All year I have completed LOTS of 10 Good Things Lists. At the conclusion of 2021, I’m writing a series of blog posts on some of the best things that got me through this year. This list is dedicated to the top ten items I would say made the biggest impact on me during 2021.
Using this as an exercise to do an internal audit of what purchases impacted us the most this year was clarifying. Would love to hear your own process of sifting through all of the new things you brought into your home/life this year and how they made your life better. When you move constantly and are always arranging, packing, unpacking, storing, donating, selling, and basically dealing with your STUFF, it makes you more mindful about where your dollars are going, what you’re brining in, and how it benefits your quality of life.
Over the years, I have thought of myself as a minimalist, but the truth is I am an essentialist. I only want things in my life (and in my home) that are useful and add value to me.
In no particular order of significance, let’s dive in…
Second Hand Category:
(1.) Chandelier from Goodwill and Cuisinart Toaster Oven (Tie)
I paid $8 for the chandelier and $20 for the toaster. Both have added incredible value and joy to our home. The chandelier has just made our front room/parlor/library area an even brighter and happier place to be and it is such a conversation starter. Having the courage (and a handy, willing husband) to change out the boring, standard base lighting fixtures has been a worthwhile effort to make living on post more personalized and enjoyable.
The toaster is something I have wanted for a few years now. Counter space is always at a premium and I’m not a huge gadget-ey kind of person, but we have used this nearly every day since we got it. From toast, waffles, french toast sticks, to falafel, warming up leftover pizza, or even broiling a bagel this thing is in heavy, heavy rotation.
Household Helps Category:
(2.) Garage Totes and Pet Vacuum (Tie)
Let’s start with the vacuum. We have only owned two vacuums in our entire 20 years of marriage. One Oreck that lasted 12 years and another we have had for eight years. The problem is this: we now have two dogs that shed more than I was promised they would. Our Oreck doesn’t want to lift pet hair off of carpet and rugs. Enter, the Bissel pet vacuum. This thing is a delight to use. It is bagless and I fill up the canister with one pass downstairs or one pass upstairs. It gets our carpets and rugs cleaner than our Oreck.
The totes. Oh the totes. I’ll just say that the garage is Ryan’s domain. He has a lot of stuff. He has a lot of hobbies. He is not very bothered by the appearance or orderliness of his gadgets and gizmos. His willingness to undertake a major purge and spend time and money getting the garage organized may be one of the things I am most grateful for in all of 2021. We toyed with buying shelving but so far, have not made that happen. The added labeling of these totes has been so nice we need to quickly locate something in the garage. I am hopeful they will make our next PCS a bit easier as well. Personally, I’d like to buy 10-12 more and pack some things ourselves for the move to Virginia.
Subscriptions That Added Value to Life Category:
(3.) HBO, Apple +, Hero Squad, Hello Fresh, Spotify Premium, and Panera (Tie)
This year I really evaluated the value of paying for things monthly. We decided there were several television shows we wanted to watch badly enough to pay for two additional streaming services (HBO and Apple +). You can read about those here.
We added a free subscription from the American Bible Society that has been a nice quarterly treat of devotional resources, seasonal fun items, coffee, and even gift cards. However, I have noticed that many of these items seem fun in the moment but once I have the contents of the box all sprawled out, I am realized I don’t really have anywhere to stash all of the contents. I will likely let this one run out as I would rather another family who could really use the stuff get our spot on the list.
There were a few subscriptions I used only to take advantage of a promotion. I usually do Spotify Premium for the summer months when we are traveling and in the car a lot. It’s usually only $9.99 for three months. I also did one round each of Hello Fresh and Green Chef. Hello Fresh was meh but Green Chef was a nice treat and gave me a lot of good inspiration for some yummy plant based meals I wouldn’t have otherwise tried.
Lastly, I did two months of the Panera Unlimited Coffee plan. The first month was free and the second month was $8.99. Ryan and I both ended up benefitting from this. But I soon realized that this subscription was in direct conflict with my desire to consume LESS coffee, not more. I always set myself a reminder in my Google calendar for any subscription I sign up for so I can evaluate and then cancel before I’m charged again.
