The Elegance of Quality Over Quantity

The 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, more importantly, the simple beauty and elegance of the girl.

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, Godiva chocolate is considered to be of exceptional quality. For about the same price, one could indulge in a single Godiva chocolate or a whole bag of M & Ms.

Quality over quantity means choosing better over more.

We don’t live in a time that supports this lifestyle. Fast food means we can get a big greasy meal for less than the tip at a sit-down restaurant. Fast fashion means we can buy ten shirts for the cost of one cashmere sweater. 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 been a believer in quality over quantity; however, 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 isn’t exactly the right shade or formula. 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 a single high-quality version of the products I need and want. I’m not going to stop there.

Here are just a few areas where we can more consciously apply the philosophy 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 conversations, and even our thoughts.

I need no convincing of the elegance, simplicity, and wisdom of choosing quality over quantity. As Steve Jobs said, “Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.” §

Featured Art ~ Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, circa 1665. 

Thank you for reading! Please press the blue “Follow” button to receive an email of new posts every Sunday. The Simple Swan is on Facebook at Alicia Fry Woodward and is now in video format on YouTube at The Simple Swan. Please join me as we learn to glide through life with the elegance of a simple swan. 


The Elegance of Appreciating Summer’s Bounty

Summer Bounty Art

There is no finer example of true elegance than that of nature. In summer, it generously bestows miraculous gifts of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. How pleased nature must be when we appreciate them. Here are ten ways to graciously accept and celebrate summer’s bounty. 

  1. Be Amazed. Imagine you never laid eyes on a bright yellow sunflower, smelled a bunch of lavender, or bit into a juicy, sweet strawberry. What a happy surprise they would be! Intentionally celebrate the gifts of summer as if for the first time. 
  2. Visit a Farmer’s Market. My husband and I stop by a farmers’ market a couple times each week during the summer. Not only do we go home with a variety of fresh-from-the-farm produce, it’s always a humbling reminder that the good food on our plates depends on experienced, hard-working hands.
  3. Gather Summer Blooms. I bet something pretty is blooming right outside your front door that you could clip, arrange, and slip into a little vase. If not, take a walk or drive and you’re sure to find some wildflowers growing in a road-side ditch. Pick just a few to add a touch of summer to your home. 
  4. Cook with Fresh Herbs. My husband is the chef in our house, and I’m always impressed by how he jazzes up simple meals with fresh herbs from our backyard. Identifying and relishing the distinct flavors of basil, dill, cilantro, mint, and rosemary makes our mealtimes more flavorful and mindful.  
  5. Go to a You-Pick Destination. We recently picked our own lavender from rows and rows of hazy purple flowers. The heavenly scent transported us straight to Provence. Whether you pick your own flowers, fruit, or vegetables, it’s a summertime ritual not to be missed. (If you’re in southern Illinois, be sure to visit Lavender Falls U-Pick Farm in Mt. Vernon.) 
  6. Eat a Rainbow. The practice of eating a rainbow every day simply reminds us to have a diet filled with colorful fruits and veggies. Different colors in produce deliver specific nutrients. For example, red foods like tomatoes and strawberries contain an antioxidant called lycopene. It’s easy to eat a rainbow during the summer months.
  7. Get Creative. Beautiful things in nature inspire creativity. Consider masterpieces like Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers or George Gershwin’s aria from Porgy and Bess called Summertime. Let a big blue hydrangea or a bowl of ripe strawberries inspire you to draw, paint, or write a poem.
  8. Dine Al Fresco. There is no better way to enjoy nature’s bounty than dining outdoors. A warm breeze, the song of birds, and the changing colors of the sky, all add to the ambiance of a memorable summer meal. 
  9. Share the Goodness. A few weeks ago, we found some superb blackberries and knew we needed to get a quart for my father-in-law, too. He later surprised us with some perfect peaches. Whether you have an abundance of cucumbers or prolific rose bushes, sharing the gifts of summer only increases their pleasure. 
  10. Feel Gratitude. This week we bought a small bunch of gorgeous sunflowers at the grocery store for four dollars. I cut their thick fuzzy stems and arranged them in a vase that I keep moving around the house. Each time I scurry by them with a load of laundry, see them from the kitchen sink, or sit near them while I write, they bring a sigh of appreciation.

    As poet Celia Thaxter wrote long ago, “There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.” And gratitude is an elegance we can cultivate all year long.§

    Featured Art ~ Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh, 1888.

    Thank you for reading! Please press the blue “Follow” button to receive an email of new posts every Sunday. The Simple Swan is on Facebook at Alicia Fry Woodward and is now in video format on YouTube at The Simple Swan. Please join me as we learn to glide through life with the elegance of a simple swan.  

