12.06.2010

The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris- #7 Rejection of New Materialism



When the guidance councilor in Paris first told me about the family I would be living with I was pleasantly surprised. Famille Chic was a well respected aristocratic family with an apartment in the desirable 16th arrondissement and a country house in Brittany. I would be living with Monsieur Chic, Madame Chic and their 23 year old son. Apparently Madame Chic liked to take in foreign exchange students because all but one of her children were grown and living elsewhere and she liked the company. Plus Famille Chic liked to learn about other cultures. On a side note, the councilor told me that I was assigned to one of the wealthiest families in the program.

I was intrigued. Famille Chic sounded right up my alley- I did enjoy the finer things in life… this was going to be a match made in heaven! In the taxi ride on the way to my new home I imagined what their swanky 16th arrondissement apartment would look like. I envisioned plush sofas, flat screen TVs, my own en-suite bathroom (done up in marble, of course) a state of the art kitchen… as you can see I let my imagination run away with me…

Famille Chic’s apartment couldn’t have been further from what I imagined. It was magnificent- but not in the sort of nouveau riche way I envisioned. They did not have any flat screen TVs- just one (tiny) regular television that sat out of the way in their living room. They did not have any plush sofas- just a few comfortable antique chairs- perfect for socializing in or reading a book. There was no massive entertainment system- they had an old record player that was used every night to play classical music. There were no en-suite bathrooms- they had one small bathroom for the four of us to share (!). It was purely functional and had no luxurious qualities to it. Same with the kitchen. The kitchen was small, out of the way and purely functional. And we all know about the closet situation

I came to learn that in France there is not an obsession with what is called new materialism. They are not a society that constantly consumes- going on shopping binges looking for the next gadget, the next upgrade, the latest thing (which probably accounts to why their homes are so enviably clutter-free).

Famille Chic had absolutely no interest in ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. For example, they had one car between the three of them (and it was a very modest and nondescript car- not flashy at all). They spent their money on the things that were important to them- high quality food, excellent wine and well made clothing.

And, of course, I am only speculating here but I would be willing to bet that Famille Chic had not a trace of debt…

I found Famille Chic’s utter rejection of new materialism so refreshing. Their restraint as consumers, admirable. To live well- to live within your means and to not be seduced by a material world. They were not bogged down by stuff and as a result lived a clean, clutter-free existence and lived very well indeed. Now that is what I call prospering.

Won’t you stay tuned for #6?


La Défense, the modern business district of Paris, is pictured above.


My book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris will be published by Simon & Schuster and re-released in the fall of 2012.

13 comments:

the gardeners cottage said...

what a perfect post for this time of year. simple is always best, even and especially at christmas, i think. thanks for the lovely reminder.

~janet

Merveilleux said...

This really is the perfect post for this time of year.
When I was Christmas shopping for my 2 1/2 year old the other day, I was enjoying picking things out for her, but in the back of my mind all I could think was "clutter". I even looked at my cart and envisioned myself on one of those Hoarders shows, which was carrying it a bit far but I can't handle a bunch of stuff.
When I was putting away my fall decor to get out my Christmas decor I was searching a few different closets to put the stuff in and realized I have a long way to go to declutter.

Shelley said...

Excellent post! You always hear that the 'millionaire next door' drives an ordinary car, lives in a regular house, etc., etc. The flash house you describe seems to be the going thing for re-doing lovely old stone houses here in Britain, and I think it is desecration not to keep the olde-worlde qualities in the interior decor. One is truly rich when one recognises 'enough'. Looking forward to #6!

Fiona said...

Aah, such a calming and inspiring post dear J.

steppingmywaytobliss said...

What a life changing experience you had by doing this exchange program. I love how you took away so many life lessons by being there for the short time you were. With all the reading I have been doing about minimizing, one of the things I would love to accomplish is having that simple, functional, high quality wardrobe. I am working on it. And you are right, it requires constant editing. I may have to go through all of my clothes again now that I have read this post. Thank you for this series!

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Brilliant post and so timely, a reminder that we can all benefit from.
The lack of closet/storage space has dictated what I can have here at home...something new comes in...something old must go.

Bess said...

So refreshing, indeed. Not worrying about acquiring and dealing with "stuff" probably kept their stress down, too. You were really blessed to have that experience and the opportunity to learn so much from it. Bess

Rebecca said...

This post made my day...so insightful and refreshing!

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Janet- You are very welcome- this is the perfect time of year for this way of thinking. I was (again) horrified on Black Friday to read about Americans pushing and shoving and waiting to get into Walmart at 3am for doorbusters. Ugh.

Merveilleux- LOL those hoarders shows are so horrifying. Nothing like watching one of those to make you feel like clearing out your entire home! I can already relate re: baby toys. I want to get my little girl nice presents for Christmas but do not want lots of clutter- we live in a condo so there isn't bounds of space...

Shelley- perfectly said. Yes, I was really surprised- especially with the kitchen and bathroom. One bathroom! I thought I was slumming it. It's funny, I'm reading Le Divorce right now (by Diane Johnson) and there is a part where the younger sister is so confused by her own sister's apartment because there are no frills- she thinks she lives in 'reduced circumstances' but really that's just how it is in France. In reality, Famille Chic's apartment was incredibly valuable...

Fiona- Merci xx

SteppingMyWayToBliss- Thank you! I am about to do a one month experiment with the 10 item wardrobe, please look for my findings in the New Year when I blog about it :) And good luck with your minimal wardrobe...

Hostess- very wise rule- and something I try to do as well- especially with clothes... I just dropped off two huge bags at the Good Will today!

Bess- hello! I agree- clutter = stress and other imbalances in one's life. Their lack of clutter and stuff really was refreshing. Thanks for your comment!

Rebecca- Thank you!! xx

Beth Hazelton said...

Thank you for this reminder...as I am struggling with getting in the holiday spirit (14 days to go...I hope the spirit kicks in soon) your post helps. Part of the angst is 1) the lack of funds; and 2) I am tired of buying stuff just for the sake of buying stuff. I am looking forward to taking the week after Christmas to hit each and every room to declutter and embrace my inner French girl!

Esprit de la Vie said...

I'm really loving your "Top 20..." posts. I've been away for a while and I'm thoroughly enjoying catching up on your old posts! Take care, Karrie

The Daily Connoisseur said...

Beth- I hate buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff too. I just read an article by Suze Orman who said that the best presents are those that people can consume so you don't add to the clutter of their home. So food, money, bath products... I know I like receiving all of those things! Haha. Hope you have a wonderful holiday...

Karrie- welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful trip and I'm glad you're enjoying the series :)

D A Wolf said...

Ah yes... appreciating what truly counts. Quality over quantity. Et voici pourquoi la France me manque.

Big Little Wolf

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