This post is inspired by a conversation I had with a customer in my shop a few months ago; one which left me feeling a tad melancholy and which I've thought about several times since...
The customer in question had popped in to re-purchase some of her favourite beauty products, explaining that she'd first come across them whilst clearing out the house of her mother, who had sadly passed away some months prior. Her dear old mum, being from the "make do and mend" generation, would darn her socks and wear her functional (but dreary) clothes until they were threadbare, despite the fact she had far nicer ones hanging in the wardrobe. Those luxurious garments were kept solely "for best," she'd declared to her daughter solemnly. The same applied to her "posh smellies" (i.e. the L'Occitane products I sell). This is completely understandable, especially for a generation who has lived through hardship, war and rationing. It's nice to have some things that feel special when you use or wear them. But the sticking point? Well, what if those special occasions - the glory days of fun and frolics spent draped in pearls and silk, hair coiffed, quaffing champagne from your finest crystal - what if those days....whisper it....never come?
This customer choked back tears as she told me how she had come across drawers full of expensive, albeit expired, fragrances and beauty products; discoloured Chanel perfumes and old-fashioned powder puffs with fading labels. She had only ever seen her mother use Cussons Imperial Leather soap and basic Nivea - you know, the one in the blue tub. She had clearly been saving all the good stuff "for best."
Amongst the products she discovered were some L'Occitane soaps, which the customer then used up (solid products survive longer than their liquid counterparts; water-based ones need preservatives). She now uses and repurchases the products she found at her mother's house, partly as a way of feeling closer to her mum, but also, I think, to apply the important lesson she'd learnt from her: don't save things for best; make every day a 'best' day.
This conversation was poignant for me, having helped my mum clear out my grandad's house a couple of years ago when he moved to a residential care home. The modest terraced house needed to be returned to the council, so we set about packing up fifty-odd years' worth of life and memories into boxes: black and white photos, knick-knacks, tarnished silverware. It was quite emotional, particularly as she'd grown up in that house. We came across various brand new items belonging to my nan, who had passed away several years earlier. It brings a lump to my throat thinking about it. What was she saving it all for?
As a young girl I used to squirrel away my Body Shop bath pearls and Strawberry Body Shampoo that I'd spent my pocket money on - although I was usually hiding them from my younger sister rather than myself. I remember my mum's shocked expression, years ago, when she noticed me using an expensive cutlery set, which my grandparents had recently gifted my ex and I as a wedding present:
"Are you not saving it for best?" she asked. My answer was simple: "Mum. For one, I'm not much of a cook, so if I saved it for dinner parties it'd never see the light of day. And two, I might die tomorrow. Surely it's better to use it now...even if it is just for eating beans out of a can." (I may have mumbled that last bit).
These days, I make a conscious decision not to save things for best - although I do use them sparingly; I have to remind my partner that it's not called "Precious Cream" for nothing, as he greedily scoops out half the pot with a giant paw, as a bear would honey. I remember "saving" a beautiful dress once, only to take it out of the cupboard a year later to find a bunch of merciless moths had turned it into a (very expensive) meal. The little critters. I was gutted. Similarly, I cherished my first-ever curvaceous bottle of Gaultier's Classique eau de parfum so much that it'd gone off by the time I got halfway through it. So now I wear it/use it/do it with abandon. 'Things' don't last - and neither do people.
I'd rather be that eccentric old lady dressed in faux fur and diamonds and reeking of expensive French cologne to go and collect her pension, than the one whose relatives later discover said diamonds, nestling unworn in their pristine box, whilst clearing out the house after I've gone...
This article first appeared on my blog, Life: A Bird's Eye View.