The BuzzFeed Life editors are always trying new products, apps, tips, and DIY projects, and we decided it was time to start sharing the best of them with you. Last spring, we began posting our recommendations each month for what’s actually worth it. To kick off 2016, we’re sharing the best things that we used throughout 2015, which really stood the test of time. For the sake of transparency, items under “Things We Bought” and “Tricks We Learned” were purchased with our own money and/or were not the result of a PR pitch. Those under “Things We Tried” are items that were provided to us at no cost for the sake of review.
1. JOCO 12-ounce glass mug — $24.95
After I wrote about how much I liked these pretty mugs on my personal blog, my mother-in-law sent me one as a sweet “just because” gift. I have since purchased another one and customized two others, and I just bought my mom one as a Christmas gift.
Most travel mugs are way too tall for both a Keurig machine and the amount of coffee I am likely to drink in one sitting. The 12-ounce Joco mug is just the right size for an 8-ounce cup of coffee plus creamer. (Though there is a 16-ounce version and an 8-ounce version if either of those sizes is more your style.) It’s also beautiful. One morning after I’d finished filling my cup in the office kitchen, my co-worker said, “Wow, that’s a really beautiful cup of coffee.” This is the first time I’ve ever received a compliment of that nature, but I have to say I agree with him; it is a beautiful cup of coffee. I think it has to do with the fact that most of us aren’t used to seeing coffee in clear glass mugs, but it’s actually quite aesthetically pleasing. (I’m partial to the white and the pale blue, but the black looks great IRL too.) We can joke about objects ~sparking joy~, but this mug really does give me that little spark of happiness every time I use it.
2. The New York Times print edition — $7–14 a week, depending on your subscription
Here’s a thing I never thought I’d say: I subscribed to the print edition of the New York Times this year.
And here’s another: I absolutely love it.
I subscribed for pretty simple reasons: I spend all day at work looking at a screen, and my eyes hurt. I wanted to read about what was happening in the world, but I didn’t want to look at a screen. So I figured the paper would be a nice way to catch up on the news and give my eyes a rest. I hadn’t regularly read the print edition of any publication in over a decade, but I wanted to give it a shot.
A few weeks in, I realized something: The Times had accidentally become my 30 minutes of zen in the morning. It’s the half-hour that I put my devices away, set up on the couch, and just read. I’ve always tried to find time in my day to be calm — I used to do that through through yoga, and later through running. In 2015, it became my mornings reading the paper. And there’s never been a year that I’ve needed it more. This was the year that news seemed to infiltrate every part of my life (thanks, neverending presidential election!), and I wanted to get some of my life back. With the paper, I don’t have to spend all day checking the news for updates. Whatever happens today, I’ll read it about it tomorrow. It’s an unexpectedly wonderful feeling.
3. Bud Light Lime — ~$8
When I really sit down and think about what I want in life, it more or less boils down to this: I want people to be glad when I walk into a room. And this year is the year I found a foolproof way to make that happen. Are you on the edge of your seat?
It’s Bud Light Lime.
Specifically, enter the room in question holding a six-pack of Bud Light Lime. Preferably a room at a party; I wouldn’t try this at your next important office meeting, although if you do, let me know how it goes. If you can’t find BLL in bottle format, two or more jumbo 24-ounce cans are also an acceptable offering. You will be welcomed as (at least) a funny person with a developed sense of irony re: bourgeois status signifiers…or (at best) a Hero to the People.
Now, before you start mansplaining hops to me, hear me out.
First, Bud Light Lime is fucking delicious. If you think it isn’t, you’re probably confusing it with the Lime-A-Rita, a “flavored malt beverage” within the same corporate family that is cloyingly sweet and, even to those with a soft spot for it (hi), objectively disgusting. But BLL is a different animal. It’s fresh. It’s fizzy. It’s not really sweet, even though your brain thinks it is. The lime flavor doesn’t taste real, but it tastes the way it should. It also completely disguises the mild grossness of light beer in its natural state.
