What does it mean to make life "easier"? If we're talking about our homes, it's likely that the definition means an item that simplifies a complex process, solves a problem, or both. We've come a long way since famous British designer William Morris insisted in the 19th century that the only interior design rule you need to follow was to "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." These days, "useful" can run the gamut from high-tech gadgets to simple little whats-its, and they can all definitely be beautiful on top of their utility.
The problems of modern domestic life are many. How do you keep your stuff secure? How do you find something if you lose it? How do you save as much space as possible and still have everything you need? How do you sleep, eat, and function at the best possible level without being a billionaire with personal chefs and a masseuse at your disposal? Fortunately, there are lots of little ways to make your home life a bit simpler and more efficient.
Let's go beyond the shoebox under the bed and the weird thing you've done to keep the shower curtain off the floor; here are nine items that can genuinely make your home and life a bit easier to run.
1. A Tracker For Lost Items
If you're a chronic loser of things (keys, wallets, favorite shoes), then getting yourself a product or two to help might be in your best interest. Key dishes and shoe racks are a practical solution, but you can always rely on me to go for something technological and space-age: how about an app and a series of tags that can track the location of small household items?
The Tile app for smartphone tracks a small tag's location via Bluetooth up to a distance of 100 feet, which Business Insider rates as the best of all the options in the finding-things business. The small tile also makes a large amount of noise to help you locate whatever you've locked it onto, and in the second generation of the app, you can do the reverse: click on the tag and set off an alarm on a lost phone, if it's within the 100ft working radius. Unfortunately, the tile itself only lasts for a year and then needs replacing, which is annoying; it's also the case with alternatives like Trackr stickers, which stick onto small items.
2. A Small Home Monitoring Owl
OK, this one isn't essential, but it's very cool. After a very popular and fully-funded Kickstarter campaign, the Ulo is on pre-order for homes around the world. It's essentially a small security system, in the shape of an owl. It connects to your smartphone, and once you leave the house and your smartphone goes out of range — or if you've programmed it — it can send gifs of every movement in the room to your phone, take regular snapshots and video. It can also be updated with "reactions," via its large expressive eyes, to various stimuli, like hooking it up to your calendar to signal excitement at a party or worry if you're late. It's not exactly subtle, but it's very cute.
3. An Earbud & Cable Storage System
This is a fairly simple one, and can be very low-fi, but it's one of the biggest routes to adulthood: keeping track of all your anonymous cables and earbuds, and keeping them out of harm's way (and out of tangles). Diply has a fantastic selection of cheap ways to keep things rolled up, from old tape dispensers to clothespins and old tins, but there's also the Tunewear Tetran earphone carrier, which looks a little like a stress ball and is designed for transportation of annoying, fiddly headphone cords.
4. A Light Therapy Lamp
You're an adult. You need your sleep. (You're now probably going home from parties at reasonable hours to catch some shut-eye; welcome to being grown up.) Increasingly, old-school shouting alarms aren't the fashion; evidence is suggesting that the healthiest way to wake up is with natural light, as it helps your natural circadian rhythms, which are mediated by the body's own melatonin levels. If natural light doesn't happen to coincide with your wake-up time (and it rarely does), a Lumie is probably a good investment. It's part of the spectrum of light therapy lamps, which gradually become brighter and rouse you "naturally" from slumber.
5. A Book Safe
I don't care if your most precious treasure in the world is a chewed-up ticket from a concert in 2007, you should still keep it safe — and chances are that you don't happen to have a combination safe at your disposal. (What is this, a cartoon?) However, storage solutions are at hand, and one of the best is the "book safe," a secret compartment disguised within a heavy and imposing-looking book. Depending on your tastes, you could get one that looks like the New English Dictionary or a giant tome on Marilyn Monroe.
6. Futons In Bags
Space is often at a premium in the houses and apartments of the young, and friends are plentiful, which means that there can be something of a supply and demand problem when it comes to beds. If you do have a spare bedroom, that's excellent and useful; if you don't, an easily stored portable bed may be a lifesaver for friends who want to crash on your floor unexpectedly. Air beds are a good option, though they have a nasty tendency to deflate at 4 a.m.; another idea is the futon-in-a-bag, a foldable, portable futon mattress that's designed to take up as little space as possible when not in use and can even be carried on your back.
7. Nesting Kitchenware
Full disclosure: I have these, and in a tiny kitchen with the sort of space issue where containers are regularly stacked three or four high, they are a serious boon. If you're a regular baker or chef, kitchenware and decent measures are likely a necessity, and getting a cookware set like Joseph Joseph's where every part fits neatly into the others is a massive space and time saver. Also in this category: kitchen measuring spoon sets, to make sure you don't keep losing your 1/4 teaspoon when you need it most.
8. A Master Pan
Again with the space and time problem. "Master pans," which are essentially cooking pans subdivided into multiple compartments to cook various things at once, come in various forms, including dividers to put inside already-existing pots and things like the Walmart Master Pan & Meat Skillet (pictured), which looks as if it can cook an entire meal in one go. If you're in the habit of doing a lot of steaming or vegetable cooking, an in-pot divider like the Great Ideas four-way system is massively helpful. Much less space, much less washing up.
9. Smart Earplugs
Our next door neighbors, who are awesome, had a baby and proceeded to give all nearby houses a gift: heavy-duty, wax earplugs. Earplugs made of wax are one of the best systems for protecting your ears at concerns or getting some shut-eye in noisy environments, because they mould to the specific shape of your own ear canal. If that's not sufficiently high-tech for you, smart earplugs exist: Hush plugs block out up to 30 decibels of noise by themselves, and up to 70 decibels if you play one of their preset "soothing tracks" through the buds overnight. Either way, there is officially no excuse for you to get a bad night's sleep due to environmental noise.