A New Definition of Luxury

What does luxury mean to you? Wealth? Power? Possessions? Or... the ability to focus on what you really care about?

What does luxury mean to you? Wealth? Power? Possessions? Or... the ability to focus on what you really care about?

It was earlier this year that I really noticed, in a personal way, that buying things didn't feel like a luxury any more. 

It was just after the holidays, about 10 months ago, when a friend introduced me to a lovely store that sells vegan, organic, sparkly makeup that I (still) love - Lush is the store, in case you're curious, and they don't test their products on animals, for a wonder. After my first visit, I acquired enough eyeliner to last me until now (and probably through the end of next year, at this rate). I enjoyed shopping there. The people were very friendly and helpful. But when I went home, in spite of the sparkly delight of the eyeliner, something didn't feel right.

So I thought about it.

I thought about how much I would enjoy the fun things I'd bought. (I still am enjoying them.) I thought about the experience, the people, the help they had offered in finding colors I liked. They were perfect models of friendliness, helpfulness, everything you could want in customer service. Incredibly personable. So... why did I feel so dissatisfied? 

Over the next few days, I realized that in some way, buying things I didn't really need, no matter how much I would enjoy them, felt like a trick. It felt like I had lost something, not gained it. 

I don't know if the reason I felt this way is out of the thrift that our grandparents knew intimately during the Depression. I don't know if it's years of training myself not to buy things I didn't need, because time is money and I want time for myself and my family, and spending money feels like it takes time away from my family. I don't know if this is a feeling that everyone has after going shopping, and they keep the feeling a secret because it feels like a betrayal of our consumer-driven society to mention - hey, that doesn't actually feel good. Why are we going shopping again?

I may not know the exact combination of reasons I felt dissatisfied. There are many. But I did find something that helped me feel better. And if you sometimes feel oppressed by a perceived need to buy things, I'll share in case it might help you too.

The day I realized how dissatisfied buying extraneous things made me feel, I jumped into an experiment. My goal was to not purchase any material goods for one month, starting that day, except for food. I was lucky in that I happened to have a big enough stash of toilet paper and toothpaste to get me through the month with plenty to spare. I didn't have a plan in place for what I would do if I ran out of basic necessities, other than vague thoughts of picking up a few extra napkins from a restaurant somewhere.

The only things I ended up spending money on were food and gas, that month. And I had a fantastic time. I went through old clothes and got rid of some I haven't worn in years, and repurposed others (mostly into bags). I used up old bottles of cleaning supplies or got rid of them instead of giving up and buying new ones. I spent time watching my favorite movies at home with friends, and going out for more walks, and getting into fantastic conversations. I had absolute freedom every time I walked into a store, because I had already decided that I wouldn't buy anything - and oddly, that freed me to appreciate everything completely free of pressure to trade my time for possessing it.

I called that month luxury month, and it was one of the most relaxing months I've experienced in my adult life. After 30 days, I felt so comfortable not buying anything that I kept it going for almost another month (until I needed shampoo). For almost 4 months in 2013, spread out through the year, I didn't buy a single material good. It felt fantastic, better even than my early experiments of buying only used stuff, which I've made into a remarkably fun lifestyle choice at this point. Next year I'm planning to aim for 6 months of that kind of luxury.

Coming up on Black Friday as we are, I'd like to suggest an alternative way to spend the morning after Thanksgiving this year. Why not give yourself and your family or dear friends the immense gift of a cozy morning making breakfast together, reading aloud or watching really good movies, catching up and relaxing, playing a game? Why not step back for a week, or a month, from the cycle of spending money, and focus instead on spending good time with the people you care about?

For me, the idea of the luxury month cuts straight to the beating heart of what I live for. I want to have a good life full of creativity and satisfaction, find ways to help other people do the same, cultivate strong relationships, and have a good amount of fun along the way. We all need to make money to keep the day-to-day living part possible, unless we're in that lucky 1%. But I don't want to make money just so I can stand outside big box stores at 5 in the morning trying to spend it. For me, it's the conversations, the connections, the friendships, and the loves that make everything else worthwhile. And this year, those connections are exactly what I'll be focusing on during Black Friday. 

May you find a definition of luxury that works for you. I'd love to hear about your reactions to this kind of experiment. And if you're inspired to try a luxury month yourself, I'd love to hear about what challenges and successes you experience. Thanks for reading!