The Elegance of Quality Over Quantity

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The famous oil painting known as Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, features a young woman wearing an exquisite earring. Her bare face and turban-wrapped hair bring focus to the pearl earring and the simple beauty and elegance of the girl. 

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I think of my own jewelry box and note the painting is not named Girl with a Bunch of Cheap Earrings. My jewelry is just one area that I could apply the concept of quality over quantity.

Quality can be defined as the standard of something as measured against other things of its kind. For example, one could indulge in a single luscious Godiva chocolate or a whole bag of check-out counter candy. Quality over quantity means choosing better over more. 

We don’t live in a time that supports this lifestyle. Fast food means we can eat a big greasy meal for less than the tip at a sit-down restaurant. Fast fashion means we can own ten trendy shirts for the cost of one well-made one. We can get the kids a cartful of plastic toys from the dollar aisle, or one classic board game. 

There are many good reasons to adopt the idea of quality over quantity. It reduces clutter. It’s more sustainable for the planet. It saves money in the long run. It honors fine craftsmanship and design. It helps us gain more clarity about our personal preferences. 

I’ve long understood the wisdom of quality over quantity, but glancing around my bathroom, I see evidence to the contrary. There’s a shelf of half-empty bottles of hair and skin products that didn’t live up to their promise. There’s a drawerful of makeup that might look good on someone else. There’s a basket of gloppy nail polish I’ll never wear.

I’m committed to eliminating the clutter, forgiving myself for the waste, and finding the best version of the products I truly want and need. Here are just a few areas where we can more consciously apply the concept of quality over quantity: 

  • clothing and accessories
  • food and pantry items
  • furnishings and home decor
  • cleaning products
  • books and magazines
  • toys and games

Quality over quantity doesn’t just apply to material things. We can think about quality when choosing our activities, our entertainment, our relationships, our leaders, our conversations, and even our thoughts.

I recently read an anonymous quote that made me sad. It said, “People who aren’t used to quality always chase quantity.” Quality has become a unicorn. It does not seem to rank high on our collective list of values, but we can reclaim it. We can return to the elegance of expecting and choosing quality over quantity. §

“It is quality rather than quantity that matters.”
~Seneca

Note to Subscribers: If this essay seems familiar, thank you for noticing! It is a revision of an earlier blog post that I finally got around to running in my newspaper column this weekend. It can be a juggle to get them coordinated. In case you’re curious, my Sunday posts usually appear in my column, Everyday Elegance, in the weekend edition of the Southern Illinoisan. My Wednesday posts are a bit more personal and written for subscribers of The Simple Swan. Thank you very much for reading! ~ Alicia

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