Think of these me-enhancements as favours for Future You: low-lift, high-reward upgrades that you can spend a little time and money on now in order to reap the benefits down the road. Try one, two, or all of these simple steps that several Wirecutter journalists have successfully taken to better their everyday lives.
Clear your space of tripping hazards
In 2023, may you never suffer the indignity of face-planting in your own home. Falls are one of the leading causes of accidental injuries in older adults, and loose rugs are a huge part of that. For any floor coverings that don’t already have a nonskid, rubberized backing, investing in a good rug pad—like our top pick, the Mohawk Home Dual Surface Felted Rug Pad—not only helps prevent you and your guests from tripping; it also extends the life of your rug and improves the way it feels underfoot.
Similarly, consider replacing any kitchen mats or standing desk mats that have curled up at the edges. Several Wirecutter journalists rely on our top-pick Ergodriven Topo desk mat when working from home and say it’s still laying flat after years of use.
Stick trackers on the stuff you lose (or fear losing) most
Whether it’s your phone, your wallet, your keys, your purse, your pet, or anything else you just can’t seem to go a day without losing, delegate tracking that item to a Bluetooth tracker and save Future You the stress of hunting down lost items. We’ve previously waxed poetic on how well Tile trackers, available in a variety of shapes and sizes, use Bluetooth technology to pinpoint an item’s location at a cost well under $30 per device.
Light your hallway at night
You already know this, but Future You hates fumbling through a middle-of-the-night bathroom visit. So take a few minutes now to revamp your lighting situation. For high-traffic areas that don’t have electrical outlets, try a trio of stick-on, rechargeable, motion-sensor night lights. You could also set up a similar motion-sensor system using Philips Hue smart bulbs, as senior editor Grant Clauser did to check on his kids at night when they were younger. For areas like the bathroom or, say, a closet that you need to access without flicking on the overhead lights, these battery-operated motion-sensor lights do the trick for senior editor Catherine Kast, who uses them to prevent waking up her husband (who works a late-night job).
Automate your home’s lighting
Speaking of lighting, if you’ve ever left a light on after leaving the house or retiring to bed and felt anxious or stressed because of it, you’d probably also benefit from plug-in smart outlets and smart bulbs. These gadgets can seem intimidating for folks who haven’t dabbled with smart-home devices, but our picks are really easy to use. To control our top pick, the TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug, all you need to do is download the app and pair your device over Wi-Fi. Now you can use your phone to see if you turned off the lights and cut the power to any outlet, no matter where you are (especially if you’re already in bed and don’t want to get up again). The same goes for the Wyze Bulb Color, which you can connect to through Wi-Fi and control through buttons in the Wyze app and voice commands. (You can read about more ways to use your smart lights better in this piece.)
Banish disgusting sponges for good
There is no rule whatsoever that you need a sponge for your kitchen sink, especially if your partner leaves it floating in brackish water—so if you hate how gross and stinky yours gets, just replace it. (We’ve previously recommended the OXO Good Grips Dish Brush and OXO Good Grips Bottle Brush as sponge alternatives.) If you can’t imagine life without a kitchen sponge, spend a few dollars on a sponge holder that’ll keep yours perched in a perfect air-drying position, like the Universal Kitchen Sink Magnetic Sponge Holder or the Yamazaki Home Faucet-Hanging Sponge Holder.
Hack your hydration
In our experience, the key to drinking more water throughout the day hinges on strategic planning. Think about what’s stopping you from sipping more and look for an easy solution. Is your water too warm? Or maybe your bottle needs constant refills? You may find that you’re more likely to drink water when it’s cold and carbonated. A SodaStream and a good insulated water bottle (we’ve previously dubbed the Takeya Actives Insulated Water Bottle the Goldilocks of drinking vessels) might fix your problem. Some Wirecutter staffers are more inclined to drink from a tumbler with a straw than a screw-top bottle. Another smart trick is to invest in the Pur Plus 30 Cup Dispenser, which can replenish a gigantic Stanley cup a handful of times before it needs to be refilled.
