It’s the small things in life that offer us the most joy, says Lucy Mangan.
My parents are of northern and Scottish extraction. My upbringing was, consequently, unprofligate. When it came to purchases of any kind, the rule was simple: cheapest is best. All soap cleans you. All shampoo degreases you. All clothes cover you. All food fills you up. Why spend more than you have to? Especially on taxis, when you’ve got two perfectly serviceable legs.
I was in my late twenties before it dawned on me that while this might be true, it equally might not be the whole truth. I began to posit that there might be more to life than simply covering one’s pallid skin with nondescript clothes, dutifully stripping one’s hair of all essential oils and treating mealtimes as mere stops for refuelling. I began to catch occasional taxis when pressed for time. Buy clothing that didn’t just protect me from the elements but brought a smile to my face. And on my 30th birthday I bought myself a Marc Jacobs handbag.
The real epiphany, however, was the day I bought a Molton Brown shampoo. I marvelled as it made my hair shiny and smell nice, even if didn’t bring the chip pan up as nicely as my previous brands. And, unlike the handbag, I used it every day. Since then it has been followed by Jo Malone hand soap (unwrapping it from thick, parchment-y paper feels like getting a little present before it is actually put to use), Celtic & Co slippers (if there is a greater pleasure in life, it would be dangerous), and – after a brief calculation of how much of my time I spend in cardigans – a Brora creation in cashmere that I still spend happy minutes stroking every time I pull it on.
Everyone has something that brings them daily joy, something that costs a little bit more than they need to spend. I have one friend who insists on a particular artisan coffee because the brewing ritual and the drinking add up to an entire half hour of pleasure per cup; another who leases a car much flashier than she needs to turn the many miles she drives for work from chore to happytimes; and another who looks forward every night to going to bed in excellent pyjamas.
For me, it’s stationery. Paper and pens are, regardless of the march of technology, still a central part of my job. I draft big pieces in longhand, I handwrite research notes and going through book manuscripts still needs highlighters, coloured fibretips and multi-coloured sticky notes. All stationery brings me happiness but there is nothing quite like the smooth glide of a fountain pen across the thick cream paper of a Moleskine notebook, or zipping a project away for the night in my pride and joy, an unspeakably beautiful leather portfolio from Aspinal.
Realising the value of everyday luxuries as well as the larger, more glamorous purchases is a milestone I wish I had reached sooner. It’s sensible. In terms of bang for your buck – what could be better than an extravagance that brings you a little burst of joy every day instead of just special occasions? Every time I add a new sheaf of pages to my portfolio, or perfume the air with Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir, or snuggle down in sheepskin and cashmere, it’s not just the things themselves that please me but the knowledge that I earned the money to pay for them, the right to treat myself and am no longer a prisoner of my absurd childhood. Just don’t tell my mother. She’ll make me take it all back.