Quality and Quantity

A while back I listened to an audiobook entitled “A life less throwaway”, by Tara Button. It was a good book, though it did get a little boring by the end. The premise of the book is this: as consumers, we’ve been taught to participate in a constant cycle of upgrading to the next version of a product. Generally, we don’t seek out durability in the things we buy, and companies who make the products are, if anything, incentivized to make products that are not as durable. Instead of doing this, we should seek out products that both make us happy in a real sense (so we don’t get sick of them and feel the need to replace) and will last a lifetime. This is a great concept, one that has also been described by Joe in his post about tools, and we’ll come back to it in a minute.

The author of the book has a website called buymeonce.com, which promotes high quality, durable products that come with a lifetime guarantee. Browsing the site, I came to the page on dutch ovens, which has dutch ovens ranging from $140 to $300. All come with a lifetime guarantee. One day, I was telling M+M friend and consultant Jennifer about the book, website, and Dutch ovens.

“How much was your dutch oven?”, Jennifer asked. It was about $25. “Do you really think you’ll go through more than 6 dutch ovens in your lifetime?”

My $25 dutch oven.

This simple but profound questions illustrates a very important point: quality is not always more cost effective than quantity. It is, however, of higher quality. And even though we don’t want to deprive ourselves of some life-affirming hardship, it is generally nicer to use a quality product.

Quality or Quantity?

For example, the Buy Me Once dutch ovens are enamled, which means you don’t have to worry about the underlying cast iron rusting or having to season it regularly. Mine is just plain old cast iron. However, it’s really not that hard to maintain cast iron, and my $25 dutch oven does everything the $140 one can do. Of course, there is always something to be said about waste. I don’t really want to be throwing away 5 dutch ovens. But I don’t think I will be. I got my dutch oven in March of last year and it’s still going strong. I think it’ll be around for a while. Which leads to another important point: taking care of your stuff will increase it’s longevity.

On the other hand, there are some benefits to lower quality products. Take, for example, my couch. I got a sectional couch from craigslist for $100, then paid another hundred dollars or so to get it professionally cleaned. That’s not a lot for a sectional couch that is quite comfortable. But since I didn’t pay a lot of money for the couch, I don’t feel the need to worry about taking great care of it, or get upset when something happens to it. When we moved into this apartment, the huge couch was getting banged and scraped all over the place, but I wasn’t too concerned. It could be easily replaced for almost free, and if it had a couple scratches on it, it would do its job just as well anyway.

This couch has served us well over the years.

I’m not advocating for filling your life with cheap stuff. Expensive, high quality products have a time and a place. My dress shoes cost $300, but I never regret purchasing them. They look good (which is the point of dress shoes, after all), and will last me a lifetime. If they don’t I can replace the soles for a small fee. This is something I’m OK with spending a lot of money one time on.

The point is this: there’s no one right answer to the quality versus quantity issue. Like most areas of life, putting in a little bit of critical thought goes a long way. So before you go out and buy a brand new Tesla, just ask yourself: is this the thing that provides the perfect mix of long-lasting happines and durability. If not, electric bikes can be a pretty fun alternative!

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