As Strategist editors, it’s our job to notice how people shop. Over the past nine months, we of course reported on people all of a sudden buying sourdough starters and bidets and sweatpants and home-office chairs and Zoom lipstick. But we also heard the stories about people just going for it and buying things that in Normal Times they would never consider, from new pairs of old-school roller skates, to prime cuts of mail-order pork, to baby grand pianos. So as the holidays rolled around we decided to ask some of the most interesting people we know a simple question: What is the most satisfying thing you bought for yourself this year? Below, all of the under-$200 things these folks with discerning taste — who include a congressman-elect, a Real Housewife, two Coppolas, a butcher, some bakers, and even a couple of candlestick-makers — bought in quarantine that would make great gifts. If you’re looking for more affordable ideas, we’ve got options under $200 and under $50, too.
I tell my husband it’s my COVID check when I’m caught spritzing it too many times per day. (I don’t need to spray it so much, I just love the smell).
The inflatable movie screen has been great for our kids, who are 14 and 16. It’s easy to set up and is so big that you can maintain social distance and still easily see it. We are binging on the classics: Fletch, The Wedding Singer, and Dead Poets Society.
For cozying up at home and layering outdoors in all seasons.
Real Housewife of New York City
I replaced various picture frames I collected over the years with these old-school Tiffany frames. Timeless and elegant. I haven’t replaced all of mine yet — I guess you know what to get me for Christmas!
My daughters and I play with it almost every night. We’ve made so many great memories together.
Co-Founder, Piecework Puzzles
I already have a Dyson, so if you had told me six months ago I would be getting a second vacuum, I would have been concerned for my own well-being. But by mid-summer, life was beginning to feel like one big cleaning cycle. The Roomba allowed me to embrace a new “set it and forget it” lifestyle.
Articles editor, GQ
Gorgeous and folds down flat, making it stupid easy to store and transport. It got a lot of quasi-illegal use on my building’s roof this summer, especially for last-minute barbecues or when I received a CSA bag full of shisitos.
CEO and founder, the Tracy Anderson Method
These sweaters are indestructible. I’ve worn the same one for ten years, but I did get myself a new one this year that’s the color of pinot noir.
Author, Love and Theft
My quest for the perfect biker jacket lasted longer than my last three relationships combined. The gurus of elevated basics at A.P.C. hit the sweet spot: Leather that’s somehow buttery and sturdy, a legit lining for cool fall days, and hardware that doesn’t make you look like a Hells Angel.
I finished my novel, meditated, and rewatched The Sopranos from the comfort of my new favorite piece of furniture. This design is a classic for a reason: It’s like someone molded fiberglass to hug from behind and then upholstered it in cashmere (spring for the cashmere fabric).
Author, Big Macs & Burgundy
The Zoom universe requires our faces to be more stylish than anything else. These make me feel like I’m getting gussied up to hit the town, even if my commute is only from the bedroom to the living room.
Michael Ian Black
Actor; author, A Better Man
Let me be clear: I am not a great pianist. Not even a good pianist. But I’ve always wanted a piano and when lockdown started, I decided to take all the money I’d won from playing poker over the last year or so and spend it on a piano. You might be thinking, “A mahogany baby grand piano is extravagant, Michael.” It was.
An adorable and surprisingly cost-effective way to get around. I love pulling up to sidewalk dinners and hearing my friends be like, “Oh my gawd!”
Yes, I am that person. But let me tell you something: It’s amazing. This thing has instructors and classes for everyone. My boyfriend’s mom is in her 60s and is crushing it on the app every damn day. Also, I am a sucker for motivational quotes. My favorite instructor, Jess Sims, says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Gets me every time.
James B. Whiteside
Principal dancer, American Ballet Theater
I had London’s William Welstead make me a raw diamond necklace on a fine gold chain as a “you better werk” gift to myself.
Music is the reason I dance, so a great portable speaker is essential. This Bose one will keep me dancing in the showers of hotels across the globe — as soon as we start traveling again.
Jennifer Beall Saxton
CEO and founder, Tot Squad
It’s the only ride on toy that allows you to custom adjust each element, from who steers to who pedals or pushes, so that parents can relinquish some control at each stage of development.