Hygge Vibes Category:
(4.) New couch blanket and replaced our skinny Christmas tree (Tie)
As for the Christmas tree, we had a skinny tree for years and after Ryan performing multiple unsuccessful surgeries on it last year, we had to toss it. It is important to me (and the kids) that we have two trees: one for the kids’ ornaments, and one in another room. This tree is so skinny and small that it has endured nothing but ridicule from my family. I don’t care. I love it and it will continue to serve us for years to come as it is very versatile and will fit in any room, with any ceiling height, and will defy any housing situation we may find ourselves in.
Made Ryan Happy Category:
(5.) Hunting Saddle System + Meat Grinder/Vacuum Sealer (Tie)
Where I have moved this year further away from meat and into a more plant centered diet, Ryan has taken a step closer to becoming a pure carnivore. He has killed and donated the meat from several deer in the past two seasons, but this year decided he wanted to begin processing his own venison. Our chest freezer in the garage has had various parts of deer in various stages of processing throughout this fall. That’s a lot of meat for one man to eat!
Big Milestone Category:
(6.) Anniversary Ring to Mark 20 Years of Marriage
With so much going on this year after losing my dad, having several other vacations and trips on the calendar, and having done Hawaii for our 15 year anniversary, taking a big 20 year trip just didn’t come together. Instead, Ryan kindly and sweetly insisted that I pick out a piece of jewelry to mark the occasion.
The colors and shapes of this ring have a lot of personal significance for me. I wear it often and am reminded of how far we have come and all we have to be grateful for in these last twenty years.
Productivity and Do Good Things Category:
(7.) Michael Hyatt Journal + MacBook Pro Laptop (Tie)
I used this Michael Hyatt journal gifted to me by my brother and sister in law and got into a pattern of doing one big weekly reflection on either Saturday or Sunday of every week. I love the six basic questions it asks. I already have a clear one ready for 2022.
The MacBook Pro laptop was an addition to my 2018 Desktop Mac I bought at Fort Polk. I still use it often but with so much traveling and the need to be mobile/portable with some of my freelancing and grading of student work, this purchase was a no brainer. I have found myself getting more done because I can now work at a coffee shop, at the quiet library, or at my mom’s house. I even wrote two articles one day at the Toyota dealership while I waited on my car to be serviced and I was able to do an hours’ long new employee online orientation while we were in Fort Myers. The only trouble is that all of my kids want to use it now too.
Make Cooking Great Again Category:
(8.) Small Dutch Oven, Veg Cutter, Muffin Papers, Donut Molds, and Summer Herb Garden (Tie)
I spend a lot of time thinking about, preparing, cleaning up, and generally outputting energy around food in our home. Over the years I have come to better understand what works and what doesn’t. I also have super limited space in my kitchen in most of the houses we have lived in so anything I am willing to bring in to our kitchen must meet a lot of criteria.
This year, those items that had the most bang for the buck were adding a smaller Dutch oven to the family. I use it alot if I am just making a much smaller portion of something, a dish for just Ryan and me, or a side items like beans or rice. I have also had a lot of fun making apple cider donuts with (technically) Kate’s donut molds. Adding in these muffin papers has made muffins feels like a luxurious bakery item. I have brought muffins a handful of places this year and the papers always have people asking where the muffins are from. (LOLz)
This veggie and fruit slicer has been such an inexpensive and fun addition. Not only does it make cutting foods like cucumbers, apples, potatoes, and even cheese a whole lot more fun, the novelty of eating “crinkle” foods has been a delight as well. Finally, probably my favorite addition to the house was our summer herb garden. I think I spent about $12 for the plants and enjoyed each of them immensely. I felt like Ina Garten walking out to my porch to clip some rosemary or mint or cilantro to add fresh to a dish.
Keep the Teenagers Close to Home Category:
(9.) Fire Pit
Last fall, I scored a used fire pit someone had put at the curb before a PCS. We used that thing like crazy but by spring, one of the legs on it had finally rust rotted to the degree it was no longer useable. I really struggled with upgrading to a nice SoloStove, but in the end I didn’t think it would be a wise investment at this time. For starters we do not have a covered outdoor space or extra garage space to store it out of the elements. If living at Fort Polk taught us anything, it was that nice things don’t hold up well outside in a lot of rain or humidity. A more expensive fire situation is one of those things for when we are more permanently settled.
