….high quality towels, sheets, a really good bottle opener for beer or wine…a quality knife. A samsonite roller bag if you travel a lot. Basically, if the item is used a lot, I almost don’t care of the cost difference at this point. Items that also fit in this category for me is a good Wallet and bag or backpack. I detest shopping so much that I’d rather pay 2-3x the cost if the item will last me 10 years. It is also cheaper in the long run to buy stuff that lasts.

    • MutantSupermodel Says:

      I should totally put an electric tea kettle on my list.

      • zenmoo Says:

        How do you boil water if you don’t have a kettle? I’ve heard this before – that Americans don’t use kettles – but it just seems really odd.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I use a microwave and DH uses a pot on the stove.

        My mom has a kettle that she puts on the stove that whistles when it’s done.

      • Cloud Says:

        Once you have an electric kettle, you’ll never want to live without one again. Especially if you have an electric stove that is slow to boil water and sometimes need to make dinner in a hurry… I often boil the water in my kettle, then dump it in a pan I’ve had heating on the stove w/a little more water, and then I can make pasta in 10 minutes instead of 20.

      • bogart Says:

        Cloud — I do the same thing!

  8. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I love all of your suggestions!!

  9. Debbie Says:

    Ug, just a being in canada gripe. See that the 2-holed sharpener is 1.49 on Looked on and it’s $21.52. Very disappointing. Thanks for the ideas though!

  10. Debbie M Says:

    Thank you for this–and for showing us your exact favorites.

    I once got everyone I know some fingernail clippers with a guard to keep the fingernail bits from flying all over the place. (I do have an irrational hatred for finding nail clippings everywhere. And the ones I found are missing the part that helps you clean your nails so it’s not ideal.

    But I do like these plastic erasers for erasing without tearing up the paper. And Indi chocolate orange lotion just because it smells good. And my mom once got us all these great measuring spoons that are narrow enough to fit into spice jars. (I later heard that mine, like many other measuring spoon sets, weren’t accurate, but apparently my cooking, including my baking, does not require accuracy.)

  11. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    Those measuring cups from Crate and Barrel. with a squishable silicone insert. I had to go there to pick up a wedding present for a friend I don’t care for much anymore, and they were on their registry. I bought them for myself and proceeded to pick them up something cheaper…. :) It was worth it though…I don’t spill anything while baking anymore (or at least from those cups)!

    Most of the other life-changing things I use are work-related, which is boring and usually relate to the fact that I’m sort of left-handed and make messes of my hands from ink pens and notebooks. I’m totally on board with good tea, good chocolate, real maple syrup, and a really high-quality, good-smelling hand/body lotion. Those little upgrades are so nice to have!

  12. zenmoo Says:

    I adore the Aesop Resurrection hand wash. It is my go-to gift for new mothers together with a tube of the matching hand lotion. It smells beautiful and is really gentle on skin which is so important when you’re washing your hands many, many times a day.

  13. Practical Parsimony Says:

    One year, my mother bought her three daughters, including me, a lip moisturizer from Revlon. I was puzzled, but she said it was wonderful. Yes, that was our only gift from her that year. She had cancer and had little money. She was absolutely correct. It cost $5 back then, about 35 years ago. Now, it is almost $10. I bought two tubes last year, and one does not have spf 6 protection. Oops, I see it went up. I got mine at CVS and Walgreen’s while on a trip the last time. It is not carried in all drugstores.

    Revlon Moon Drops 8010-0008-56

    Make sure you get the one with the spf 6 protection. I feels so much better than the one without. This lip conditioner comes in a lipstick case, not the little metal tube that hold Chapstick. Chapstick makes my lips feel waxy and then dry. I use this after I blot lipstick and over the lipstick. Outdoors, I just carry this Mood Drops Moisturizer and use without lipstick. It may come in different shades, but I just use the clear one.

    I give this to my daughters each Christmas. I use one tube each year, but have no idea how long it lasts them. My husband and children liked to “share” my lip moisturizer.

  14. becca Says:

    The Glide/higher quality dental floss! I will never use regular dental floss again. Now there is a store brand for it, so it’s not like 4x the cost. But even if it were, so worth it.

  15. Revanche Says:

    Agreed: Tweezerman, I thought PiC was being ridiculous spending $20 on a pair of tweezers. Nope, he’s right.
    Furminator, yes yes and yes. I’ve had the same one for 10 years? Still excellent.

