Have you ever bought a piece of gear – a travel bag, article of clothing, electronic gadget, for instance – and been utterly disappointed in it? Of course you have; we’ve all been there.

In search of a good deal, or letting our desire to be frugal get a bit out of balance, we buy things that don’t quite satisfy our needs, or worse, frustrate with every use. The zippers on a bag are balky, or a product’s poor design makes simple actions needlessly difficult, or a  piece of gear or clothing wears out prematurely.

A product which annoys or disappoints with each use is hardly a value. I’d argue the most  financially prudent approach is to buy quality gear.

I’d rather pay $150 for a high quality, good looking, durable sweater that’s a delight every time I wear it, than three $50 sweaters that are unremarkable.

If this means doing without until I can afford the right gear, so be it.

If it means buying less, that’s fine as well.

Also implicit in buying quality is the fact that you’ll think about purchases more, and research them more thoroughly, as you’ll be living with a quality product for a longer period of time.

Buying quality also equates to less clutter.

When you own quality, your tolerance of lesser products diminishes, and you’ll find yourself wanting to get rid of the junk. Why keep something that frustrates and disappoints? Sell it on eBay or donate it; someone else may get good use from it.

Erin Rooney Doland, blogger at Unclutterer and author of the wonderful Unclutter Your Life in One Week, said it as follows:

Smart consumerism is based on the principle of buying the best quality of good to meet your needs and budget. Saving up your money and buying a beautifully crafted piece of furniture out of durable materials will ultimately keep you from wasting money and time in the future. Plus, if you research and buy only quality goods, you won’t make impulse purchases.

An unclutterer is a smart consumer.

How about you? Have you struck the right balance when it comes to buying quality? Please share your experiences by commenting…  and if you want to recommend any great products that you love, by all means mention them!

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14 Comments on The right stuff: in praise of great gear

  1. Maria says:

    My motto(s) when it comes to buying:

    “I cannot afford to buy cheaply!” and “Buy the best, cry once” – Pasquale

    (Self explanatory really.)

    I also watch any impulse buying when I see something on sale. Asking myself – if I had the money, would I buy it at full price and be happy with it?

    I also do not use credit cards for shopping, sticking to cash and bank debit cards. If I see something that I really think is meant to be with me, I ask if the item can be held for me while I go to the bank. If it’s really expensive, I know how much I have to save up for in order to buy it. And work with that goal in mind.

    My financial means are not as lofty as my tastes, so I have fewer items in my closet, in my home – but they are quality items that will last and I intend to take care of them.

    I also use this approach with food. I’d rather have a single exquisite piece of chocolate to enjoy slowly and savour it rather than a dozen Snickers bars gobbled all at once. (Okay, make that a larger piece of exquisite chocolate.)

    Also, I feel more confident in clothes that fit, are comfortable, and are made of quality materials. I am wary of imitations and would rather have a discreet quality piece than something flashy. As my mother would say “there is cashmere, and there is CASHMERE”…oh and the same applies to silk. I don’t just look at the fabric content, but study the quality of the item. For me, cashmere can be itchy, scratchy, and darn annoying. But the higher end cashmere is soft, fits better, and no itch! Go figure. Hence I have fewer cashmere sweaters but the ones I have I feel good when I wear them. That quiet confidence makes a difference when you are trying to make a good first impression.

    For dresses, suits, skirts, blouses – I found a good tailor that will make what I ask for in quality materials. People balk when they learn my wool trousers are “custom made”. Well, when I tell them they cost less than a pair of wool trousers from Banana Republic (once you include taxes, in-store alterations, oh and these are the more expensive of that particular store house brand) – I’m actually spending less! For something that is made for me! (Hope it’s okay to name that store in this post. Please edit if not allowed!)

    Some call be snobby because I like quality over quantity. I think I’m being frugal, especially when you see the closet as it’s certainly sparse, but filled with things that I am happy to wear, to pack for a trip, and to use with confidence! :)

    PS – I am afraid to mention my favourite brands or else people may think I really am a SNOB! :)



    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for a wonderful comment. Go ahead and name your favorite brands, if you wish. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing snobby about buying quality over quantity; to me, it’s simply smart. Thanks again.


    Maria Reply:

    Here goes, my list of favourite brands that are well made, practical, and worth the price…which compared to others in the same category are actually less expensive!

