A common philosophy is that you should buy experiences, not things. Among other reasons, experiences can be shared with others and become a part of your identity and the story of your life.
This may be a decent rule of thumb, but you can go too far.
Many of the goods and services I’ve spent money on over the years have brought me a disproportionate amount of joy. In this article, I want to share some of those goods and services.
I’m not saying that these products are the “best” in any category. Although I often do a lot of research and agonise over whether and what to buy, I don’t do systematic comparisons or tests after the purchase. If you want something like that, Wirecutter is a great resource – it’s usually my first point of reference when I’m thinking about buying something.
All I can say is that I’m happy these goods and services are in my life.
Lest this makes me seem really materialistic, or that I'm showing off: I am simply sharing things that genuinely bring me disproportionate joy. I wish many items like this in your life.
One thing that has struck me is that most of these items are technological in nature. But also, they are tools - they help me do the things I love, like read or think or write. I also didn't buy these things at once: I've accumulated these tools over time, agonising over whether to buy them and what to buy for almost every purchase.
Each item by itself can be relatively expensive. But one of the things that has struck me is that collectively, the cost of these items aren't as high as I would have thought: arguably, they are all less than the cost of a high-spec mountain bike.
If you're scoping this article, considering whether to steal these items from my home – remember that these items are heavily used and are unlikely to attract much if you want to sell them. Did I mention that the combined cost of these items (new) is less than the cost of a high-spec mountain bike?
If my current Kindle broke, I would replace it as soon as possible – almost certainly on the same day. It’s an essential part of my life.
I was slow to join the Kindle bandwagon, but now I'm on it, I struggle to read books made of dead trees.
Reading long-form content from a Kindle is a much better experience than trying to read from a blue screen (ie, a phone or tablet). The lighting is amazing at night, so I can read in the dark while my wife sleeps.
I’m on my third Kindle over the past 12 years. I sat on one, and I used another so much that the screen wore out. My current Kindle seems like it's indestructible: I've slept on it more times than I can count but it keeps going strong.
Microsoft Surface Pro (4) with Surface Pro Signature Type Cover
This isn’t my main computer (which I love - i7, 16GB, SSD, good video card, etc). But there is something about my Surface which elevates it beyond any other laptop I’ve owned.
The difference is almost certainly the keyboard (Surface Pro Signature Type, Cobalt Blue). It's indescribably pleasant to type on.
iPad Mini (4 & 5)
The form factor of the iPad Mini is PERFECT for reading articles, especially via Pocket.
I remember when I bought my first iPad, I had a reading queue of over 1,000 articles that were on my "I-know-I-should-read-but-never-get-around-to-it" list. Within a year I'd read almost all of them.
I recently purchased an Apple Pencil for the iPad Mini 5 and I've been surprised how much I've enjoyed using it.
Apple Watch (4)
I'm on my second Apple Watch, after accidentally smashing my wrist (and by extension, my watch) into a concrete wall. My current watch is on its second screen (thanks to a dog lead, of all things).
I love this device. However, it's not for everyone: my current watch is rose gold, and that's because I initially bought it for my wife, who didn't like it as much as her old Garmin fitness watch. To each their own.
Apple iPhone (8+)
I’ve owned Android phones, but I find iPhones to work much better, at least for me. It just works. Scrolling also seems to be smoother, and it stays smoother over time. I find that when I need to replace my iPhone I buy a good one with lots of storage, and then don’t feel compelled to replace it for a long time.
There's something to be said about Apple walling you into its own garden or ecosystem. But nowadays, most apps are cloud-based so I don't think it makes much difference whether you're on iOS or Android.
I think bluetooth is one of the technologies that has improved my quality of life more than almost any other technology over the past 10 years. I wouldn't have guessed how nice it is to be rid of headphone cords.
Plantronics Backbeat headphones
Bose QuietComfort 15 (with bluetooth attachment)
I’ve owned these for ages. Had to replace the covers. I’ve also purchased an add-on to make it bluetooth-compatible (like this). There are many newer headphones that look better and have better auditory and noise cancelling abilities. But I love these.
Plantronic Edge Voyager
These are great for phone calls: in the past I've been told that I sound clearer on these than using my phone like normal. However, my set are near the end of their life. I'll probably replace them with Apple Airpods.
