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It’s Christmas Day🎄, so what better time to reflect on the odd state of consumerism that was 2020. So many of our typical spending patterns dramatically shifted and our Margins team was no different. My co-host Can and I were looking back through our shopping histories and couldn’t help but laugh, smile, and feel a bit of embarrassment for just how cliché so many of our purchases were.
It’s kind of a fun exercise - to look back through your shopping receipts/lists from the past year. The way photos of vacations, moments with friends & family, or celebratory meals might’ve helped build our retrospective timelines in the past, in this weird year, our shopping lists can serve as time markers.
Here are a few of the things we bought in the past year. A lot of them fit into the headline trends: at-home fitness, cooking, electronic gadgets. A few comically represent the bad parts of our current state of on-demand consumerism. Some are early-adopterish and amazing. Here’s to hoping that in 2021, rather than a lot of stuff, we can once again fit the millennial consumer marketing persona, and spend on experiences over stuff.
Hope you’re all making it through the holidays as well as can be and Merry Xmas!
Once you achieve a certain level of jadedness, it’s easy to forget there will always be people who’ll pay exorbitant prices for minute, marginal gains in conveniences. Yet, here we are. I always thought wireless charging was a fad and never saw the point. I mean, how hard is it to pick up the damn cable and plug it in? Well, the quarantine changed it all. I first used these when I was house-sitting my friend’s place who had these strategically placed next to the TV and his desk. Since I am always home now, I got myself a couple of these too. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I plugged my AirPods Pro case or my phone.
JK, I lied. I actually have my phone plugged in as we speak. I started by using those wireless chargers on my desk for my phone but it immediately occurred to me that’s not ideal. I don’t have a strong aversion to FaceID like most people —I find it my parents, for example, find FaceID much easier to use— but a phone lying on a desk is hard to use with FaceID. Whenever I have a notification, I have to physically move my arms and pick up my phone and face it, literally. That’s just too much work, man
Now I have this, my phone is literally facing me at all times. So, if I ever have a notification, all I have to do is glance (glare) at my phone and right then and there, I’m instantly informed (distracted). I obviously could have bought the new Anker chargers, one of which come standing up, but you know, too late.
Sure, let’s go with the sedentary theme. Again, since I am mostly sitting at my desk at a given time, I want to make sure I’m properly hydrated (caffeinated). This means lots of mugs. And since I’m not an animal, I want to use a coaster. I am mildly ashamed of having bought coasters from Amazon like the ultimate bachelor / lazy person I am, but in my defense these looks vaguely like Turkish rugs so I’m cutting myself some slack. I have already seen this at multiple people’s home (literally saw one yesterday while watching a video) so I am glad that I’m not alone in being wildly boring.
My co-host Ranjan is the resident sous vide expert. I obviously bought one more as a curiosity (it has a screen! wifi! connects to an app!) , fully ready to either unload it in a few months on Craigslist or put it in a drawer to never see it again until I move. I have to say though, this thing changed my relationship with cooking, especially with most types of meat. I am not the best cook and always get stressed about undercooking things, and end up overcooking everything. With this, now I find myself excited to cook chicken or fish, and obviously meat. I even make poached eggs with it, if I’m especially bored. Honestly, an immediate buy. Well worth the price. Also, has a screen! Wifi! App! (Also, yes, convenience with money, baby)
OK, here’s a bad purchase. I exercise quite a bit but it’s mostly in the form of running. Now that I’m sort of middle-aged, I started resistance training too but since the gyms are now closed, I tried to find an alternative method that’s not using dumbbells, especially not the dingy Bowflex ones. A friend recommended the X3 stuff, but it just felt extremely overpriced for what it is. Some Reddit sleuthing revealed this as a cheap replacement. However, I genuinely used this once. I don’t want to blame the equipment, I’m sure it’s fine. It’s just awkward to use. Close friends might already know my propensity to injure myself so that added a bit pressure too. Maybe I haven’t found the right set of videos to assist me? Not sure. I guess I’ll just keep running and hope that my bones don’t give out before the pandemic is over.
OK, I know people love Le Creuset but you know that you can buy 10 of these Lodge ones for the same price. Or at least 5. I get that some people are weird attachments to certain brands but there’s no reason to buy a commodity at highway robbery prices. It’s one thing to buy a Dyson over a Dirt Devil (always go Dyson!) but I stand by Lodge over Le Creuset anytime. And yes, I did make bread in it.
