The Sturdy Thirty
Below you'll find recommendations for higher quality items that should give you more mileage. This will take me a bit to fully populate with items that I've personally used and recommend, but also as ideas come in from others. Items I personally recommend have an asterisk (*). I may, from time to time, recommend experiences or digital products that I find useful. If you have a recommendation, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Red Wing Shoes*
After countless pairs of Clarks, Cole Haans, or Keens, I finally got fed up with my shoes falling apart. I'd routinely spend $75-$125 on a new pair only to have them disintegrate in a year or less. One of the most important elements in finding a good shoe that will last you a little while lis to find a pair where the uppers sewn to the bottom so that the souls can be repaired or completely replaced. I currently wear a pair of Red Wing Heritage Chukkas. They've been a bit more of an investment on the front end, but they are still holding together quite nicely a year later and are able to be repaired. Plus, they're still made pretty much the same way they always have been, right here in the USA. Just make sure you keep them oiled. The break-in period can be a bit tough at first, but the leather will soften and the cork core of the sole will form to your foot over time. Also, they carry a 1-year limited warranty and should repair them for free should anything go wrong. I recently had a minor stitching issue and they fixed mine free of charge. For a better deal, try looking at factory seconds at Sierra Trading Post. If you don't like the style of Red Wing's offerings, look for a pair of shoes with a Goodyear welt that allows you to have them resoled.
2. Hydroflask Insulated water bottles*
When I made the decision to drink fewer sugary drinks, the thing that helped me most was having an insulated water bottle. HydroFlasks are made in Oregon. Personally, I use the 24 oz bottle because it still fits in a cup holder. I also use the sport cap because it can be loud to use the cap that comes with them, constantly unscrewing it and putting it back on. Nothing else has worked for me in terms of increasing my general hydration because it keeps water cold for a really long time. Also, it is pretty much a tank. Mine has a few dents in it now because I take it everywhere, but it's basically indestructible. Write your name and number on the bottom in case you leave it somewhere. Jess Williams over at The Mind Palace podcast recommended Klean Kanteen. I have used both and they are also a high quality alternative.
3. Cast Iron Skillet*
Affordable and they'll last forever. I mostly use mine for baking frittatas and cornbread. I'm not even going to list a brand because, as one reader pointed out, you can usually find one for cheap at a second hand store.
4. Safety Razor*
Disposable razors not only aren't very environmentally friendly, they cost a lot of money. Personally, I don't think they do as good of a job as an old fashioned safety razor. I think there is this misconception that they are difficult to use or that they don't shave very well. Neither could be further from the truth. What you'll spend investing in a good safety razor you'll probably make back in the first year because packs of razor blades are much cheaper that the refills for many common disposable razors. Personally, I use a MÜHLE, but I'm sure there are plenty of good ones out there to choose from.
5. Anker Nylon braided Charging Cables*
Prior to finding the Anker braided charging cables, I'd gone through countless lightning cables because the material next to the connection point invariably falls apart, exposing wires. I think the primary reason for this is reading my iPad in bed while plugged in. With its charging port on the bottom side of the device, I set it on my chest while reading. Even the plastic Anker products did the same after 5 months of use. However, after contacting customer care, they happily replaced the cable with their nylon version free of charge. Not only was their customer service excellent, but the new cable is about 7 months old with no sign of damage.
6. Timbuk2 Bags*
I'm not sure what space Timbuk2 is trying to occupy these days. It seems like they are trying to up their cool factor, whereas previously I'd always seen them as sort of this nerdy bag company. They are definitely playing up their San Francisco roots, having redesigned their logo to highlight this fact while removing or minimizing their old quirky swirl logo. There are certainly prettier bags out there. But I have had my classic Timbuk2 messenger bag for 5 years and it looks and performs just like the day I bought it. It's basically waterproof and it's made from ballistic nylon. There is only one thing I do not like about the bag, and it's the lack of handle at the top of the bag, which makes it tricky when getting out of a car and pulling it from your passenger seat or when you're juggling multiple things at once. For this reason, I recommend getting one with a handle. Is a nylon bag going to look as cool as a vintage leather bag? Nope, it isn't. But these things are tough as nails and will probably last you a lifetime, even if they don't look as cool as the spendier Mission Workshop bags. It's no wonder why Timbuk2 is currently offering 30% off a new bag when you trade in your old one, which they will donate to New Avenues for Youth. I guess they've sort of painted themselves into a corner by offering buy-it-once products.
7. COACH BAGS
If you are looking for a bag that looks a little more professional and perhaps a little more refined, then I've heard from multiple sources that Coach messenger bags fit the bill. Specifically, the Saddle 38 ( STYLE NO. 54524 ) has received rave reviews. One friend in particular says he has had a very similar bag to this for more than 20 years. Just check out the stitching and materials as this recommendation came with the caveat that not all Coach bags are built equally.