Samsung Frame TV
I have this in my study and it makes me feel good every time I look at it. Most of the time it is on “art mode” - it’s designed to look like an art work when it’s “off”.
I wasn't sure whether to get this. But my ultimate rationalisation was that people pay hundreds, if not thousands (or more!) to have artwork on their walls. This looks much better than a big black screen (ie, a normal TV when it's off), and I can change what shows on the screen to my heart's delight.
Fujitsu Scansnap ix500
If you want to go paperless at home, getting a dedicated baby like this is priceless.
32" 4K monitor (LG...)
More pixels = more cells in Excel, baby! Having lots of screen real estate is awesome. In my own experience, having a 4K monitor has also been a game changer in terms of using Zoom. People’s faces are almost life size, and it makes the experience of chatting with someone over the internet a lot more “real”.
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard
I touch my keyboard all day long. It took a while getting used to having a separate numeric keypad but I’m there now. It makes me smile.
Logitech G602 mouse
It's a gaming mouse, but I'm not a gamer. I use it 100% for work. Lots of buttons means you can automate more tasks.
(Fun related fact: for automating tasks, like opening specific directories, etc, I have a 32-key USB midi piano attached to my computer. When I push a key, it performs a specified task. It's awesome!)
Services (or: software)
Below are some services (software) that add to the quality of my life.
As a preface to these comments, I admit that I use a lot of software, and I pay a bit in software subscriptions. My rationalisation for this is that I run a business and I want to make the best use of my time. I have made a conscious decision that I don't want to employ someone for the foreseeable in the future. In making this decision I have accepted that I need to pay for software services to help me make the most of my time.
- Pocket. A great read-it-later app. I've sometimes switched between Pocket and Instapaper, but I tend to find myself coming back to Pocket – I find it more aesthetically pleasing.
- TextExpander. This allows me to write repetitive text without having to type it in full every single time. When a marketer emails me asking if they can submit to my blog, I type in “;spam” and Outlook automatically populates “Hi, I don't accept unsolicited articles or third party advertisements on my website. All the best, Sonnie.” When it expands text, it generates a satisfying "pop-pop" sound. That's the sound of ruthless efficiency, baby!
- Evernote. It's probably not Evernote that I'm taken with, so much as having a piece of software I can use as a "second brain" for maintaining various notes and reference documents. I'm sometimes tempted to switch to Notion, or use Roam for some use cases.
- Readwise. I highlight lots of passages when I read books in Kindle and Pocket. Readwise emails me a random selection of passages each morning to refresh my memory. It also automatically exports these highlights into Evernote so I can more easily review these passages.
- Doxsera. A great tool for automating documents where you repeat the same information over and over again. I use Doxsera to speed up creating proposal letters, reports for clients, invoices, etc. There was a time when I had a single form that I completed, and based on that information, I would then automatically generate nearly a dozen different documents (two wills, six EPAs, invoice, disclosure and explanatory documentation, plus template for covering email).
- Excel. It's awesome.
- Thrive Themes. If you want to build and maintain a website with maximum flexibility and ease, then Thrive Themes provides an awesome suite of tools for WordPress.
- OneTab. I have tab management issues. I will sometimes end up with dozens of tabs open in my browser, and don't have the time to go through them in one go. OneTab helps me with this. (Every now and then I spend some dedicated time going through all my browser tabs.)
- LastPass. If you're not using a password manager by now, then DO IT. It doesn't have to be LastPass, but just use one.
- Canva. It's great for creating effective visuals really quickly. I have Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc) which are awesome for certain use cases, but for most things I find it quicker and easier to just use Canva.
- Camtasia. This is a simple, easy video-editing piece of software. It is also great for screen recording. I have Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects and they have their use cases, but I find myself using Camtasia more often than not.
- Feedly. RSS isn't as widely discussed as it used to be, but it's still an amazing way of consuming information. Feedly has been my RSS reader of choice since the passing of Google Reader (RIP).
- Video Speed Controller (Chrome browser extension). I honestly don't know why anyone would watch online video at "normal" pace. I'm not just talking about watching movies at 7x speed. But lots of Youtube videos are ponderous, and the viewing experience is enriched by speeding them up.