THE BLOG
05/08/2014 01:33 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2014

Defining Luxury

Colin Anderson via Getty Images

Luxury is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. It's used to describe anything from rustic wilderness retreats to cars. It's used by working moms when speaking of Saturday morning breakfasts with family, by authors who are able to make time to finally begin their next novel. It's used by branders and marketers to sell products, by designers to sell an image or an idea. The capricious nature of our society results in the definition of luxury undergoing constant flux, leaving much room for interpretation. Such interpretation depends as much on one's current circumstance as it does on society's current fascinations.

What's sumptuous for some is comfortable for others -- a delicacy as opposed to a necessity.

When thinking of luxury in the broad sense, we conjure images of the unattainable: a private jet, a suite at the Ritz, or something as brazen as a Bentley, all of which serve as standard symbols of luxury and it's inherent opulence. It typically evokes a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type of sensibility that's superior and unpublicized. It's likened to a hidden gem or a secret society of wealth and power that commands unparalleled levels of service and living standards in every facet of life. An every day, run of the mill existence will never be included in the thought or implementation of luxury. To do so, in fact, is it's antithesis.

As a society, we're looking for ways to experience our own, perhaps unconventional, versions of luxury. We're taking the very idea of something out of the ordinary, the opposite of mundane or routine or widely accessible, and burnishing it with our own one-of-a-kind stamp. Centuries past saw more clear divisions of wealth and class, but today's world of modern technology has made even the most special items readily available with the click of a mouse (and an Amex, of course). Women who had no idea what an Hermes Birkin was in years past can now troll eBay, put in a bid, and negotiate free shipping to their doorstep. This melding of convenience with rarity has broken the barrier between the us versus them idea once behind luxurious living. Websites like Net-a-Porter or Scott Dunn Travel exemplify the luxury-to-the-masses credo. In keeping prices for goods or services rendered at the level of luxury and wrapping them in a widely accessible presentation such as a website, we're lead to believe such enrichments are accessible to everyone. Of course, this can be interpreted as the materialistic motivator that has driven our society into massive credit card debt and widespread unhappiness, which could explain why re-defining luxury has become a pressing focus.

Of course luxury is most often portrayed as tangible objects. But that is also changing. More and more we hear and feel that time is a luxury, and that is, of course, the irony. We work longer and harder to be able to give ourselves and our loved ones (and, in my case, my dog) our own versions of a luxurious lifestyle through things such as private school, designer clothes, or days at the spa. We're always in battle with time, trying to control or manage down to the last minute in order to get or make more of it. We wouldn't go to those extents if it weren't valuable. Most would say it's entirely elusive of a price tag, yet what's the saying? Time is money. So where does that leave those seeking the luxury of a Saturday morning breakfast with family?

This harder, faster, stronger mentality leaves little room for relaxation, arguably the biggest luxury of all.

To be free of stress and worry escapes us, even when given the chance to let everything go and breath deeply, we succumb to our mobile devices and continue to let in the noise. So is luxury being able to answer an important email at any time of day? Or is it being able to turn off electronics and forget you know what email is, even for a short, hour-long yoga class?

Luxury will always have a champagne and caviar connotation, steeped in the roots of kings and empires and their unmatched existence. However, despite our yearly income, we have the ability to make smaller things a luxury in our own right. A cashmere blanket and a cup of tea can fill a craving for luxury when a Caribbean vacation is out of reach. We can order personalized stationary, or carve out time to cook pancakes with our friends or family whenever we wish. It boils down to the desire to feel as though our lives are worth something, that we are special and rare, and deserve to live in luxury if only for a seemingly transitory moment. But a luxurious life is always within our grasp; it comes from what we make of it.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.