Photo by Salt Water New England

Friday, January 8, 2021

Giddy vs. Special vs. Tried and True

 

Most of us, I believe are born with a latent tendency toward extravagance, a lust for more..., which lurks somewhere in the genes, ready to erupt at the hint of good fortune and the drop of a credit card. What else can explain the persistent purchase of shoes by a woman who already owns 399 pairs...?

The spending habits of [some] have intrigued me for years. Above all, I was curious to know if their little luxuries were actually worth the money. Were they paying for something special, or did the real pleasure, the fizz in the veins, come from the giddy feeling of [getting] whatever you want whenever you want it?  

- Peter Mayle, Acquired Tastes


New Englanders are inclined to differentiate between good and bad by determining whether it's old or new. Frugality, reluctance to change, reliance on the "tried and true", abhorrence of things showy or gaudy, pride in the past, a strong need for tradition and continuity – all these natural inclinations in our personalities result, not surprisingly, in our wearing slightly threadbare old clothes, joining old, comfortable not-posh social clubs, owning old boats, attending old schools and colleges, living in old houses, marrying into old families, and so forth.

- Judson Hale, Inside New England




39 comments:

  1. Interesting things to ponder. Very interesting, in fact. Take luxury, for example.

    Much turns on what you think luxury is. A fur coat was not a luxury to an Eskimo at one time. Closer to home, though, a granite countertop in the kitchen is thought of as a luxury. But a real luxury would be having a hired cook.

    Are not all families "old?" You might be surprised at the degree of ancestor worship, to put it one way, in families living in places you wouldn't dare visit.

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    1. Interesting point. I guess we were all the same family at some point in the past.
      Old everything always feels best. It just doesn’t feel wasteful. It has class.

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    2. Correct Mr Blue Train. All families are “old.” An aspiring to marriage Ethiopian gent, for example, must be able to recount seven generations of his family to win the hand of an Ethiopian maiden. How many Americans could do that?

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    3. In respect to 'old families,' it's possible that Americans use the expression to refer to how long they've been here in America, this being a country mostly of immigrants. In that sense, I suppose it's understandable.

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  2. I'll take door number two, please.

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  3. Luxury is in the eye of the beholder and consumer.

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    1. Agreed. When my spouse and I moved in together he thought my family silver was "a bit too much." After a few years of living together, I think he realizes now that my family made a good investment in the 1860s, used the stuff, cared for it, it is still doing what it needs to do, looks good and has value. It would have cost a whole lot more to have purchased junk stuff many times over over that period, and it would have left us with nothing to show for it.

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  4. It would not be very interesting if life were so neatly binary, would it? While most of us treasure things that have aged gracefully, I believe that yesterday we also expressed appreciation for the luxury of new socks. And BlueTrain's insights on ancestor worship are important. We can learn from our ancestors, and we can appreciate them, but yours are no better than mine and vice versa merely by virtue of the paths that brought them here. I like to enjoy a smattering of novelty and luxury, as do most of us, made all the more delightful by virtue of not being an everyday or commonplace thing.

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    1. Beautifully put. Balance is the key.

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    2. My mother-in-law observed that there are antiques and then there are things that are merely old.

      I cannot take credit for the expression ancestor worship in an American context. It was used on the first page of a biography of General Patton.

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    3. Tim, this is so beautifully said. I am proud of my heritage, but that is a personal thing. I am in DAR, Colonial Dames, Jamestowne Society because I was BORN into a certain family - not by ANYTHING I accomplished on my own. Also, if more Americans had resources or knowledge on how to search their family tree, I am guessing about 90% could also trace their ancestry back as far. (You have to be able to prove it and unfortunately, Ancestry.com is not allowed). So, it's nothing really 'special', yet some of these women go so far as to compete based on who their patriot was and the part they played in history. It's so ridiculous. No one is any better than anyone else. Now. Lets talk about purchases. You will find my home full of antiques and inherited items. Most people in the 'know' would agree that my home has all the elements of a WASP home. I didn't plan that. I just like what I like (which is mostly 'old stuff') and I have the fortune of being the first born and ONLY girl, so I inherited the china, family papers, etc. etc. I don't like a flashy car. That is just my preference. Preference only. I don't care if YOU drive a flashy lamborghini (sp?) and I don't judge you. I don't sneer 'new money' or 'wannabe'. I just simply think 'beautiful car'. Clothing is a COMPLETELY different story for me. I have never liked traditional clothes that most people I know wear. To me clothing is 'art' and I have a wonderful collection. I wear hats, gloves, beautiful dresses and pant suits. It's not that I am 'trying' to stand out or say 'look at me', it's just an art medium for me, much as painting/sketching might be for others. I reserve my pullover sweaters and kaki's for working in the garden or my morning walk. In my eccentricity in clothing I have never felt that I have been 'judged', however, I think if I dressed my way in New England I would be harshly judged. I guess I will find out because I plan to live a month or more in one of the New England states next fall. Whew! My apologies for this being so long.

