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.
I 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.