In the meantime, the $50 fire pit replacement worked just fine. We have continued to have many fire pit nights for the kids and their friends. It is a great way to welcome guests (outside!) and let them have fun roasting hotdogs or marshmallows while they hang out. We have gotten immense value out of having a dedicated “go to” way to invite friends over with very little upkeep, cost, or effort. If you have teenagers and aren’t doing regular fire pits, highly recommend.
The Thing We Didn’t Know We Needed but Brought a Huge Amount of Joy Category:
(10.) Matching Christmas pajama pants with coordinating doggie scarfs from Old Navy.
Most years I spend on mailing out Christmas cards what it cost me to order a family set of Christmas PJs. This was one of those, I’m not going to do both so which one brings us the most joy. The pajamas won hands down. We have lived in our pjs this November and December. I am hopeful to get everyone in theirs at the same time tomorrow (Christmas morning) for a really good photo. I can’t explain why this has been so fun other than the fact that we are all super comfy and could use a nice pair of pj pants, it felt unifying and festive, and we just couldn’t get over how cute the dogs were in their bandanas. We even coordinated with my wrapping paper!
These were all things that brought me an immense amount of ease or joy or benefit throughout the year.
+ White Birkenstocks (lived in these all summer; great minimal shoe that goes with everything, travels well, and will last a while)
+ Madewell Wallet (I buy a wallet and use it until it falls apart; my last one was bought in 2017 and despite it being 100 leather, it only lasted about four years. I was happy to try a much smaller profile and not feel like I need to carry a wallet to accommodate a check book.)
+ Makeup Drawer Organizers (I do the majority of my hair and makeup getting ready in our bedroom since our bathroom vents never work well and it’s always a sauna in there. I have these hidden slim drawers in our dresser and after years of having all of my things slide around, I leveled up with some small baskets to group like things together. #gamechanger)
+ Nalgene Tallboy Water Bottle (I didn’t need another water bottle, but yet, I did. My go-to Zak water bottle I’ve had for three or four years is still my preferred method of drinking water with my straw etc, but this Nalgene fits nicely in my car cup holder and it seals off so I could put it in my work bag and take it with me to campus without worrying about sloshing or spilling water everywhere. I also love the handle that the lid provides.)
+ Erin Condren Teacher Planner (Totally unnecessary purchase, but I couldn’t resist. I feel like the leather look and the fact that it stayed open when open was a huge selling point for this. Since I was teaching a new course I wanted to be overly prepared. Writing out and planning my daily lessons for teaching was super helpful and aided in my effectiveness as a teacher. Since I’m not going to be teaching in the spring, I have already devised a plan for using the remaining pages for maximum productivity.)
+ Porch Planter (Bought this in the spring and enjoyed a beautiful off white Begonia all spring and summer, an enormous mum for all of September, October, and November; and this winter I have used it to house a beautfiul Poinsettia (that sadly I left outside during a freeze) and now a lovely Jasmine plant). I think this adds a pretty touch to my off kilter front porch. I much prefer caring for indoor plants, but this was a low stakes way to have some outdoor plants that didn’t need to be planted in the landscaping beds.)
+ Weighted Hula Hoop (This was a more recent purchase I bought for a fun 30 Days of Rediscovering Movements I Love challenge I set for myself. I have adored this hula hoop. I use it most days since it stays in the laundry room. I even brought it to Thanksgiving and my mom, sister, sister in law, daughters, and nieces all had a big time with it. It’s a great workout!)
+ Upgraded Heavy Duty Matching Laundry Baskets for the Kids (Training our kids to do their own laundry at a young age is high on the list of parenting wins in my book. They had tiny laundry baskets from Target that were 10 years old. As they and their clothes sizes have grown, these small baskets were filling after only a day or two of dirty laundry. I upgraded them to larger, sturdier baskets and it has made for easier laundry chores for them. I will likely upgrade my own and Ryan’s before we move. I did save 2/3 of the kids old ones and I keep them in the garage as “fill up” for Goodwill. They transport unused and unwanted items to and from the car very easily. I’ve also used them to transport food to places with ease.
Alright folks! That’s about all I have to say about some of the more significant items that defined 2021. What was something you added to your home that meant a lot to you and your family this year?
I also had a short list of “no buy” items for 2021 and may later do another post on what I plan to add to that list for 2022. I love having limitations and challenges for myself to continue monitoring/managing what comes and goes.