Owning fewer, but better things is often a goal of those who want to live more simply or embrace a minimalist lifestyle. The idea is that higher quality things last much longer and this is typically true. From a broad perspective:
Quality over quantity favors innately superior things over larger quantities of inferior things; even when it means having less of the superior thing. It applies to the tangible, as well as the intangible. For example, one’s preference for quality might be exhibited through approaching things with optimal effort vs. without care.
In general the quality of mass-produced items available to us as consumers continues to decline. At the same time, more of us are yearning to own higher quality things.
In the not-so-distant past, quality was often synonymous with cost.
Nowadays, this is not always the case and the price of an item doesn’t always indicate how well it is made. This requires us to be educated consumers and more aware of how quality is gauged.
Choosing quality sets you on your path of self-discovery. You start to evaluate what is important to you and begin to learn the qualities you value.~ Jodie of Simple Minded
In this article, I’ll share some measures for quality, discuss the main differences between quality and quantity, and provide some simple guidelines and tips for recognizing quality and being a smart consumer.
How Quality is Measured?
High quality items are made with passion and the care that comes from wanting to create something of value. Attention is paid at each step in the process to ensure good craftsmanship.
According to dictionary, craftsmanship is:
- the beautiful or impressive quality of something that has been made using a lot of skill
Therefore, quality can be measured by the level and degree of craftsmanship and the skill with which it was executed. The level refers to all the stages of somethings design; from the initial idea, planning, resourcing of materials, construction, finishing, and delivery. While degree is the attention to detail given in each of these levels.
Items of good craftsmanship are created with attention to detail and skillful execution at all levels.
“Quality can be measured by the level and degree of craftsmanship and the skill with which it was executed”~ Jodie of Simple Minded
“Quality can be measured by the level and degree of craftsmanship and the skill with which it was executed”. ~ by Jodie of Simple Minded
A deeper look reveals that at each level of quality construction, consideration is given not only to the design, but also the functionality, materials, and durability to name a few. You’ve probably heard the saying, “the devil is in the details”. Which simply means, issues, poor quality, and other problems that arise, are usually a result of overlooked details.
Attention to detail makes all the difference.
What is the difference between quantity and quality?
So far we discussed how quality is measured. As you can see, there are a lot of reasons to go for quality when possible. However, are there any merits to quantity? The biggest misconception of focusing only on quantity is that it is always the more economical choice.
When you are able to get more of a thing more cheaply you win, right?
This may seem true if looking at up front costs alone, but when quality is left out of the equation eventually you will pay. You’ll pay by either having to replace the thing sooner rather than later or you’ll pay in other ways such as loss of mental and physical energy spent on issues related to the inferior thing.
However, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking it is more economical. That it is inherently better to buy multiples of a cheap thing because it is inexpensive, on sale, or readily available. We are constantly bombarded with this message over and over on a daily basis from retailers in the media, on TV, and in our inboxes.
It is easy to get into a cycle of making purchases this way and it can be hard to break the cycle once you start. I have personally been in this trap and know the psychological struggle that can happen when we see a sale or perceived deal. It really does require a mindset shift, which I discuss here, to break this cycle.
There are also people who choose quantity because they like a lot of variety and are afraid they will get bored if their choices are limited. Furthermore, there are others who choose quantity because they are out of touch with what they are truly looking for. They constantly acquire more in an attempt to satisfy a want they haven’t fully identified.
Our constant acquisition of stuff based on our desire for more choice can ultimately lead to decision fatigue. When this happens, our ability to discern qualities we value becomes muddied and our ability to make clear decisions is disrupted and out of sync.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Have you fallen into the trap or do you constantly go from point A to point B looking for instant gratification by buying the latest and newest thing? If so, consider the following benefits of focusing on quality.
Choosing quality sets you on your path of self-discovery. You start to evaluate what is important to you and begin to learn the qualities you value. This process usually starts with something simple like deciding you are going to buy higher quality clothing or your first really nice, quality piece of furniture.
However, while it started small, it often radiates out into other areas of our lives where we begin to evaluate what we value there as well. We start to recognize the cumulative mental and physical energy that is actually saved when we stop the constant search. We also start to see other benefits as our time and money resources start to grow, there is efficiency in quality.
