Quality over Quantity

Quality over quantity is the best intention for a number of reasons, yet we live in a civilisation that is preoccupied with quantity. The reason being, quantity is tangible and you can manage what you can measure (an idea usually stated as: you can’t manage what you don’t measure). By manage, I mean control, manipulate and exploit.

Quality (in the broadest sense) is very hard to manage because it isn’t strictly measurable. Qualities are often intangible and they are described. Quality therefore is more subjective and is dependent on an individuals goals, tastes, attitudes, values and so on.


Quantities and measurements are the concerns of both science and commerce. Quantity is preferred by the left hemisphere of the brain which likes certainty and precision. Industrialism, the foundation of all modern economies, is founded on certainty and precision, and therefore, quantities.

In commerce money is the measurement (i.e. quantity) that all decisions are ultimately based on. Decisions tend to be looked at in financial terms like cost-benefit analysis, return on investment and income per employee (which is the measurement of productivity and economic growth – read the truth about GDP » ). 

If it can’t be accounted for in money terms, it seemingly has no value. For example, housework, caregiving and community work are not financial transactions and are not included in GDP. There are no regulatory or economic policies that govern these non-financial ‘transactions’ and yet they happen all the time, and are extremely valuable. Indeed they are much more valuable than countless financial transactions which are unnecessary, useless and often harmful.

“To a great many scientists today, what exists is limited to what can be known; what can be known is limited to what can be measured; and what can be measured is treated as though it was identical to its measurements.” – John Michael Greer, The Wealth of Nature 


Whereas quantity is measured, quality is described. Descriptions are often vague, subjective and incomplete, and therefore open to interpretation. Of course, this is exactly what makes the descriptions of qualities interesting and meaningful. Quality is the realm of the right hemisphere of the brain which likes meaning, context and relatedness. Indeed, quality, or the description of it at least, is inherently relative. In other words, quality is usually described as what something is like.

Unlike quantity, quality evades control because it isn’t tangible, it is an experience. Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, said that Quality is the cutting edge of experience before any analysis or judgement.

Quantity is not how we experience the world. Size, number and cost are all quantities that tell you nothing about the quality something has.

Poetic life

Quality relates to meaning which relates to context. In this sense quality in life is more like poetry, the exact opposite of science. Science say’s what something is, in terms of measurements and measured observations. Poetry says what something is like in terms of metaphor and imagery. 

Life is poetic, not scientific. Life is subjective, imprecise, unpredictable, meaningful, emotional, purposive, descriptive and largely unquantifiable. Science simply can’t explain the experience of life, and for that single reason alone, we should not rely on science, scientific principles or economics, for that matter, to make decisions about living. Science is a tool, not a master.

Quality over quantity in our lives

As long as you have enough, quality is far more important than quantity. How much is enough? That depends, but it is never too little and never too much. You can never have too much quality though. Some areas in our lives where quality is better than quantity include:


Time is precious. We should always try to spend our time on the vital few quality things that provide us the greatest well-being. Whilst we reduce the trivial many things that take up a lot of our time but don’t add to our well-being.


Ben Jonson said “True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but with the worth and choice.” Everyone is different and has different needs. Some people need more friends and some people need less friends. In my experience as people get older they realise that having more friends is less important than having real friends. Quality is much better than quantity.


When it comes to food a balanced diet of good quality food is much better than quantity. No matter how much bad quality food you eat you will still feel unsatisfied. As the author Michael Pollan, famous for The Omnivore’s Dilemma, wrote: “a diet based on quantity rather than quality has ushered a new creature onto the world stage: the human being who manages to be both overfed and undernourished, two characteristics seldom found in the same body in the long natural history of our species.”


When it comes to exercise quality must always come first. Quality is about doing the right sort of exercise, and it’s about doing it right. If you don’t get these two right no amount of quantity is going to be good for you. Indeed it could do serious harm. So quality first, quantity second.


While you are spending more money initially, buying good quality items will save you money over the long term because you will need to buy fewer things. Well-made, good quality purchases will last longer, especially if they are cared for. Quality goods are more reliable meaning you won’t tend to spend as much on breakages or repairs. Also, quality goods are emotionally durable as well, meaning you will value them for much longer than a pile of cheap junk you bought on a whim.

“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.” – Vivienne Westwood