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Small Things To Make Life Better

Last updated: Thu Mar 21 2024

Alternative title: cheap but lovely gifts for a surprise white elephant party.

These are some relatively cheap, relatively small things that make life just a little bit better. None of these are affiliate links or paid reviews - I just really like all these.

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Health & Wellness

Loop Earplugs

I’m religious about volume safety, perhaps because I have mild tinnitus. So I like to have earplugs available wherever I go, especially for concerts or loud parties.

Luckily, Loop Earplugs are perfect - I have a pair of the Experience. For $35 USD you get stylish-but-effective earplus that come in a keyring-sized carrying case.

Paradoxically, these let me hear better during loud conversations; because of the way they’re designed, they block out ambient noise more efficiently than human voices, so even though your conversation partner is quieter, they’re louder relative to ambient noise.


Peugeot Pepper Mill

Freshly-ground black pepper really does taste just a little bit better than store-bought pre-ground pepper. A sprinkle of fresh pepper is an easy way to make a good meal great.

Unfortunately, the plastic pepper grinders sometimes found in the grocery store are… not great. Much better to buy one from Peugeot, as recommended by Kenji in The Food Lab. They’re $60 USD or so, which is admittedly on the pricey end, but think of how fancy you’ll feel when you grind a touch of pepper on your pasta.


Another way to feel like a fancier chef is to sprinkle salt with your hands instead of pouring it from a box. The easiest way to do that is to get a saltcellar and fill it up with nice chunky kosher salt.

I use this one from Amazon, which was only about $10. It’s reasonably quality, with a magnetic latch for the lid, and it holds plenty of salt.

Hario Cold Brew Tea Bottle

Cold-brewing tea has suddenly become popular in the Bay Area. Cold-brewing takes a few hours or even days — since hot water steeps much faster — but it results in delicious, refreshing chilled tea with a distinctive taste; I particularly like cold-brewing Vahdam’s rose black tea and I also use cold-brew tea to make tea soda.

Hario’s cold-brew bottle (only $30!) makes this process a delight. Put a few tablespoons of loose-leaf tea at the bottom and fill it up with water. Leave the bottle in the fridge for a few hours. When you take it out, pour through the filtered cap and try a sip from the included tasting glasses.

Milk Frother

A milk frother can come in handy for a surprising number of drinks, from lattes to matcha to protein powder. That also makes them a great gift for anybody that likes coffee or tea drinks - they’ll certainly find a use for it eventually.

I’ve bought at least three of this $20 Foodville milk frother as personal or white elephant gifts, as well as the one I use myself.

Kamenoko Tawashi

Kamenoko (“baby turtle”) tawashi scrub brushes, made famous by The Tatami Galaxy, are a replacement for icky sponges. Dab a bit of dish soap and scrub away without worries. If you wash all your dishes by hand, as I do, these will surely be a delight. Even better, they’re only $9 and last months, if not years.

Here’s an ode to the kamenoko tawashi, which points out that they’re not actually that popular in Japan, but shh. We can love the baby turtle all the same.

Choya Uji Green Tea Umeshu

I’m not generally a fan of umeshu (plum wine), but Choya’s umeshu blended with cold-brewed green tea is my favourite alcoholic drink — the green tea perfectly balances the tart sourness of the plum. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find; check your local Asian supermarket, where you should be able to find it for 20 bucks.



I am not sure that Coup is my favorite game, but relative to price ($20 or less) and time-to-play (15 minutes a round), it may be the highest value. Each player is trying to collect money to assassinate their opponents, with the help of two secret character cards that give them special abilities. But the twist is that you can bluff as having any character card, at the risk of losing a character if you are correctly called out. I have taken multiple copies to white elephants before!


Skull is another cheap, quick party game that would be perfect for a white elephant. Players take turns secretly putting down skulls or roses, then take turns bidding on how many roses they can pick up without picking up a skull. If you win the bid, you then have to pick that many secret tiles; if you are successful, you’re a step closer to winning, but if you fail, you have to permanently discard one of your own skulls or roses for future rounds.

Like Coup, this is widely available for less than $20, takes less than 15 minutes to play a round, and can be taught in about that time, too.