We typically take better care of and have a much deeper appreciation of the things we value. And overtime, focusing on quality can add more depth and meaning to our lives.
01. Simple Guidelines for Recognizing Quality
In this section I’ve put together some simple guidelines for assessing the quality of clothing, furniture, and household products. These are the items we all live with and use on a daily basis and build our lives around.
“Items of good craftsmanship are created with attention to detail at all levels.”~ Jodie of Simple Minded
However, before we jump into those specific areas, let’s cover the 4 basic and most important general guidelines for evaluating quality – design, functionality, materials, and construction.
Design is very subjective and it’s importance could be argued when it applies to quality. However, it is the characteristic we usually notice first and I think it should be mentioned here. The item should be designed well with attention to aesthetic qualities such as color, proportion, balance and shape. If you’re unsure of what to look for when evaluating an item’s aesthetic design qualities, refer to my article on what makes something aesthetically pleasing.
Functionality is the first and most important thing you want to pay attention to. How well does the thing you are considering perform its intended function? At the same time, you want to be clear what functions are important to you, as well as the functions required to satisfy the need you are filling.
Let me explain. Let’s say you want to be able to make coffee. There are many ways and methods to making coffee. There are simple pour over and French press options as well as complex “coffee bar” machines that prepare various types of specialty coffee beverages. Someone who drinks plain black coffee has very different functionality needs than someone who wants to make cappuccinos and lattes.
The next thing you’ll want to assess is the quality of the materials. Something can be beautifully designed and have all the functionality you’re looking for. However, its design and functionality become quickly null and void if materials of poor quality were used. Quality products are made from quality materials.
Lastly, you’ll also want to assess the quality of the construction. Similar to the above, something can have a beautiful design and be made of high quality materials, but be constructed very poorly. It doesn’t matter how high quality the materials are, or how gorgeous the design is, if it is going to fall apart after a handful of uses. Quality items should be constructed and put together well ensuring the item can perform its intended use properly and for years to come.
02. Guidelines for Quality Clothing
For clothing, there are two main factors you’ll want to consider, the quality of the fabric used and the quality of the garments construction. Both are discussed in more detail below.
When it comes to choosing quality clothing the first thing you’ll want to assess is the quality of fabric the garment is constructed of. As a general rule of thumb, quality fabric for clothing isn’t scratchy and feels nice against the skin and natural fibers are best.
Made from fiber from the cotton plant. Fiber length is the determining factor. Cotton with longer fibers are spun into softer finer yarns which make it more tightly woven resulting in a stronger and more durable fabric.
Look for 100% cotton and specifically pima, supima, sea-island and Egyptian are known for their extra long fibers. If it is not labeled, touch it – cotton made with long staple fibers is much softer to the touch.
Made from flax fibers. Same as cotton, the length of fibers determines the softness and durability. If it feels rough and scratchy it is most likely made of shorter fibers which produces a less durable fabric.
Made from the fur of sheep, alpacas and other fur producing animals. Wool is graded according to the thickness of the fibers measured in microns. Fibers between 25-30 microns are used for clothing. Look for wool that is tightly woven and not fuzzy with loose fibers. Loose fibers are a sign of an animal that was unhealthy, malnourished or sick.
Wool shouldn’t be scratchy. It should be fairly soft to the touch. Note that some wools are inherently softer than others such as cashmere, so softness is not the only consideration. With knitted wool, it should return to its original shape when stretched and released. If it doesn’t, this is a sign of short or weak fibers and it is best to pass on the wool item.
Made from the cocoon of the mulberry moth, silk is known for its smooth and luxurious feel. Silk fabric drapes really well making it a great choice for shirts, dresses, skirts and other garments where a nice drape is desired.
Silk is very durable and conducts heat similar to wool making it suitable for varying temperatures as it does a great job of regulating the body’s temperature.
Other Cellulose Fabrics (Tencel, Lyocell, Viscose, Rayon, Modal, Bamboo, Hemp):
There are various other fabrics that are produced from the wood, leaves and bark of plants. With all of these, similar to cotton, the length of the fiber is going to be a big determining factor in how well it will wear and how long it will look nice before piling, etc.
