Buy the best stuff

Sidin Vadukut on two of the most useful websites—The Wirecutter and The Sweethome—which help people make all kinds of purchasing decisions, both big and small

The Sweethome website lists the best buys.
The Sweethome website lists the best buys.

This might seem like the most mundane advice you will ever read in a column—and hardly worthy of being called a strategy for untangling lives—but please, always buy good stuff. I don’t mean you should always buy expensive stuff. Or luxury brands. No (also that would go against my column a few weeks ago when we talked about the Chinese consumer strategy of only “overspending” on the things that matter).

What I mean is that wherever possible, you should try and buy the best thing your money can buy in that particular product category. It doesn’t matter what that product is. It could be ballpoint pens, notebooks, tablets, soap or even a shovel. It doesn’t matter. Always see if you can optimize whatever you are buying.

Which sounds exhausting, right? I mean what person of sound mind is going to spend days scouring the Internet for the perfect…umm…pregnancy test kit?

Actually there are people who do just that sort of thing. And in this column, I am going to share with you what I think are two of the most useful websites: The Wirecutter and The Sweethome.

For years, I have been pointing people to these websites—they are sister concerns founded by veteran technology journalist Brian Lam—to help them make all kinds of purchasing decisions, both big and small. More importantly, however, I have been using these websites to help me save time, money and tonnes of tension when it comes to spending my hard-earned cash.

Lam’s philosophy in setting up these websites was that people didn’t want to spend hours and hours deciding what to buy. Which was the problem with most gadget review websites and blogs. Instead of being told to buy this or that, you are often inundated with hundreds of reviews of mobile phones and televisions or whatever else, all plastered with technical data and specifications that boggle the mind. Finally, you may end up choosing a product out of sheer frustration or because the Amazon reviews look good.

Lam went the other way. He would take the testing and review process one step further. After meticulously testing dozens of models in each product category, he would bravely put his neck on the line and tell you that these three products are the best buys.

Thus, almost every single entry on The Wirecutter and The Sweethome websites starts with the two magic words: The Best. You, thus, get everything from “The Best Office Chair” to “The Best Water Bottle”. And each choice is made after an unbelievably detailed and meticulous reviewing and selection process. For instance, the best water bottle—Klean Kanteen Classic—was chosen after reviewing 54 bottles over a period of two years. There is simply no way most consumers would have the patience, time or expertise to go into products in the depth that Lam’s reviewers do.

While The Wirecutter focuses on technology and gadgets, The Sweethome gives the same obsessive treatment to household goods and devices. The good thing about most of these recommendations is that the reviewers usually also try to suggest both a “Best” and a “Cheap and Best” option. In my experience, both recommendations are usually great.

I love both the websites because I no longer have to spend days dithering in a sweaty funk because I can’t make up my mind about octa cores or quad cores or whatever else it is. Life is too precious to waste time on such matters.

There are, of course, a couple of problems with using these sites. Sometimes, their choices may not be available in your local market. And you may have to opt for variants. Second, you may not always agree with their choices or priorities. Which is, as far as I am concerned, fine. At least that will make you read through the very detailed review information and, most importantly, get a sense of the criteria the two websites use to judge products.

Many times, this has made me rethink products and choices afresh. For instance, I hadn’t thought of ink-drying time as a problem when it came to ballpoint pens. A pen is a pen is a pen, right? Nope. And now I can’t write with anything but the Uniball Jetstream. Which is really a pen you can buy in a supermarket. But like I said, when you consciously try to buy good stuff, the rewards are manifold.

Everyone is telling you to be mindful about everything. Why not be a bit more mindful about the things you buy?

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