BLL is sort of like a gentle citrus soda that happens to be 4.2% ABV. It’s the kind of thing you can drink happily and steadily for four hours at a summer barbecue, and the kind of thing that can make you feel like you’re at a summer barbecue when you’re actually at a house party in February that smells like the unwashed feet and seasonal affective disorder of 100 acquaintances.
In addition: Bud Light Lime is widely accessible, inexpensive, and guaranteed to be more popular at a gathering than yet another six-pack of Sierra Nevada or Sixpoint or whichever dumb beer is the “nice” beer that everyone buys where you live. There aren’t many real benefits to be reaped from a food system dominated by mega-corporations that build products in a lab. BLL is one of them. Say thank you. Don’t ask questions. Long live Anheuser-Busch!
Lastly, and this is the important part, bringing Bud Light Lime to a party makes you The Fun One. People will say, “Haha, that’s so wacky! You’re wacky!” And without knowing exactly why, they will like you a little bit more. They will try a Bud Light Lime in jest and find themselves thinking, Gosh, this stuff isn’t bad. They will think of you, hereafter, as a person of humor and taste. Maybe they’ll even bring BLL to a future party. Look at you! You’ve shared something good. You’ve made the world a better place. Cheers.
4. Foot Traffic Combed Cotton Tights — $20
This is one of those reviews that I didn’t really want to write because I am so scared that these tights will sell out and I will never be able to buy them again. They’re seriously that good: soft and warm without ever getting sweaty or itchy, tight enough to feel like everything is held together without ever constricting, and sturdy enough that two pairs is more than enough to take you through an entire winter. (Even if you wear them as often as I do, which is like three times a week minimum.)
Even with perfection come drawbacks. They’re pricey, although they stand up to repeated washing so well that dollar for dollar it’s probably better than cycling through a bunch of $4 drugstore pairs, and they’re “one size fits all,” which is a concept society invented to make as many women feel bad about their bodies as possible. That said, I’ve evangelized for these to a range of friends and they do seem to magically fit more folks than you’d think. Apparently they also come in a thigh-high version, which I will be purchasing in the next ~20 minutes.
They come in a rainbow of colors — the black version is my favorite, since I live in New York City and am extremely boring — and all the ones I’ve tried (navy, light gray) have been opaque with just enough texture. I’ve worn them to work and to formal events, and they pass, to me, what is the ultimate tights litmus test: When I get home, I don’t immediately rush to peel them off.
5. Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule — $12.48
In 2014 I was the kind of girl who often went to bed with makeup still on, feeling guilty but not quite guilty enough to do anything about it. Washing my face at night felt like a chore, and suffering from dry patches compounded my desire to stay away from the cleansing process. After repeatedly hearing about this mysterious “Korean Skincare Routine,” I decided that I was going to do this thing and emerge a whole new person. A better version of myself! The kind who could keep an actual nighttime routine!
The problem? Taking on the Korean skincare routine means adding up to eight additional products into your nighttime routine (assuming before you were just cleansing and moisturizing, like me on a good day). That shit ain’t cheap. For those unfamiliar, the routine involves double-cleansing followed by layering a slew of different products that address specific needs in order from lightest to heaviest. The steps themselves varied from each source I came across, but a typical routine might look like this 10-step version.
Since I didn’t want to drop upwards of $200 only to have this not work out, I decided I would introduce one new product into my routine at a time. If I felt like I was seeing results, I would buy another new product. I’m up to six products now and just bought myself a sleeping pack for Christmas! My favorite product is Mizon’s Snail Intensive Repair Ampoule, or “snail jizz” as I affectionately refer to it. I felt the most significant improvements to my skin after introducing this product into my routine.
So far I’ve seen very positive results. I no longer experience dry patches. My breakouts are less frequent. My skin has a consistent dewy finish and I feel more confident not wearing any makeup at all. But the most dramatic change is that I’ve actually been able to stick to a routine! The 10 minutes I spend slathering shit on my skin before bed feels like “me” time. It doesn’t feel like a chore, it feels like I’m pampering myself. It’s almost meditative.
