A very personal list of shopping recommendations
As a compulsive shopper with a lot of friends who don’t log the same volume of hours reading Wirecutter reviews and comparing Amazon deals, I figured it might be useful to share my favorite purchases of the past few years in case you want to look for some Black Friday bargains. Many but not all of these are tech-related, so even if you do not share my need to own every gadget on earth, you may be interested in some of these recommendations! Some of these are one-time purchases I’ve loved, while others are items I am shopping for myself right now, because I restock during sale season.
I’ll probably think of other stuff in the next couple of days and add to this list. And I take requests: If there are any purchases you’re considering, or if you’re looking for help with a particular tech purchase, just let me know.
FYI the Amazon links are affiliate links, i.e. if you buy something through these links I earn big bucks and retire to a desert island where I can give my full time and attention to online shopping instead of the current 98% of my time and attention.
This list is ordered from least to most expensive, roughly.
Roku streaming stick: The Roku is in the same category as a Firestick, Apple TV or Chromecast: It’s a way to watch Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime and all kinds of other streaming services on your TV. But only the Roku makes it easy for some people to listen to a show or movie while other people blissfully ignore it. That’s because Roku has a mobile app that lets you listen to your show on whatever (wired or wireless) headphones are connected to your phone. So two people can watch a show together while leaving two other people undisturbed. Plus, no switching headphones back and forth between the TV and your phone: it’s all the same thing.
Sideclick: If you’re getting a Roku, or if you already have a streaming device that requires you to juggle multiple remotes, I can’t say enough good things about this clever little attachment that adds a few programmable buttons to your streaming remote. The seven buttons on our living room Sideclick mean I no longer need to use the separate remotes for our projector and screen; the ones on our bedroom Sideclick mean I don’t have to use the TV remote’s volume controls or the cable remote to switch inputs. All hail the one remote to rule them all!
TP-Link Kasa smart plugs and light switches: Just about every light and lamp in our house is now voice controlled by Alexa. It seems preposterous until you do it, and then you think, how did I live without it? (My favorite part is that now, when I get in bed and realize I left the bathroom/hall light on, I don’t have to get up to turn them off!) If you’re not ready to get into actually switching your switches, try a couple of smart plugs for key lamps, and see how you like it. I also really like their power strip which gives you 3 separately programmable outlets + 2 USB ports ( a good way to control a group of lamps).
Escents Aromatherapy wash & bubble: This Vancouver-based company makes really wonderful bath products. I use their shower gel (now called “wash and bubble”) every morning, and I like to keep a few different scents on the go. I stock up every year on Black Friday.
Anker GaN chargers + power strips: My friend John Biehler put me onto GaN chargers as a faster option for charging USB devices, and we now own several of the Anker 4-port chargers that are on sale right now. I now find it more useful to have more USB-C ports than the old-style USB-A, plus I like have a *teeny* charger for my computer for that’s easy to throw in my purse, so I really love Anker’s 3-port USB-C charger. Less fancy but also really useful to have in your suitcase or living room: Anker’s 10-foot extension cord with 2 outlets and 2 USB ports, which is how I solve the problem of hotel rooms never having power outlets where I want them.
Knix bras & undies: Many years ago, I was introduced to Canadian-made Knix by a Facebook ad, in a single life-changing act that almost makes me not hate Facebook ads. Their “essential bikini” are my fave undies (though I didn’t like the modal version), and their Evolution bra has ruined me for underwire. I restock every Black Friday.
Strivectin nightly renewal retinol cream: A few years ago I decided it was time to try this whole retinol thing, and started using Strivectin’s nightly renewal cream. It sounds improbable, because I’m at the age when skin usually goes downhill, but within a couple of months of starting the Strivectin routine, people started complimenting me on how nice my skin looked. I’ve tried other retinol products since, but this one remains my favorite…even though it’s pretty expensive, which is why I re-stock on Black Friday.
Eileen Fisher pants and “jackets”: Speaking of being a woman of a certain age, I have now officially joined the cult of Eileen Fisher. Mostly this is because I had the good luck of happening on a couple of EF sample sales during trips to NYC, so now I make a point of looking at their site whenever it’s sale season. I particularly love her pants (the Flex Ponte fabric hangs well and feels cozy) and her sweatery-jackets, which feel like the right level of formality for an on-screen client meeting.
Simple Human butterfly lid step trash can: Our dog is so stupid that he insists on snacking from the garbage can, but so smart that he figured out how to open the step-cans I bought for the whole house when he was a trash-eating puppy. These expensive butterfly-lid cans are the only ones he can’t figure out how to open, so by buying a couple whenever they’re on sale, I’ve gradually dog-proofed our garbage supply.
Instant Pot: This all-in-one pressure cooker/slow cooker/rice cooker is a phenomenon, and we were relatively late to the party. If you don’t have one, you want one. (Really!) And Black Friday is the day to get it.
