July 19, 2019

A List of Decent Enough Gifts for Your Friends and Family

“No one is immune to products with shiny packaging, newfangled features, and high list prices—even when you’re paid to be a skeptical reviewer of these things. At my last job, I welcomed a constant parade of lotions and socks and blow dryers into my apartment. The goods with fancy logos and trendy colors were the ones that made me thrill at my work. They felt nice to unwrap. They felt glamorous to take selfies with.

Nice things are nice. At least, at first.

Some nice things turn out to be duds. A $200 bright yellow hair dryer that I reviewed was slower and heavier than the ones you could find at a drugstore. After consulting several dentists, I learned that a luxury light-up teeth whitener works as well as Crest White Strips. There was a brand-name leather briefcase that my colleagues liked, but I found it was too skinny to tote around my personal essentials, like gym clothes and a bottle of wine. A pair of dog boots that cost as much as shoes for a small human being had trouble staying on my petite beagle’s feet for more than 10 steps.

More often, nice things can prove exactly as useful as their cheaper counterparts: the high-end treadmill made with the same parts as the version sold at Walmart, the sunscreen bottled and sold like a rare and fancy potion with identical active ingredients to much of the stuff available at the drugstore in bulk.

There is simply an upper limit to how well a thing can work, which is why you’re reading this, our list of holiday gift ideas that are good—and more importantly, Good Enough. All products are subject to the basic laws of physics, the hard truths of biology. No cream can reverse aging, but some have heftier marketing budgets. No dog boots will make my dog enjoy wearing dog boots. After a certain point, a vacuum can only suck marginally better. There is often simply less distance between most products than you would expect—or rather, have been carefully led to believe there is through years and years of marketing.”

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