July 23, 2024

Splurge or Skip? Buzzy Work-From-Home Products, Reviewed

Growing up, nothing ushered in fall quite like back-to-school shopping. While others may have looked forward to new styles at the Gap or stocking up at Limited Too—hello, mid-aughts—my middle school self couldn’t wait for the trip to Staples. Binders, notebooks, pencil pouches—with the right supplies, gold stars were in my future. As adults, we approach work gear in much the same way. This planner will increase my productivity. That chair will solve my back problems. Those headphones will keep me on task. When it comes to splurge-or-skip work-from-home products, hyped-up social posts make us believe anything can solve our work woes.

But as we know, the internet presents an exercise in smoke and mirrors. Despite the regulation on social advertising and the general ennui surrounding the capitalism on display, the power of influence persists. And as quickly as the de-influencing trend was exposed for its own exploitation of consumers—”You don’t need this <insert dollar amount> item that I was gifted and will continue to use quietly behind the scenes”—we’ve returned to a muddled middleground. Is there any way to *truly* trust a product you discover online?

All I’m saying is—dear reader, approach any review with a heavy dose of skepticism. Just as much as I believe myself to be an authority on the following splurge-or-skip work-from-home products (tested and reviewed!), your experience could always be different from mine. With subjectivity at play, who knows—maybe you’ll actually find the Stanley Tumbler worth the $$$. (Hint: I didn’t.)

Featured image by Michelle Nash.

Image by Michelle Nash

Splurge or Skip: Work From Home Edition

In the spirit of providing you with educated purchasing power, I selected some of the top work-from-home items that I’ve tried out since I began working from home full-time that one fateful day back in March 2020. Some of these are specific to my own workday rhythms and routines. (An example: my non-negotiable morning matcha.) However, the majority of these products apply to the universal my-guest-room-is-my-office work experience. From standing desks to the ergonomic chair I’m still lamenting my loss of—scroll on for the splurge-or-skip work-from-home products you may (or may not) consider making a part of your 9-5.

Every product is curated with care by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether gifted or purchased ourselves. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Even if you don’t follow #thatgirl on TikTok or Instagram, you’ve likely seen a crisp and aesthetically-driven planner punctuating the end of a productive morning routine. In our world where everything can be made visible with the tap of a screen, design matters beyond basic functionality. And though my tone may lean cynical, it’s only to emphasize: the right planner is the one that works for you. Remember: when it comes to planners and journals, there are a plethora of options to support you in this season of life. For inspiration, check out more of our tried-and-true, favorite guided journals.

Personally, I love this planner for the following:

  • Includes open-ended “mind map” for jotting down dreams and planning out goals.
  • The planner is undated—you can start whenever suits your journey.
  • Comes in a range of bright and muted colors to fit your personal style.

Again, selecting a planner may not seem like a personal experience, but finding one that brings you mental clarity and sets you up for daily success requires reflecting on what you truly need. Do you want space to doodle alongside your written brainstorming? Do you find affirmations or quotes inspiring? I recommend asking yourself what you need first and then finding the planner that works for you.

If the last three years of remote work have taught me anything, it’s that I’m nothing without my headphones. Beyond office hours, I’m listening to podcasts and audiobooks while I clean, walk, and work out. To keep my main character energy at bay, I need a new narrative in my head to capture my attention during administrative tasks. For me, a good set of headphones should do the following:

  • Stay in my ears or on my head.
  • Provide clear sound (both when I’m listening and taking a call).
  • Be design-forward in both function and aesthetic.

And while that third qualification may stand, I’m not paying $500+ to be on trend. Yes, admittedly this is the single product I haven’t tried on this list. However, an analysis of Amazon reviews can clear up some common questions.

Ultimately, what reviewers try to communicate is whether or not the AirPods Max merit the price tag. As a 4-star rating shared, “When you account for the sound quality, noise cancellation, convenience, comfort, and the quality of the build, it makes the price more palatable.” A few callouts:

What’s to love:

  • Foam-and-cloth ear pads create a seal comfortable for long listening sessions. (Users noted they enjoy the ear pads’ warmth in colder weather.)
  • Clear noise-canceling sound—no hissing.
  • Convenient to use with and connect to other Apple products.

What’s not:

  • Despite the ear pads’ comfort, the weight of the headphones altogether is uncomfortable and the initial clamping force can make them hard to wear while doing other activities. However, users noted this improved after several weeks of use, but some still refused to wear them while working out.
  • Difficult connecting to non-Apple products.
  • While there are conflicting experiences, many users note a condensation/water buildup underneath the ear cups after a few hours of continued use.
  • The case is made of quality material, but users note that it doesn’t provide any protection.

Based on my own criteria, it’s a skip. But if you’re a music junky or need a premium pair of headphones (re: the best *a lot* of money can buy), the Apple AirPods Max are the ones.

This chair has my heart. As I noted above, the Branch Daily Chair would still be in my life were it not for a move and some downsizing. But for the year I owned this chair, it truly transformed my workday. (That review alone convinced my mom to buy one, and she’s obsessed.) Let’s break it down.

What’s to love:

  • Mesh material is supportive and comfortable while also being breathable—i.e., no sweat puddles after a long day.
  • The curved backrest and seat support your natural movement. It feels comfortable and I found that it even improved my posture while I worked. I won’t lie—I felt more productive.
  • Made from 70% recycled materials and parts that are 96% recyclable after use.
  • The minimal, modern design is aesthetically pleasing and comes in four muted tones to fit almost any space.