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    4. Anon @9:57, you sound a lot like one of my wife's cousins. It is true that your ancestry is nothing one can do anything about and to be born into a certain line or lines is pure chance. My wife is a direct descendant of George Mason and a collateral descendant of Washington. Her great-great grandfather was the last private owner of Mt. Vernon. These things enable us to enjoy an occasional event at both Mt. Vernon and Gunston Hall. Not only have we been in the cupola of Mt. Vernon but the basement, too, a distinction we share with our plumber. There are many such descendants, although it remains special.

      One unusual privilege for being a Washington family member is permission to have ashes scattered there, in the garden, and we did in fact attend such an event several years ago with my wife's uncle officiating. We learned a couple of years ago when listening to a lecture by the head gardener or whatever he was, that the garden had been graded, with most of the topsoil removed.

      My wife's aunt said she could join the DAR is she wanted but that "it costs a right smart."

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  5. Like all things in life I try to takes a balanced view. Preference is interesting and they don’t say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder for no reason.” Personally, I gravitate towards the old/vintage/antique for a number of items but to say I am closed off to change and newness would be false. To assume that old is inherently better too is false for it does not account for the fact that today’s old was indeed new itself one day. If we don’t innovate and create and buy new today there wouldn’t be something unique antique from this era years from now. Hence, balance. From a metaphysical perspective, to only go for the old would mean that I close myself off to new ideas, concepts and a new me. If I didn’t embrace change I would be the same as I was 5, 10, 15 years ago and that is a sad thought to me for I have gained so much by embracing new thought and challenging myself to reflect and change parts of me that were not serving me, those around me, and the world. In terms of the physical, there is comfort in the old for it brings about nostalgia. I do enjoy that feeling. But my curiosity also enjoys finding new artists and their treasures. I love life and it’s vastness and all the possibilities that it has to offer and don’t feel the need to pigeonhole my way one way or another. I enjoy what I enjoy.

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    1. Brilliant. So well said. Balance and good editing are the keys to unlock our world.

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  6. My Yankee husband would not own an old boat. That's the opposite of frugality.

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    1. Wood boats require the regular and liberal use of energetic youth, armed with sand paper and motivated by hot cocoa. When I was such a lad, we were legion. I fear that they are now rare. As a result wood boats larger than a dinghy are even more rare. Over the course of the last half century I have come to revere fiberglass. Those PJs I loved in the seventies are now among the old guard.

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    2. I disagree, it's both frugal and smart. Just because it's old, doesn't mean it's good or has "value". Ask anyone who's ever owned a boat, which is just a hole in the water you throw money in, whether "old boats" are worth it. Sometimes, yes, but most often, and emphatic "no."

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  7. Context is everything. Old and frugal works for me for casual clothes, cars, mechanical watches, or many things we use around the house, that lie on the floor, hang on walls. Some frugal/keeping old stuff decisions don’t work for me at all. Sleep in a mattress for 20 years or more, they’re usually fit for the scrap heap. Old, leaky plumbing - not desirable. Same for duffel bags that have been battered, dragged and perforated by years of travel and expeditions - I just replaced mine because the 30 year old one, which was robust in its day, has multiple holes, and no shoulder straps to lug it. Old rock climbing and mountaineering gear is fine hanging on a wall but risky, if not lethal, in the mountains.

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    1. I agree. It depends on the purpose. I'm not a shopper at all and I tend to hang on to the things I bought decades ago (as well as my inherited things). But I do like replacing appliances and laptops, etc.

      For the record ~ and I know people will think I'm crazy ~ I own only 6 pairs of shoes for the entire year. That number includes my tennis shoes, sandals and boots.

      One of my New Year's resolutions was to use all my best things nearly every day and if they break or get messed up, so be it. I can't take my things with me and my three heirs want their own, more modern things.

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    2. Using the Sunday china, crystal and silver more is one of my goals this year.

