Many days it seemed like just making it to the end of 2021 was the ultimate life hack. These are some of the tips that got the staff of Cayuga Media through it. From the best place to buy jumpsuits (Old Navy, seriously), the Peloton coach that got us through it (Jess King), the sublime experience of keeping a dream journal, or just…. Piglets — we full-throatedly endorse these.
Most of these life hacks are free, but just so you know, may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them.
Peloton coach Jess King
Three days into my Peloton trial and about 10 minutes into a ride that was clearly way too difficult for me, I was seconds away from giving up. And then, I swear to you, at the very moment I was going to step off the bike the instructor, Jess King, looked me dead in the eyes and said something like “Don’t you DARE. Don’t you dare give up. You can do it.” I don’t know why, because I am typically cynical about things like feeling the person in a workout video stream is speaking to me, specifically, but I listened and stayed on the bike. And I did do it. And six or so minutes later, when King told me to lean to the right if I was going to puke, I did that, too. That was more than 50 pounds ago. And while diet and mindfulness had a lot to do with me getting healthy, so did Jess King. Because she kept me biking, daily. How did she do that to an older guy in the worst shape of his life? Distraction. With the exuberance of a trick-or-treating kid in their best costume ever or the happiest person at a rave, King is fantastically, endlessly distracting — with or without the live DJ that sometimes accompanies her. She rides the bike like it’s a horse and her steady stream of direction is encouraging and surrealistically instructive. “Pretend you have gills in your armpits!” “Nipples over knees.” “Breathe through your back.” “Oops, I meant add 5.” “Here comes the shitshift!” And, yes, “Puke to the left.” She is the only coach who consistently makes me forget about my own discomfort long enough to keep exercising regularly. And to be clear, the discomfort is real, because King is a very good trainer — she’s just giddy and comfortably ridiculous enough to distract you from it. —John Paczkowski
Getting rid of your car
After I moved to LA, I acquired a collection of business cards and notes that people left under my windshield wipers or in the driver’s window that basically said, “hey your car is a dump, let me buy it.” Then I moved to a neighborhood notorious for having the worst possible street parking in the city, and my problems escalated. My catalytic converter was stolen. Then I paid a lot to replace it and cover other repairs. Then, about a month later, it was stolen again. Then I paid a lot to replace it again and cover more repairs. Then I installed an anti-theft mechanism, surrendered, and handed the keys over to my dad and let him drive away with it.
I bought my bike for $200 on Craigslist a decade ago and have probably spent five times that much on upkeep since then, which is still a fraction of how much it cost to own a car. I’d already relied on my bike for most trips, and the car had become redundant. I was only moving it once a week to repark and avoid tickets on street-sweeping days.
I figured ridding myself of this turbulent beast would simplify my life. And it has. Now everything I own on this planet is inside my little shoebox apartment. I immediately stopped paying for gas, for parking, for tickets, for oil changes, for brakes and tires and catalytic converters, for Geico, for the AAA membership, for the little sticker on the corner of the license plate. But it’s also made getting groceries a drag. And getting anywhere takes a little longer when you’re on bike and public transit. And I’m rolling up to dates with helmet hair and drenched in sweat. And, without a trunk or backseat to store things, I’ve had to embrace being a Backpack-Wearing Adult.
