My general approach to electronic appliances is to do without them. Our coffee’s made in a French press. Milk is warmed on the stovetop. I’d go without a microwave if our apartment didn’t come with one. For years and years we suffered through hot and humid New York summers without an air conditioner. But as I’ve gotten older, I’m working on admitting when it’s a good idea to take advantage of at least some of the technological advancements made in the past century.
Growing up, my parents, bless their Yankee hearts, modeled a grin-and-bear-it attitude around physical comfort. Our hot water heater, by way of example, was utterly ineffective for the majority of my childhood. My sisters and I would wake up on frigid New England mornings, tiptoe across the wide floor planks of our upstairs hallway and across the tiled bathroom floor to hop in the shower before school. If we were lucky, we’d get a burst of warm water for one solid minute before the water turned cold again. We’d often shower in pairs—the better to share whatever hot water there was—and when the heat started to wane, we’d sing:
The heater remained unmoved. The water stayed cold.
As an adult, I often see myself falling into a similar pattern when it comes to comfort. A humidifier? Surely that’s not something I actually need. What’s winter, really, without some suffering? Dry skin? A persistent cough? Sleepless nights and a little bronchitis? Who isn’t sick? Only a few more weeks now! Any day the heat’s gonna click off and it’ll be smooth sailing!
I think I might really need a humidifier. One or all of us has been sick for the past month and my most recent case of bronchitis is particularly uncomfortable (though I still would’t trade it for last weekend’s stomach flu). Two years ago I came around to the notion that there might be a more comfortable alternative to suffering through the bone-dry nights in our wintertime apartment. We bought two small and attractive bottle humidifiers which worked reasonably well, but they’ve since gone out of production and we can’t buy any more replacement filters. Which leads me to my next point: Buying electronics stresses me right out. Even though I know that boiling water on my stove all day is no more of an environmentally responsible choice, the environmental impact of buying an electronic nags at me. The more complicated something is, the more likely some or all of it will conk out. And what happens when these things stop working? Or shows itself to be impossible to keep clean? Are they repairable? Are they recyclable? Read enough humidifier reviews and you might quickly start wondering where all of the rejected, pilloried humidifiers have found their final resting spot. Is it the bronchitis keeping me up at night or my existential worry about the state of the planet?
I’ve decided it might be best to crowdsource. Last night I asked folks on Instagram to share their favorites. There were a lot of different responses but there were also some clear winners. I’m sharing them here with annotations from folks who’ve used them in case it’s helpful to anyone else. And I’ll be digging in a bit to see what might end up feeling best for me. If you have experience with anything here, or anything else, please feel free to chime in!
+ hOmeLabs Cool Mist Humidifier Diffuser: My sister has had this humidifier for the past year and at the time of writing I’m taking it for a test-drive in our apartment. It’s pretty compact but still sizable enough to allow for extended use. I wouldn’t call it silent, exactly, but it’s quiet. It’s not terrible to look at, it’s easy to fill and clean, and it doesn’t have a filter which is something I’m hoping to avoid this time around. Also! It’s affordable. It can also be used with essential oils so right this minute it’s filling our apartment with the sweet scent of sweet orange and lavender oil. No complaints and I don’t think it’s entirely in my head that I can already breathe easier.
+ BONECO Travel Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier 7146: Lexi recommended this one on Cup of Jo two years ago and wrote to tell me she still loves it. (A whole bunch of people also shared her enthusiasm!) It’s really small, doesn’t need a filter, and uses a recycled plastic water bottle as the vessel. Possible downsides? A bright light. (Though two different people wrote in to tell me they taped or painted theirs to solve the problem.)
+ Stadler Form O-020 OSKAR Humidifier: I think this one wins the prize as most recommended in my unofficial survey. It’s more expensive than others on this list, but it’s got a sleek—or at the least an innocuous—design and it’s also suitable for essentials oils, which is a nice bonus. Possible downside? It requires not-inexpensive filters.
+ Roolen Breath Smart Ultrasonic Cool-Mist Humidifier: A few different people pointed me toward the Roolen Breath saying it’s easy to fill and has a solid capacity (allowing it to run for ~24 hours) but doesn’t take up too much space. I like that it’s also filter-free and can be set to go into an automatic eco-friendly sleep mode when ideal humidity has been reached.
+ Muji Aromatic Ultrasonic Humidifier: Muji, long known for its small essential oil diffusers, now makes a larger model designed to humidify a bigger space. It can also be used with essential oils and doesn’t appear to require a filter. Like all things Muji, the design is simple enough and pleasantly unbranded.
+ Crane Ultrasonic Cool Mist: Many folks report using this tear-drop shaped humidifier, recommended for being quiet, affordable, and effective. It’s not my personal favorite design, but so many people mentioned it that I thought I should include it here.
+ VAVA Top Fill Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier and the VAVA Coolmist Bedroom Nightstand: A handful of readers recommended both of these VAVA humidifiers. The smaller of the two seems like it could make a solid choice for a small space like my kids’ room. Possible downside? I haven’t found information about these products on the manufacturer website which makes me somewhat wary that they’re no longer in production (even if they are widely available online).
+ Honeywell HCM-350 Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier: This is the highest rated humidifier on Wirecutter and lots of people attested to its efficacy and how easy it is clean in reply to my query. It requires filters, which I’ve been hoping to avoid based on my last experience, and it’s not the most subtle design, but it was hard to ignore so many recommendations.
Any others you guys absolutely swear by (or have sworn off?). I’d love to hear.
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Last week, James finished a box of chocolate-covered salted caramels I’d slipped into his Christmas stocking. I fished the small cardboard box from the recycling basket we keep by the front door and, after pressing my forefinger into the remaining chocolate crumbs and letting them melt on my tongue, I slipped both sides of it into this top dresser drawer.