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    3. Susan, perhaps these thoughts belong under a different subject, but I noted that you like replacing appliances. I wish very much that more simple gas stoves could be bought, stoves without microchips. In general I find chip dependent appliances more prone to costly failure. Self clean cycles frequently cause motherboards to fail, and replacing that twice will cost about what the stove did. My three favorite appliances are old enough to be chip free, a forty year old Russell Hobbs kettle, a Dualit toaster of similar vintage, and an even older Kitchen Aid lift bowl mixer. However, my fifteen year old fridge and stove have new motherboards and are doing well. So I will not get the thrill of new appliances this time. Sigh. Cheers.

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    4. Re: appliances - I have my fingers crossed that my 40+ years old Maytag washer and dryer will last at least until I leave this house. I just had the washer repaired by a repairman with 40+ years experience and I fear he is either going to retire or expire! He was the only one who was willing to repair the Maytag. None of the other repair services knew how to work on a Maytag and wanted to talk me into buying a new machine.

      slf

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  8. I am a native New Englander but whenever I read something by Judson Hale it seems to rub me the wrong way – even if I agree with the substance of the observation. There’s something pinched-up and sanctimonious about him. I do incline more to his description than to Mayle’s but I’d like to see room for a bit more joie-de-vivre.

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    1. The "New Englander" of Judson Hale is a dying breed, I'm afraid. New Englanders born after 1980 or so are not likely to understand him and his writings.

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    2. Well, I was born in 1959 and am a 13th generation New Englander so I think I do understand him and his writings. I'm just not a big fan. I think he captures the best of New England but also the worst. It's just my opinion.

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    3. I don't know Judson Hale but his description of New Englanders would equally apply to the conservative "Middle Englanders" in counties such as Sussex, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Shropshire.

      HM The Queen, the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal family have the same conservative (small c) attitude to life. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Harry and his tacky, money-grabbing wife.

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  9. If my house were ABOUT to be on fire, not if it actually were, I'd gather the Hudson Bay blanket, the cameos, the Civil War era pocket watch, the dog, and my husband. But not in that order. All but the dog are old, so old. Everything else can be replaced. And perhaps the only things that still get me "fizzy" when I put them on are the Hermes scarves I bought in Paris when I was not one of the old things in my house...but even those would not make my "must save" list.

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  10. There is a point at which, in some cases, habitual spending on a certain category of things turns into connoisseurship, and, voila, you're a collector!

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  11. As Mr. Morris sagely proclaimed,"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." It's that simple. And that hard.

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  12. Many would consider brands like Louis Vuitton to be the epitome of luxury and exclusivity, but those people wouldn't see the stark reality in the recently published data from Google that Louis Vuitton tops the list of the world's most-searched for fashion brands. Those people would turn their noses up at small, unheard of craftsmen who make truly bespoke, one-offs at a fraction of the price but with a thousand times the exclusivity.

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  13. I do not know if "most of us are born with a latent tendency toward extravagance". It seems that this tendency is more a product of upbringing and environment than a hidden aspect of the human psyche. I have seen babies and young children dressed like mannequins and emblazoned with labels, their rooms stuffed with more toys than one could count, and all the latest technology at their finger tips. This upbringing is a lionization of fad and disposable fashion. Before any purchase, everyone must ask themselves "why" and then wait. Time will reveal true value. Everything old is not necessarily superior nor is everything new always inferior. As already stated, balance is key.

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    1. Yes! In my opinion, too many parents equate overindulgence with love. Or seek instant gratification in the excitement over a shiny new thing. It’s much harder to model and teach patience, appreciation and gratitude. But it’s a better and more sustaining gift in the long run.

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  14. Boom! (As I believe some say these days)

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  15. The solid classic item, and value will always win out in the end. Thank you so much!

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  16. Perfectly said EDR! Have regretted many a purchase when I asked the question "why" and did not wait for the right answer. Those items make their way to the second hand store or Goodwill after a fashion. PA

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  17. I confess to having treated insecurity with retail therapy on occasion, but not frequently and and never to excess. I've always lived modestly, frugally, and invested well so classics, durability, and value are among my values. Being parsimonious on most things allows me to spend more on others. In my youth my mantra was "I don't have enough money to NOT buy nice things." Or, as I've heard it said since, "Buy it nice or buy it twice."

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  18. Reading these comments, I realize I've found my people on this blog.

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    1. Me too. I have Connecticut blood, but live in tornado alley. It's so nice to come here and feel at home.

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