I bought a copy of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World last week. The new 2012 edition, with the planet sketched out in map sheets so beautiful they rival high art.
I’ve dreamed of owning this enormous atlas as far back as high school. And in university I went to the library between classes to flip through its pages. But I could never afford to buy one back then. It’s nice to finally make those simple childhood dreams come true. And it made me think about the value of the things I surround myself with.
It’s not as though the atlases I’ve owned over the years weren’t good. I treasured each of them, and I wore out their pages plotting journeys and dreaming outrageous vagabond dreams. But they weren’t this atlas—this gold standard of cartography.
So why did I settle for less than the best for so many years?
It’s a common theme, and one we rarely stop to notice in our day to day lives.
How much of the stuff you surround yourself with barely works? How much did you buy because it was cheap? How much time and grief does that cost you each day?
I’ll give you an example. I used to have a digital alarm clock. I think my parents gave it to me. They must have, because it sat on my dresser all through high school, and it followed me to university.
Now there was nothing particularly wrong with this clock when it came to telling the time. It was functional, it didn’t take up too much space. And most of the time I never noticed it. Except when I had to switch off the alarm.
For some perverse reason known only to the so-called engineer who gave birth to this monster, the switch to silence the alarm was immediately beside the switch to reset the time. They were both small, fidgety sliding things. And they were both exactly the same size. There’s no way anyone could possibly tell the difference between these two switches in the dark, especially after being torn from a peaceful sleep.
I rarely ever got it right. Nine mornings out of ten, I hit the other switch instead, and the numbers immediately started spinning to reset the clock. Of course I had to get up immediately. If I allowed myself to wake gradually, as is my preference, I would have no idea what time it was. And so I woke up pissed off and swearing almost every day of my life.
Alarm clocks are cheap and easily replaceable. But I dragged that thing around for at least 10 years. I still don’t know why the hell I put up with it for so long.
I’ll give you another example. I threw the toaster out the window a couple years ago because it kept popping up without completing my toast. You know the deal. You press it down over and over again, and it keeps popping up within seconds each time—completely untoasted.
This behaviour had been going on for 6 months. Two weeks prior to that incident the same thing happened, and I dealt that fucker a solid right hook that sent it slamming into the refrigerator and entirely emptied it of crumbs. It worked okay for a little while longer. And then it finally pushed me too far.
The funny thing is, the front door was a deadbolt. So I actually had to stay mad long enough to find the keys, unlock the door, and then fire the toaster into the driveway. I walked back in, said, “We need a new toaster,” and began to eat my eggs. My wife didn’t say a word.
That sounds funny in hindsight, but my point is that I never stopped to ask myself why I accepted those substandard products, rather than cut my losses and move on.
How many things in your life do you “put up with”? And why?
Those small daily aggravations add up. They waste your time and raise your blood pressure. Throw them out and replace them with things that honour you. Belongings that add value to your life, and that give you joy when you interact with them—like my Times Atlas. Yes, items of better quality cost more. But you’ll come out ahead because you’ll have less stuff you don’t need.
Life is too short to fight with a toaster.