    Icebreaker – wonderful wool layering pieces. I have given away almost all of my polyster / plastic fleecy type clothing now that I have found the benefits of the real wool layers. They wear well, are machine washable and parctically dry before you hang them up. Don’t get smelly, do a better job of blcoking wind and cold that the plastic stuff…which I find makes one perspire if active anyway. I’ve saved an old pair of what I consider the old junk stuff to wear when cleaning the hosue or scrubbing the tub with bleach cleaner!

    Patagonia – well made, great for outdoor all weather situations as they suggest, plus I find the quality better than North Face brand which is the same price point.

    “Nights in White Flannel” – Flannel pajamas made in Canada. By no means sexy – but soft, snuggly, wear well, wash well, and can be customized to suit your needs – just let them know and they will make it – within reason of course. (For example if you tend to sleep on your stomach and do not want buttons on the front – they will make such for you.) Cheaper than the flannel I’ve seen in department stores and better quality. They have childrens wear too, but cannot ship these to the USA as they do not meet the regulatiosn for flame-retardent children’s jammies. (I didn’t know that law still existed.)

    Qiviuk sweaters – made from the undercoat of artic ox, warmer than cashmere, and wonderful for our cold northern winters here in Canada. Not cheap, but significantly less than fancy brand cashmere.

    R.M. Williams boots – Australian made, high quality boots that last and are so comfortable I am spoiled for any other brand. Gorgeous! Greater selection of men’s items, but they make children’s boots too.

    “Da Bird” cat toy by Go-Cat brand – Large stiff feathers on a string / pole that swirl in the air and sound like a bird in flight. Warning in advance if you happen to have a cat with serial killer instincts, who will eat the whole toy – all the large quilled feathers! – when you leave for a moment to answer the phone.

    Out of space now, maybe I’ll add more later! The $$$ stuff!


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks for a great comment! Couple of responses –

    -Had my eye on Icebreaker stuff for a while, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    -Da Bird: ha. There’s one on the floor of my study, not more than 3 to 4 feet from my chair as I type this. I taped over the last 3-4″ of the handle (where you grasp it) as I think I was picking up little fiberglas shards/threads. Other than that, it’s a lot of fun – for both of us!

  2. whisper says:

    I agree with Maria, quality over quantity (except I am fine with Kirkland (Costco) Cashmere) :-).

    I have a few Patagonia bags but had not bought any of their clothes. I usually buy one decent quality fleece each year or two – I wear them a lot and they don’t last much more than that looking decent. This year I decided to get a Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket instead and my goodness but it is nice. I hope it lasts because I am a bit addicted to that quality now.


    Kevin Reply:


    Thanks. I only have a couple of Patagonia pieces, but they are really nice. I hope your Nano Puff lasts a long time!


  3. reeder says:

    Quality is important but even then, sometimes it just doesn’t turn out to fit the use case you have in mind. In which case you still should sell, donate, lend, or gift it so others can use it.

    Let’s face it…. Gadget and luggage geeks can accumulate a lot of quality stuff that they rarely use or even duplicates. Having that one perfect bag for a specific scenario (or perfect gadget) can be fine, but don’t just keep it because you spent a lot of money or invested a lot of desire/effort into getting it.

    Lastly, don’t confuse quality and price. There are many things out there that are of good quality and lower price or bad quality at a high price. Just because there’s a brand label on it doesn’t mean the quality will be high.


    Kevin Reply:

    Re confusing quality and price: absolutely. And it’s certainly true that there are quality products out there at reasonable prices, and vice versa.

    Agree also that a brand name is no guarantee of quality, but having said that, there are some brands that I feel always deliver quality products and a quality experience. BMW. Apple. LL Bean. Others?


  4. Michael W. says:

    3 hard learned rules –

    1. (Same as yours) Buy what you really want, which is quality, even if expensive. You are not honoring the great god of Thrift when you get three meh items instead of one truly neat item.

    2. Don’t get suckered by sales – even if you are buying the quality item at a great price, it’s not the Right One if it’s the Wrong Color.

    3. The internet is a great shopping tool, but it’s a lot like online dating – the dream of your choice can look great online, but be surprisingly different from your expectations, in person. Better to occasionally pay retail from a bricks and mortar store, if a 10 second inspection of actual color hue, actual dimensions, actual “hand” of the fabric or actual ergonomics (and perceived quality of assembly) of the product IN PERSON would have saved you from a shopping blunder. Return privileges aren’t the solution they appear to be, given the innate lethargy of most consumers post-product arrival.

