Friday, 7 May 2010

Sustainable Luxuries

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

Originally uploaded by FoundryParkInn

I've been thinking lately about luxury, indicators of wealth in our society, and other ways we spend money purely to gratify ourselves.  Of course, it's important to remember that even the very poor in the United States are wealthy by global measures.  But modern media and the advertising field have combined to portray an absurdly high standard of living that we're all meant to aspire to.  The fallacy of this consumerist lifestyle is already transparent to many of those who read here.  This modern conception of "wealth" does little to bring happiness to those who pursue it, nor is it ethically sound.  We'll leave aside the stark reality that the majority of the US population, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, is priced out of acquiring the material trappings of this illusory lifestyle.

Still, I think humans are hardwired to seek pleasure, comfort, and yes, even luxury items as markers of social status or just sensory gratification.  We like beautiful things, though our definitions of beauty proverbially vary.  Although advertisements manipulate our desires and convince us that material things will make us better, happier people, marketers didn't create those desires and impulses in the first place.  Not everyone wants a diamond necklace, or live-in servants.  But I suspect each of us has a weak spot for something.

This line of thought leads me to question what forms of luxury might be possible in a sustainable, low-energy future.  Being a foodie and a gardener, good food is the first and most obvious example that comes to my mind.  Good food is really, really important to me, and I live in an area blessed with good soil, a moderate climate, and plenty of water for growing my own food.  So I've been doing that.  But here's where the concept of "luxury" runs bang up against human nature.  We've put in the effort to produce and find excellent sources of high quality local foods.  We changed our habits of cooking and eating to use these foods.  And now, though we savor our meals and appreciate what we have, it's become almost a self-discipline to remain mindful of just how good our food is.  The vexing truth is, we now take it somewhat for granted that we have our own eggs and vegetables, and grass-fed meat and dairy.  Although we intellectually know this quality of food to be extraordinary, we often have to remind ourselves how well we eat.  It's no longer really a luxury in our minds, but an ordinary part of daily life.  The fact that we put in so much work to produce this food also makes it a hard to think of this good food as a marker of "wealth."

So what do I consider a luxury in my life?  Massage. If I could justify the expense, I'd have a massage every single day.  For me there's just nothing like having tired, sore, or tight muscles attended to by a talented masseuse or masseur.  Physical touch is a primal pleasure.  The chance to completely relax and take time out for myself feels positively decadent.  And I always sleep really well after a good massage.  If I have a one-hour massage more than once a month, I really feel like I'm indulging myself.  The nicest thing is, massage fits within my rubric of sustainable values.  When I pay a masseuse, I'm spending money within my community. Other than the fuel I use to travel to her place of business, there's not much consumption, nothing to throw away.  She works in a dimmed room, and most of the energy expended comes from her own muscles.  I run multiple errands on the way to my massage so that the car isn't being used for just one purpose. 

So what things are out of the ordinary luxuries to you?  I'm speaking here of things that feel to you like genuine treats or special indulgences.  Much as I love a good book or a great meal, they have become (for better or worse) staples of my daily life.  What goods or services make you feel indulged?  Are those things sustainable?  Is sustainability a relevant issue for you in the things you consider luxurious?  Or do you indulge so rarely that you make a sustainability exception for your luxuries?  What luxuries do you think could be part of a lower-energy future?


wardhouse said...

Kate, I am so glad to see this post. I am massage therapy student and will be ready to take my boards by the end of the year. I was concerned, that in this economy, this line of business would fall the wayside. You make a good point - the power of touch is a basic need. We all need positive touch. I thought that massage therapy would be a portable skill and one that can be used in barter.

The Younger Rachael said...

Dessert. I rarely make dessert, so when I do, its a real treat. Hubby is all about indulging in the moment, big chunks at a time... why wait? I'm all about savoring it, small piece by small piece. I think we are both valid in our approach, so we have learned to divide stuff somewhat evenly (he does get more, usually, which I'm good with) and eat at our own pace.

renee @ FIMBY said...

My handmade soap is daily luxury. I too would have massage every day if I could afford it.

Paula said...

Massage is definitely a luxury, and right now so is a trip to the chiropractor, which I miss since getting laid off.

