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  • Writer's pictureJulia Hass

Stuff I Can’t Live Without

Everyone, I have an exciting announcement: I’ve fallen in love.

Not with an actual person,  don’t be silly. That would require a human man who wasn’t related to me or a co-worker actually initiate a conversation.

No, what I have fallen in love with is The Strategist, an entire blog from NY Magazine about good stuff to buy. I’ve lost count of the number of hours or days or potentially weeks I’ve spent browsing their back catalog, but it’s a lot. And while I strongly disagree with their distinctly New York sensibilities on the idea that you should spend $40 on a plain white t-shirt or over $200 on a non-cashmere sweater, for example (WHY?!?!), what initially got me into them was their series where they ask celebrities what products they can’t live without. I am nerdy enough to consider this a fascinating anthropological study of what objects people define themselves by, unlike a normal human who goes “oh cool, I can use the same candle as a famous person!” I would love to be asked to do this feature, but being famous is my literal worst nightmare, though things like this being interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air that make me wish I could be just famous enough for precisely two milliseconds so I could be asked to this and nothing else. I can’t, because that’s impossible, but I can pretend The Strategist asked me to make a list and publish it on my own. Which I did, because of course I did. What are you, new here?

The one problem with making this list was that my previous gift guides have shot me in the foot a bit. You already know, for example, a good portion of the things I can’t live without: my Blistex, my Jackery Bar (still sounds like a euphemism), my Vaschy backpack, my Penzey’s Smoked Spanish Paprika. So those were honorarily on the list, but I didn’t have anything new to add besides “I still love them and they’re still great”.

My criteria for what could be added to the list was the following: it couldn’t be a thing where I didn’t have a particular attachment to the brand. For example, I can’t live without a water bottle, or moisturizer, or acne dots, but there are several brands of  these things that work perfectly well for me and I have no particular allegiance to any. I also couldn’t recommend things where the answer to which was “I can’t name one thing in this store, but I for sure can’t live without this store and if it ever closed I would have to die”. (Trader Joe’s. I’m talking about Trader Joe’s, without which my life would have no meaning because what is the point of life without good food.) Here’s what I unequivocally could list:

There are a lot of ways even the best, most well-intentioned parents mess up their kids, most of which are not appropriate to share outside your therapist’s office. Here’s one that is: these are the pens I grew up stealing from my mom’s purse, and she’s ruined me for any other pen ever since. A lot of artists swear by certain pens, and most of them are nice and normal brands made for artists to do pen and ink work like Copic. I hate these pens. To my mind, the Pilot Precise Rollerball is the perfect amount of ink – enough to be deeply black if it’s black and not that weird gross bruise color most ballpoint pens are but not so thickly inked they bleed through paper. They’re fine-tipped enough for even the tiniest detail work (or for the tiniest handwriting, which I have), last forever, are affordable, and not so fine tipped like an artist’s fine-tipped pen that I wonder what the point of even owning it is. They take years to run out of ink and explode extremely rarely. I carry at least two of these in either black or blue in my barista apron at all times. You can tell I’ve been in a room because I’ve probably left one of these pens behind. You can tell any bag belongs to me because if you shake out the bottom there will be a) at least one gerbil shaving that attached itself to something and b) this pen. I love this pen. I will never use another pen. This pen and I are in it for life.

I hit puberty – the time where you suddenly have to start caring about your skin – around the time when Bath & Body Works and their classic giant tubes of “moisturizer” were tween girl birthday gift gold, even though all it was was perfumed fatty something-or-other that did nothing besides make you smell like slow dancing with something stuck in your braces. I had tried lots of different products on various whims or an assertion that I would finally start taking care of my skin like a real adult since then, and every single one was yet again a perfumed placebo. The best case scenario was I put it on my face and felt nothing, worst case scenario, which was about 50% of the time, was that I felt like I was overheating because my skin couldn’t breathe. So, unsurprisingly, until about a year ago I largely considered skincare as an industry to be around the same level as vitamin supplements or tummy flattening teas in terms of money scams designed to prey on women because heaven forbid literally any appendage, orifice, or organ not be micro-examined for maximum attractiveness.

Then, two years ago this summer, it was hot. It was so hot I decided that I didn’t care if face masks were a placebo, I just wanted something that was cool and nice smelling to put on my poor, overheated face. CVS had started selling this brand of face masks, and some of them had fun animal faces, so I said sure, why not. If nothing else, I figured, for $3.00 I could take an entertaining selfie of myself as a purple raccoon. And then the last thing I expected to happen happened:

These face masks did exactly what they advertised they would.

