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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 [email protected].
My spouse is short. I am tall. Now that we both work from home, I’m tired of having to reach stuff on the high shelves for her all day long. Can you recommend an attractive step stool I can give her for her birthday?
Our Wirecutter experts can certainly recommend an attractive, sturdy, and reliable step stool. But I absolutely cannot recommend that you give it to your spouse for her birthday. I am 11 inches shorter than my husband, and I implore you, with all of the energy I can muster, to please not. We have an abundance of lovely gift recommendations that would probably go over better than a step stool.
Having to climb up grocery-store shelves or onto kitchen counters to reach the upper cabinets is a well-established #shortgirlproblems meme. Your home is one place where you can directly control accessibility. So my first piece of advice is to think about how your house is set up, and then move items that need to be frequently accessed to middle ground. No one should have to play Spiderman to cook dinner.
Now that we have that out of the way, I’ve brought in an Ask Wirecutter consultant, 5-foot-2-inch senior staff writer Jackie Reeve. “My family owns a small farm, and I drive a pickup truck. I do a ton of farm chores, and I didn’t realize how much my shortness would impact day-to-day life until we bought this place,” Jackie said. “Getting supplies from our storage spaces, finding tools in the workshop, stretching my arms to collect eggs from our hens’ random hiding places, and even unloading the bed of my truck are all regular challenges. And that’s on top of more common struggles around the house, like reaching our highest kitchen cabinets. I had to find solutions so I could get work done around here,” she said. Here they are:
One of Jackie’s fixes is to keep grabby sticks everywhere to extend her reach. “I’ve bought a bunch of 32-Inch Extra Long Grabbers because they’re affordable, come in packs of two, and had tons of positive reviews when I bought them,” she said. She has stashed them all over her house and the farm, as well as in her truck—and they’ve held up after about a year and a half of use. Jackie’s main takeaways:
- These grabbers are comfortable to use with her dominant hand, which has mild arthritis.
- They’ve survived many, many days and nights in the Pacific Northwest rain when Jackie has left them outside.
- They are grippy enough to grab most things. Jackie hasn’t used these grabbers to retrieve heavy jars. But she organizes her shelves with the heaviest or most fragile stuff (like glass) at the bottom and the lightest stuff up top, so she doesn’t accidentally pull something dangerous down onto her head.
A step ahead
But you, A.K., asked about step stools, which are another thing Jackie spreads out around the farm. She owns multiple strong, compact step ladders, so she doesn’t have to go hunting for one or ask for help when she needs to reach something.
Wirecutter no longer exhaustively tests step stools, and we retired our full guide to them in 2020 (though we do have some former picks still in circulation). Step stools are pretty much short ladders, so safety is important here. As someone who thinks nothing of climbing up on a rocking chair to fix a curtain rod until it’s too late, I will say that a proper lightweight-but-sturdy step stool is essential. You should check the stool’s weight limit to ensure it can hold you safely. (Our recommendations below hold up to 225 pounds. If you’re looking for something with a higher weight capacity, consider the HBTower 3 Step Ladder, which can hold up to 500 pounds.)
Attractive step stools can be a bit of a unicorn. Staff writer Katie Okamoto recently wrote a lovely ode to stools. But the Schoolhouse Utility Stool she adores is geared more toward holding decor items or being used as a seat than as something to stand on (and it doesn’t have a listed weight limit). Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, here are some workable step-stool options, in our opinion.
Pretty but pricey
The simple and elegant Hasegawa Lucano comes in two-step, three-step, and four-step versions. “I own both the ladder and two-step stool in black, and they’ve both been essential for the various household tasks you could need some extra height for: reaching a cabinet, changing a light bulb, trimming the Christmas tree. Plus the stool is nice-looking and unobtrusive enough that I don’t even have to hide it when it’s not in use,” said deputy editor Jason Chen. The Lucano is made of powder-coated aluminum and is easy to fold, and it stands up on its own when it’s in a folded position. This step stool also comes in soft-palette finishes, so it’s better at blending into your decor than most other models. Jason has had his for two years; if you amortize the cost per use and factor in the aesthetic pleasure, maybe you, like Jason, will feel it’s worth the investment.
Attractive middle tier
The balance here could be the aluminum Xtend + Climb Slimline SL2H Light, which we mention in our guide to the best gear for small apartments. It’s relatively lightweight (about 10 pounds) and has a streamlined design that helps it fade into the background. And it costs around $60.
Inexpensive and utilitarian
If you’re willing to forsake some visual pleasure for price, multiple Wirecutter staff members have versions of the Cosco Signature Two-Step Folding Step Stool, which has a more budget-friendly price (in the $40 range) and comes with a limited 10-year warranty. “We own the three-step version and have found it super-sturdy, easy to unlatch and fold back up (even one-handed), and nice and slim, so it fits in all sorts of funny little spots in our apartment,” said supervising editor Marilyn Ong. And Jackie bought multiples of the Cosco Two-Step All-Steel Step Stool. “They’re much easier to stash around the house and in the truck,” she said. “They’re just tall enough for me to reach most things—the top step is about 15 inches high.”
We also recommend the similarly priced Gorilla 2-Step Aluminum Step Stool Ladder, which comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
I feel like we’ve been on an upward journey here, and I want to reinforce that while you’re adding one of these recommended step stools to your cart, you should also buy her a real birthday gift. Perhaps some sophisticated ceramic bowls or a pair of cashmere-lined gloves?