It’s complicated things, but it’s simplified things. I’m tethered to the city, but I’m liberated. —Emerson Malone
Telfar medium shopping bag — $202 on Telfar (sold out, but $150–200 on Poshmark)
The Telfar medium shopping bag is perfect. Many people have extolled Telfar’s virtues and you don’t need me to go into it here, but what I did not know was that the medium bag is the perfect size. It somehow fits absolutely everything I need for all possible situations: my laptop, my water bottle, the old Glossier bag I throw my toothbrush and face wash into when I go to my boyfriend’s place, the giant copy of Dune I for some reason take everywhere with me lately, a bunch of old disposable masks I forgot about — you name it. The handles and straps mean it can be worn or carried in a bunch of different ways without killing my shoulders and/or neck, and it somehow goes with everything I wear. I’ve never really been a purse girl, but I’ve been converted. I haven’t touched my ratty old tote bags once since this baby was delivered. —Addy Baird
Getting full coverage car insurance — $XX/month (varies obviously) from Hagerty
I purchased a classic car in full almost two years ago while we were all stuck at home and public transportation was frowned upon. When I first got it, I was in a rush to get it onto the road and only insured it for liability. In the back of my mind, I knew I should probably get better coverage but kept putting it off. A few months ago, the East Coast got hit with the tail end of Hurricane Ida and experienced extreme flash flooding. My car was supposed to be safe at my mechanic’s, but it turned out that his shop was in an area susceptible to flooding. Long story short, all of his and his customers’ expensive classic cars were destroyed — except for mine. My car just so happened to be on the lift that evening. I took that as a sign to get full coverage because I don’t think I’ll get that lucky ever again. I sleep much better at night knowing I’m covered for its full value if something were to happen to it. —Derek Gardner
Homefield Apparel shirts — $32 at Homefield Apparel
Not that anyone needs to wear college-themed apparel any more than we already do here in the US of A, but Homefield Apparel has a lot of great retro or retro-appearing logos on T-shirts for a variety of colleges (including, for example, the Naval Academy, North Carolina A&T, and Rice — it’s not just Alabama and Michigan, you know?). The T-shirts themselves are not the sturdiest I’ve ever owned and will run you more like $30 a pop, but they look great and are extremely soft, and frequently the first I reach for when going for a T-shirt. These also fall squarely in the “good gift for sibling” territory, if your sibling is looking for, say, George Washington dribbling a basketball in a ’90s style, or the LSU tiger dunking one. It’s also semi-interesting to compare different schools and get a good sense for which are needlessly tight with what kinds of uses of their branding they’ll allow. —Katherine Miller
Old Navy jumpsuits — $30–44 at Old Navy
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m the person that’s usually two to three years behind the curve. So, it wasn’t until this year that I discovered I absolutely adore jumpsuits. My gateway outfit was a hand-me-down from my mother: a neon pink jumpsuit, covered in light pink starfish, that she bought on a family trip to Hawaii in the early 1990s. Since then I’ve gone all in on the fad, most recently buying a couple of styles from Old Navy as a self birthday present: the smocked cami jumpsuit for women in a leopard print and Breathe On cross-front sleeveless jumpsuit for women in purple. (Note that the patterns available are constantly changing.) It’s not uncommon for me to wear both of these, perhaps more than once, in a week. They are soft, flattering, and, of course, have pockets, making them the go-to outfit for walking my daughter to daycare, sitting at home in front of my computer, or meeting work colleagues for drinks at an outside bar. —Zahra Hirji
Keeping a dream diary — $24 for Cayuga Media’s notebook from Appointed
Most of my dreams are innocuous and forgettable; these are the ones where I’m reading Slack and scrolling through Twitter, and it hurts my feelings that this is the best my nocturnal imagination can do. But sometimes there are the surreal stream-of-consciousness ones that mold my entire day. Not just the ones where my molars are falling out, but the ones where I’m skateboarding around the White House and running through an unbelievably beautiful meadow and babysitting a gross alien creature. That’s why I started keeping a running doc in my Notes app simply titled “weird dreams lately,” dedicated to the more twisted yarns, which are always a genuine delight to revisit.
Chuck Klosterman wrote, “People who talk about their dreams are actually trying to tell you things about themselves they’d never admit in normal conversation. It’s a way for people to be honest without telling the truth.” So if that’s the case, what do I do with these:
Nov. 26: Woodward and Bernstein are standing arm in arm on an elevated platform in a nightclub and singing something to the effect of “I ain’t never seen two pretty best friends / It’s always one of them gotta be ugly.”
Dec. 11: An earthquake. The foundation of my condo’s building was tipping dramatically toward the street. I was holding onto a table for balance. The cats, Puck and Toby, were freaking out. Puck was standing on his hind legs trying to grab the air with both paws. All we could do was laugh.
Dec. 21: I was performing in a play at my middle school at my current age. All the actors started to go off script. I got too comfortable and said the word “motherfucker” and everybody went silent and stared at me.
Feb. 2: Someone kept using the phrase “that’s like putting braces on a scorpion.”
