A Cautionary Tale about Q-Tips

My mother called me the other day to tell me that she had 750 Q-tips and was hoping I would agree to take some of them off her hands.

Here’s how it happened.  My mother noticed  that the package of 300 Q-tips that she purchased at Walgreen’s quite a number of years ago was almost empty.   However, she was determined to buy a smaller package, since she and my dad use them up so slowly, and, like most of us in New York City, have limited storage space.

She went to Walgreen’s and saw a package of 500.  Too big!  At CVS, she found a package in the cosmetics area — 100 Q-tips for $ 2.49.  Perfect!

But they had Q-tips over in the skin care aisle as well, and there she found the package of 750 Q-tips.  (It was supposed to be a package of 500 but was marked “Get 50% more at the same price!”)  The price for this bounty?  $ 3.49.

My mother was born in 1930 and grew up during the Great Depression.   Every fiber of her being cried out, “You can’t buy 100 Q-tips for $ 2.49 when you can get 750 for only a dollar more!!!”

She justified this over-abundance by thinking, “I have two daughters, and a granddaughter who is about to leave for college.  Surely someone in my family must need Q-tips!”  So she bought them.

Once she got home, she called my sister and asked if she needed any Q-tips.  My sister (who did NOT grow up in the Great Depression but fully subscribes to my mother’s views on bargains) said no because she already had a package of 500!   And her daughter who was about to leave for college?  She was already armed with 300 Q-tips of her own.

Next she called me.   “Can you use any Q-tips?”  Once I heard her tale, I agreed to take 200.   (This will last us many years, as we don’t use them much either).

But that’s not the end of it.  When she went to put the new package away in her medicine cabinet, she discovered that  it was too large and would not fit.  She ended up loading some of the Q-tips into the old package, and putting the new package into a closet.

So why did I find this tale so amusing?  Let me count the ways.

  1. My mother spent a dollar more than she needed to, in order to get something she didn’t want.
  2. My mother then invested her precious time, first by calling the members of her family to try to give away what she had bought, then by counting out 200 Q-tips to give me.
  3. My mother ended up with a storage problem.

As a Professional Organizer, I see this kind of behavior all the time.  Space and time are two of our most precious limited resources.   When we overfill either one of them needlessly, we feel tense, cranky, overwhelmed, defeated.

Stores like Costco and Sam’s Club inspire us to buy large quantities that then overwhelm our homes.   Every available nook and cranny ends up stuffed with stuff we aren’t using and won’t for quite a while.  If you buy too far in advance, you risk forgetting what you have tucked away in the back of the closet or under the bed, and you end up buying more.  Buying just what you need, plus a little extra, will often end up saving you money in the long run.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go figure out some creative ways of using Q-tips.

  1. "A"
    Aug 27, 2010

    And if your mother is like me, you can add a 4th bullet point to your list: I’d forget that box in the closet. In 2 years when my primary supply is gone, I’ll go out and buy a new box of Q-tips.

  2. Leslie
    Aug 27, 2010

    Haha, read this post out loud to my husband. We’re both on a one-a-day q-tip habit and would have happily shared in your mother’s bounty!

  3. […] mother purchasing a value-pack of Q-Tips simply because she found the unit price irresistible (see A Cautionary Tale about Q-Tips).   She knew that she didn’t need that many, and she tried to rationalize the purchase by […]

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