How To Choose Stuff

Published August 9, 2023

I've been thinking about Guides for selecting stuff. More concretely, I want a centralized website that hosts "how to pick an X" guides for choosing stuff that people use — USB hubs, fishing rods, humidifiers, etc.

What are you talking about??

For example, I wanted to buy an electronics bag to hold my ~5 cables, adaptors, and first-aid kit, and thought I had found the perfect one — plenty of pockets, zippers, and elastic bits to hold miscellaneous stuff.

When I finally got my hands on it, I realized that I wasn't going to remember where I put everything, so the multitude of opaque, zippered pockets wasn't going to help me at all. It also annoyed me to open more than one zipper to get to something, so I really did not appreciate the excessive recursive compartments.

What I needed was a bag where I could see everything as soon as it was opened, and grab it out with ease.

But what I really wanted from the start was a guide for how to pick an electronics bag. And I didn't want it to be a corporate ad or "top ten electronics bags!!", I wanted to read another person's experience of picking a bag and noting everything that was wrong or right about it for them, and to use that as inspiration for my own bag-choosing journey.

If you're thinking this is a dumb example, just take it one level up.

  • When I picked sunglasses, I realized I didn't want them to shade my whole vision uniformly, but just to shade the sky.

  • When buying a USB hub, I wish I had noted the specs more closely.

  • When I modeled and 3D printed a wall-mounted cable holder, I realized that some cables are thicker than others so I should've made the holes more varied.

The list goes on. Every object I interact with goes through this same process. I wish that there was a compiled list of all the little characteristics that might be a dealbreaker for everything.

Old people = wise?

I guess you could say this is a sort of wisdom such that older people who've bought everything once know exactly what to look for and when they tell you how to purchase some thing you have it much easier and you also think they're incredibly wise because they know exactly what features you would be needing or wanting or care about and they were able to save you that e but I do wish that this is much more easily accessible

You could say that this is a kind of wisdom possessed by older people who've bought everything once and know exactly what to look for. When they tell you what things to watch out for, you think they're incredibly wise, but really they've just been around for long enough. And this works to some extent, but I would like it to be more accessible.

Observations of design thinking #1

In a way, I suppose this is thinking ahead. When I worked with someone designing a handheld camera mount, they noted that the camera would get hot and added a bit of plastic to guard the hand. I marvelled at their foresight, and it saved one iteration cycle.

This is exactly the kind of 2nd order consequence thinking that I am lacking.

But I'm not uniquely stupid, right? Surely everyone forgets to think about something when making a choice. Surely

Observations of design thinking #2

From Steve Jobs, a description of how his family chose a washing machine.

“We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them,” he told contributing editor Gary Isaac Wolf. “It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.

“We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.”

Two weeks of discussions to choose a washing machine? That’s life in the Jobs household. (He opted for Miele in the end, adding, “I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years.”)


I think this happens because I don't know what I want when I'm buying something for the first time. And this happens even though I thought through my problems first (need to organize) — I just didn't anticipate the new problems that would come with an organized bag.

This seems like a useless frustration. Needing to buy something once in order to buy the correct one the second time wastes both time and money, not to mention the environmental costs of shipping.

And I hope it wouldn't need to be extremely personalized — one person's guide is surely useful to another person.

If you know anything about such a website, please send it along to me!

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