We get so many compliments when we take my daughter to the zoo in this. Other wagons ride low to the ground, but this lets her sit up high enough to see over the fences at the exhibits. There’s a little door she loves to climb in through and lots of storage spots for snacks and toys.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford
After looking at the Kigumi table for several months, I finally went for it early on in quarantine. It has served as my desk, my dining table for three daily meals, and the site of many a Golde photoshoot. It’s the perfect size for my Brooklyn apartment, and could easily seat six whenever having house guests feels appropriate again.
When Jonathan Anderson hinted at home goods for Loewe, my nostrils flexed from thousands of miles away. The day they dropped I treated myself to the Beetroot candle because, honestly, what the fuck is that going to smell like? Bliss.
Writer; host, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books podcast
My 5-year-old and 7-year-old went through a huge LOL phase during quarantine, fueled by the popularity of the YouTube unboxing videos they watched by superstars like Cookie Swirl C. For months they pined over the Winter Chalet whenever they saw ads on TV, so I finally caved in and got this for them as a joint gift. They have literally played with it every single day since, enacting complicated stories, dramas, characters, and scenes.
CEO and founder, Hudson Wilder
The most versatile and well-made kitchen item. Things I’ve made in it: sourdough, my favorite soup (Conway’s Icelandic Fish Soup), duck confit, coq au vin, chicken pho, budae jigae, and even deep-fried chicken karage.
These boots are so comfortable and built to withstand the apocalypse. They also have removable insoles that can be hand-washed or replaced.
Founder and fashion designer, Michelle Smith
When COVID hit and SoulCycle shut down, I started running like a madwoman in Central Park almost every day. The Hypervolt gun takes care of my tight, sore running muscles.
Author; co-host, Forever 35 podcast
After six months of working from home on my husband’s discarded office chair, the prospect of revising my forthcoming book in an uncomfortable seat was depressing. So I got this: It’s lightweight yet solid; buoyant yet firm. You can also get it with casters for hardwood or for carpeting — I never knew the joys of having casters specifically made for carpeting until now.
Author, An American Marriage
The Big Green Egg is the Cadillac of grills. I fire this baby up several times a week for old-school BBQ chicken, brisket cooked slow and low, and even pizza. There is nothing as satisfying as cooking with actual fire.
Verena von Pfetten
Founder and accessories designer, Pamela Love
The stress of COVID really affected my and my husband’s sleep. We bought a new mattress from Aireloom that is more comfortable and supportive.
Incredibly comfortable and flattering. They make me look and feel awesome, even while stuck at home doing pretty mundane tasks.
CEO, Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors
Were it not for this, I do not know how I would have gotten through these dark days without starving. The Breville toaster, which is more like a mini oven, has prepared everything I have put into it, from porterhouse steaks to pizza. It’s powerful enough to get the results someone like myself requires.
I have owned and or leased just about every vehicle, but none have been as fun to drive as this. It has four doors, seats five or six comfortably, and has a covered bed that can store just about anything. The most fun I have had with it was when I took my two kids to a drive-in movie theater during the peak of COVID. They laid down bedding and made one big sofa out of the rear of the truck and would’ve stayed for days if I didn’t drive away.
Writer; host, Unholier Than Thou podcast
The most luxurious and whimsical version of a “house shoe” I’ve ever owned. I love them so much, I didn’t even mind when literally every fashion person in the world started wearing them. They still feel special.
My daughter was about 15 months old at the start of quarantine. Putting her down each night was tough. This chair has been a game-changer. From soothing, to rocking, to reclining, it really does it all.
Founder, Selected by Elisa
An easy way to elevate a look, whether I am throwing it on over some workout gear on the way to a class, with a simple black tee and some slacks, or with an oversize white men’s dress shirt and biker shorts on warmer days. The pink hue is so elegant.
You can choose different settings and what area you want to target using an app on your phone. After just two uses, I swear my friends said they noticed a difference.
Co-founder, Off Hours
I’ve never looked forward to cleaning like I do with this thing. It feels like a precision tool and it just works really well.
