I’ve always wanted to believe that you could get enormous advantage in life just by willing to be weirder than other people. And when I read about people like Amos Tversky (leave movies early! go jogging in your underwear! throw away your mail unopened!) it almost seems true. But sadly, I’ve come to accept that weirdness rarely pays large dividends.
But sometimes weirdness does pay. And when it does we must celebrate it. So here’s a humble case: When you buy something, I think you’d often be better off buying multiple copies of that thing.
For example: Say you’re at the supermarket, and something you often eat is on sale. What to do? Most people buy a bit more. But if the food isn’t perishable why not buy a lot more?
(There was a time when something was on sale I might buy the entire available stock. But there were a couple incidents where friends saw me do this and reacted with horror. I couldn’t make out if that was because they saw it as a defection against other shoppers or if it was just the strangeness of buying 23 cans of cannellini beans. Either way, I’m less aggressive now.)
Or even if something isn’t on sale—if you need to buy fuel for your car, you likely fill the entire tank. That way you don’t need to buy it as often, and you have less risk of running out. But doesn’t the same logic apply to mustard?
Restaurants. I’m a big fan of sharing food. Even if dish A is better than dish B, a mixture of A and B might be better than A alone. But many people don’t like to share, but still avoid ordering the same thing as others. Why?
Or even with sharing—I often go to a pizza place where one type is vastly better than all others. Depending on who I go with, there’s often a sentiment when ordering that we can’t just get multiple copies of the same pizza. So we get some other variety, and after the food comes all the good pizza disappears immediately and we spend the next hour gazing sadly at the inferior pizza.
Clothes. Say you find a shirt that looks great and fits you perfectly. Clothes don’t last forever! When it’s gone, it might not even be available anymore. Having redundant copies also allows you to wear the same shirt twice as many times without doing laundry. Especially if you dislike shopping, getting multiple copies of exactly the same shirt is a gift to your future self.
Also, I’m sure you’ve already heard, but you can buy many pairs of the same socks and then you don’t need to sort them.
Consumables. Or take sunscreen or pens or chapstick. Personally, I can’t keep track of these things and for years seemed to spend 20% of my waking hours wandering between rooms and rifling through different bags and jacket pockets trying to find them. Eventually, I solved the problem with brute force—I bought so damn many pens that I can leave them everywhere and I’ll still always find one quickly.
Things that aren’t normally consumables. Besides constantly misplacing sunglasses and prescription glasses, I have a unique talent for knocking them off my head at just the right time to fall into a closing door and be destroyed. So as with pens, I eventually bought so many that they organically turn up at the same rate they get lost. (This happens for me with around 5 pairs. If everyone did this, asking someone their number would be a good question for first dates.)
Of course, you’d probably only want to do this if you’re satisfied with buying inexpensive glasses online. Or you’re very wealthy. Or, if you like your single pair of expensive glasses, you can still supplement with redundant cheap versions, which will help out when you’re in a rush. You can apply the same philosophy to things like headphones, cables, etc.
Travel stuff. Do you pack the night before a trip, but then remind yourself to put your toothbrush in your bag the next morning after brushing? Stop that—just buy a redundant copy of these things and leave them in your suitcase all the time.
Why not do this?
Money. Stuff costs money. But I use up all my pens eventually. In the long-term, the cost is just whatever interest you might have earned if you had invested the extra pen money.
Of course, this works in reverse too: If inflation is running above interest rates, buying multiple copies saves you money—in 2022, cans of beans would have been a better investment than money in a bank.
This isn’t true for things that depreciate. A family can’t just buy two cars now rather than one car now and another one in 10 years. In general you need to make a judgment call about cost vs. convenience. My instinct, though, is that most people value their time highly enough that they would benefit from investing more for cheaper items. If you’re constantly walking between rooms to find your phone charger, why not get another one?
Space. If 23 cans of beans will take up half your storage space you probably shouldn’t buy them.
Changing tastes. If you buy two copies of a shirt, you might worry that after the first has worn out, it won’t be in style anymore, or you’ll be sick of it.
That’s valid, but sometimes people hesitate to buy 10 boxes of cereal because they’re worried that they’ll get bored of it before it’s gone. If that happens… just buy a different kind of cereal. Life is long and you’ll want to eat the original one soon enough. There’s no law that you manage your food inventory with a FIFO queue.
Simple weirdness. Buying 3 pairs of the same sunglasses just feels odd. I think this is the one to watch for. Often when something feels weird, it’s a signal for a real issue, like those above. But sometimes it’s just a feeling. If that’s all that’s holding you back, then be brave and eat the weirdness.
Unknown unknowns. When Cone Mills shut down and the era of American-made selvedge denim was ending, I bought two pairs of jeans from one of the final runs. I was sure this was smart. The jeans are timeless and would never be available again. But in retrospect, this might have been a mistake. I vastly underestimated these jeans’ will to survive. Five years later the first pair is only half broken in and I’m starting to think it will outlive me.