Fully immersing into my role as pandemic consumer cliché, I wanted to get into indoor gardening in early April. Fully immersing into my role as gadget obsessive, I wanted to do this via a fancy device that described itself as “smart”.
I absolutely love this product. It worked perfectly - there are now always fresh herbs ready for cooking, and I’ve been drying a steady arsenal over the months. I’ll admit that at times I feel guilty for how lazy a form of ‘gardening’ it is (you just plug it in and add water), but it really has sparked an obsession with the entire vertical farming industry. I’m now convinced indoor farming will become way more integrated into urban life in the coming years, and am closely following a number of companies in the space. If there was one product I’d strongly recommend from my long list of aspirational and impulsive quarantine purchases, this is definitely it (there’s a smaller version too).
When I was nine years old my dad got me an acoustic guitar. I wanted an electric, but he said I needed to achieve a basic level of mastery to ‘graduate’ to an electric (starting on acoustic strengthens your fingers more and it was just cheaper to start). That discipline of having to earn things through mastery is something I strongly appreciate in hindsight.
Yet, thanks to Amazon and a base level of financial comfort….man, do I buy a lot of stuff that I consider aspirational gadgets - the things that you purchase without ‘earning’, and because you didn’t ‘earn’ them, they often aren’t appreciated and used. My “items purchased to help me record a podcast-to-podcasts actually recorded” ratio is troublingly above 1. You can imagine the sigh from my wife as I pulled out a microphone arm to set up on my desk in our NYC apartment.
But, this mic arm does work nicely with the Blue Yeti and 2021 will hopefully have some Margins podcasting. [Back to our roots! —Can]
The whole gendered clothing conversation with kid’s clothing is a tough one. For all the “girls learning STEM” products coming out, walking down any clothing or toy aisle is still split blue vs. pink down the middle. We all talk about moving past the stereotyping of gender and favorite colors, yet the entire gender reveal party thing is non-verbal communication via a color.
Our two-year-old son mostly wears hand-me-downs from his older sister. Lots of pink and purple. I’m okay with it - I mean, I like to think of myself as a fairly woke parent. He recently started rocking a hand-me-down, glitter-covered pink Minnie Mouse backpack. My wife caught me grimacing a few times, and hit me with the “Do you have a problem with it?”
I want to say I don’t, but….
I did end up seeking out the polar opposite in gendered toddler backpacks. This was it he’s quite enjoying it.
iPad Pro - $1100. Apple Magic Keyboard case - $300. Apple Pencil 2 - $129.
Pencil Strap Holder to fix how the Pencil attaches to your iPad: $8.
Apple product design is clearly the stuff of legend, but some small decisions are always infuriating. Do any owners of the iPad Pro like how you have the pencil stick to the edge? For me, the pencil would fall off numerous times a day. The moment it entered a bag or backpack, it would disappear to the bottom. I managed to solve the problem with this cheap strap/pencil holder thing that works beautifully. I’m waiting for Apple to introduce its own version for $99.
This purchase exemplifies everything wrong with the way we shop. Some readers may remember my pride in building a kitchen island from watching a YouTube video. Well, I had the fleeting aspiration that I would burn in our family’s names on it or something like that.
Well, Amazon delivered. Within two days I got this cheap kit. I nearly burnt myself a few times, the main wood pen thing stopped working after a few uses, and I now can’t decide whether to throw out these 100 metal pieces or just keep it stuck in the back of my closet.
Writing this post really did hit home just how much of a quarantine conumer cliché I am. You see, I got a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. I made all sorts of bread. I also bought a bunch of attachments for the mixer. The pasta roller attachment is easily the best one, but I also bought a bootleg meat grinder attachment off Amazon, which I would recommend.
But this product is more about the limits of making things from scratch. The quarantine introduced me to the joys of so many things from scratch that I never would’ve previously ventured into. The simple circumstance of being at home all day was the impetus to bake bread, create two-day Tonkatsu broth, and make all sorts of multi-hour, multi-day sous vide creations.
So I tried creating sausage from scratch. I bought these hog casings and made a variety of sausages. The sausages were very good. But….
I am probably the opposite of vegan, but the act of holding an animal’s intestine and filling it with another animal’s meat is a pretty raw experience. I’m not even quite sure I had previously processed that sausage skin is just intestine material. I guess that’s where we get that saying about not wanting to see how the sausage gets made.