Mr. Frumin is the editor in chief at Wirecutter, a product recommendation site owned by The New York Times Company.
The best thing I bought this year was our $3 fly swatter pick. My kids and I had an absolute blast running around the house this past summer, spotting flies, and then ninja-swatting them into oblivion. Fly swatting may not be your thing but I hope this lesson is clear: You don’t have to spend a ton of money to buy things that will truly bring joy to your life.
To that end, here’s a list of some of the best things our staff bought this year. Some of them are thoroughly tested Wirecutter picks. Others are just things we stumbled upon and love. But whether they save you from power failures, protect your laptop from destruction, or simply spare you from having to carry dog poop, we hope this list of the best things we bought in 2019 will make your life a little brighter and easier in 2020. Enjoy!
I bought myself a pair of Onsen towels (Wirecutter’s quick-dry recommendation) mainly because I’m a sucker for that waffle-weave texture, which reminds me of going to a spa or enveloping myself in the clean, cottony folds of a fancy hotel bathrobe. Nearly a year later, the texture still makes me happy every time I grab my towel from its hook, adding a tiny dose of luxury to my otherwise totally routine (and often rushed) shower. But there’s another, more practical reason I’ve ditched all my other towels in favor of Onsens: Although the waffle weave is soft and chunky enough to make these towels feel cozy (which can’t be said for some Turkish towels I own), they’re thin enough to dry quickly in my ancient apartment bathroom, where the only ventilation is a small open window. This keeps them smelling fresh longer and saves me from one of the world’s most unpleasant sensations: damp towel on a cold morning.
For years, I’ve tried (with varying levels of success) to make cider from the apple trees in my backyard. My homemade cider press was so dangerous, I’d have my kids stand behind me when I used it (it involved an 8-ton hydraulic jack). It was also hard to clean and fiddly to use, so each fall I lost interest after only two or three pressings. This year, I invested in the Pleasant Hill Grain MacIntosh Fruit Press, and it’s so effective, I’ve gone from a yield of a couple of gallons each year to well over 30 gallons this year, all from my own apple trees. The kids — who are no longer scared of cider making — love to crank the handle down and watch the cider pour into the bucket, but their favorite part is filling their cups directly from the juice pan. Now the plan is to freeze most of the cider to drink throughout the year, turn 3 gallons into vinegar, and turn 5 gallons into the hard stuff.
Graf Lantz Bierfilzl Square Multi Color Felt Coaster ($25 for a set of four at the time of publication)
Thanks to generous family members and my own inherent cheapness, our house was full of hand-me-down coasters that were perfectly functional but that I’d never choose for myself (the Reader’s Digest coasters adorned with Western Australian birds were a case in point). A friend of mine had a set of Graf Lantz coasters, and I was immediately taken by the richness of the colors and how the felted wool graciously absorbed the condensation from my gin-and-tonic glass. So I had to get my own (three sets to date!), and now the cheerily colored stacks on my coffee and dining tables are a lovely reminder of what it’s like to be an adult who can buy her own damned coasters.
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Since I attended my first Kiss concert in 1977, I’ve been searching for earplugs that fit comfortably and don’t muffle the sound so badly that I can’t tell a vocal from a guitar solo. After trying a couple dozen, I finally found the Loop Earplugs, which I recommend for anyone who attends loud concerts. As we found when researching our guide to the best earplugs for concerts (and as my teenage, Kiss-loving self already knew), concert sound levels can leave your ears ringing the next morning — and that ringing means your hearing has been damaged. The Loop Earplugs come with ear tips in three sizes and two materials, so you’re likely to get a good fit, and their acoustical design produces safer listening levels without making singers sound as if their heads were draped in blankets. I keep them in my car so they’re always around when the music gets too loud.
I lead a relatively active lifestyle — I go trail riding on my bike most weekends, I do yoga three times a week. So I’m always searching for technical clothing that not only works well but also looks good. This year, I finally found the merino shirts I’ll be wearing for the foreseeable future. At $55 for the short-sleeve version and $65 for the long-sleeve version, these T-shirts are affordable for merino; they’re also well cut, and they come in colors I’m interested in wearing, for once. I wore my tees through the summer biking season and as a base layer into the fall. And now that it’s cooled down, I was finally able to buy a long-sleeve shirt for the winter months that’s just as great as the short-sleeves I wore all summer. These are the best investment I’ve made all year, and I’ll continue wearing them until they fall apart.
