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Ask Wirecutter: What Are the Best Buy-It-for-Life (and Beyond) Products?

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A mini clay sculpture of an orange dutch oven next to another sculpture of a locket containing a black and white headshot and a photo of the dutch oven.
Clay sculpture: Dana Davis and Ezra Lee / Photo: Connie Park

Ask Wirecutter, an advice column written by Annemarie Conte, explores the best approaches to buying, using, and maintaining stuff. Email your biggest product-related problems to

Dear Wirecutter,

My kids jokingly told me they’re making a list of my stuff they want when I die. (And, yes, they’re already planning for my death. Haha.) What are some items that are heirloom quality that I should invest in for myself … and eventually my kids?


Dear J.R.,

I know you said this in jest, but I think it’s healthy for your kids to talk about and plan for your death, which, based on your description, I understand is not imminent. (Please note I said “plan for” and not “plot” your death, which is very different.) And, frankly, we’re seeing that younger generations don’t really have much sentimentality for family heirlooms like glossy cherrywood curio cabinets filled with collectible figurines. But maybe they want a practical and beloved Herman Miller Aeron chair instead? Or a refillable leather planner like the Traveler’s Company Traveler’s Notebook? Or an extra-sturdy backpack?

The kinds of high-quality things you’re describing are known as “buy it for life” (BIFL). These BIFL products allow you to enjoy them over the course of your time on Earth, after which they’ll live on for someone else to appreciate—whether it’s your progeny, a friend, or an over-the-moon estate sale shopper. Here are some of my and my colleagues’ favorite heirloom-quality items.

I have a cast-iron skillet from my friend’s grandmother that we use daily—it’s probably 100 years old. But if I ever need a new one to add to my collection (doubt it!), I’m going with the Lodge Chef Collection 12 Inch Skillet, because it’s 2 pounds lighter than a classic cast-iron skillet.

Cuyana Classic Easy Tote

Top-pick leather tote

You can cinch this versatile, unstructured tote made from supple Italian leather to create a slimmer silhouette or leave it open to take full advantage of its generous capacity—but with just one small pocket, it isn’t easy to organize.

If you’re looking for a tote bag that’s both stylish and durable, the Cuyana Classic Easy Tote is a top pick that can last generations. “I’ve had my Cuyana tote for 4 or 5 years now. I’m not remotely fashionable, but it feels like the kind of thing the grandkids might find in the bottom of my closet one day and make them think I secretly had great taste. It’s pretty indestructible as my go-to Mom bag, and I’ve thrown everything from applesauce pouches to sunscreen to crayons in it over the years. It still looks incredible,” says senior staff writer Jackie Reeve.

There is nothing like a piece of well-constructed, natural-fiber clothing to feel like you’re getting a hug from a loved one. “I’d admired versions of this fisherman’s sweater for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until a Wirecutter colleague pointed me towards Blarney Woolen Mills that I found the perfect one,” says supervising editor Hannah Morrill. “The 200-year-old Irish textile company makes a handful of versions but the one I have—crewneck, cable knit, loose but unbulky fit—will be a huge score for my daughter (after I wear it for another 50 years, God willing).”

While putting bone china on a wedding registry no longer feels like a social necessity, having beautiful and functional glassware that you’ll use and love every day feels like a perfect match. “I love my Duralex Picardie glasses, which I have in multiple colors. And the Emma Bridgewater 1/2 Pint Mugs are such fun to collect—I have many of the chicken and gardening designs, and I sometimes scout eBay for older discontinued versions. They’re a perfect not-too-big, not-too-small size for tea and hot chocolate. And honestly, I’ll pass down my Le Creuset Mugs, too. They’re sturdy and feel great to hold. I just want the grandkids to take all my cups and to stay hydrated,” says Jackie.

Just think about your loved ones’ faces at the will reading when they discover you’ve passed down a fashionable and functional pepper mill. Priceless. “I bought our beloved pepper-mill pick on sale for $35. I crank that little baby with joy because its cost per use goes down the more pepper I add. (Can I put pepper on strawberry ice cream? I can now!) And I have no doubt that with a little care, that little wooden guy could easily outlast me and make many, many more people just as happy as I am,” says deals writer Mike Cohen.

The wedding registry MVP deserves a spot on this list, now and forever. “I own both the Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5½-Quart Round French Oven and the larger, 9½-quart oval model,” says supervising editor Ingela Ratledge Amundson. “I wouldn’t want to live without either of them, but surprisingly, my family gets more use out of the big one. Turns out, this thing is a lifestyle as much as a pot: You’re not just buying a 19-pound, comically oversized cooking vessel—you’re also signing up for elaborate Sunday suppers and a quixotic quest for the perfect short-rib recipe and frequent squabbles over who’s responsible for cleanup, now that your dishwasher is strictly off-limits.”

This article was edited by Jason Chen.

I have a cast-iron skillet from my friend’s grandmother that we use daily—it’s probably 100 years old. But if I ever need a new one to add to my collection (doubt it!), I’m going with the Lodge Chef Collection 12 Inch Skillet, because it’s 2 pounds lighter than a classic cast-iron skillet.


Read More Backpacks Product Reviews

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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