    I LOVE: The GelPro kitchen mats are AMAZING. Expensive but good grief I love them. I can prep for hours in the kitchen now without all my joints going out.
    OXO can opener. We already had an old one but it killed my hands. This one is so easy to use even with my nearly-arthritic hands that even when I had a brain fart and tried to open a can upside down the thing very nearly managed it (that was stupid).
    Logitech backlit keyboard (full size): so awesome for my hands.
    Glue tape. So much better than regular glue or tape for most uses. Of course it works too well sometimes, like say, when you thought you grabbed the white out tape….
    Those awesome small glass bowls. They’re called dipping bowls but I use them for everything. Kitchen prep (diced garlic, spices, etc), serving dipping sauces, mixing ingredients/sauces, the perfect serving size of ice cream. They were sort of a random find on Amazon but I’d absolutely buy another dozen just to make sure we always have them if that wasn’t weird. And hoardly.

  16. Cloud Says:

    I’m trying to think of something I splurge on because the high quality version is worth the extra money, and I’m coming up with chocolate. And bras (not that they make cheap ones in my size). Oh, and also tea. I’m a fan of Taylors of Harrogate English Breakfast for everyday and a wide range of interesting teas from Lupicia for variety.

  17. Mrs PoP Says:

    It’s not little, but our Toter garbage can. It was $60 or $70, but is so much easier to use than other garbage cans and much more durable… hope it will last forever. =)

  18. Rosa Says:

    My metal spatula is cracked, and i keep using it because I can’t find a good replacement. I was really hoping someone here had found it.

    I asked for a metal spatula for Christmas 2 years ago and got a metal-COLORED spatula that was actually plastic. So I’m just looking to get it for myself now.

  19. Katherine Says:

    My dad and his wife got us tiny jars of really, really nice balsamic vinegar and olive oil last year. They were amazing, especially the balsamic! I was kind of skeptical at first, but it was really, really good.

    My favorite metal spatula is a “fish spatula” (even though I am vegetarian – it is especially great for flipping pancakes). My parents bought it when we lived in Europe when I was a kid, and I got it in their divorce five years ago. It was possibly the most contested item in their separation. They each bought a replacement from Williams Sonoma.

    I also really love the non-standard size measuring cups and spoons from Williams Sonoma. They are really great for when you need 3/4 cup of flour and 1/2 T of something else.

    I’m totally buying my mom those bike reflectors for Christmas, and now I want the metal pencil sharpener, too.

  20. bogart Says:

    Oxo swivel peeler.

    Not directly related, but I like to buy kitchen equipment for my DH because then he uses it :) .

  21. jlp Says:

    You may already be familiar with this site, but in case not: The readers/commenters there have turned us on to various things over the years.

    Chocolate: Callebaut choco chips (we get them at Whole Foods). They have spoiled me for all other chocolate.

  22. Happy Says:

    My favorite gift to give is a “The Cheese Knife“. It’s plastic but cuts cheese fantastically well without sticking. Throw in a few fancy cheeses and it’s a thoughtful housewarming or hostess gift. I second the good balsamic and maple syrup ideas, too.

  23. Tragic Sandwich Says:

    I like to get gifts that are useful. We still use the blender my brother gave me about 20 years ago. It’s not even a fancy blender.

    One of my favorite kitchen items is my Zojirushi rice cooker/steamer, which thankfully came free to me from a friend who found that it was too big for her needs. I don’t use it all the time, but my last rice cooker made terrible rice and was difficult to clean. This one makes it easy, and it would have been worth paying for.

    And yes to Tweezerman tweezers.

  24. darchole Says:

    Automatic litter boxes. Spouse and I both suck at cleaning them out on a regular basis. The automatic ones still need some cleaning, but not as much.

  25. chacha1 Says:

    One of my favorite small gifts received is a glass nail file. My sister got it at, I think, the North Carolina Arboretum – it had been embellished by a local artist with a bit of dichroic glass.
    They’re made by a lot of vendors and (IMO) work infinitely better than a metal file. I carry mine daily. You can take them right through airport security without setting off any alarms. :-)
    I still have a metal file at home, but honestly I don’t know why. I should chuck that thing out and get myself a “home” glass one.

  26. Brandy Says:

    A great pair of toenail clippers with a straight edge, not curved. Ill easily pay $10 for these. I had a pair that are 30 years old and disappeared in the house. they were great. New pairs are curved and not as strong.

  27. Can toilet paper spark joy? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Now, we believe in small well-made tools to the extent that we’ve recommended people give tweezers and pencil sharpeners for Christmas.  These little luxuries really do spark joy for me whenever I have to sharpen a […]

  28. Stuff we’ve really enjoyed having this year | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] a previous post on little things that just work.  I still get a lot of pleasure from using a high quality pencil […]

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