I’ve had very mixed success with these fabrics in the past and generally steer clear of them. If you do decide to go with a garment made of these fabrics, look for ones where the fabric is tightly knitted and/or woven and the surface of the fabric is very flat, smooth with a sateen sheen to it. This is a sign that longer fibers were used and that the weave and knit are nice and tight.
While good quality fabrics are important, if the item is poorly constructed it’s still going to fall apart prematurely. The best places to assess construction quality are the seams or where anything is joined together. For clothing and fabric products you want to look for even, straight stitches that aren’t too far apart and tight seams that don’t separate when gently pulled.
You also want to check that the grain of the fabric was properly considered when the garment was cut out and sewn together. Unless an item is specifically designed to be bias cut, the grain of the fabric should run vertically and shouldn’t twist to one side. The seams should also not be puckered or forced together. Knit fabrics tend to be the worst. You know what I mean if you’ve ever had a tee shirt or knitted pants “twist” after washing.
I also think it’s helpful to inspect the “hidden” part of the item – so turn it inside out, look underneath or at the areas you don’t easily see, for example the lining of a garment. If these areas also look well constructed and finished that’s a great sign.
03. Guidelines for Quality Furniture
With furniture, there are also two main factors you’ll want to consider, the quality of the wood or materials used and the quality of the pieces construction.
03.1 Upholstered Furniture
First of foremost, upholstered furniture should be comfortable. Test it out by sitting on the piece for a few minutes. Beyond the initial comfort factor of the item also consider the following:
- How well the cushions return to their shape after sitting.
- Are the cushion reversible and flippable? Reversible cushions wear longer.
- The fabric should be tightly woven and fitted to the frame nicely with straight seams.
- Patterned fabrics should be centered and the pattern should match at the seams and line up on the whole piece.
- The frame should be sturdy and joined with dowels or be glued-in and reinforced with screwed-in corner blocks.
- Look for durable padding and springs that compress enough to feel comfortable, but you shouldn’t feel the frame (or springs) through the padding.
03.2 Case Goods
With case goods, it is best to look for items that are constructed of real wood. Veneered and laminated pieces can be very strong and durable as well just make sure the veneer or laminate has been applied over plywood, not particle board. Also consider the following:
- Wood should not scratch or dent easily. Test by pressing your fingernail into it, it should not leave a mark.
- The piece should sit evenly on the floor and not wobble.
- Look for chair arms, legs and back that are constructed for a single continuous piece of wood.
- Joints should be tight and there shouldn’t be visible glue or filler material.
- Looks for drawers that slide open and closed smoothly, smooth insides so clothing isn’t snagged, dovetail joints, inset bottoms and dust panels below (piece of wood below drawer so items in drawer below are protected).
- Sides and back of piece should be at least ½ inch thick.
- Inside of doors should be finished and the hinges should operate smoothly.
- Glass panels in doors and furniture backs should be inset and not tacked on.
- Hardware shouldn’t be flimsy and should be firmly bolted from the inside.
- The wood grain pattern and color should match on the whole piece.
04. Guidelines for Quality Household Products
For general household products like decor, storage and children’s play furniture, etc. look at how elements are joined together – typically poorer quality items will just be glued together, maybe even messily or with glue marks, while better quality construction often utilizes more durable ways of fastening such as screws.
As with the other items we’ve discussed assessing the quality comes down to considering the following:
- The quality of the materials used
- How well the item is constructed:
- Joints – how well are the pieces attached together
- No sharp edges
- Joints are tight and sturdy
- No visible glue
- Screwed together or attached in durable way
- How pieces align:
- Stable – does not wobble
- Sits evenly
- Patterns align
Choosing quality over quantity can be a huge step towards bringing simplicity into all areas of your life. Simply put, it is easier to own better quality things. Choosing quality saves you money since quality items last longer and don’t need to be replaced as often.They consume less of your time maintaining and caring for them and they last longer making them more sustainable.
Choosing quality is a decision to value ourselves, value others and value our world. It is a form of appreciation and love.
So, start with one thing or one area and decide to choose quality over quantity.