This was how I discovered that my skin was in fact absurdly dry (“Oh,” I said wonderingly, touching my cheeks after the first mask, “I think my skin isn’t supposed to have the same texture as tissue paper!”),  and that was why I’d get this deep, awful cystic acne one throbbing spot one at a time (counter-intuitive, but yes, a fairly common thing). My skin is also very sensitive, which is why heavy duty moisturizers make me feel like I’m suffocating. I’ve test driven most under $5 a pop sheet mask brands I can find since first trying Creme Shop, but other brands have all been what I originally expected, which is fancy smelling placebos. And yet not once have I been let down by a single Creme Shop mask I’ve used. I tend to do a mask once a week, and my go-to is the Honey Lavender Mask if I don’t have any pressing horrors my skin has decided to inflict on me at the moment. The ones I keep in my arsenal for specific common-to-me problems are the Pumpkin Spice Mask (for when a blemish or scrape just won’t fade), the Raspberry Yogurt Mask (for the flaky disaster weeks), the Cheer Up, Skin! Zebra Mask (for when both my skin and I need a pick-me-up), and the Wake Up, Skin! Raccoon Mask (for when I’m dried out and skimping on sleep, which usually go hand in hand).

I still refuse to wear sunscreen when I spend 99.9% of my life inside, though. I don’t care how pale I am (and I really am that pale). The sunscreen every day thing is still some voodoo BS unless you’re, like, a dog walker or fisher(wo)man or something. Fight me.

My love for Uniqlo – from their long underwear to their sweatpants – is well-documented, and that love has only grown thanks to the fact that they make lovely men’s sweatshirts that are perfect for that cozy slightly too big but slightly put together look if you’re not a man, and also that their button down shirts fit me across the chest which is a miracle of modern tailoring. If only they made cardigans or t-shirts I liked, they might just rise to the Trader Joe’s level of “If You Closed I Would Be A Lost Husk Of A Woman” status.

Without being a little too personal about the ugly realities of how difficult finding good underwear is when your skin is above and beyond delicate and prone to irritation in unseemly places if anything so much as looks at it wrong, let’s just say that I need a few things from my underwear. Namely, I need it to be 100% cotton, boyshorts cut, and it cannot have lace-lined leg openings. For my personal taste, I also prefer that it come in fun prints, because life’s too short to only have underwear in grayscale. This seems like a pretty easy ask, but it’s a quest I lost literal years of my life embarking on. I was about to just give up and order men’s boxer briefs and be sad for all of eternity about the bleak men’s color options when I decided to see if Uniqlo also regular underwear to go with their long underwear, and, lo and behold, they did. It’s perfect. It’s everything I wanted, everything I needed, so tell me what to – sorry, that’s the Backstreet Boys. (EDIT: This is *NSync. I’m sorry. You cannot possibly be more ashamed of me than I am of myself.)

Also, if you’re  like me and your boobs are too big to fit in most bralettes (aka: teensy tiny triangles that anyone above an A cup immediately pops out of), and lace makes you itchy, Uniqlo also makes what I affectionately call The World’s Ugliest But Comfiest Bra. Don’t be scared off by the fact that it looks like ace bandages wrapped around a pair of flimsy foam bowls, I promise it’s really nice. It’s supportive enough you can even get away with wearing it out, it makes your tits feel like they’re encased in a delicately cupping cloud, and as an unadvertised bonus, I’m betting it works really great as a test to see if your partner actually does love and want to have sex with you no matter what you look like.

Not to sound like a podcast commercial break, but I used to be not at all picky about what mattress I slept on until about three years ago when I got a Casper mattress, and now sleeping on anything else feels like sleeping on hot garbage. I require a ton of my mattress, since I am either at work doing a very physically demanding job, or I’m at home, attempting to recover from said physically demanding job by lying in bed. If it’s a day off, I’m sitting in my bed doing homework, because I don’t have room for a desk and as a consummate sprawler find them uncomfortable anyway. Not only does the Casper mattress work for all of these functions, it also has gotten  me through a nine month concussion (in which I almost never left it) and the many, many times I threw out my back post-concussion when my back was not really on board with going back to having to be functional. I love this mattress. I love this mattress truly ungodly amounts. I really hope whoever I eventually enter into a long-term relationship with also loves this mattress, because he really has no choice in the matter and I will choose this mattress over him and our relationship. If he wishes to stay with me but not sleep on this mattress, he will have to figure out a way to make a Frankenbed where my side is a Casper and his side is whatever subpar crap he likes.

