Life’s Little Luxuries

IMG_1988‘Luxury’, ‘deluxe’ and ‘exclusive’ must be amongst the most debased words in the English language.  For heaven’s sakes, even Lidl labels some of its food products ‘luxury’.

What’s worse we’ve been encouraged to expect ‘luxury as standard’, whatever that means. It’s all part of the general trend towards getting us to consume, constantly, whether we want stuff or not.

If you need a good illustration of what over-consumption means you only need to stop to consider the obesity epidemic.  But that’s simply the most arresting visual image of a trend that has populated the car parks of our villages with huge ‘off road’ vehicles (that spend their entire lives on our roads), over-shopping for consumer goods, houses that are too large, energy we waste by leaving on the lights or heating the house to tropical temperatures, the one third of food we buy that the government estimates we simply throw out.

But reducing the amount of stuff we consume doesn’t mean we can’t have any nice things.  Perhaps we simply need to think about stuff differently and replace quantity with quality.  Human ingenuity and creativity aren’t finite resources.  We can take a piece of wood and burn it or we can take that piece of wood and carve it.  The more time, effort and skill are invested in it the more precious that piece of wood becomes.

Our ancestors understood something of this.  The ancients were buried with a few of their most treasured posessions, the things they carried with them through life and which gave them pleasure.

IMG_2001I like the things I use every day to give me pleasure.  They can be pretty inconsequential; a decent shaving brush and good shaving soap for instance.  They can become valued beyond any intrinsic value they may have to anyone else – I’ve had the same mugs for twenty years.  I use them daily.  They’re familiar, constant, comforting.  At the time they seemed a bit of an indulgence – they were six or seven quid each, or looked at another way, about 30p per year of pleasure I’ve had from them.

I like decent shoes.  I simply don’t want a cupboard full of them, just enough so I can give a pair a rest for a while so their leather can recover.  I bought a pair of Cheaney seconds at a market in London about 15 years ago and while I was in Malaysia I wore them to death.  They took a lot of punishment even though they weren’t looked after.

So lately I bought another couple of pairs, from the Cheaney factory shop, and this time got some shoe trees. I reckon I’ll get 10-15 years out of a pair of decent English shoes if they’re looked after.  It’s simple maths.  A pair of shoes from Camper costs between £75 and £110 and I’d expect them to last 3-4 years.  A pair of Cheaneys cost about double that.

And it’s not always the big things. I was running low on shaving soap. The previous bar had lasted me about 3 years and it’s something I use often. A new refil from George Trumper in St. James was £11 but that’ll be less than £5 per year. People spend way more than that on tins of chemical foam and this stuff is lovely. It’s a modest luxury but quite enough to create the semblance of indulgence.

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4 Responses to Life’s Little Luxuries

  1. This makes an awful lot of sense to me. Not the shoes; I used to have wonderful English shoes, Trickers and the like, but now I wear Campers because I have a special insole. But that’s another story. I think often we forget too that price inflation has been going on so that things that seem like luxuries today really aren’t. I recently treated myself to a pair of Huit jeans, thinking they were staggeringly expensive, but figured out that with inflation they cost less than the Levi’s I first bought 40 years ago. As for shaving soap, I’m lucky enough to be able to buy Proraso, which is both inexpensive and very good. And I still have the Kent brush I was given 20 years ago or more. On that front, I went crazy and bought a Merkur razor. Bliss.

  2. jenni says:

    A couple of years ago as a single Mother I would have thought myself using luxuries if I could have afforded Tesco own brand! I suppose it is all relative to one’s income. I live in hope that I shall one day be the next J.K Rowling, oh there flies a pig.

  3. Andy lancaster. says:

    I too really understand this. The clue is perhaps in the phrase “Little ” Luxuries.
    For me an old stoneware mug, perhaps 25 years old! comes out on special occasions. Or particularly several books I love. As a Sussex boy in Yorkshire i have had more than my moneys worth from Adam Nicholson`s beautiful, “Perch Hill”, Dirk Bogarde`s “Great Meadow”, and Bob Copper`s, “A song for every Season.” And there’s my bike. Now 5 years old, and the best £250.00 I have spent in my life.Doesn’t something in us crave simplicity and and familiarity?
    Or perhaps I am just getting old!! Thanks for the post, Andy.

  4. Thanks all for your thoughts. Jenni’s right when she says luxury is relative. When I left university and was really short of money I thought being affluent would mean being able to buy a vegeburger from an indy burger place nearby whenever I wanted one. Years later I went in and the burgers didn’t seem much more expensive than they had been fifteen years earlier – while I had rather more money.
    At the same time there’s a certain freedom and joy that comes from simplicity. An old girlfriend used to say ‘we don’t own our possessions, our possessions own us’ and she had a point.

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