Cooking is my jam. I enjoy the process of hanging out in the kitchen, building something to eat.

Sometimes it takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes an hour. Either way, I find myself in the kitchen at several points in the day: chopping, sauteing, baking, mixing, and (of course) cleaning.

This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if we had an open floor plan. Then I could hang out in the kitchen working on stuff while I watch a little TV or talk with my wife, who is on the couch hammering out some project of her own.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case right now. We live in apartment where the kitchen is cut off from the rest of the house. So when I’m in the kitchen, I’m away from pretty much everything else.

It’s easy to get bored in the kitchen when you’re by yourself, working on something tedious like chopping up produce or whatever.

I started to think about what things I could do to double up my time – to entertain or educate myself while slogging through some of these more tedious, mindless kitchen tasks like prepping produce or doing dishes.

There are hundreds of products that would address this situation: I could mount a tablet basically anywhere. Or I could buy a little TV for the kitchen. Or install a little sound system.

Or I could spend a couple bucks on a tiny piece of plastic.

I chose the piece of plastic, and it’s awesome. More on that in a second.

See, we live in a consumer-focused society. That’s fine. It just means that, for every situation, there’s somebody trying to sell you something.

But often, we listen to the marketing pitches without truly understanding what we need, and what would be the best fit for us.

Small objects – little things that cost $50 or less – can have a huge impact on how we live our lives.

Thinking about this, I walked through our apartment the other day and made a list of the cheap little doo-dads and gadgets that are actually really awesome – and why:

  1. Foldable tablet stand. Not all tech solutions have to be on a grand scale. I bought a 6-pack of these stands and have them scattered throughout our house. There’s one in the kitchen, one in the living room, one in my office, one in my nightstand, and one in my briefcase. And I still have a bag full of extras. This props up my tablet in either orientation so that I can either A) watch movies and TV shows while working on something, or B) have my Evernote notes more visually accessible to me (like when using a recipe I’m not familiar with). It works in plenty of situations, and it’s all I needed – for just a few bucks.
  2. Chromecast. Your media consumption doesn’t have to be a big decision. Supporting all the major players in media, you can watch Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and plenty more on your TV for just $35. The Chromecast is one of my favorite gadgets, and for good reason: performance has always been great, it tucks away behind the TV and out of sight, and it’s a versatile solution to a really common problem – with all the great content available on the Web today, how do you easily get it onto the TV for more comfortable viewing?
  3. Cheap wooden picture frames. Think outside the box once in a while. When we moved, I decided to really be intentional about my office decor. At the same time, I know that my brain can get a little bored when I see the same “inspirational” stuff on the walls all the time. The solution? These four picture frames hanging on my wall. They’re not cheap-looking plastic. They’re actually wood frames. I bought letter-sized frames so that no cutting was necessary. Now, when I like a quote, I can just print it out and pop it in one of these frames for fresh inspiration.
  4. Tortilla press. The right tool for the job makes all the difference. I discovered the wonder of homemade tortillas last year. They’re insanely easy to make: just combine flour and water with a pinch of salt, then roll it out into tortillas. I can make them while I cook the taco meat, and they’re so good compared to the store-bought ones. But it took a little bit of effort to roll out each tortilla, and they almost always came out in funny shapes. This $20 piece of cast iron goodness lets me place a tortilla dough ball onto the square, drop the press on top of it, and in seconds, I have a perfectly formed, perfectly round tortilla ready for the frying pan. Just like that.
  5. FlipBelt pouch. Make it easy on yourself. I love to run, but the biggest inconvenience has been trying to find a comfortable way to carry my phone – both for tracking purposes and for music/podcasts. Armbands are a little awkward for me, so I decided to try strapping my phone to my stomach. My last pouch worked really well, but was designed for phones only up to 5”. With my new 6” phone, I had to get a new pouch. This bad boy has no zippers or clips to worry about. Instead, it has stretchy pockets made to hold whatever you want – and my phone slides easily in and out of the pocket while staying secure during the run. Nice and easy, and now a flexible solution for any phone I get from here on out.
  6. Twirl-a-Tie. Your solutions don’t have to be sexy. I have a handful of ties, and I need to be able to browse them quickly to find the one I want. This plastic hanger fits 20 ties (more than enough for me), and I can spin it when I want to find one I like. So simple it’s stupid.
  7. Pillbox keychain. Think ahead. I get migraines on occasion. I also have some seasonal allergies. (In other words, I’m usually a mess.) If I was ever going anywhere significant, I’d have to plan to carry some Benadryl and some Excedrin in my pocket somehow. But I always take my keys with me. So this little keychain lets me carry some emergency pills without having to remember it all the time.
  8. Drip Drop. We live in an incredible age where solutions are being made more affordable. If I have stomach problems or on the rare occasion where I’m hungover, dehydration becomes a very real concern. Drip Drop was developed to address dehydration in the event of a natural disaster. But now, the product is available for anyone to purchase. I keep two boxes of this stuff in our house at all times, and make full use of it when my body takes a turn for the worse. You’d be surprised how often a little extra hydration can help you out.
  9. USB car charger. Think flexibility. Any time you buy a new phone – unless you stay rigidly faithful to brands – you have to get a new charger. With that comes the need for a new car charger, and a decent one can cost a little bit of money. Instead, to save money, I switched my car and my wife’s car with this USB car charger. Always plugged into the outlet, it converts the car’s electricity over to the universal USB. So I just need an extra charger cord, which only costs a few bucks. And if I forget to get an extra one, I can always just grab the USB cord that came with my phone in a pinch.

What small solutions have you taken advantage of? Where have you solved a problem with just a few bucks?