    I would welcome an article from Kevin on combining careful, quality-oriented shopping with a minimalist lifestyle (or “simplified” lifestyle – who needs all the mental, emotional, and actual physical clutter, after all). I think many of us are “junk” consumers, substituting quantity for quality. We never feel “full” as a result. We’d be better off garage-selling or donating off our not-quite-wanted items and replacing them with “can’t-live-without them, built-for-the-long-haul” items.

    And yes this website has helped me a lot, not only in finding truly “buy-worthy” items (at ALL price brackets) but also in figuring out an approach to material consumption. At manageable levels.

    I totally adhere, btw, to Maria’s comment “there is cashmere, and there is CASHMERE.”


  5. Jeff Mac says:

    To quote my father, “If you buy the best you are seldom disappointed”

    Luggage wise for me, Tom BIhn falls into this category. When it comes to computers I have spent my money on Apple. I own a single Ralph Lauren blazer and it looks as good as the day I bought it.

    There is always a balancing point on this, I buy Honda not Rolls Royce when it comes to cars and there continue to be places where I am NOTORIOUSLY cheap.

    Find out what matters to you and don’t be stingy there. A product with a long lifespan may cost you less in the long run. Total cost of ownership is the mentality.


  6. Scott says:

    I was thinking about Bihn as I was reading this, so I agree with Jeff Mac. A few years ago I started saying “I am in what is likely the last half of my life, I’m not buying crap anymore.”. Which creeps my wife out a little, but she doesn’t bug me when I spend a little more on something. Though she still doesn’t get Tom Bihn and no wheels.


  7. Adriano says:

    Quality over quantity is also my motto.

    Have you noticed how many people go crazy once they hear the “SALE” word? A side effect of travelling with hand luggage is making shopping sprees impossible… This has happened to me too. And now I enjoy more the place and less the shopping malls!!

    I agree with Maria on the Icebreaker products – warm and not smelly. Mine though need more time to dry than the polypropylene shirts I use. They are really plain and are produced by a tiny Italian company: Liod.

    I would like to try the Uniqlo Heattech underwear, as well as the silky dry – At very good prices they promise a lot. Would be nice to know if they deliver as well. Anyone tried them?

    I’ve also had a look at Qiviuk website. Ok, quality costs, but that is a bit too much, at least for me…

    For the time being I have no room left. I’m the youngest among my cousins and so I have “inherited” what they no longer wear/use i.e. a lot of stuff. A charity group will be the beneficiary of all this, as well as my cousins’ sons which are likely to get back what their parents used… “What goes around, comes around” as the song says.


  8. Maria says:

    Adriano – yes, the Qiviuk sweaters are outrageous or at least in the price point of outrageous. I’ve seen the wool for sale in needlework shops but felt I wouldn’t be able to knit something to do it justice as the yarn itself is expensive too. I then found the sweaters and clothing at a knitting fair and fell for them. They were on special, as you were able to deal directly with the supplier. Despite the high price tag – they are warm, light weight and great for travel. The ladies solid shawls (not the lacey fancy versions) are great to use as a blanket on cold planes, cold hotels, or just as a wrap. Still, one only need so many musk ox items éh?


  9. Miguel Marcos says:

    In general I stick to high quality gear which translates into a higher cost though I occasionally find the odd exception. The formula tends to work but it fails sometimes at both ends of the spectrum: sometimes I find something really inexpensive that is well-designed and good quality; sometimes I’ve found high-quality/high-cost items that fail in some way that detracts from the whole of the product.

    Another thing: Once I do hit on a manufacturer that has made a good product, I tend to then have faith that the rest of the products are equally good. Sometimes that’s not the case.

    An example of an unexpectedly good item is an Ikea Upptäcka backpack I bought a couple of years ago. The design is awesome. It’s a biggish daypack which splits into two. Both have straps. For traveling, it’s great as you can leave the bulk of the backpack where you’re staying and take the smaller pack with you. It was my only piece of luggage in my 2 week trip to India last September. I use it daily for work as well. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find another Ikea item of any sort that is equal to that backpack.

    Regarding mfrs, here are a few I like consistently: Patagonia, Chocolate Fish, Apple, Outlier’s pants, Guyotdesigns, Outdoor Research, Sennheiser.


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