Luxury for me is a solid night's sleep, which I only manage in a sleeping bag outside-isn't that crazy? But truly, it's the only time I put down my head and the next thing I know the sun is making shadows on the side of the tent. Otherwise, I sleep like crap. My husband described himself as 'an indoor cat' when we got married, so camping is totally out. But I think I might try sleeping on the deck this summer...good idea.

The occasional artisanal cheese is a luxury, especially the expensive local goat stuff. I think that's sustainable, because it helps keep keep a goatherd in business.

Travel overseas to somewhere I want to go is a total luxury (airports aside), but it isn't sustainable, and I fear it won't happen again for a very long time.

If you think about it though, especially compared with the folks in Haiti, everything we have is a luxury. Just being American is a luxury...

Lilith said...

Having organic fruit and vegies delivered to my door is a real luxury. It is sourced locally and it means only 1 vehicle on the road instead of all of us driving to the store. I do feel luxurious but also ethical and true to myself and the needs of my family when we buy organic. I order the seasonal boxes so it is a learning curve and personal challenge for me to use up every vegetable. I will admit to having to Google certain vegies because I've never seen them before and have no idea how to use them!

Laura @ Getting There said...

Interesting post. To me, a real luxury would be sleeping the night through without my toddler pulling out a handful of my hair. Seriously. :)

A luxury I am looking forward to this year is enjoying our home-grown produce!

Organic food at the store is also a luxury, one which I do indulge in although really we can't afford it.

I used to go to a massage therapist often when we had health coverage, and it was divine! Maybe I should go again sometime. Lord knows I have a few tight spots in this old back! :)

Michelle said...

for me, it's my clarisonic face system. I looked at that for a year, and just couldn't justify the expense, but the more I read and saw, I decided in the long run the expense would save a me alot in products purchased.

Boy was I right. I find I need much less in my beauty routine. It has a rechargeable battery that goes more than a week before I need to put it back on the charging base. Plus, my skin looks amazing, I have people asking me what I'm doing. It's like getting facials at home, which I put right up there with a massage. total luxury. :)

Great read today, Kate...thanks!

Steven said...

I have to agree, massage is right up there, I am able to barter carpenter work for my massages. My masseuse says she is busier than ever, she feels people need more comforting now in high anxiety times.

Do you barter your homegrown meats, dairy and veggies for massage?

Sense of Home said...

Massage does feel like a luxury, but it has actually saved me a lot of money. Last December I was ready to have surgery for carpal tunnel, but as a last ditch effort went to a massage therapist. The problem was actually tight muscles in my shoulder and after a couple treatments and stretches at home the pain went away. I now treat myself to this "luxury" once a month, guilt free.

My massage therapist is very knowledgeable, she recently suggested I take magnesium orotate for my knees (besides the calcium I was taking) and they now feel like someone oiled them. Gardening without pain, she is worth every penny.

Tracey McBride ~ Frugal Luxuries™ said...


Wonderful article and subject matter. It has long been my belief that luxury must be defined on an individual basis. In my own mind luxury is eating fresh picked blackberries from your own garden...a warm down comforter on a cold night...or an icy glass of organic lemonade on a hot afternoon (even better if the lemons were from your own tree :)!

Also, I agree with "Sense of Home". After Psych 101 class in college, I've been haunted by that terrible experiment from the 1930's they did on 100 orphan babies. Fifty were held and cuddled when fed. Fifty were fed from a bottle attached to wires...never touched. Tragically, all the babies who were not touched died. Touch is indeed a necessity to life!

Thank you so much for the thought provoking post.


Bethany said...

My husband and I are arguing about this one now. Housekeeping. I think that if we're both working we should put aside some money for a house keeper. Neither of us is enthusiastic about cleaning, not that we like a dirty house, and we're often tired at the end of the day. No, we don't really NEED housekeeping, but I really want it. And I can argue that I'm sharing the wealth. Last year I was unemployed, this year I make an okay salary. We adjusted our spending down to one income, now that we have more, why not spread our good fortune?

Stacy (Little Blue Hen) said...

I'm a little slow to respond, but I had to say ...

In much of the world, massage is seen as health care. Keeping your body in tune helps you sleep, aids digestion and circulation, helps avoid injury and keeps you healthy. In China where most people don't have cars, there are busy massage parlors and spas on every block. It's like in India where yoga is a spiritual way of life, not a yuppie workout.