Luxury Ratcheting-Up

Back when I lived in Austin, there was a tavern known as … The Tavern. Founded over a century ago, it was a local landmark of sorts. One of its distinctive exterior features was a neon sign saying “AIR CONDITIONING.” The place had gotten A/C back in 1933 when it was still a novelty, and this amenity drew many patrons.

Fast-forward many decades, air-conditioning has gone from a luxury or novelty to being perceived as an absolute necessity, which a person would have to be crazy to even think of trying to live without.

My name for this phenomenon is “luxury ratcheting-up” (or maybe I should call it “necessity ratcheting-up”?) and it’s a pretty common pattern. Something once thought of as luxury comes to be perceived as a necessity. Cars, bottled water, airline travel.

It’s human nature to cherish a “creature comfort” or convenience, but being too dependent on too many of them is expensive and makes a person vulnerable.

Even if I choose to indulge in luxuries, I find great value in remembering that they are not necessities.

Granted, some things once thought of as luxuries can certainly make life a lot easier.

One example is household food refrigeration. It definitely makes it easier to run a household, particularly if you don’t live in a dense urban area with food markets in walking distance.

Those of you who have been following this blog or my other channels for awhile have probably heard about my “fridgeless living experiments.”

I have just come off what is so far my longest run without a refrigerator. I think it’s been two and a half or maybe even three years. On this note: It was so refreshing to meet a woman the other day who told me she once spent several years without a fridge (to save on her electric bill) and that it was really no big deal. I too found that it was no big deal, or at least not as big a deal as people might think, who have never lived in a non-industrialized society. You learn to adapt.

If I had to choose between refrigeration and internet, it’d be no contest. It’s a lot easier for me to do without refrigeration than without internet.

That said, my household got a fridge this week. A neighbor was giving it away. So far, my housemates and I have found it helps us eat healthier and less food goes bad. I admit, it’s cool to be able to do things like have ice without walking to the store, and buy ice cream and not have to eat it all at once.

Cool but not essential. I will try not to let the novelty wear off.

Another example: “Peace Corps” shower, can of water from the rainbarrel at Green Gate Farms, felt like such a luxury treat — great reason to scale back on default settings. Escalating “needs” reduces appreciation (almost like “expectation inflation”; “entitlement inflation”); scaling back increases appreciation.

By the way, I just checked and it seems The Tavern is still there.