The Elegance of a Good Night’s Sleep

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had a lovely wish for us, “Be thy sleep silent as night is, and as deep.” Man has long understood the value of sleep. As one of our most basic biological needs, we know proper sleep is fundamental to our physical and emotional well-being. Maybe we should also consider getting a good night’s sleep a polite thing to do.

All of us have had to muscle through a long day after a bad night’s sleep feeling groggy, grumpy, and gross. It’s difficult to be bright and cheerful when we’re exhausted. We’ve also all been bitten by someone who is dog tired. I’m positive we’d see more dignified, tolerant, and elegant behavior if everyone took a nice long nap.

Poor sleep has many causes including waking children, work demands, care giving, and blasted insomnia. When that’s the case, we may have to ride it out or even seek professional help. Yet many of our sleep problems may have more to do with simply not placing a priority on proper sleep hygiene. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, good sleep hygiene means having both a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. Keeping a stable sleep schedule, making our bedroom comfortable and free of disruptions, following a relaxing pre-bed routine, and building healthy habits during the day can all contribute to ideal sleep hygiene.  

There are many ways to make our bedtime routine an elegant part of our day. It might include a warm bath, luxurious sleep wear, quality sheets, meditation or prayer, a journal, or some peaceful music. It probably doesn’t include watching Netflix until we pass out in our clothes, face unwashed, and unprepared for the next day. 

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of our most important personal responsibilities, and it’s something we must teach our children. As a teacher, I saw many students suffer from poor sleep habits. It’s no surprise that studies show both behavior and grades improve when children routinely get the nightly sleep they require. 

The National Sleep Foundation advises that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Children and teens need even more to support their growth and development. It’s important to honestly assess how much sleep we need based on our activity level and overall health.

I know I feel, look, and act my best when I get close to nine hours of sleep. If I get much less than that, my husband has every right to say, “Sometimes I wake up grumpy. Other times, I just let her sleep!” §

Featured Art ~ Flaming June by Frederic Leighton, 1895

Thank you for reading! Please press the blue follow button to read an email of new posts every Sunday. The Simple Swan is on Facebook at Alicia Fry Woodward and is now in video format on YouTube at The Simple Swan. Please join me in my desire to glide through life with the elegance of a simple swan.  


Reflections on Elegance

swans-berthe-morisotElegant /’el-i-gent/ adjective 
1. pleasingly graceful and stylish in appearance or manner
2. tastefully refined and dignified
3. admirably concise and simple

Imagine standing in a frustratingly long line behind someone who remains calm and considerate. Whether old or young, rich or poor, man or woman, that’s elegance.

Imagine being warmly welcomed into a clean and tidy home. No matter the size or location, that’s elegance.

Imagine someone graciously serving food at a soup kitchen. By helping solve a big problem in a small way, that’s elegance.

These are just a few examples of the serenity and simplicity that elegance can bring to every area of our lives. Elegance is so much more than going to the opera in glitzy clothing or using the right fork at a fancy dinner.

I truly believe by placing higher value on elegance, we can create a more peaceful and pleasing world. We can’t individually solve every political, social, and economic problem, but there are things we can do on a daily basis to improve our own spheres of influence. 

As a middle school teacher, I saw how contagious good behavior can be. On the other hand, we’ve all seen how quickly a culture of less than desirable behavior can take root and become the norm. I confess I’ve witnessed my own attitude, words, and actions sink and elevate based on my attention to elegance. 

By reflecting on elegance, we will almost certainly add beauty to our own lives. We will also create a ripple effect that can spread through our families, neighborhoods, schools, work places, and communities. 

We can start by establishing a desire for elegance. With the Law of Attraction in play, we will begin to notice elegance in people, places, and things, refining our understanding and appreciation for what is elegant. I think we will find that true elegance is much more than we realized, and that it can easily become a part of all we do. 

Moving through the usual routines of our day, we can consider simple ways to add elegance. While running errands, we can offer a gentle smile to a stranger. When talking with a friend, we can be careful not to interrupt. When driving a car, we can give the road our full attention. In choosing something to read or watch, we can pick that which enlightens us. 

Week by week, day by day, hour by hour, let’s reflect on specific ways to bring more elegance into our lives and the lives of others. If we start to get frazzled and lose our composure, we’ll take a deep breath, smooth our ruffled feathers, and recenter ourselves so we can glide through life with the elegance of a simple swan. §

Featured Art ~ Swans, Berthe Morisot, 1885

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“Elegance is when the inside is as beautiful as the outside.”
~Coco Chanel