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 . . .
Oh, how lovely this list is! Beauty genuinely makes the difference. I live in a small 450sf cottage along the shore, in a borough of NYC, with my dog and my son. It’s tiny, but feels magical. I believe it’s all the little touches. Entering the house through a walkway lined with lavender, and the mint and other herbs surrounding the tiny deck. It’s the fresh flowers in the sitting room each week, the art on the walls. It’s indulging in my passion for scarves, and a few pieces of select jewelry, which have the distinct feeling they’ve been crafted by fairies. And it’s in the books, the stories I can fill my life with, day in and out. It’s in the sunrise walk I take with my dog each morning, which begins with a stroll through a wooded park, and ends at the ocean’s edge.
The only “sweet” that enters the home is dark chocolate, unless it’s to celebrate a birthday. Rather, when we want that special something, we stroll to one of the nearby cafes, and enjoy an espresso and a fresh made mini pastry. That decadence, though? Feels regal.
You’re completely right. It’s interesting, how achingly beautiful life can be, when one has all the little extras that matter most.
Thank you for sharing.
Laura, that sounds absolutely wonderful. Very rich and luxurious! 🙂
Luxury can mean different things to different people. The fact that I can stay home with my children and swim in the pool at one o’clock in the afternoon and then eat cupcakes is luxurious for me. Your life seems luxurious to me because you write a blog, teach and you seem to have an awareness of what really matters to you. You represent class and culture yet you are so grounded. That’s why I follow your blog, I like your style and grace.
Thank you, Amber! And you’re right, we all define luxury in our own ways . . .
I like your approach of taking delight in small luxuries. 🙂 Two of my luxuries are books (but they are more of a necessity, as you say) and going to the cinema every couple of months. I love watching movies on a big screen and I’m always careful about planning the movie choice: because I don’t go very often, it’s disappointing if the movie is less than I anticipated. I’m looking forward to the new adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd next.
I hope that one’s good! I’m always a little worried with Hardy, because it’s Hardy and he can leave me so very glum about life . . .
‘Tis true – Hardy can be depressing! I studied Tess of the d’Urbervilles in high school….such a heartbreaking novel.
This production of Far From the Madding Crowd looks beautifully filmed and I like Carey Mulligan as an actress. I always enjoy costume dramas when they are done well.
I dream of having a real pantry in my kitchen. My little condo was a galley kitchen, with excellent appliances and nice countertops, but when the builders put it up, the “storage space” nearby was made into a broom/coat closet. Not a pantry. So i have dry goods ferreted away in my tall cabinets, rubbing elbows with my dinnerware.
To have a pantry would be luxury of the most blissful variety.
Oh, I sympathize! Pantries are wonderful. 🙂
You are so inspiring! I definitely feel that sense of lack now, and hope for a day I could live in a city with lots of do, a couple of friends, a comfy house and some money for the little extras. Your post made my week as always! ❤
Lots of things to do*
Thank you so much, Ifeoma, and the best of luck to you! I hope you get all that . . . 🙂
I love what you’re saying here. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking if I could just have more, more, more and it’s such a trap. Gratitude for what I already have in my life is something I have to continually practice.
Except when it comes to my wife and two sons. That is one area where I feel so rich. I’m approaching 20 years with a woman who I grow closer to every year. I have two teenage sons who actually like doing things with me and who will give me hugs…sometimes for no reason at all. I took them to a concert over the weekend and at one point I was standing there, flanked by them, one taller than me, one soon to be, and all I could think was how nothing could be finer than watching them grow into fine young men and how lucky I am.
Eric, that sounds lovely, and a lot to be grateful for! 🙂
Hey, I was about to write a post for my blog on working hard to achieve the luxurious life and I came across this,I know I won’t be able to write this good but this is so inspiring 🙂
It’s really a great post. I just love this article. In my opinion, luxurious doesn’t mean expensive. It can be a moment, it can be a walk on the beach, it could be a kiss from your child, or it could be a beautiful picture frame that reminds you of an awe-inspiring moment, a special fragrance, or anything that makes your heart melt. Know that luxury doesn’t necessarily have to mean expensive.
If you think you deserve a luxurious life, it is perfectly fine to work your way to achieving it. Hence, you should not make your present suffer or get compromised.Thanks a lot.