What does “Luxury” mean to you?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of “luxury.”

Thomas Hardy, writing in 1865:

“My wife Sophia, myself, and the beginning of a happy line, formerly lived in the suburbs of London, in the sort of house called a Highly Desirable Semi-detached Villa. But in reality our residence was the very opposite of what we wished it to be. We had no room for our friends when they visited us, and we were obliged to keep our coals out of doors in a heap against the back-wall. If we managed to squeeze a few acquaintances round our table to dinner, there was very great difficulty in serving it; and on such occasions the maid, for want of sideboard room, would take to putting the dishes in the staircase, or on stools and chairs in the passage, so that if anybody else came after we had sat down, he usually went away again, disgusted at seeing the remains of what we had already got through standing in these places, and perhaps the celery waiting in a corner hard by. It was therefore only natural that on wet days, chimney-sweepings, and those cleaning times when chairs may be seen with their legs upwards, a tub blocking a doorway, and yourself walking about edgeways among the things, we called the villa hard names, and that we resolved to escape from it as soon as it would be politic, in a monetary sense, to carry out a notion which had long been in our minds.”

This charming passage reminds me that life today is not altogether unlike life 150 years ago. As David Byrne sings in “Once in a Lifetime” it’s the “same as it ever was.”

That very same Talking Heads song alludes to “a shotgun shack,” and my 109-year-old Victorian in San Francisco is not too far from that. It’s wider – at 25 feet instead of the usual 12 – and it has two stories, yet it has a clapboard front and a peaked roof. It’s fun and funky house that is lucky to have survived past efforts at urban renewal.

Unlike the “shack’s” original inhabitants, we have Wi-Fi and a nice deck. But we don’t have parking, and the square footage is low enough to qualify the single-family home as a “condo alternative.” Before the kids went off to college, one of them slept in an office (meant as formal dining room), and another tucked his six-foot frame – along with a bed, a bookshelf, a dresser and an aquarium containing two frogs – into a teeny tiny fainting room sans closet.

What I mean to say is that space is now and has long been scarce and expensive in San Francisco. As Mr. Hardy writes above, the lack of space often leads us to call our beloved homes by “hard names.”

And yet having to walk “edgeways” among things, or having to use rooms for multiple purposes, is not inherently disagreeable. It’s part of urban living, and it’s part of sustainable living.

The fact is that we can’t all live in places that Realtors would describe as “luxurious.” Nor should we. Nor should we WANT to. And NOT WANTING to live “luxuriously” is a concept that chafes against a favorite marketing emphasis of the real estate industry.

My own definition of “luxurious living” involves doing more with less, giving more than getting, and welcoming the creative possibilities presented by modest deprivation.

I am (we are) among the luckiest people on the planet simply because we happen to live in the United States (and California, and San Francisco). I hope we all – Realtors especially – can be mindful that luxury is truly the exception rather than the rule. Let’s enjoy the luxury of being able to be GRATEFUL.

What’s your idea of “luxurious living”? I’d love to hear.

Cynthia Cummins is a Top Producer and Partner at McGuire. For info on SF real estate visit http://CynthiaCummins.com.