The drawer is a behind-the-scenes spot in our house that’s in regular need of decluttering. The box, I knew, would be the perfect foil for lip balms and pocket change and whatever else would otherwise have continued rattling around in there. The small addition makes a tiny but noticeable improvement in a spot that can get unruly, cozied right next to James’s socks.
This week, James made a French yogurt loaf, which meant needing to empty the loaf pan where we stash our tiniest kitchen supplies. I took the opportunity to reorganize the supplies and to finally find a proper place for tucking a roll of masking tape and a marker that we use daily to add the date to Silas’s school lunch. It’s a daycare requirement and daily practice shared by me and James. (Faye eats the lunch provided by public Pre-k, for anyone wondering if she’s being neglected by her parents.)
Yes, I’ve been watching Tidying up with Marie Kondo and yes, it’s January, and yes, I come by this kind of tidying honestly. The first chapter of my book is called Decluttering after all. The second, Organizing. I like to organize things. I crave clean and orderly spaces. For me, paring belongings down to the essentials and keeping them organized is the best way I know how to appreciate and enjoy and properly care for the things I own (to say nothing of the planet). But it’s also the best tool I have for making sure that the labor that goes into running our home is shared by everyone living in it.
One of the most common questions I get from readers is how I’ve gotten James to get on board with our so-called lifestyle. My initial impulse is to say that he’s not terribly dissimilar to me and that our lifestyle, such that it is, evolved naturally and together. That’s true. He’s relatively organized. His possessions, like mine, are relatively few. We started our home together pretty much from scratch after he bought a mattress and I showed up with a suitcase. Later, when we moved for school and work it didn’t take convincing or cajoling to get him to move into a small space or keep it tidy. I’ve been the one to write about it, but behind the scenes we’ve been in it together.
Still, some of that narrative erases the work we’ve embarked on in the past decade of cohabitation. The more interesting truth is that it’s taken a committed, concerted effort to make sure that we’re each taking on an equal share of our household load. It’s taken deliberately shaking certain habits and acknowledging learned or inherited gender roles and setting out to dismantle them. It’s meant developing systems and working out strategies together so that one of us doesn’t feel responsible for everything. We started out on footing that felt pretty equal, but the thing about equal footing is that it either is or it isn’t.
One of the biggest fights that James and I have ever had was about our linen closet. We were working on sorting and putting away laundry together when he asked me, for what felt like the millionth time, where something went in the linen closet. Or how it should be folded. I don’t actually remember the specifics, but I do remember boiling over.
On the night of the great linen closet reckoning, I was furious. Furious at the assumption that I should be the keeper of that knowledge. Furious that James absolved himself both of organizing the closet and remembering how it had been organized by me. Furious that even after countless nights of repeating this same ritual he still relied on me to tell him what to do while we were in the thick of it. The fight was ugly and long and ended in tears, from both of us, over pillowcases. But it also ended in finding a new way of organizing the closet, together. And today, we both know where everything goes.
In watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, I couldn’t help notice that in a roundabout sort of way, the show posits the idea that the work of maintaining a tidy home is something that needs to be shared by everyone living it. The very premise of the show is that couples and families embark on joint efforts at tidying. The KonMari method has folks do the hard work of organizing in one intensive go, paring down and reorganizing so that presumably in a perfect future there’s nothing left to do or struggle over.
Among the hetero couples featured on the show, plenty of tired gender stereotypes get trotted out. There’s the husband of one family who’s angered by the number of pillows his wife has on the bed and the husband of another family who repeats the phrase “happy wife, happy life” as though his tidying efforts are only to please an insistent partner. There’s the mother of a young family who chastises herself for not setting her family up for success via organization, as if that should be her responsibility alone. There’s the painful-to-watch dismissiveness of a white husband who can’t understand his Pakistani wife’s wish to keep scarves that connect her with her culture. Still, subtly, the show—and Marie Kondo herself—seems to say that it’s not fair, and also not sensical, for everyday household management to fall only to one person. In not-so-many-words, she asks the show’s participants, and the folks at home, to take a hard look at the labor involved in making a house a home and asks them to share in that work.
For me and James, that’s required a decade of hard, ongoing work. I won’t suggest that couples embrace daily scorekeeping of who’s done what (though it can be an illuminating exercise), but I do think reckoning with the labor required to run a household and how it’s shared is necessary work. Who is doing what? Who’s thinking about what needs to get done? Who’s ordering new shampoo? Or noticing that the sponge needs to get replaced or that the coat closet’s gotten messy? Who’s seeing that the slipcover is loose and sagging and tucking it back into place? Who’s wiping down the bathroom mirror? Who’s sweeping dust bunnies and changing the sheets and swapping out toothbrushes? Who’s finding a new place for the masking tape and marker and who’s remembering to put it back in that spot so that both parents know where to reach when packing school lunch?
And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? A tidy home feels like a personal breath of fresh air to me, but more importantly, I think it allows the space for shared responsibility. When James and I, and our children, all know where everything is kept, and how it’s stored, then we all become responsible for those things. There’s not one keeper of the knowledge or one nag.
In our family, keeping an organized home requires ongoing teamwork, even as folks with a natural propensity toward tidyness. I don’t personally need to dump my clothes on my bed to know what’s there or to pull books from the shelves. Our apartment is tidy nearly all of the time. But like finding a new spot to keep a roll of tape and a marker, there are constant tiny improvements that can be made, or need to be made, as family needs shift and change. I think the show helps demonstrate that it’s best when that’s done together.
Here’s to the life-changing magic of tidying up, but more importantly, to the life-changing magic of sharing responsibility for our homes with the people who live in them.
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