Luxury is not the same as conspicuous consumption, no matter what the big brands tell you
Over the last six months, I have probably attended more 'Luxury Conferences' than I have had cooked breakfasts. And at each of these, no matter who the speakers or the attendees, the message seems to be the same. Luxury equals money. Actually make that big money. As in Big Money.
So, we have sundry examples thrown at us to illustrate the point. There is the iconic Hermes handbag with a waiting list as long as Jane Birkin's legs. There is the perfectly-cut yellow diamond with no visible inclusions, available exclusively from Graff. There is the private jet which comes with a jacuzzi and power shower, and a four-poster bed in the master bedroom (and if you don't like the fixtures you can always have them customised to your taste). And so on and on and on.
I watch goggle-eyed at all the high-value items projected on the big screen. But no matter how hard I try, I can't quiet the little voice inside my head that tells me that this is just conspicuous consumption. Luxury is an entirely different animal. And while it helps to have money to feed it, there is more to it than just filthy lucre. Or, at least, that's the way I see it.
So what, you ask, is my definition of luxury. Well, it it hard to pin down in a sentence or two, so I will do the next best thing. I'll give you a few examples of what qualifies as luxury in my book (and that's an actual hardback book not one of those Kindle editions).
* Being time-rich: There is nothing quite as luxurious than having all the time in the world to achieve what you want to. That feeling when your entire life lies before you like a blank slate, waiting for you to fill it with a wealth of experiences. Alas, like youth itself, this luxury is wasted on the young. But if you are still on the right side of 50, don't forget to luxuriate in this sense of being time-rich. And if your daily life is too fraught to allow you to do so, then rope off some vacation time, where you are not scheduled to within an inch of your life. Laze away the morning, have a leisurely afternoon, relax in the evening, read late into the night. Rinse and repeat.
* Getting enough sleep: This is the one luxury that I simply cannot do without. Not because I am a spoilt so-and-so. But because if I don't clock up seven hours or more I am a complete wreck the next day. I can barely keep my eyes open, I can't think, and I most certainly cannot write. Sadly, we don't recognise sleep as a luxury until we run up a significant sleep-deficit. Ask any mother of kids below the age of one what she would rather have: a Kelly bag or a week of unbroken, eight-hour sleep, and you will discover just how much of a luxury sleep is. (Now, even more so, given that medical research has it that sleep deficit can lead to serious illnesses and even reduce mortality.)
* Room to breathe: Space is not just the final frontier; it is also the biggest luxury of all in our over-crowded cities and our increasingly tiny apartments. Just check with any teenager who fantasises about having her own room, where she can hang out with her friends, while a sign outside the door growls: "No entry for adults". Or the young, newly-married couple who have to live with their parents because they can't afford a home of their own. Or even the ageing parents who have to move in with their kids because they can't look after themselves. If they could have one thing in the world, they would ask for a space that was entirely their own.
* The freedom to make your own life choices: It's not just the big stuff like where to live, what to study, how to invest your money, whom to marry, where to work, that matters. It's also the small stuff like what to eat for breakfast (or to skip it entirely), what colour to paint the walls, where to go on holiday, what to watch on TV. The feeling of being empowered to do all (or most) of the above is what luxury is all about.
* The ability to say no: It may not seem like a big deal to those who have the freedom of choice, but it is nothing less than a luxury for those who don't. If you have to tow the line laid down by your boss, if you have to marry the man your parents chose for you, if you have to have sex whenever your partner desires it no matter how you feel, then the ability to say no seems like the best gift ever.
* Experiences rather than purchases: Given a choice between buying a piece of jewellery and going on holiday to a hitherto-unknown destination, I would always choose the experience over the purchase. Things don't add value to your life or, for that matter, bring you closer to your loved ones. But shared experiences do that every single time. And that, to my mind, is the biggest luxury of all.