I try not to be judgmental about other people’s personal taste in things, it’s just that there are people who like this mattress and then there are people who are wrong.

The type of formula I require for lipstick is roughly the equivalent of what someone who is a professional off-road trucker requires of their car. I have suspicions of why my lipstick and not any other type of makeup needs to have duct tape levels of lasting durability (namely, I drink a lot of water), but for whatever reason, it does.

If you need longwear lipstick for, say, a date where you’ll be doing a lot of smooching, a 10-hour day at a conference, an all you can eat pie eating contest, or anything along those lines, what you’re going to need will be your traditional longwear formula, which is a two-parter of pigment that needs to dry followed by a waxy balm that keeps it in place. (I’ve tested every single drug store brand and the two best of this genre are Rimmel’s Provocalips and  L’Oreal Pro Last.) There are a few problems with these though. For one thing, you can’t re-apply if it’s starting to wear off and sometimes it wears off in a way where the center pigment is gone but you have this icky ring around the outside of your lips like the bottom of a toilet. For another, it’s a pain in the butt much like one of those Great British Bake-Off flan confections is because you have to get the timing and tackiness of your pigment coat exactly right before adding the second layer, or it won’t work. Don’t ask me why. I’m not a chemist.

What I am, however, is a barista. I work irregularly timed shifts – sometimes eight hours plus closing on one day, sometimes little four hour chunks spread over multiple days. The way I feel about my two-step longwear is the way I feel about heels or a dress. Yes, I look good in it, but no, I don’t want to break it out for everyday usage. Which is where Revlon’s Ultimate Suede Lipsticks, the lipstick equivalent of a nice pair of dark wash jeans, comes in.

Revlon’s Ultimate Suede comes in a single tube about the size of your average chapstick. It’s highly buildable and blendable with other lipsticks or other shades in the line (and it comes in a million shades). You can re-apply it as much as you want. It has little to no transfer. It has lasted better through my eight hour shifts than my longwears have on some days. It’s not drying, but rather hydrating, which longwear formulas never, ever are. I own three shades – Fashonista, Iconic, and Cruise Control. Every single one of them is perfect.

Here’s one last unflattering fact about me, just to round out the parade of unflattering facts I have revealed in the course of this post; my feet are, to a truly disconcerting and uncanny degree, shaped like Kermit the Frog’s, and just as proportionally wide.

Having wide feet is hard. It shouldn’t be hard considering how common having wide feet is, but finding shoes that fit wide feet is im-freaking-possible. What’s even harder is if you don’t want a shoe like a Birkenstock or a clog that further exaggerates how wide your foot is. And what’s hardest of all is that, for some reason beyond the realm of human comprehension, most shoe companies that make “wide width” shoes really just take the shoe and instead of making it wider, make it longer. I wish I had kept a list of every single company that I found did this (because eventually I got so annoyed I used sites with free shipping and returns just to order both widths and prove to myself that companies were in fact doing this. Spoiler alert: they were). If I had, it would be a very long list.

My first endless quest through literally over thirty pairs of nominally wide-width shoes was for boots, which led me to the brand Bella Vita, whose wides are actually wide and whose work I’m a big fan of. Unfortunately, Bella Vita is a brand for business casual to dressy shoes, so their shoes are great for when I was working in an office or interviewing, and I wear their boots all the time in the fall and winter, but they don’t exactly make things that are good for the summer, or for barista-ing. For that I require shoes that are sturdy, not at all fancy, preferably not leather, and have much thicker soles for cushion. Luckily, before I became a barista, I found Naturalizers, otherwise I would have been in real trouble. If you do have wide feet, whatever Naturalizers you order will need to be in WW instead of W, but they are so cute and so comfortable that hardly a day goes by that I don’t wear them. (And I wear these Naturalizers at work, just so I can tell my work shoes from my shoes I don’t want to repeatedly spill coffee on easier.)

The best part though, aside from everything about these shoes, is that they come in my very favorite color, a color I love so much that I ordered a second pair of them after ruining the first pair at work by spilling coffee on them. (This is what taught me I needed work shoes that were different from my regular shoes.) I loved them so much I also seriously considered getting multiple pairs in multiple colors. I didn’t, because ultimately that would make me exactly like my parents who have been ordering the same clothing from L.L. Bean in different colors each season for the past 40 years, but it’s inevitable I will start down that path at some point. When I do, it will probably be in these shoes.

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