I used to make cold brew in a French press. It was not great. At some point, I got sick of the gritty, oily, not-quite-concentrate and got a nut milk bag. Surely that would solve my woes! Nope, still not great — better flavor, but not concentrated enough no matter how high a coffee-to-water ratio I used. This summer, as the temps began to ramp up, I decided to stop being a cheapskate and spring for a dedicated cold-brew maker. Turns out, having the right tool for the job makes a big difference: When diluted, the concentrate I get out of this thing is easily as good as the cold brew that’s $5 a cup at the cafe down the street, and I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas to enjoy it.
After months of carefully extracting sheet trays, cutting boards, a pizza stone, and a pie plate from a stacked, wobbling, Jenga-like tower, I bought the YouCopia Storemore Adjustable Bakeware Rack, from our small kitchen ideas guide. This bakeware rack immediately brings order to chaos with its foolproof assembly and adjustable tines, which let you fit many pieces of gear of different sizes vertically within the rack. Now there’s no excuse to pile stuff helter-skelter, and it’s so much easier to find and reach for what I need for the task at hand, whether that’s baking off a salted honey pie or roasting some sausage, greens, and peppers for a sheet-pan dinner.
I’d had our budget pressure washer pick sitting in my online shopping cart for a little over a year — I could never quite justify buying it because I thought we’d use it for the one thing we needed it for and then it would languish unused, dusty and forgotten. But I needed to wash my deck, so I finally caved and ordered it because the situation was getting dire and rentals seemed like a hassle. I am happy to report I have now also pressure washed everything in my backyard: the car, the exterior house walls, the bird bath, our outdoor furniture, the grill … the list just keeps growing. My neighbors have also borrowed it, because they’ve seen me outside washing everything and can’t resist how easy it looks to wash years of accumulated grime off things. (And a little neighborly camaraderie feels pretty good.) So if you too have been looking for a project to sink hours into, look no further.
My New York apartment kitchen has no drawers. As such, my knives were piled atop one another inside what was meant to be a wine cubby (why, architects?). That was bad for a few reasons: First, the knives could nick or dull by banging together, and second, it’s dangerous to reach into a pile of sharp knives (duh). I bought the Benchcrafted Mag-Blok, which we recommend in our small kitchen ideas guide, so I could reach for knives quickly and easily, store them more safely, and incentivize myself to immediately dry my knives after cleaning them instead of leaving them on the dish rack. Plus, the Mag-Blok is as sleek as a piece of heirloom furniture, and it’s something I know I’ll keep for a long time.
This summer my family moved to Amsterdam, a city where owning a car is expensive but bike lanes are ubiquitous. This cargo bike (or bakfiets in Dutch) lets me take my 2- and 4-year-old to school or around town, rain or shine, without our having to buy a second car. In addition to a bench seat with two safety harnesses, the Urban Arrow Family has a Bosch electric assist motor, making it easier for me to pedal, and a rain cover for the bucket so the kids stay warm and dry and get to school in style, with room left over for their school bags or a load of groceries. As for their chauffeur, well, I’ve made good use of our guide to gear for foul-weather bike commuting.
I buy only those books that I want to revisit; I prefer to borrow from my local library. But I know I will be meditating on Jenny Odell’s “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” for years to come (plus, there were too many library holds to wait). Despite the hot-pink, flowery cover and the clickbait title, this book is a cry to reconsider the politics and philosophies behind how people live in a digital world. Odell seamlessly weaves together anecdotes about visiting California’s natural gems with literary theory and insights into how big data uses human consciousness. She makes it all click — and will make you question your own clicking.
I had a problem: The flimsy iPhone charger that comes standard with new Apple devices kept sliding behind my nightstand. The solution: the sharp and sturdy RAVPower Wireless Charging Stand RP-PC069. It looks great, charges fast, and is solid enough that it’s never in danger of sliding behind furniture — even when my frenzied daughter is doing her patented flips and “super swoops” on my bed. Also, can we all just admit that it’s a pain to plug that little charging cable into the tiny slot on your phone? My wife initially made fun of me on this latter point: “Oh, it’s sooo hard to plug your phone in, boo hoo.” But I had the last laugh. After several nights of her watching me easily plunk my phone down on this handsome wireless charger while she searched for her cord behind her nightstand and then futzed with plugging it in, she relented and ordered a RAVPower of her own. It’s the little things in life ….