8. Wigwam Wool Socks*
I have been a huge fan of merino wool socks from the moment I wore my first pair. Their wicking and antibacterial qualities keep your feet from getting too funky. They also come in various weights and lengths, so they're not just for the cooler months. SmartWool used to be my go-to brand, but I just can't justify spending $20 on a single pair of socks. So I've been using Wigwam, which I purchased at REI, for about 1/3 - 1/2 the price. They have held up nicely.
9. Rainbow Sandals*
Simple leather sandals with a limited warranty where they will replace them if anything goes wrong before you wear through the first layer of the soles. Their fabled story begins with a surfer who hoped to never see a broken sandal discarded on a beach ever again. Check out YouTube for folks showing off their very well worn sandals. I have also had very well made pairs of Reef sandals, but I can't speak to their quality lately.
10. American Apparel*
It is with some trepidation that I'm recommending American Apparel products. What with the drama surrounding the founder Dov Charney, and their recent filing for bankruptcy and subsequent purchase by the Canadian company Gildan Activewear. Just this past January the company laid off 2,400 of its employees and shut down its factories in Los Angeles. Yet despite my uncertainty about the future of the company, every piece of clothing I've ever purchased from them has been well made. And made in the U.S. I've been particularly fond of their jeans and their Henley shirts, one of which I owned for almost 6 years before finally getting rid of it because of a stain. Depending on the outcome of the bankruptcy, I may remove this item from the list. The Minimalists have recommended Everlane, which seems to fill a void, but I can't personally recommend their products yet because I haven't purchased any. However, the next time I'm in the market for some well shirts, I'll probably go with them. Everlane does not make jeans, though. I'm considering get my next pair of jeans from Taylor Stitch.
11. Apple products*
This one may be a bit divisive, and I'm not going to try and convert anyone. However, I'm currently typing this from a MacBook Pro that is 8 years old and it functions pretty much as flawlessly as the day I bought it. I do not know a single person with a Windows-based machine that can say the same. I have upgraded the RAM and put in a solid state hard drive, but other than that, it is stock. I also run some pretty heavy duty programs on it regularly, such as the Adobe Creative Suite and home recording software like Logic Pro.
In addition to the laptop, I've been using iPhones for nearly as long, as well as Airport Express/Extremes and Apple TV. I know other products offer similar features now, but by far one of the best features is Airplay. I have an Airport Express wifi router in the master bath, another in the garage, and the Apple TV in the living room. I plug the audio out jack into whatever stereo is in the room and then I'm able to wirelessly stream my music from wherever I am.
I will admit, some of the stuff Apple has been pulling lately seems like it would be pretty irritating. I do not want to have a dongle for anything I want to use with my laptop. I don't want to have to buy special headphones to fit the new iPhone. But maybe time will tell that they are on the right path. More than likely, they are. We are increasingly a wireless society, but for right now, I like the flexibility of having multiple ports. Hopefully their newer products will be just as durable as this old workhorse I've been using for almost a decade. By far the most irritating thing, however, is their ritual of dropping support for older products for no other reason than what seems like a push toward the new. Still, I've been able to find workarounds, such as a patch that allows MacOS Sierra to run on this machine despite the lack of support or ease of installation.
One tip to the wise, however, is to create a bootable USB drive with your OS on it just in case anything fails. Last Christmas (2016), I accidentally erased my hard drive when I was visiting my parents in Michigan. Suffice to say that I did not have an OS X disc lying around and you can't get a copy online without the App Store (another major annoyance). I had to burn a trial version of Windows on another computer, install it, download a not-so-legal copy of OS X, and then install it on my computer until I was able to get home and reinstall my backup. It isn't fun to be in that situation, especially when you have work to do.
12. Credit unions*
I have no idea whatsoever why people continue to use large multinational banks as their lending institutions. Their rates are awful, they hit you with crazy fees, and they're impersonal. I still use the same credit union that I did in college, over 2200 miles away from where I live currently, without any problems. They offer amazing rates on loans, they see all of my payment history and give me approvals for credit via secure message usually within a day, the iPhone app is outstanding for mobile banking, and I can use any credit union's ATMs surcharge-free. I can also make payments by simply transferring funds between accounts instantly. And so long as you're within a few days of the payment due date, they don't slap you with a late charge. I'm not going to recommend specific credit unions because I'm sure some aren't as great as others, but I'm certain you'll have a better experience than with the big banks.
13. maps.me (app)*
Do you travel a lot? Do you worry about data roaming, or being out of the country and using expensive data? The maps.me app allows you to download states or countries onto your phone for offline use. Sure, Google Maps is getting better in this regard, but you still have to download multiple areas in a piecemeal fashion. Maps.me has also saved me huge potential headaches in the Oregon countryside, particularly in mountainous areas with zero cell service. I highly recommend this app, and that you download your home state map as a backup to Google Maps.
