By Marni Jameson
“Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.”
― Coco Chanel
I don’t think of myself as a snob. My husband thinks otherwise.
“I’m just discerning,” I said, after he called me out when I turned up my nose at his suggestion that we buy a ready-made sectional, which I am not doing.
“No, you’re a snoot,” DC said.
“What am I a snoot about?” I see myself as pretty down to earth, practical even.
“What are you not a snoot about?” And the torrent begins: “Your coffee, your cloth napkins, your handbags, your make-up, your clothes, your chocolate, your luggage, your steak, and God forbid you have to eat from a buffet, oh, and your chichi cheese, and your yoga class.” He is just winding up.
“All right, all right,” I put my palm up to slow the barrage. I look down and confess to my Tory Burch sandals (which I got at a consignment store), “I am bad, but I cannot help being me.”
Then I got to wondering, how did I, the product of a very middle-class family, public schools, trailer vacations, and casserole dinners, get so fussy? When did some of the finer things in life go from being for other people to I can’t live without them?
Awareness is the culprit. Once you discover the difference between polyester sheets and pure cotton, or a thick-rimmed wine glass and a thin-rimmed one, or grocery store bar soap and triple-milled, anything less feels like a demotion. And while ignorance may be blissfully cheaper, appreciating the finer things in life does not always come at a price.
Luxury gets a bad rap.
A financial investor friend once said to me, “Cost is only an issue in the absence of value.” It took me a few weeks to figure out what she meant, but now I know. You’re not overpaying if it’s worth it.
As an exercise in personal redemption, I made a list of luxuries that I live by at home that are either free, or don’t cost much. I share here a baker’s dozen ways for the frugal to live more luxuriously:
- Use cloth napkins. I haven’t bought paper napkins in 20 years. Cloth napkins feel nicer and are prettier. Why, wouldn’t you use them instead?
- Upgrade your home’s coffee station. Figure out how to brew your perfect cup at home. Then buy whatever you need to make it: a French press, a coffee grinder, a milk frother, an expresso machine. Indulge at home and spend less at the store with the green mermaid.
- Buy less, buy better. A small amount of great, beats a lot of mediocre. I’d rather have a small scoop of intensely flavored gelato than a mound of average ice cream. I once heard a woman say, “I am too poor to buy cheap clothes. I need them to last, so I save up.” That’s the idea.
- Enrich your mind. Read books, watch films, and look at magazines that broaden your world and take you places. Avoid those that cheapen you.
- Get fresh flowers regularly. Fakes don’t cut it. Sorry. A bunch of fresh cut daisies is so cheap. A while ago, I wrote about a centerpiece of fresh orchid plants I had made for a special event. The arrangement set me back $100, but the orchids held their blooms for three months. Now, every three months, I replace them. It’s a splurge, but at $1 a day, that’s a lot less than your daily latte, which you’re not buying anymore, right?
- Surround yourself with great people. Friends are a luxury that cost nothing. See them often. Invite them over. Seek out new ones, especially if they raise you up.
- Go slower. Leisure is luxury. Rushing is not pretty. Staying in the moment is a gift you can give freely that others deserve. I’m working on this.
- Be clean. When my girls were little, and I worked, we had an older nanny housekeeper. She came from a very poor life in Mexico, where growing up she only had two sets of clothes. She taught me this: “You can be poor, but you don’t have to be dirty.” Clean is a luxury everyone can afford.
- Tailor your clothes. A mid-priced garment tailored to fit you to a T will look more expensive, and feel better, than ill-fitting designer duds that don’t.
- Purge what’s not working. Get rid of clothes that only make you look and feel so so, and household items that you don’t use or love that are just taking up space. Surrounding yourself with only what you love and enjoy is the ultimate luxury.
- Shop consignment. When I needed a dress for a gala recently, I nabbed a designer gown that retailed for $1000 new, for $100 at a local consignment store. The shop owner told me that the woman who consigned it wore it once to the governor’s inaugural ball, and couldn’t be seen in it again. But I could! Consignment furniture stores also often have high-end furniture that I could not afford new.
- Grow your own herbs. Full disclosure: I haven’t done this successfully yet. But growing your own herbs is a practically free luxury, and fresher and more convenient than buying herbs at the store. Plus you sound cool when you tell guests that the mint in their julep came from your garden.
- Find your style. When you know what works, on you and in your home, you can easily say no to everything else. That right there will save you a bundle and help you live a more refined, and beautiful life.
My friends, necessary luxury is not an oxymoron.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.