In the weeks of social isolation, research across varied sources reveals a  rather stoic shopping focus. A focus that is to do with safety, hygiene and borderline hyper vigilance. Net effect: a state of heightened awareness and behaviour related to survival and safety.

Quite naturally, the economic crunch, social limitations, administrative guidelines, security considerations or a combination of these, yield a period of slowdown, temporarily.

Some categories get ruled out altogether, for instance, travel. Others suffer a crisis of access, for instance, white goods and electronics or kitchen and cleaning goods like vinegar. Others face a supply issue resulting in extreme premium on prices in the short term (for example, a single bell pepper or a packet of drain-cleaner for Rs 100).

These are widely ‘accepted’ with stoic resignation, as being temporary and also serving as ‘toughen up’ realities of ‘this phase’ of life.

Justified Little Luxuries

Photo by Arturo Rey/ Unsplash

A single ray of light slants into a dull verandah, transforming it, momentarily. Attracting gushes from the family, a tea gathering, or a relaxed book and music moment.

A bit like that ray of light, are perky stories of little luxuries peeping through the utilitarian saga of ‘tough times’. Is one permitted to acknowledge and examine ‘little luxuries’ and the lightness of being they bring? Despite strict isolation, or perhaps due to it, the many, new and rather grim rituals and rules of ‘existing’ and ‘surviving’ are being cast aside for a few pleasurable moments of ‘living’.

The idea of living, in a gloomy-doomy scenario of surviving, is not a new one. Historically speaking, times of war, depression, and such, have seen an unsurprising fall in consumption of several goods and services. And also, in parallel, a surprising uplift or maintenance of purchase of a few ‘luxurious goods in these times’. Or simply ‘little luxuries’. Goods that are not ‘utilitarian’, but perhaps are of the highest use, because they succeed in lifting the human spirit.

In our weeks of isolation, anecdotes suggest what these little luxuries are.

  • Special brews, coffee from Colombia, gourmet teas from Darjeeling, chamomile with honey, to soothe all the 80 nerves that are jangled.
  • Special desserts, when daily routine feels sour, dark chocolates or halwa.  
  • Face pack application in the midst of packed weeks without weekends, for smoothening the wrinkles on the forehead and heart, of being in, what feels like, an emotional prison.
  • Signing up for demanding e-learning courses and investing precious hours in reskilling oneself.
  • Cooking up treats like cakes, biscottis, even experimenting with new recipes and ingredients despite the drudgery of isolation.
  • Comfort zones  and well-organised reconnections with long lost friends and far-flung family reunions, using technology. Even, nurturing deep conversations, including giddy jokes with loved ones.

The Lipstick Effect

The Lipstick Effect is a term for the implication that consumers will buy less costly luxury products even in a crisis. Instead of buying expensive coats, they might buy expensive lipstick. The Economist tested this theory in 2009 and found that there is not yet enough statistical evidence to account for it.

Soap and Soul in Tandem

Perhaps Maslow could shed that ray of light on consuming ‘little luxuries’ (products, services, experiences) in ‘tough times’. The stride of ‘coping’ well in tough times is a large one, no doubt. With one foot at the bottom of the pyramid and another at the very top of it.

In effect, ‘soap’ and all that, for safety. And yet also, ‘something’, for the soul. Whatever that ‘something’ is for each one. Something personally meaningful  and joyful. Soap useful for the hand, Soul useful for the head and heart!