Invest in a good umbrella before you actually need it
Most people don’t think too much about their umbrellas (or lack thereof) until they’re caught in the middle of a downpour. Instead of buying a cheap drugstore umbrella in the moment, invest in a reliable one now so you’ll be ready the next time the forecast calls for rain. The Repel Windproof Travel Umbrella, which holds up in high winds, is our favourite, and it sure beats the rickety gas station umbrellas that turn inside out in a slight breeze. “I finally bought a good umbrella, and I’m kind of embarrassed how much it has improved my life,” says Sofia Sokolove, audience development manager for newsletters. “And because it actually works, I’ve been much less likely to leave it behind.”
Organize your most annoying cabinet, drawer, or shelf
Pick whatever small, disorganized space bothers you the most—a cluttered junk drawer, a makeup case, a chaotic pantry—and take a few minutes to tackle it for good. If that space is the cabinet in your kitchen that holds cookware, for instance, editor Signe Brewster suggests investing in a five-tier pan organizer rack (that requires zero assemblies or installation) to better store your pots so they’re easier to grab. We also recommend a rack for pot lids that can be mounted to the door of your cabinet.
For dresser drawers and the like, you may be able to get away with repurposing stiff cardboard delivery boxes into organizers for T-shirts, sweaters, and workout gear. You can decorate ugly boxes with contact paper if you don’t like the logos staring you in the face every time you open your drawer.
Store duplicate cleaning supplies where you use them most
Cleaning is enough of a chore on its own; schlepping your cleaning supplies around the house doesn’t make it any easier. For the rooms you clean most frequently, such as the kitchen and bathroom, give each of them a caddy or bin filled with duplicate tools and cleaners. You’ll have everything you need without needing to gather supplies each time you clean.
If you want to further streamline your chores, get a dedicated broom or brush with a dustpan (or, as a little luxury, a handheld vacuum cleaner) for each floor in your home; you’ll be more likely to tidy up between deep cleanings if you take stair-climbing out of the equation. The same goes for scrubbing your shower and tub: If you keep a soap-dispensing scrub brush (like this one from OXO) in your shower filled with your cleaning solution of choice, you’ll be more inclined to scrub down the corners of the shower once a week while you let your conditioner sit.
Stock your car for convenience (and safety)
If you spend a few bucks now to outfit your car with the essentials to endure both minor and major inconveniences to come, you’ll be thanking yourself the next time you spill coffee on your passenger seat or get stuck with your wheels spinning in the snow.
- Keep basic cleaning supplies, like Clorox Disinfecting Wipes and paper towels, in your car, along with a “carbage can” to stow trash.
- Invest in a first aid kit stocked with all the basics to care for minor cuts and scrapes, including bandages, gauze, and alcohol prep pads. The First Aid Only 298 All-Purpose First Aid Kit, our budget pick, is affordable and has all the essentials.
- Get an efficient ice scraper now so you won’t have to settle for whatever’s left at the drugstore the night before a snowstorm rolls through. We recommend the Hopkins SubZero 80037, which we found to be the best at clearing ice and sweeping snow off of vehicles of all sizes—don’t forget the snow on your roof!
- Speaking of snowy days, keep a bag of cheap kitty litter in your trunk. In the event your car is struggling to gain traction on an icy road, pouring cat litter around your tires can give them some much-needed grip.
To create better habits, spend a little more on stuff you love
Call it a kind of aspirational shopping, a purposeful splurge, the sunk cost effect, or just call it a life hack: If you want to build a new routine into your day, spending a few bucks on the things you need to carry out that routine can increase the odds that you’ll actually do it. For example, let’s say you’ve always wanted to carve out more time for journaling; try accomplishing that by treating yourself to a nice notebook (we have picks as low as $10) or a special pen. If you hate flossing, spend a dollar or two more on fancier floss.
In many cases, you needn’t even buy anything for this trick to work, so long as you still incorporate stuff you love: “I decided I wanted to see the quilt I’d made every day on a freshly made bed,” says senior staff writer Jackie Reeve. “That was hugely motivating, and I became a make-the-bed evangelist. It actually improved my sense of calm and well-being, too, and I was so surprised by how much it did for my mental health.”