Feb. 19: Dad and I visited a space museum run and operated by Mike Myers. We watched a video about efforts to extract petroleum on Mars and the voiceover sounded a lot like Dad. He wouldn’t admit that it was him. I asked Mike Myers who did the voiceover and he said it was Dad. —Emerson Malone
Out of all my attempts at mid-pandemic rejuvenation and despair mitigation, visiting a local farm with a bunch of piglets was by far the most effective. Piglets are a lot like puppies in that they are small, cuddly, and curious. But because they are pigs, they are arguably better. Their diminutive grunts and oinks? Their pristinely pink little noses and tiny ever-spinning tails? How ferociously, soothingly adorable. And how gently they pluck a piece of apple from your fingertips! It’s sort of the pig equivalent of a friend’s baby holding your finger. All this stuff makes a visit with piglets a killer pandemic poultice, an experience that will leave you giggling and obliterated for at least a few hours of the 18 months of the miasma of horror, idiocy, and anger we’ve all been living through. —John Paczkowski
Fabric face masks — $32 at Baggu
I struggled for so long to find a mask that not only fit my face but felt cute! These masks have a flap that covers your mouth, chin, and nose so they’re great for glasses wearers, too. I get so many compliments when I wear these! —Nicole Fallert
You know those TV episodes where the plot can’t be resolved because one catastrophe leads to another? It feels like we’ve been stuck in one of those for half a decade, with the finale being isolation from friends and family for almost two years (The dumpster fire got bigger, now we need a bigger dumpster and a book of matches). But with the pandemic easing, I’ve been trying to get back to being human, and what’s been helping me do that is the band Cheekface. (Here, let me explain how breathing works: You suck in and you continue to live).
The LA-based trio of Greg Katz, Amanda Tannen, and Mark “Echo” Edwards specialize in tight, talk-sung indie tunes of wry hopelessness and hopeful wryness (It’s your best life if it’s the life that you’re living right now). With their two LPs (2019’s Therapy Island and 2021’s Emphatically No) and a smattering of singles, covers, and B-sides, they balance the boredom of living while the world burns and the joy of simply existing (Sometimes I wonder if there’s a single good thing on earth. And then I eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch.).
In early October, I was in a (masked, vaccinated) crowd indoors for the first time since the pandemic started, to catch Cheekface when they swung through NYC. It was a needed, personal reminder that crowds don’t have to be a threat. They can be a balm. (I liked it better when you were standing next to me.) —Brandon Hardin
Tarot cards — $17 at Amazon
One of the joys introduced to me this year was a new deck of tarot cards I received as a gift from a good friend. We sat on her sofa and each thought of something going on in our lives, drew a card, looked up its meaning, and thought intently about what it reflected about our personal state of affairs. We’ve all just quietly gone through so much in the pandemic. The answers, of course, lay in our interpretations, and the tarot cards can be a vehicle for self-reflection more than anything else. As we come out of a year spent in partial isolation, it was just more fun to do it with an old friend, laughing together and cheering on each other’s realizations made through a beautiful deck of divination cards. The answers we seek all lie in us anyhow, we just need some help getting to them, and a reminder that we’re not alone. —Venessa Wong
Used furniture from AuctionNinja.com
AuctionNinja is an online estate sale auction site. It’s kind of like eBay, but with items grouped by individual estate sales, so typically a whole house’s worth of furniture and or other belongings. It’s a massive pain to buy stuff there, because you have to pick it up — in person — at a specific time window at the actual house over that weekend, or you forfeit payment! But because it’s such a pain, the prices…. My god, the prices…. They are just sublime.
I moved this summer and needed some new furniture. My personal style has always been for vintage or thrift stuff, and with the supply chain issues happening I was hearing horror stories from friends waiting months for a West Elm couch to arrive. I paid under $1,000 for two matching couches in great condition from a fancy home in Greenwich, Connecticut (a friend helped load and move them). This is a site I almost hesitate to recommend because I don’t want too many people to find out about it and jack up the prices. It’s an amazing bridge between the random stuff on Facebook Marketplace/ Craigslist and a curated antique shop. —Katie Notopoulos
Opening illustration by Raymond Biesinger for Cayuga Media