|A market in Provence - personal photo|
Two years after the first encounter, I read Dominique Loreau's L'Art de la Simplicité again this summer. It is quite surprising how, after defining my own values and choices, my take on the book has evolved. I still agree with several points she explains in her book, but I also find myself diverting from her opinion on several matters. Now that my own vision is more defined, I have decided to write small chapters on various elements of simplicity. The first one: quality.
Quality is a very important component of the minismalist philosophy. Whatever the source, there seems to be a consensus over the idea of "quality over quantity". But what does this concretely mean?
Quality and Budget
Although I admit that the "luxury" of thinking about minimalism supposes a lifestyle comfortable enough to not have to care for essential needs, I think the "quality over quantity" approach can be pursued with almost any budget.
The reason is, I think quality is not about how luxurious chosen items are, it is about adopting a certain mindset - prioritizing the overall quality of an item over its price or the quantity of similar items you own.
Quality budgeting: What I do is define two things: a price range I afford & decide to pay for an item type, and a set of quality requirements. For example, if I decide to buy a handbag, my price range would be 100-150€, and my quality requirements are the fabric (leather) and the finish (pockets for metro card and keys...)
Don't let marketing and advertising tell you what a quality item should be, but define your own quality requirements, depending on your taste and habits. For example, a famous brand doesn't necessarily mean higher quality, especially nowadays with a lot of companies increasing their margin by decreasing product quality and keeping prices high thanks to the brand notoriety.
A higher price doesn't necessarily mean higher quality either. I noticed that higher priced clothing sometimes wore out more quickly than a cheaper alternative. It is true that as a general rule, since quality items require better materials and a longer fabrication time, they are more expensive than low quality alternatives, but on a case by case basis, price isn't always a reliable factor of quality.
Defining quality: I have my own set of criteria when it comes to asserting the quality of an item I am looking to purchase: the materials/fabrics used, the finish touches and little details in the fabrication, the overall shape , sturdiness... I always carefully inspect items before purchasing, which is why I rarely buy anything online unless I have the opportunity to see the item first.
For example, if you tea cup is ill conceived and you have to carry it a certain way in order not to get burned, it is not practical. If a very beautiful coat doesn't have pockets, it can be a little annoyance when you want to go out quickly without a bag. In other words, practicality should be one of the criteria of the quality of an item.
Thinking of practicality: Before buying something, ask yourself: how am I going to use it every day? What are the characteristics the object needs to have in order to be practical and easy to use for me?
I have a very good example for that: when I arrived in Paris I purchased a Chemex coffee maker because it is so stylish and beautiful. But to be honest, it wasn't practical at all. I had to pour the water little by little over the filter, the coffee took 15 minutes to brew every morning, then I had to lift the filter in order to be able to serve the coffee in my cup, which was lukewarm by the time it was ready, plus half the time the filters would break and spill into the coffee... So after one year, I turned the Chemex into a water jug and bought a French press instead.
The motto of "quality over quantity" is, in my opinion, one of the pillars of living a simple life. Not only because quality items will last longer and save costs over the long term, but also because a well chosen item serves its purpose fully, making your everyday life easier. That being said, I believe that thanks to our consumerist society (it does have advantages), we have such a large offer of anything, that quality items do exist within a reasonable price range, and there is bound to be quality items matching your own quality requirements.
What do you think? Is quality a major factor of choice when you purchase new items? How has it affected your everyday life? Do you have your own definition of quality, depending on the item type?