14. Habitat restore*
I'm a relatively new homeowner, and since I'm in a market that has been one of the hottest in the country, I decided to buy a fixer. Most of the work it's needed has been cosmetic, but it has been no small job trying to get this place in order. And if you've ever set foot in a big box hardware store, you know that you can't hardly get out of the place without spending a couple of hundred dollars for even the smallest of projects. And sometimes the products and materials are of lesser quality. This is where Habitat ReStore comes in.
Do yourself a favor and measure every opening and every dimension in your house and keep it in a notebook or on your phone. Doors, windows, rooms. It will take an afternoon, but you'll be equipped to save hundreds if not thousands of dollars at Habitat Restore. You can find all sorts of used building materials and home furnishings, it just takes a bit of patience and the right information (the dimensions).
If you have your own rebuilding center in your town, it's the same idea. I just find my local ReStore to be pretty great for my needs.
15. Ninja Coffee Bar*
This one comes with a bit of a caveat as well. I think they are overpriced retail and maybe you can find something else that has similar features that are much more affordable. I bought mine essentially new at a thrift store.
One of the things that I like most about this coffee maker is that I can fill it up with water and can make multiple pots or cups without having to refill. But by far the best feature is the ability to brew single servings over ice. I buy expensive coffee but it still turns out to be much, much cheaper than from a coffee shop or from k-cups.
I've tried many different coffee brewing methods over the years. I've tried the Bodum glass carafes for pour overs, but I didn't like the fact that it didn't keep the coffee warm. Same thing with french presses, and I don't like how much of a pain they are to clean. However, if you are into french pressed coffee, I can recommend the Espro insulated french press. You can make a few cups and take your time enjoying them because the double walled insulation will keep the coffee warm for awhile.
16. Voice Dream (App)*
Do you drive a lot? Maybe you like to do other things while you take in your news? Voice Dream allows you to import articles into the app and it can read them to you. You can even download other voices, either male or female, and with different accents if you so desire. It's not something I use constantly, but if I'm reading a particularly long article and need to take off in the car, I connect my phone to the accessory jack and listen to the article on my drive.
17. La Croix sparkling water*
Okay, so this is a little bit silly, but I hail from the midwest and damn if we don't we love our pop. I won't keep it in the house now. I keep a 12 pack of La Croix stocked at all times. It satisfies my cravings for the bubbly stuff without all the extra empty calories.
18. Sit-Stand Adjustable Desk*
We've all read the headlines that sitting is the new smoking in terms of health risks. I've even read some newer research that most people with standing desks don't get the full health benefits because they don't stand long enough. However, I've had mine for about a month now and I stand most of the day. I can tell that my core and butt are tighter, but above all else, my work productivity has improved dramatically. For starters, cubicle life is the pits. Even with windows in my "office" that open, I still felt like I was a rat in a cage. Standing leaves me less far less likely to zone out and my attention is much more focused. I thought it was new-agey BS at first, but I can attest and vouch for the sit-stand desk. My work life has improved dramatically.
19. Walking for at Least 30 Minutes Every Day*
Alright, not a product. But honestly, I think this is one of the key elements of my daily routine that keeps me sane and generally pretty positive and happy about life. I used to suffer from low-grade depression, and you'd think that living in the Pacific Northwest that I'd have developed a serious case of Seasonal Affective Disorder by now. Has not happened. I break up my work day by taking a break and walking once in the morning and once in the afternoon. It's de-stressing and the health benefits have been proven over and over again.
20 & 21. Workflow; If This THen That (Apps)*
These are difficult to explain, but basically they allow you to pre-program mundane tasks to make your life more efficient and easy. Although they don't take a programming background, they are a bit complicated to get the hang of at first. But once you do, you can do some really interesting things. Check out YouTube or read up online for more info. I use them both daily.
22. ENO Hammocks*
It folds up into a pouch and can be brought with you easily. I keep mine in the trunk of my car. The straps are adjustable in length through the use of straps with rows of eyelets that carabiners attached to the hammock slide into, making it easy to setup almost anywhere. Your life will be instantly improved, I promise.
23. Philips sonicare electric toothbrush*
I fought this one for a long, long time. Why the hell do I need another gadget, especially when I can brush my teeth manually? It seems like some sort of scam, doesn't it? I always looked at them with a strong eye roll. But honestly, I am converted. I drink lots and lots of dark coffee and my dental hygienist had her work cut out for her with my coffee-stained teeth. On her recommendation, I bought one of these electric toothbrushes after my last checkup 6 months ago and I still have no staining. I imagine I have less plaque, too. However, I am greatly offended by the price gouging for replacement brushes. If anyone has any suggestions for off-brand replacement heads that are both affordable and effective, please shoot me a message.
24. Scosche Magic Cell phone mount*
Game changer. You mount it to your windshield with a suction cup. You put a small piece of metal behind the case on your phone. You slap your phone up on the thing and it's damn sturdy magnet. Here in handsfree-or-hefty-fine Oregon, it's an essential if you listen to a lot of music or podcasts, or if you use turn-by-turn directions regularly. Where have you been all my life?
25. Emergency preparedness kit/water supply*
Three words: Cascadia Subduction Zone.