on estimating and measuring

A finally, really empty toothpaste tube got me thinking.

I think that tube lasted about ten days (I estimate) BEYOND when I was going to throw it out. In fact, a good four days (I estimate) before it was finally, really empty, I placed a truly full tube on the bathroom counter. And there the plump tube waited while, each day, we surprised ourselves when yet another pea-sized (I estimate) glob of toothpaste presented itself, sufficient to polish our pearly whites (I estimate on colors, too).

And so, the moral of that is this: You may not be able to squeeze blood out of a turnip, but you can most probably still squeeze a few days’ worth of toothpaste out of a tube that you think is empty. Which leads me to the thinking I was doing….

How do I measure up on measuring? How good am I at estimating quantities? Is the word “guesstimate” indicative of how inaccurate we really are? I started doing a little research on this and found that we are really not that accurate when we make guesses on quantities. We are so influenced by size and shape of container, preconceived notions, and even environmental factors such as music and conversation.

Some of the references I found were about food. Pierre Chandon, in a working paper from Insead, writes, “we have no overarching understanding of how people estimate food quantity, nor of the potential source of bias in these estimations, nor of the interventions that can improve the accuracy of food quantity estimations.” He reminds us that what is now called “supersizing” and the wide-spread practice of buying in bulk have been called primary contributors to our problem with obesity.

In reading the paper described above, I discovered that there is actually a field of research (in a specialty that I had never heard of called psychophysics) in which studies are done on quantity perceptionIt seems that the greater the quantity of food, the more we underestimate its quantity. Strangely, small quantities are likely to be overestimated.

With this in mind, I would like to challenge myself to begin using measures when using products around the house. For example, I have an old tablespoon in my can of homemade laundry detergent. The recipe stated that one tablespoon was the amount of detergent needed for a regular washload of ordinarily dirty laundry. (Whoa! Here are two more instances where I am estimating: size of washload and extent of its dirtiness.) But, at least I will know that I am not wasting detergent when I use the measuring spoon.

What else can I measure? Shampoo and conditioner? For those, I can unscrew the cap from the bottle and use it to measure. How many extra seconds would that really take? (Let me guess–oh, never mind!)

I think I will decide on an appropriate amount

Both on the left are TBSP; both on the right are tsp

of dried cranberries to MEASURE and add to the family oatmeal pot in the morning. Say, for example, 1/4 cup. If I keep estimating and I overestimate, I am just wasting resources and adding unnecessary calories to our diet.

If you look up Brian Wansink and his book called Mindless Eating, you’ll find that he cites studies indicating that people make over 250 decisions a day about food; 200 of them are made unconsciously! Also, I made a general online search and found that “they” estimate that 35,000 decisions are made daily by each of us! Which means that there is ample opportunity to improve my accuracy with estimating and measuring.

I am convinced that I ought to be more careful in making the decisions that involve estimating and measuring quantities. I once read a poem called “Ode to Integrity” and I remember a line of it: “I sing in praise of integrity, honest weights and full bushels.” (As an aside, in the Bible God speaks of being displeased with dishonest weights.) For the sake of being more thrifty, I believe that I should be doing more measuring and less estimating–and more squeezing of those toothpaste tubes!

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