Cheap Thrills: Inexpensive (and Awesome) Things That Make Us Happy

A few good gift ideas here, too! Read more

cheap stuff happiness

A week or so ago, the NYT’s Tim Herrera wrote his column Smarter Things about a handful of small “cheapish things that disproportionately improve your life.” I read with fascination his list (a long iPhone cord, a white noise machine and wireless headphones, to name a few items) because this is a topic I think about A LOT. In fact, my husband and I just had a conversation about the small, mundane things that make me inordinately happy and/or make life so much easier. (Our favorite clippies for keeping open food bags sealed, for instance.) And so I would add to Herrera’s column a few of my own items (some of which — no surprise here — revolve around being a parent). Not a one of them costs more than $50  … and most of them are less than $20.

Mrs. Meyer’s radish hand soap
I know that the idea of radish soap sounds terrible, but it’s actually wonderful smelling: clean, crisp, not too sweet. Ever since we cut fragrances from everything — laundry detergent, dryer sheets, lotions, bath soaps … sigh — I feel like this good-smelling (and mostly natural) hand soap is all I have left. It lifts my spirits every time I smell it, which is often because I live with dirty, germy children.
Price: $3 or $4 a bottle, depending on where you buy it.

The Zojuirushi travel mug
So this was actually one of the things mentioned in Herrera’s column, but in my defense, I’ve been writing about this mug for YEARS. I love how this mug keeps liquids hot for hours and hours; I love that it’s literally unspillable (I have honest-to-goodness thrown it, full of coffee, in my purse); I love that it’s lasted for two years and shown no real wear. It’s saved us Lord knows how much on Starbucks purchases, and it’s made life more caffeinated, thus better.
Price: $23 on Amazon

iPhone stands
Because one set of our family lives far away, we spend a lot (a lot!) of time on Facetime. This inexpensive duo of virtually indestructible rubber iPhone holders means that we can prop up the phone (vertically or horizontally) anywhere we need to. We also sent one to the grandparents so they could do the same. It was a great little gift that made it easier to talk to someone on the camera, and I swear that having it on our kitchen counter inspires us to Facetime more often.
Price: $9 for a set of two on Amazon

Eyebrow mascara
Discovering eyebrow mascara was big for me: I’m not a huge makeup person, but I will say that I do not feel fit for this world until I have tidy, defined eyebrows. (Mostly because my brows veer toward Groucho Marx territory when left to their own evil devices.) I am fond of the L’Oreal version, which tames my curly brows and adds a little tint and fullness to them. Every day I am so glad for this little discovery that costs almost nothing, takes me two minutes to apply, and makes me feel instantly prettier.
Price: About $8 at most drugstores or beauty departments.

The Black & Decker Cordless Hand Vacuum
I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but this dustbuster makes me so happy that I feel a little pathetic admitting it. I hate lugging the vacuum up and down our steep, narrow Philly stairs, but if I go more than four days without dealing with my floors, then I have tumbleweeds of dust, hair and Cheddar Bunny crumbs rolling across our house. The answer is this light, powerful little hand vacuum that has an attachments for baseboards and an extension that gets in the really tight spaces. It’s easy and sturdy and has lasted for a couple years now, and it’s literally the only thing that stands between us and a life of filth about 90 percent of the time.
Price: $48

Dimmer Switches
The power to control the brightness of a lamp is oddly comforting. My husband is obsessed with dimmer switches, and he’s converted me, and until you are likewise converted, you won’t fully appreciate how nice it is to enter a room at bedtime with the lights glowing just gently, or how lovely it feels to dim the lights for a movie to a level where it’s dark, but you can still see your pizza or ramen or whatever. Low-tech luxury, people.
Price: $12 on Amazon

BeautyCounter Lip Conditioner
So $20 is unquestionably expensive for lip balm, but $20 is not a lot when you’re talking about comfort and vanity … right? And I have found nothing better for avoiding tight, dry, rough lips year-round than this stuff. It smells/tastes like peppermint, it has no icky ingredients, it really works, and it has lasted me almost a year so far. Putting this balm on my lips is a twice-daily ritual that feels at once very basic and also sort of indulgent.
Price: $20