Living Like an Aristocrat on a Middle Class Salary

17 Feb

Elliot Bay, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

I love the orthodontist’s office. Not because he cleans me out as he cleans up my kids’ teeth, but because he stocks recent People magazines, and while the progeny is back in the room of wires and bands, I am the voyeur watching Jennifer Garner on an outing with Violet, Oprah eating cupcakes, and Matthew McConaughey finding any excuse to flash those abs.

One of my favorite photo stories involved Paris Hilton shopping for the hour and facing the back of the car with her boxes and bags and hatboxes and packages — the chauffeur was off somewhere and the poor girl didn’t know how to open the trunk.

Talk about living differently from the rest of us.

For some reason, we envy the life of the rich and famous, and if the upshot of such a life is that one doesn’t know how to open the back of the car, much less put things in it — or take them out later — then what is it that we are so envious about?

I know. I know. Unlimited money.

Outing, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

However, if we put things into perspective, those of us swimming around in the middle class live better than the average aristocrat of the early 19th century.

Think about Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley of Jane Austen fame — despite their vast funds of wealth, it took them an entire day to travel 60 miles in a rattling carriage, less on horseback. We hop in a heated or air conditioned car, depending upon the season, and get there in an hour.

True, they had cooks and servants to lug their meals down dark, drafty hallways to a cavernous dining room lit by candles made from rendered beef fat, the food in covered dishes to prevent the heat from escaping — and once you lifted the lid, you might be looking at a small bird, head intact, nestled amongst vegetables overcooked to the point of dissolving.

Their clothes — trousers with no zippers, by the way, for men; cumbersome skirts and underskirts and corsets and stays for the other half of the population  — were washed by another; and when they washed themselves, they did so in metal tubs into which a servant poured hot water. Personally, I don’t mind the washing machine, and I prefer a private bath of unlimited hot water, complete with a non-slimy soap not made of the aforementioned rendered beef fat.

Clouds, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Let’s not even talk about the more intimate details of the bathroom situation.

Many of the things we take for granted — electricity, indoor plumbing, drinkable water, antibiotics, personal hygiene, comfortable furniture, and an incredible array of food choices — were all things beyond the reach of the wealthiest segment of society 200 years ago, so comparing our situation with theirs, we live like kings.

Ah, but we want to live like kings in the present age.

Actually, despite the lack of unlimited money part, we do have the ability to enjoy many indulgences of today’s world, without the burden of being followed around by the paparazzi and being expected to look like a 16-year-old Greek Goddess while we are struggling through our 40s. While we may not have as much spare time as we would like, and no doubt most of us would prefer not to spend the time we do have scrunched into a grey carpeted cubicle or cheerfully asking “May I Help You?” of a rude, snappy, disgruntled customer, we can accessorize our personal lives, time and space with affordable luxuries that provide a warm glow of contentment every time we see them or use them or walk into the room where they are.

Mountain Lake, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Example: every single pair of socks I wear is handknit. Can Donald Trump say that?

Granted, I knit them myself, but the pleasure I get in the actual process is equal to the pleasure I receive in the finished product.

A lavish meal? Learning to cook is incredibly easy; and if you have five high quality ingredients and a modicum of know how, it doesn’t take much to eat very, very well.

Fashionable clothes? I know a struggling single mother who is always stunningly appointed — she finds name brand, designer wear at the local Good Will. Another young mother invests in a few quality pieces and builds her wardrobe around them. I’m no fashionista, but I knit or sew pieces that I love.

October, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson

Art on your walls? Ah, this is where you can shine. Do you have any idea how many emerging and mid-career level artists there are out there who are very, very good but who do not charge the price of a small house for their work? As the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art, I strongly suggest the paintings of this Norwegian Artist, whose work is sprinkled throughout this essay.

Little luxuries for the feet, good food, nice clothes, fine art — they’re more within your reach than you think.

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