For many, the definition of luxury is excess: The more you have, the richer you feel.
But if opening your closet or garage door makes you feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff — much of which you didn’t even realize you own — it might be time to adopt the “less is more” approach to life.
Decluttering and simplifying will result in more free time and less stress, not to mention more money in the bank. What could be more luxurious than that?
The key to living luxuriously for less is to focus on quality over quantity. By learning to appreciate well-made items, you won’t feel deprived and the siren call of “new and improved” will be easier to tune out — or at least to tone down.
“We do have an obsession with wanting new things and wanting them often,” says Jennifer L. Scott, author of “At Home With Madame Chic” and lifestyle blogger at the Daily Connoisseur.
“The trouble with that is we keep purchasing new things and barely appreciate them before we go on to the next,” she adds. “We’re on this roller coaster of constantly buying, trying to fill a void and never being satisfied.”
Focusing on the luxury of quality over quantity means you’ll spend more on each item and have fewer possessions. The upside is that these more expensive items will last longer, even if the initial outlay to buy them is high.
“Everything you buy should be the highest quality you can afford,” says Scott, adding that buyers need to examine their personal financial situation carefully before making that determination.
“What I can afford might not be the same as someone else and you have to be brutally honest,” she says. “I never advocate buying anything you can’t afford because you won’t enjoy the item if you’ve had to go into debt for it.”
Scott doesn’t pay top dollar for everything, but will spend more money on items she expects to use often and for a long time. “For example, I might buy a handbag every two years, so I want it to be the highest quality I can afford,” she says. “Coats and shoes are other items to spend money on. On the flip side, a simple summer dress doesn’t have to be of the highest-quality silk; it can be something from H&M.”
Although you might suffer from the adverse financial effects of “shop ’til you drop,” retailers love it. Once they get you in the store or on their website, they know you’re more likely to buy something you didn’t even know you needed.
The best defense is to stop browsing for entertainment and shop only when you need something, says Andrew Mellen, organizational expert and author of “Unstuff Your Life!”
“As an adult, you should be able to discern something you need from something you want and if you’re not in the market for something, you shouldn’t be looking,” he says. “You don’t need to proactively shop. Catalogs should be in the recycling bin. When you need a sweater, you’ll know where to find one; retailers don’t hide that stuff from us.”
Shopping only when necessary will make you less vulnerable to the clever sales tactics of retailers, adds Scott. “I get emails from stores that will say things like ‘last chance to save 70 percent’ that make you start thinking you have to get something, even if you don’t need it, because it may never be that cheap again.”
Although sales can provide a financial boost when buying quality items, says Scott, it’s only effective if you really need the items at the time of the sale. “You can still be a bargain shopper and get great things at a reduced price, but you have to approach it in a conscious way.”
Part of smart sales-shopping involves doing your research ahead of time, says Mellen. “If you know the original cost of something and it’s on sale, you can calculate the savings in the moment before you buy,” he adds.
Look for last year’s models, end-of-season sales and holiday discounts. “If there’s a bicycle you want and last year’s model is on sale, ask yourself if you are still getting what you want, even though it’s not the newest model,” says Mellen.
It may seem obvious, but before you buy, you should know what you already own. Too many people shop mindlessly or because they’ve forgotten that they already have the same item at home and they end up spending, rather than saving.
So what’s the best way to rediscover your possessions? Mellen says to start by grouping duplicate items. “Collect and make piles of all your DVDs, dishware, tools, electronics, sweaters and books,” he says. “Then and only then, when everything is in one pile, can you see what you have and what you need,” he says. “Otherwise, you’re just playing Whac-A-Mole.”
Most people have items, such as books or DVDs, in various rooms and don’t realize they have multiples, he adds. “You might have a hammer in the junk drawer, another in the garage and another in a closet and when it comes time to use one, you don’t realize you already own three. Or you realize every electronic device you ever bought has a phone cord and you now have 19 cords.”
So before you begin aimlessly roaming the mall, shop your own closets and cupboards. You may be surprised that you already own everything you need. The money you save can be better invested in your future and your time can be spent developing a passion.
Once you’ve simplified your life and revised your approach to stuff, redefine the meaning of luxury. It doesn’t have to translate into an expensive lifestyle, says Scott.
“I think luxury doesn’t have anything to do with expense or quantity,” she says. “I think luxury is making things that are important to you a priority.”
The idea of living luxuriously for less will be different for everyone. “It could mean putting on some beautiful music and preparing a simple meal, or maybe it’s listening to an audio book while you clean the kitchen,” says Scott.
Mellen says time itself is a blessing to cherish. “There are people who don’t have that luxury because they’re working three jobs just to stay afloat. Why squander that privilege by wasting time? It’s disrespectful to those who don’t have that luxury.”
He suggests people revisit their core values to remind themselves of what’s important and whether the things they buy fill their basic needs or satisfy someone else’s idea of luxury. “Do you want a Volvo because it will impress the neighbors, or do you want it because it’s a safer form of travel for you and your family?” Mellen asks.
“If you don’t know what is important to you, you will constantly chase what is new and shiny,” he says.