4 useful objects that bring me joy

We are surrounded by objects. But how often do you stop and think about the fact that someone, or a team of someones, toiled over each design?

Hardly ever, right? Until you come across a design that either solves a problem for you or brings you joy. If you are really lucky… does both.

As Charles Eames famously said, “The real questions are: Does it solve a problem? Is it serviceable? How is it going to look in ten years?”

Since we’ve been in France, we’ve only had one third of our possessions. The rest of our crap has been stored in Brighton. For the most part, I couldn’t tell you what was in all those bags and boxes. But there are a few objects that I’ve missed every single day.

Most surprisingly, I’ve missed my jewellery and my perfume. Not having them for more than 6 months has made me realise that they brought me daily joy in small and repeated ways. They also make me feel like I am… I can only think to describe it as ‘wagging my tail at the world’. By which I mean that the choice of putting on jewellery and smelling nice feels like a way of letting people know that I am happy to see them and welcome them.

The real questions are: Does it solve a problem? Is it serviceable? How is it going to look in ten years?

Charles Eames

So I’ve been thinking about objects more carefully recently. 

For example, how many objects do you own that would fit Eames’ (and Marie Kondo’s!) stringent criteria of being useful and bringing joy?

I can think of three besides my perfume and jewellery- my Nogent tin opener, a vintage grey wool coat with lobster cut sleeves that is dramatic, comfortable and warm, and our wooden tongs.

If you don’t own a pair of wooden tongs, please stop reading now and go and order some. We’ll wait. You can use them for so many things (Prising waffles off the waffle iron! Turning hot falafels in the frying pan! Toast!), you will be amazed. And they look lovely, so plain and pale and simple.

There really are not many objects reach the heady heights of Eames’ standards. I don’t think that’s necessarily because the designer didn’t aspire to Eames like genius, I think that mostly it’s because so many objects are produced quickly and/or carelessly.

Occasionally, however, I come across an object that makes my heart beat faster and succeeds in solving a problem. Today I have 4 that I want to share with you, in the hope that they give you a moment of hopefulness about humanity (and all our crap) in the middle of your busy day.

vending machine hunger food design

The first object is Action Hunger‘s vending machine to help homeless people. Most homeless shelters can’t afford to stay open often enough and long enough to provide the food and essential  supplies that most homeless people desperately need on a daily basis.

The charity Action Hunger have designed a vending machine that works only with a special card that can be handed out to homeless people so that they can access free food like fruit, sandwiches and energy as well as important items like socks and sanitary towels. Volunteers restock the machines, which are installed in Nottingham, Manchester and will soon also be in London, Brighton, Birmingham and New York.

Such a brilliant, simple design idea with a huge impact. You can donate to Action Hunger here.

The Swirl zine is an amazing booklet that has been put together by Andy Walton, a Community Mental Health Nurse in the North of England, to help people who suffer from anxiety, rumination and depression.

The Swirl‘s tagline is ‘Overcoming Overthinking’ and the whole thing is magical. The designs by Nate Kitch are bright and scrappy, perfectly judged for the subject matter. Each page is full of simple, positive, no bullshit advice about  letting go of obsessive, negative and destructive thoughts. All of which has been reviewed by clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals. I really really hope that we start to have more resources like this in homes and schools soon.

Truly a labour of love. Read more about Swirl here and buy it here.

Have you heard of Ooho? First of all, great name. Then there’s the fact that they’re busy solving the plastic water bottle crisis. America alone throws away approximately 35 billion plastic bottles a year and the UK over 35 million, of which at least 44% are not recycled.

Ooho is an edible water bubble. It’s water in a clear, edible package made from seaweed and designed by Skipping Rocks Lab. The company is a start-up based in London who are exploring ways to use plant and seaweed extracts to create sustainable packaging. The incredible Ooho is their first product. Not only does it look HUGELY fun to eat… drink… we need a new word… dreat? But, if it works, then it could help to stop 1 billion plastic bottles reaching the ocean every year.

Don’t you just love design that makes the world feel bigger? You can follow Ooho water on Instagram here, to see what they’re up to.

Although some magazines are shutting down (RIP Interview and my teenage years), it also feels like smaller independent magazines are having a revival. A little like how vinyl has regained a place in our hearts, as treasured objects of craftsmanship. I’m thinking of Good Company magazine, for example. Illustoria magazine, which is the fourth problem solving and joy-bringing item that I wanted to mention today, is another example of this new type of magazine.

As a teacher, I often wished that there existed a beautifully designed, creative and inspiring magazine that I could keep a stack of in my classroom for when students finished their work early or as a fun activity to pick up on a Friday afternoon. Illustoria is exactly what I was dreaming of, an exciting, lovingly curated magazine made specifically for children. Parents must love having Illustoria to give to their children to read and take inspiration from.

Read about Illustoria and subscribe here

When you take the time to look, we are surrounded by incredible objects. They solve problems, bring us pleasure and act as proof that there are many people working hard, with lots of care all around us.

Middle photo of Swirl zines by Gina Yu and her Medium article on Swirl

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