Wednesday, June 19, 2024

There’s a reason stores set out certain small items near the checkout, where they’re almost irresistible as an impulse buy: They entertain us when we’re bored in line and are the last thing we see before paying, making it hard to keep from thinking that we somehow need it or will at least need it in the future, or need to buy it for someone. After all, even for the most practical of impulse items it’s hard to duck into a store to buy at the moment they’re needed – a flashlight when we’re fumbling at a door lock or rain poncho when an outpour comes, say.

We feel simultaneously smart and a little foolish buying these things. We get the same mixed feelings carrying them around.

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But we feel like geniuses when a need arises and we have these little items with us, ready for use.

There are plenty of stores around town with these little items; this sampling – also very little – gives a sense of what’s out there for $10 or less in two of our most practical squares, whether it’s in stores you expect to be practical or frivolous and even though the impulse buys range from the very useful to the not useful at all. In either category, sometimes it pays (or at least costs very little) to follow your impulses.
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You may say, “Sew what?”

Emergency sewing kit, $9. The emergency tech kits and eyeglass repair kits aren’t available any longer, but it’s clear why Blick would hang on to the emergency sewing kits: People need them. (And eyeglass repair kits are common at grocery store checkouts.)  Blick Art Materials (619 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square)
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Many hands make light work?

Really tiny hands, $1. Far less useful than an emergency sewing kit but way more weird and fun, these tiny hands fit on the end of a pen or pencil – and Joie De Vivre doesn’t just have silly small items; note the handy pocket measuring tapes, for a similarly low price. Joie De Vivre (1792 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square)
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For playing Travel Scribble.

Coloring pencil kit, $10. Tuck this kit into a backpack or bag for use with a journal or pad and you’ll never lack for a creative outlet. There’s a tiny eraser and pencil sharpener inside the case. Joie De Vivre (1792 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square)
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Small but powerful.

Flashlights, $2 to $5. The flashlight on your phone doesn’t always cut it, especially if there isn’t one. All of these flashlights are blazingly bright. Pill Hardware (743 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square)
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When the need for a bowtie is emergent.

Emergency bowtie, $8. This would be a good competitor with the tiny hands for most worthless item if it weren’t for the number of formal events Harvard throws over the course of a (normal) year. While the nearby Keezer’s is probably the better source for a bowtie you know will be used, this is a fun presentation for someone whose formalwear nears hover somewhere around, say, 8 percent likelihood. Joie De Vivre (1792 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square)
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Of course something called a “poncho” doesn’t come in black.

Emergency rain poncho, $3. Absolutely essential given Greater Boston’s often erratic weather, an emergency rain poncho makes much more sense at $3 than buying one of those cheap umbrellas at CVS – they cost more and are bulkier but are just as likely to become useless or lost after a single use. If only we could figure out what Kikkerland meant by saying its emergency rain poncho is good “for all weather,” though. Blick Art Materials (619 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square)
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For your own magnet school.

Finger puppets, $8. This line of finger puppet and refrigerator magnets goes way beyond the literary – there are dozens to choose from, from politicians and artists to superheroes and “Star Trek” stars. Joie De Vivre (1792 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square)