What’s not:

  • My only note is on the price. For the ergonomic comfort and beautiful design, I found this chair to be worth the cost. However, if you only work from home once a week or need a chair that you’ll only sit in for a couple of hours, you can get away with a less expensive chair. Just know that you’ll be sacrificing comfort.

Because my bedroom also functions as my at-home office, I now sit in a (much less comfy) hard and sleek chair. However, after writing this review, I’ve even convinced myself: it’s time I bring the Daily Chair back into my life.

Image by Michelle Nash

I’ll start this review by being very clear: this matcha maker is a luxury. The process of making matcha itself can be a joy-inducing and therapeutic ritual (check out our interview with Jules Acree for proof!). And while I revel in the slow mornings when I have time to sift and whisk my matcha to frothy perfection, my pre-work routine oftentimes doesn’t allow it. Enter: the Cuzen Matcha Maker Starter Kit.

I caught wind of this sleek appliance from its celebrity-endorsed fanbase. Everyone from Hailey Bieber to Carey Mulligan to Alicia Yoon has touted its streamlined matcha preparation, ease of use, and the delicious lattes it churns out. Personally? It’s now a part of my everyday wellness ritual.

For the best matcha of your life (and for way less than I’d pay at my local coffee shop), you truly just have to press a button. The kit comes with organic leaves that are stored in the hopper and freshly ground when you start the machine. Fill the whisking cup with water, select your matcha’s desired strength, and that’s it—simply add steamed milk and any sweetener to make your latte.

What’s to love:

  • The machine’s sleek design makes it easy to store on your kitchen countertop.
  • Produces quality-grade matcha with the press of a button.
  • Easy to clean.

What’s not:

  • The machine is not compatible with other matcha leaves. You’ll have to purchase leaves specifically through Cuzen. (Though I can attest: the brand’s ceremonial grade leaves produce an incredible matcha latte.)

The one part of my work-from-home setup that’s not always so sleek and chic? My tech—specifically, my cords. I have a way of somehow unintentionally getting everything tangled up. It was for that reason (and the pull of beautiful design) that I invested in the Courant Mag:2 Essentials. To avoid the otherwise inevitable abyss of cords and cables, this catch-all keeps my non-negotiables (iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods… yes they’re what I’ve opted for in lieu of the AirPods Max) in a single spot.

What’s to love:

  • Your phone can be easily rotated on the stand while it charges, allowing you to simultaneously view videos in landscape mode.
  • Modern design and neutral colors seamlessly blend into any workspace and can be placed on a nightstand with little visual disruption.
  • Simple to use as a stand for hands-free FaceTime or video calls.

What’s not:

  • Slower to charge devices than Apple chargers, but a good option if storage is important and/or you’re in the market for a phone stand.

I never truly understood the need for the 20-20-20 rule until the pandemic. (For those not in the know, the rule calls you to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds for every 20 minutes you look at a screen.) Suddenly, my life was reduced to what I could see on a screen—and like many of us, I was looking a lot. With the ubiquity of doomscrolling came the many Instagram ads for blue light-blocking glasses. But among the masses, the Felix Gray Faraday glasses stood out.

Why? The design appeal, to start. I’m of the belief that clear frames are universally flattering. And while I used to get a headache only an hour into work, since wearing these, I’ve noticed a significant drop in eye strain throughout the day. Admittedly, I don’t wear these constantly while working—as someone who isn’t used to wearing glasses, they can become irritating after a bit. I use these for writing and reading tasks, specifically—producing articles, drafting emails, etc. They’re off for meetings, though I’m always tempted to show them off.

What’s to love:

  • 100% UVA/UVB protection.
  • Available in non-prescription, prescription, readers
  • Bonus: These are eligible for reimbursement when using your pre-tax FSA or HSA dollars!

What’s not:

  • Frames become uncomfortable after a few hours of continuous wear.
Image by Michelle Nash

How many times have you heard the following? Sitting is our generation’s smoking. One of the ways everyone’s looking to fix this? Standing more while working, duh. But after I was gifted a hand-me-down version of this desk from a friend: I learned: it’s not worth the hype—or the precious square footage. Let me explain.

As an urban apartment dweller, I’m careful to keep my office and work gear somewhat inconspicuous. My desk is clear at the end of the day and everything follows a neutral color story. And while I loved the additional workspace to splay and spread out as I pleased, there was no way this desk would ever work with my home. Not only did it take up significant space width- and lengthwise, but the height (even at its lowest setting) felt imposing to the rest of the décor.

What’s to love:

  • The electric height adjuster makes it easy to swap in between heights. No hand-cranking necessary.
  • Loved the minimalist, Scandinavian design.
  • Can customize your desk setup to fit your personal needs/tastes, selecting between different desktop and frame styles.
  • Can be used with compatible accessories that streamline your workspace and flow.

What’s not:

  • To be frank, there is really nothing wrong with this desk (even the 1- and 2-star reviews didn’t seem to address the desk itself, commenting instead on their experience with customer service). This standing desk, and many similarly-designed models, are for a more spacious at-home setup or would work well in an office setting.

Ultimately, it’s a beautiful desk. If you’re someone who isn’t able to fit in regular walks or is literally glued to your desk, it could be worth the investment. However, given its surface size, it’ll likely only work with your décor if you have a dedicated office space. When that happens for me, you can bet I’ll be back to purchase.

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