I was thinking recently about how luxurious my life feels, nowadays.
And I wondered why it felt that way. After all, I’m a university lecturer. It’s not as though I make a lot of money, or spend a lot of money on things I don’t need. When I was a lawyer, I met plenty of people who lived in ways we usually think of as luxurious. They had enormous houses — often for only two or three or four people to live in. They had expensive clothes, expensive cars. They flew to exotic places on vacation. And yet I didn’t think of their lives as particularly luxurious. Their lives seemed, rather, empty and cold — like their large houses. Clichéd, like their vacations.
I certainly didn’t grow up with a sense of luxury. I grew up with a sense of lack, of the things I couldn’t have — things that often my friends could have. There was an awful lot I wanted, back then. So why, I wondered, do I have a sense of luxury now? To try and make sense of it, I listed the things that make me feel luxurious.
1. I have four closets and a storage space. It’s ridiculous, really. In one of the most expensive rental markets in the country, I somehow managed to find a one-bedroom apartment with four closets. And a storage space. My hypothesis is that luxury is having everything you need, plus a little extra. A lot extra doesn’t do anything, doesn’t increase your sense of luxuriousness. I have all the storage space I need, plus a little. And one of them is a linen closet! There are some things that are incredibly useful but feel like extras, nowadays. We wish for them but don’t expect to get them. A linen closet is one of those things. (I also have very high ceilings. In a small apartment, ten foot ceilings make you feel as though you have room — to breathe, to grow, to become.)
2. I have enough clothes to go two whole weeks without doing laundry. That’s a long time! I don’t think I ever had that, when I was a student. I was always trying to find quarters, just so I could have something to wear the next week . . . (I still feel guilty spending quarters — I default to saving quarters for laundry, even when I don’t need to.) And I have more clothes, probably, than I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, they all fit in two closets and a chest of drawers, so it’s not as though I’m becoming a fashionista or anything. It’s just that eventually (this took a very long time) I found out what sorts of clothes I loved, what suited me. So I stopped making mistakes. Also, I learned how to shop at thrift stores . . .
3. I have extra household items. I mean, if I run out of light bulbs, I have extra light bulbs! (In the linen closet.) I never had that, as a student. When I ran out of something, I didn’t have more. I had to check and see if I could afford light bulbs that week. There’s something so satisfying about having a stash of things: light bulbs, paint, glue. Plenty of trash bags. Nails to hang pictures with. And a whole stack of soap. (Also, an extra tube of toothpaste. I find the toothpaste is key.) And, just in case my watch stops, I have an extra watch!
4. I have plenty of books, but also bookshelves to put them in. Books are a necessity, of course. What’s a luxury is having specifically the ones I want to have, the ones I really need and treasure. I’ve given myself permission to give away books that don’t mean much to me, books that feel temporary. The latest bestsellers, that I read specifically to learn how they became bestsellers, for example. Gone Girl went. But I have almost everything Isak Dinesen wrote, and Virginia Woolf, and Willa Cather. I’m surrounded by the writers who mean most to me. And I have enough shelves. It’s such a luxury, having enough shelves!
5. I can buy small treats. An expensive bar of chocolate. Bubble bath (the good kind). Even sometimes an antique ring I want from Etsy, or a print that I can frame and put up on my wall. Small things, but they make me feel as though I can gather things around me, things that are delicious or beautiful. I can make them part of my life. And they change my life. I don’t agree with people who say that you should spend money on experiences rather than things. Experiences are wonderful, but I love the ring I bought, silver with marcasites, shaped like a flower. I had it resized so that it fit me perfectly, and now I wear it almost every day. That means a much to me as having gone to the ballet, or traveling in Europe. It’s a small part of my everyday life.
6. I live in a city where I can go to libraries and museums, anytime. Where the streets are lively, and there are bookstores and cafés, and a river to walk beside. There really isn’t much excuse for being bored here, because there’s so much to do. And although technically the city doesn’t belong to me, it sort of does. I don’t own Monets, but I have a museum membership, so I can walk into a room with my Monets anytime I want to. Oh, there are all sorts of annoying things about the city! Sure. Sometimes the crowds, and the expense of it. But there are wonderful things about it as well, so as long as I’m living here, I’m going to experience them all.
7. I have enough money to buy beautiful things. Like that ring I mentioned, but also flowers every week. And the next-to-cheapest tickets to the ballet. (It makes a difference in your view, whether you buy the cheapest or the next-to-cheapest. And there can be quite a big difference in price.) More than anything else, beauty gives you a sense of luxury. I think that was the main thing missing in my life, when I was growing up. I come from a practical family, and I didn’t want to be practical. I wanted to be romantic. I painted my walls pale pink, and had curtains over my bed. It’s a luxury, now, to be able to indulge my taste for beauty, for romance.
(If you want to feel a sense of luxury, that’s what I would advise: go for the small extras. You don’t need the large extras, not really. Just the small ones. A little more room, a little more beauty, a little more chocolate . . .)
That’s quite a list, I think. There are certainly things I still want in my life. (I have a list of them — I’m working on that list!) But when I sit in my living room in the morning, with sunlight streaming through the window, I realize how lucky I am. What luxuries I have now, that I didn’t have when I was younger. For so long, I approached life out of that sense of lack — I didn’t expect to have more than enough. (I barely expected to have enough.) And now I’m rich in soap, and light bulbs, and chocolate. And closets.
Here are a couple of my recent luxuries:
A cheesecake cupcake at the local cupcake shop, Sweet. It’s like a mini-cheesecake. With frosting.
Hokusai’s The Wave, which I photographed at the museum. It’s currently having a huge Hokusai exhibit. I want to go back once the semester is over.
My brand new armchair, bought for $27 at Goodwill. Well, brand new old armchair. It just needs to be cleaned, and doesn’t it fit perfectly, right there? I’ll sit in it when I want to have tea, in the sunlight . . .