This makes it super easy to infuse things you cook with cannabis. Beyond cooking, you can use it to make pain salves and massage oils.
I originally fell in love with one of Ryan’s lights, but ultimately went with a purple sculptural chair. It’s kind of a perfect throne to sit in and eat cheese. You can contact the studio for made-to-order pieces like mine.
The most comfortable, lightest boots I’ve ever worn. Perfect for stomping around New York City in the gray slushy months but also in the fall and spring.
Actor; host, How Did This Get Made? podcast
I figured if I couldn’t physically leave the house, I’d do it virtually. The quest takes up no room at all: It’s just a headset and two small controllers no bigger than a Nintendo Switch. I can set it up in any room and the VR experiences are great. If you love Star Wars, the entire Vader Immortal story is just awesome. I love The Climb, which is literally climbing up Mt. Everest. Yeah, I got winded.
Illustrator; founder, Tuesday of California
I’ve used my fair share of $30 bidets before, but the c100 is wild: It mists before you go, provides light white noise, heats the seat (and the stream!), and has a drying feature along with a front/back spray option. Some things really are worth the upgrade.
Co-founder, Sky Ting Yoga
After buying it, I could really tell a difference in my indoor air quality. There is a quiet mode that I love, and the thing isn’t too obnoxious looking.
Ceramist Cassie Griffin hand paints each Walter. They’re beautiful and functional.
This indulgent cashmere blanket from Brora is for watching movies on the couch. It comes in beautiful colors and is so soft.
Founder, Wooden Sleepers
I still get dressed everyday, but don’t necessarily leave the house, and wanted something more substantial than a house shoe or slipper that complimented my WFH fits. These camp mocs check all the boxes: Exceptional quality and construction, timeless style, and made locally (in Maine, at a family owned factory, since 1967).
Heidi Rose Robbins
Astrologer; host, The Radiance Project podcast
When I came upon Redemption Rustics’s handmade furniture, I knew it was time to buy a new desk. I replaced my old antique school teacher’s desk with this huge, gorgeously crafted one. Work now feels like pleasure.
CEO and founder, DŌ Cookie Dough Confections
Definitely a splurge, but after my husband lost access to his fancy office coffee machine, and I couldn’t get my daily Starbucks espresso, we knew our regular at-home coffee just wasn’t going to cut it. This fuels our caffeine addiction.
Taylor Tomasi Hill
Creative and fashion director, THE YES
It’s known as Mom’s Chair, but of course my son piles all his “buddies” on it every morning to eat breakfast by the fireplace. I guess it’s true that things are always better when shared.
Creative director, food blogger
The. Morning is my favorite time of day, and a cup of coffee is why I get out of bed. This is the most aesthetically pleasing coffee maker. And it comes in like 30-plus colors.
Founder, Everyday Oil
It’s a Japanese earthenware pot that requires a gas burner (I got a portable burner from Iwantani that I can take to outdoor picnics or camping). Cooking something in the donable feels special: I love putting mine and the burner on the kitchen table and cooking right there.
Founder and fashion designer, Danielle Guizio
A clean and organized closet is important, which is why this really was a most satisfying purchase. My closet is the first place I start all of my days and now I look forward to getting dressed.
When my son turned 3 during quarantine, I asked him what kind of cake he would like me to make for him. To my surprise, he answered “an alligator cake.” So I taught myself how to sculpt cake. To finish it off, I used my newest — and now most favorite — “toy” for cake decorating, my airbrush. Yes, you read that right: I got an airbrush for decorating cakes. It is a bit on the expensive side, but the machine has brought my cakes to an entire new level.
Creator, Small Talk Studio
These are a less-expensive but equally fly version of Paraboot’s Michael shoe. My favorite part, and what visually sets them apart from the Paraboot shoe, is that the seam around the front of the shoe (the moc-toe, as it were) has a scalloped edge. It gives them a slightly feminine touch.
CEO, 300 Entertainment
Some people are surprised to find out about my love of gaming. It’s one of the best stress-relievers for me.
Editor’s note: We’ve seen the PlayStation 5 go in and out of stock at Best Buy and other retailers, so we’re leaving it on this list for anyone who is keeping as close a watch as we are.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.