Some thoughts on evolution, the concept of quality, being a responsible consumer.

In the natural world, there are two reproductive strategies that creatures use to get their babies to survive to the next generation: K and r.  The ‘r’ strategy is to have lots and lots, without investing too much in nurturing any of them, knowing that some of them will survive.  Think of the hundreds of baby sea turtles being hatched, and then braving the  gauntlet of shore birds to get to the sea.    The ‘K’ strategy is to have a few offspring, and invest a lot of life energy to make sure they survive.  Think elephant babies, learning from the herd for more than 7 years.  Or think of our human children, my youngest is 20, and is (arguably) still under my teaching influence!  The r strategy species tend to be quick to mature, are less intelligent, live in unstable environments, and have short life spans.  The K-strategists tend to live in stable environments, are long lived, intellegent and mature slowly.  

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When my eldest son explained this to me (they are useful creatures, these human children), I realized there is a similar binary in items of furniture.  Some people choose to buy the best they can afford, knowing that the quality sofa might last their lifetime, and that a strong frame is worth the labor to be reupholstered to update it in the future.  They feel that there is a value in their life to having something of quality in their home, and are willing to invest up front for an experience that will last a long time. 

Other purchasers seem to want the cheapest sofa they can afford, and will discard it on the curb, rather than move it to a new home.  (news flash, no one wants your grey micro fiber sofa)  This type of consumer will buy this sofa again, when they get where they are going.  Many, many sofas purchased, used, discarded, and then purchased again.  

(I am not so foolish to believe that cost is not a factor in these decisions, but old things are often made well, and inexpensive)

Before, in all it's optimism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and after

Before, in all it's optimism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and after

In nature, both the K and r techniques are perfectly wonderful.  The sea turtles are a tasty snack for the gulls, and the gulls, in turn, can be snacks for sharks or microbes, at the end of their lives. The elephant baby has time to learn the many water holes and kinds of food it needs to survive.  There is no such thing as garbage in a natural system.  Every waste product is food for another cycle. 

I do not need to tell you that this is not true of consumer products.  That sofa, and all of the wood, foam, screws, fabric that were so carefully harvested and created for it’s manufacture, will be in the landfill forever, leaching flame retardant and plasticizers into the environment, and never disappearing.  I find this to be very sad. 

In addition to this environmental impact, there is a loss in experience.

There is an aesthetic thrill in living with something that is made really well.  The amount of time and effort that went into making an artifact is equal to how much pleasure one gets touching, looking at, and using a thing.  The wear on a well made item just adds history and patina, without decreasing its usefulness.  

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One even might be motivated to mend a loved item.  Somehow there is an investment of liking and care when one owns a item of quality.

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This does not exist with carelessly made consumer items.  There is a  lack of investment: from the designer of the sofa, from the manufacturer seeking the cheapest materials possible, from the purchaser who is making the minimal purchase investment.  It leads to an equivalent lack of reward for the the consumer.  Every object tells a story,  the cheap item tells the story of someone's idea of a sofa, and tells it best in the store, and at a distance.   A cheap sofa will not wear it’s age well, and will not be comfortable by the end of it’s short life.  And I find this sad also.  

I do not know what to do about this, other than to say that, if you own things, good things are better than bad things.  Perhaps in our unsettled times we are living our lives more like r-strategy species.  Perhaps Quality is a layer of meaning too complex to convey in a low-res photograph on the internet.  

But I will say this: have a few things in your life that are beautifully made.  You deserve it, and you are changing your world, just a bit, by having them.

Chair by Sam Maloof

Chair by Sam Maloof