Hot Tip: You might find some Korean products at Urban Outfitters, but be aware that they are being sold for a huge markup. You can also find a lot of this stuff for a reasonable price on Amazon, most of which is Prime eligible.
6. TSA Pre-Check – $85 for five years
I fly maybe four to five times a year — some work trips, visiting family, and the inevitable out-of-town weddings. That’s not exactly a frequent flyer, but it’s enough that it seemed worth it to make it a little more convenient. Flying sucks, and making it less time-consuming and stressful is great.
TSA Pre-Check has two main advantages:
1) You get to go in that way shorter security line (which makes you feel like a high roller).
2) You don’t have to take off your shoes, light jackets, belt, or take out your laptop from its case, which not only saves a few minutes, but lots of hassle. Personally, the laptop thing is my favorite benefit. I always felt like I was scrambling to get it in and out in time, and I was always nervous one day I’d just leave it in the tray by accident.
To sign up, you have to go on the TSA website to fill out an online form. Then you have to go in person to a local office or the airport to get fingerprinted. You can either sign up for an appointment in advance, or you can walk in. I made an appointment at the fingerprinting office in midtown Manhattan, went on my lunch break, and was done with the whole shebang in about 15 minutes. It took about two weeks to get my letter in the mail with new “known traveler ID number.” Then you just always enter that number when you’re buying your tickets, and it’ll be printed on your boarding pass.
One note: TSA Pre is for U.S. citizens and residents (there’s more detailed info about this on the site). Non-U.S. citizens can get the TSA Pre benefits if you sign up for Global Entry. U.S people can do Global Entry, too, but it’s more of a hassle (more paperwork, you have to go to an airport, not just an office) and more expensive, so unless you travel internationally a lot, I’d say stick with just TSA Pre.
Obviously, there’s an annoyance factor (going to get fingerprinted) and monetary cost (85 buckaroos) to getting TSA Pre. For me, the cost/benefit analysis says: “Yes, this was worth it!” If you don’t fly very much, it might not be worth it. But for a few flights a year, I totally recommend it.
7. Keeping Slippers at the Office
After living in Houston for four years, the move to NYC meant a big change in my footwear situation. Spending a lot of time hoofing it around the city in both the rain and snow, I had to get back in the habit of wearing weather-appropriate footwear. Rubber rain boots and waterproof winter boots made a huge difference in my comfort level on shitty weather days, and kept me from ruining my favorite non-waterproof shoes. However, I quickly learned that while my Wellies and Duck boots and these GD Sorel boots, which are like actual snow tires, are fine when you’re hustling from the subway to your apartment, they are not all that comfortable to wear while sitting at your desk. And even if they are comfortable, they are often still wet, which means sitting with a foot tucked under you (a preferred posture of mine) is out of the question. Rather than hauling regular shoes back and forth every day like we used to do in grade school, I bought an extra pair of these slippers to keep at my office. While this might not be an option if you have to follow a more professional dress code at work, they’ve made a huge difference in my coziness level on days when the weather outside is frightful.
8. The KonMari Method
When an idea goes viral, there’s a familiar cycle of excitement, evangelizing, backlash, and backlash to the backlash. Amid all of this Internet fist-shaking and fist-pumping, it’s often a good idea to just try the damn thing for yourself to see what all the fuss is about. Which is how I ended up “KonMari-ing,” aka using the organization method from Marie Kondo’s best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. And now I’m firmly in the “Oh yeah, this is pretty great and more people should check it out” camp.
A lot of the complaints I’ve heard about the book are from people who haven’t read it (which I suppose is why they don’t know that she has a simple answer for all the people shouting “BUT MY GARBAGE CAN DOESN’T SPARK JOY SO SHOULD I JUST GET RID OF IT, HMMMMMM???? CHECKMATE, SHEEPLE!!!”), and who seem to forget that you can be into the book, believe what she’s saying is probably true, and…still pick and choose which advice you follow. There are a lot of concepts in the book that I really appreciate, from decanting my dish soap and body wash to folding my socks perfectly. And I’ve realized that the question of “Does it spark joy?” is as helpful for deciding what to buy as it is for deciding what to toss, so the method has helped me save money. But I still don’t thank my socks every night for a job well done. I…think that’s fine?
On the other hand, I don’t feel oppressed by the suggestion that perhaps I hang onto way too much shit, probably for subconscious emotional reasons. Kondo isn’t insisting we all live a minimalist lifestyle — she’s just politely suggesting you do something about all the irrelevant cell phone charges that you’ve been hanging onto since 2009. Which, you know…fair. There’s no “right” number of things to own; it’s about only owning the things that make you truly feel calm, comfortable, safe, and happy. Even though my life isn’t fully KonMari-d (hi, bathroom cabinets overflowing with sample eyeliners I got in Birchboxes like two years ago!), I can genuinely say that this book made my day-to-day life considerably more pleasant in 2015.
9. Apple TV – $149 for 32 GB and $199 for 64 GB
The new, fourth-generation Apple TV is the best streaming device I’ve ever used. If this device doesn’t convince you to quit cable for good, I don’t know what will. The Apple TV’s software is completely rebuilt so that it now works just like any other iOS device. There’s an App Store where, in addition to standards like Hulu and Netflix, you can download games (I *highly* recommend Alto’s Adventure) and other lifestyle apps (like Zova, a beautiful fitness app loaded with workouts). The best part? If you buy a game on the Apple TV, you’ll have it for your iPhone, iPod, or iPad too.
There’s also a new remote, with a touchpad cursor and Siri voice activation, which makes navigation a ~breeze~. You can ask things like “Hey Siri, what did she say?” and Apple TV will rewind a bit, then enable subtitles.
The Apple TV has a small, unsurprising catch: There aren’t any music apps specifically built for Apple TV (except for Apple Music), but you can AirPlay Spotify and Pandora from any Mac or iOS device. On Spotify, just tap where it says “Devices Available.” This is probably a big dealbreaker for Android-ers, but there are workarounds like AllCast that’ll allow Android devices to AirPlay to Apple TV. It’s still annoying to have to download a third-party app just to stream music, which is why Apple TV is my top pick for people who already own Apple devices. Read my full review here.
10. Cricut Explore Air — $249.99
You know how when you first saw the trailer for Wall-E, and you were like, lol @ movies, how would I ever feel affection for some beepy little robot creature that doesn’t even talk, and then 10 minutes into the movie you were sobbing? I am here to tell you that it is possible to feel that way about a machine even in this, the physical realm, and for me and Rachel that love resides with the Cricut.
It’s sort of hard to explain what a Cricut is to the uninitiated: It bills itself as an “electronic cutting machine” and it looks like a printer, but with a knife cartridge instead of an ink cartridge. It cuts out any words, shapes, or designs you want, on materials like cardstock, iron-on fabric, vinyl, window cling, and even thin leather. Then, you can affix your design to a tote bag, T-shirt, notebook, window, tiny gravestone, extra-large novelty wine glass, apron, prayer candle, or whatever object your DIY-loving heart desires. It looks incredibly clean and professional with relatively little effort, and is sure to elicits gasps of “You MADE that?!” from friends, loved ones, and hapless co-workers. According to Rachel, who is the sort of person who spends her free time reading Amazon reviews of glue guns in order to find the very best one, it’s significantly better than the Silhouette, its biggest competitor. It aided us in making a really unreasonable quantity of Halloween costumes, and while I wouldn’t suggest it for the SUPER casual crafter, it’s definitely made our lives as professional amateurs, like, 52% better.
There are downsides: In order to create your design, though, you have to deal with the Cricut Design Space. It’s mostly user-friendly but we definitely ran into some hiccups while first trying it out, and we had to update it nearly every time we logged back in. The machine isn’t cheap, and neither are the materials that go in it. There’s also a lot of room for human error (for example, remembering that anything iron-on had to be printed backward)…but such is crafting/life.
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