After two months in Europe walking daily to the local market to pick up a few groceries and walking home with them in my arms, something felt vaguely wrong (and maybe even a little obscene) about driving to Costco and loading my cart with giant-sized packages of, well, everything and driving them home in my SUV.
Costco aside, I nearly always choose quality over quantity. A smaller portion of gourmet cuisine over an all-you-can-eat buffet is a no-brainer. A 5-mile walk on a beautiful trail is way more appealing to me than running a marathon. A small gathering of loved ones instead of a giant group mixer seems far more fulfilling. A small wardrobe of well-made pieces makes so much sense to me than an overstuffed closet full of trendy pieces that will quickly go out of style. And quality time is my love language.
But my dad told me a story that sheds a different light. He said one of his art-professor colleagues decided to grade one class purely on quantity. He literally had them draw and paint like crazy with no evaluation whatsoever beyond the sheer weight of their stack of work at the end of the semester. In the other class he assigned just one project to work on and perfect all semester along.
Amazingly, at the end of the semester, the quantity group far outweighed the single-project group not just in pounds but also in terms of quality. Quantity actually produced quality.
To underscore this theory, take Britain's greatest painter J.M.W. Turner. He donated all his work in a bequest to the Tate Britain museum in London. I loved wandering through the museum's entire wing dedicated to his work, marveling at masterpiece after masterpiece. But I was completely blown away when I discovered they have another 30,000 of his originals in the Prints and Drawings room that they don't even have room to display. That was not a typo. There are 30,000 more. No wonder he was and is Britain's best.
I started thinking about other aspects of my life where insisting on quality was hampering my productivity. Two days before my daughter's wedding, my mother-in-law came down to help with some ironing.
She was amazing. She burned through our pile of clothes so fast I could hardly believe it. When I looked at some of the pieces, there were little spots that were missed, a misplaced crease here or there, but the end result was more than a dozen pieces hanging on hangers and ready to go. A feat that might have taken me the entire day or burned me out altogether, she had accomplished in under three hours!
I also thought about our family's study abroad in Europe. We were together 24/7 for two straight months. It sounds like a bit much - especially to our teenage son, I'm sure - and, yet, this quantity of time together granted us some extraordinary, life-changing quality time. I also realized that the quantity of time we spent in London gave us the opportunity to live like locals and see parts of the country most tourists would never have time to explore with that kind of depth.
I remembered other opportunities when spending a lot of time with the kids - long car rides or working together on a big project, for example - afforded us some quality teaching moments.
I'll still choose the smaller portion of beautifully prepared food over the big buffet every time. And while I may pick up a large quantity of T-shirts at Target, I'd rather have two nice dresses than a bunch of cheap ones. But in cases of my work, time with loved ones and other similar scenarios, I'm giving a little more credence and respect to the magic of quantity and how it creates quality ... almost without even trying.
Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, and adjunct faculty at UVU. She co-hosts a popular podcast for women: "The Living Room" (bit.ly/TLRSHowiTunes) and spends every day possible exploring mountain trails. Contact her at