Brother PT-Touch Cube Plus label maker: My label maker is the foundation on which our household organization rests (and for a good stretch of last year, it was a key part of our autism support plan, too, thanks to a fancy chalkboard with printed labels for each goal). This model is great because it lets you print from your phone or your computer, and you can’t believe how many fancy options are available in terms of font choices, tape widths, colors and even fabric ribbons you can print on! I recommend buying after-market tape where possible to save money.
Hanna Anderson PJs: My favorite thing to wear, period. They are incredibly cozy, super cute, come in adult and kids sizes, and are stupidly expensive when not on sale….so I always stock up during sale season. They make great gifts, partly because they have so many fun prints (including Star Wars, Peanuts and DC-themed PJs) and because you can get a matching outfit for your dog! The kids clothes are fantastic too.
A better wifi router: If you’re running your home wifi network off whatever device your internet service provider gave you, run out and buy a new router on Black Friday — seriously. Even an inexpensive router will almost certainly improve your network speed and reliability; we bought a $59 router while on vacation this summer, just so we could block YouTube during our 3-week AirBnb stay, and holy cow did it ever speed up the Spectrum network we were on, and reduce our collective aggravation levels! But the router we now use at home is an expandable system called the Orbi: I really like it because you can buy additional extenders to improve service in distant corners of the house, but unlike stand-alone extenders they don’t create additional networks you have to switch between; it’s all one solid network. Plus the Orbi has WAY better parental controls than TP-Link’s, which steadily drove me nuts over the preceding few years.
Lands’ End Squall Stadium coat: I have spent a few years obsessed with the quest for a truly waterproof red down hooded coat, so I was thrilled when Lands’ End made one last year. and I got TONS of compliments every time I wore it. But the truth is, Vancouver is rarely cold enough to warrant a down coat, so I spent most of last winter wearing my mom’s cast-off black Squall coat, which is the PERFECT weight and waterproof-ness for the Pacific Northwest (kind of equivalent to a goretex coat lined with lightweight quilting). This year, they made one in red, so I got one in a “tall” length so that it’s extra-long and comes down nearly to my lower calfs (I’m 5'7" and got a medium tall.) It’s such a great coat for this climate, two of my friends have already ordered theirs after seeing mine.
Yogibo bean bags and throw pillows: These comfy furnishings are popular among families with autistic kids, and now we all love them! You can get them as small as a sofa cushion (I *love* ours) or as big as a two-person, full-body bean bag. I love the 4-foot-long unicorn bolster that turns out to be the perfect lap pillow for knitting while I watch TV. Great indoor and outdoor options, including Star Wars-themed furnishings.
Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook: We got one of these a couple of years ago on the Wirecutter’s recommendation, and I have to say it may be my very favorite machine in the whole house. (Yes, including the Macbooks!) It’s a shockingly good buy — $309 on sale right now — and it has worked brilliantly as a schoolwork + reading device for our kiddo. What’s really cool about it is that the screen rotates fully so that it turns into a tablet (perfect for reading), but you can also use it as a computer to do work on Google Docs, Gmail, web browsing etc. I actually just bought a new one this week to replace the one that has been brutalized by 2 years of 12-hour-a-day use.
CalDigit TS4 dock: I *just* got this a few weeks ago and it is on a teensy sale now. If you’re a Mac user who regularly plugs into 2+ monitors, it really simplifies things. I held off a long time because it’s expensive (~400) and I thought, how big a deal is it to plug 2 cables into my MacBook instead of one? But I’ve been AMAZED and how much better my whole tech setup works now that I just plug in one thing and everything is magically connected. Way less troubleshooting, way better for my work and self-care habits. (Strangely, now that it’s easier to plug/unplug, I tend to leave my computer in my office more, and chill out more…says the woman using her free time to write a shopping guide.)
Synology NAS: OK, this is a big-ticket item, so you really want to get it on sale if you’re going to get it. A NAS (network-attached storage) is like a big box of hard drives with a tiny computer built in; when attached to your home network it’s an amazing way to back up, archive old files or run a media server. (We do all three) You can get one with 2 bays (for 2 drives) but I recommend 4+ because the backup magic comes from every file getting backed up to 2 separate disks in the NAS, so if one disk fails, you don’t lose your files. Plus it makes it easy to expand to larger disks as yours fill up. After years of filling up single-disk hard drives I got a NAS a few years ago, and it has simplified things so much! After a couple of rounds of disk upgrades we are now at 32 TB of storage (yes, you read that right) and it is AWESOME. Note that the price is just for the box: You have to buy the hard drives separately. (I get Western Digital Red Pro).
Projector + movie screen: Another big investment but one I would recommend, maybe as a Christmas gift for the whole family instead of individual gifts. Early in Covid, we invested in our Epson 1080p projector + a Silver Ticket screen that rolls up (with a remote control). Now we have a 100" screen but when we’re not watching TV, there’s no screen in the living room at all! It is great for movie nights and also for gaming as a family.
Here ends the shopping extravaganza. I’d love to hear what you’re picking up this Black Friday, even though I should really be avoiding further temptation.