Thinking About Quality

When you travel most of the time and do it with only a small backpack, eventually all of your travel gear becomes very high quality. You buy something nice, love using it, and it retains its utility for a long time. If you buy something low quality, it breaks or frustrates you, and you end up replacing it with something high quality, which lasts.

Not everything I traveled with was of the highest quality at first, but through that process it became so. I noticed that my mindset changed as my belongings became higher quality, and that convinced me to extend that standard across the rest of my life. At this point nearly everything I use at home or while traveling is the best available.

First, a word about quality, as I often see people who have things they think are high quality, but are not. At least by my definition. Quality is derived from purity of design and from best materials.

When something is designed, I want for it to be designed to complete its function as perfectly as possible, requiring the least from me, and only then to take into account aesthetics. For example, my watch is decent looking, but not as good as other watches. However, the operation of it is a dream come true. Breitling clearly understood that a frequent traveler (they designed it for pilots) would want to be able to know the time anywhere around the world at a glance, but would also need a way to switch between time zones effortlessly. And maybe he’d need to time things.

It serves those functions perfectly, and then it gets out of the way. It doesn’t require charging ever, it doesn’t break or scratch, it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance, and it doesn’t have extra stuff like moon phase that isn’t applicable to the mission. It can go underwater to significant depths.

And then the materials are chosen perfectly. The steel is brushed to hide scratches, and the crystal is sapphire, which is indestructible.

Another good example would be my laptop. It’s lighter than any other similar laptop, has a high resolution screen (the biggest external factor in computer productivity), it has the proper ports to work with everything. The case feels like plastic (it’s actually a high tech magnesium alloy), but it’s basically indestructible.

Last is my Wool and Prince shirt or my Makers and Riders pants. Both understand the balance between form and function and they use very high quality materials that perform beautifully. The shirt I wear now is white and light blue, has only been washed once a month on average (daily wear), and has no stains. Why? Wool. More expensive and difficult to work with than cotton, but it pays off.

Thoughtful mission-specific design and the best materials.

Be important not to conflate price with quality. Sometimes they’re the same, but other times price is coopted by marketing to indicate quality where it doesn’t exist. This is very common in clothing and electronics (Beats headphones being a prime example). Sometimes a cheaper thing (Chipotle) is higher quality than something expensive (most other restaurants).

The net result of surrounding yourself with high quality is that friction just disappears. I have no real frustrations with anything I own. They always work as expected and sometimes surprise me because I haven’t thought about the function as deeply as designer. Friction is also reduced because you need to replace items far less frequently. I shop for a shirt once a year, and only get one. Same with pants. I may never buy another watch again.

An unexpected psychic benefit of shifting to only high quality is that you become inspired. I am constantly inspired by the excellence of the items I use. It’s a constant reminder of what happens when the genius and hard work of our species is combined with the finest materials available on the planet.

There have been a number of times where I’ve been scared to spend money on quality. Should I really spend thousands on a watch when I could buy one for tens? Every single time I’ve been glad I spent the money. And just about every time I’ve spent money on something that wasn’t high quality I’ve wished I just bought the right thing the first time. That has happened a lot with tools, where I didn’t really understand how much better good tools are.

I almost never encourage people to spend more money. My gear posts are sometimes coupled with disclaimers saying not to buy stuff you don’t need. When people email me about coaching, I tell them not to sign up if I think it will be a financial stretch for them. But this once, think about an item in your life that causes friction, research alternatives, and buy a higher quality one than you normally would.

Do this just as an experiment, and only do it if you can spend the money without derailing your financial plans. I know it’s slightly controversial advice from someone often thought of as a minimalist, but it’s important to experiment and do what you think is best regardless of whether it matches labels or not.


Photo is some cool moss in Yosemite park, where I visited a couple days ago

Sorry this post was so late this week. Crazy busy week, but I really should have written it early.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *