“I think of you every time I buy soap,” says the young woman, a friend of my daughter’s from college. We are chatting at a wedding. “Triple-milled,” she continues. “Your daughter drilled this into my head.”
I’m not sure how to take this.
“Well, I’m glad some lessons have sunk in,” I say.
My son-in-law overhears this exchange and chimes in, “How about the time she said that if anyone ever smothers her with a pillow, she hopes it has a 400-thread-count, Egyptian cotton pillowcase.”
“I said that?”
He nods vigorously. I don’t recall that, but It sounds like the way I would want to go.
Though the soap-and-linen dialogue may seem trifling, it lies at the heart of a topic I’ve thought a lot about and written a lot about this past year —rightsizing. It’s the subject of my next book, which will come out in January.
Here I thought I was addressing my generation when exploring how to decide where to live, in what size house and with what stuff to create a rightsized life, but the younger generation is tuning in, too. Living a rightsized life means not only having just enough house in just the right place, but also furnishing it with the fewest, best-performing household goods possible.
The message applies to all ages.
That means choosing only those sheets, towels, soaps, knives, pans, wineglasses, furnishings and other household basics that excel at their jobs and that elevate your life. Owning fewer, higher quality items leads to living large while spending less. It’s the key to gracious, clutter-free, rightsized living.
Imagine no more sheets that don’t fit right and don’t breathe, no more towels that aren’t thirsty, no harsh bath soap that dissolves into the drain after three showers, no pans that scorch your food, no pillows that fall flat, no sofas that you avoid because they aren’t comfortable. Instead, everything you have is a pleasure to use and look at and live with. It was all money well and thoughtfully spent.
Unfortunately, many homes are filled with the opposite: subpar products that aren’t quite right, that don’t quite work, and that we continue to buy wrong, because we don’t always know how to buy them right. Then, because we feel guilty getting rid of these barely used items, they clog our cupboards, closets, and lives … unless we learn how to buy them right.
That was part of my aim when I wrote this book, because I love nice things but hate to waste money. I wanted to discover — and help you discover — the luxury of less. So I interviewed experts on the various staples needed to outfit every room of the house, from tea towels to sectionals, and teased out what makes some items exceptional and how to buy those everyday items right.
Here’s the SparkNotes version so you, too, can buy once and buy right.
Study up. Become a student of quality. Look beyond the brand, packaging hype and marketing ploys to discover the properties that make a product the best in its class. To pick great household products out from a noisy and confusing line-up, learn about the production process, the materials used to make them and when to choose one material over another: linen or cotton, crystal or glass, cast iron or stainless-steel? Understand why you should choose hand-knotted rugs over machine-made ones, triple vs. single-milled soap and the best chromium-nickel ratio in flatware (18/10).
Avoid cooking sets. Big box sets of pots and pans and knives seem like a bargain, but they contain filler pieces you will likely never use. Buy good pans and good knives one at a time.
Try before you buy. Before investing in a full set of sheets or towels, buy a pillowcase and a face towel. Use them, wash them and use them again to make sure you like the feel and function. You can also test drive area rugs by purchasing (and returning) the smallest size — 2 by 3 feet — and seeing how the colors and pattern look in your home before you invest in the 9 by 12.
Expect to spend a bit more initially. Don’t waste your money on subpar products. In the end they’re more expensive.
Purchase and purge with confidence. With a fundamental understanding of the properties that make basic household items work better, you will become a more discerning consumer, be able to confidently purge cupboards and closets, and surround yourself with quality not clutter.
Make this your mantra: A small amount of great beats a lot of mediocre.
Marni Jameson is the author of seven home and lifestyle books including “Rightsize Today to Create Your Best Life Tomorrow,” due out Jan. 2. Reach her at marnijameson.com.