I’ve struggled with washing lettuce for years, stubbornly rinsing, shaking, paper-toweling, fumbling, and cursing my way through the task. The end result was always a bit too waterlogged, a smidgen too gritty, a lot all over the place. No more. In an effort to up my greens-cleaning game, I bought the OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner, from our guide to the best salad spinners, and I haven’t looked back. The spinning mechanism is surprisingly satisfying, a grippy bottom keeps the bowl (which doubles as a serving bowl) in place, and it handles everything from lacinato kale to beet greens with care. “This is a crazy thing,” said my kid, “but I love it!” Enough said.
Society 6 Laptop Sleeve (All Together by Lorien Stern) ($40 for the 15-inch version at the time of publication)
In need of a new sleeve for my MacBook Pro earlier this year, I consulted our guide first, comparing the five different picks. In the end, I was thrilled to be able to make a purchase that keeps my laptop protected and supports an independent artist — we recommend the basic Society6 laptop sleeve, and as luck would have it, one of my favorite artists syndicates designs to Society6 on everything from tote bags to shower curtains. Lorien Stern has 11 unique, fun prints available on this high-quality, Wirecutter-approved sleeve (and the site has hundreds more). Good luck choosing just one.
When we bought our apartment several years ago, it came with a dehumidifier that made a kind of ka-thunk! sound every time it turned on. This shotgun warning was then followed by a long purr of white noise. We learned to ignore the sound over time, but it eventually devolved into a pained mechanical growl before the dehumidifier finally gave out. Without thinking, we grabbed a Frigidaire 50-pint dehumidifier (a slightly larger version of one of our picks in this guide), and now we have a whole new understanding of “silent night.” It’s wonderfully quiet, and the air in our home feels so much better. The built-in hose connector means we can send the water straight down the drain, too, instead of manually carrying the bucket over to the sink three times a day. And it’s subtle and attractive enough that our home no longer looks and sounds like the inside of a Jawa sandcrawler. I only wish we had bought it sooner.
I’ve been homebrewing for years, but it wasn’t until this summer that I really went all-in on fermentation, with things like lacto-fermented hot sauces, scratch-made vinegar, and — in my most ambitious project — miso paste. You can make miso in almost any kind of vessel, but I wanted something that satisfied a few key criteria: It needed to be easy to clean and sanitize, I wanted it to be built to last, and it had to be big enough to make the effort and time commitment involved in miso-making worth it. This beautiful stoneware crock fit the bill perfectly. It’s big and heavy, and it has a wonderfully smooth glaze inside and out. And these crocks aren’t just for miso, either. You can make pickles, sauerkraut, or even sourdough starter in them, and they come in 1- to 10-gallon sizes for all kinds of projects.
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I take my dog, Robin, for short walks and long walks, in all weather, in pants that have pockets and pants that don’t, sometimes only partially awake. Whether I’m wrangling an umbrella or returning a call or just trying to convince Robin to forget about an impertinent squirrel, I often find myself wishing for a second pair of hands. This handy little piece of notched plastic on a carabiner is as close as I’ve ever come to having that wish fulfilled. It holds Robin’s poop bags for me once I’ve cleaned up after her. That might sound like a small thing, but ever since I clipped it to Robin’s leash, it has been making our walks a little easier and smoother, every single day.
Living in a wooded area, we’ve had plenty of power outages, usually whenever strong winds toss trees and limbs onto our power lines. These storms can last for days or weeks, and depending on the season, we’ve had to deal with freezing temperatures, food spoilage, and — gasp — no internet. Tired of roughing it, I finally bought the Honda EU3000iS generator, the big sibling of the top pick in our portable generator guide. Its 3,000 watts are enough to power our essentials, and unlike the generators in neighbors’ yards, this Honda is blissfully quiet and super fuel efficient. It runs for a welcome 20-plus hours on one tank of gas; other generators I’ve used have required refilling every few hours (and 3 a.m. top-ups are a huge bother). My choice was confirmed when I picked up the EU3000iS — the store had six others set aside for the local utility company.
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100 Ton Hydraulic Bottle Jack
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