BOOKS WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO READ

STUFFOCATION, DISTILLED

By Emily Parker

11.01.19

To all those leaving uni and facing junior salaries, or those taking salary cuts in order to do their dream jobs, this will be music to your ears.

Apparently all the stuff we buy isn’t actually good for us at all. In fact, the less stuff we own, the happier we could be!

 

That Balenciaga bag you’ve wanted for ages? The ridiculously cool but overpriced ruched bikini? The feline-pointed sunglasses that will make you look like a Vogue model the instant you put them on? The long-sleeved slogan top that will be too expensive to buy even on ebay? The delicious candle for your room that costs £55? The hand soap that goes with it? The hat, the amazing chair for your flat, the records, the book, the bag, the handmade mug, the wall-hanging, the cashmere throw, the decorative cushions, the pottery ornament, the delicate wine glasses, gin tumblers, champagne flutes, crystal sherry glasses, the bric-a-brac, the nic-nacs, the lipsticks, the coasters and novelty beer matts…? Forget it all. We don’t need to be sad or feel like we’re missing out on life somehow anymore, just because we can’t afford all this stuff.

 

Why? Because according to James Wallman, author of Stuffocation: Living More with Less, not only is this stuff unnecessary for our happiness, not only is it actually detrimental to our happiness, but it’s actually one of the biggest issues facing us in the 21st century. He gives the big problem a name. He calls it “stuffocation”.

 

So we’re literally being suffocated by stuff. And sacrificing life in doing so. This “anxiety” he describes as a feeling of oppression by our own mounting pile of increasingly unmanageable possessions.

 

He doesn’t say that we shouldn’t own any possessions at all. Or deny that some belongings can be innately useful, or even essential. In fact, he says that “Stuff, simply put, is good.” And there are lots of possessions that help us connect to one another better. Which definitely has its benefits.

 

But what Wallman decides is the answer to this quandary is passing everything through the filter of “experientialism”. In other words, if a piece of stuff is going to create or enhance an experience for you, it’s a good thing. If it is going to facilitate a connection, help you learn or see the world in a different way, it’s a good thing. If a piece of stuff is going to sit in a cupboard or drawer somewhere and not get used, if it’s an item with only material value, that can’t be enjoyed as part of an actual experience, or if it’s simply something you won’t draw happiness from and could easily do without, but it robs you of an experience you could have spent your money on instead, it could be stuffocating.

 

It’s not an unpopular point of view today, as many modern-day psychologists are already arguing that “experiences are more likely to lead to happiness”, and millennials / Gen Z are known as the “experience economy” generation. We also know that the borrowing culture has blown up since the dawning of companies like Airbnb, BorrowMyDoggy and even Depop, moving us towards a more transient, finite relationship between people and things.

 

But this wasn’t the case for our parents’ generation. In fact, during the 20th century the economy actually depended on people buying lots of stuff, whereas nowadays the economy, and more importantly the environment, is supported in a large way by people selling on lots of stuff and by a widespread zero-waste mentality.

 

Back in the day, a culture which encouraged an almost materialistic greed of hyper-consumerism meant more stuff being bought, which meant better employment levels, bigger salaries and therefore higher standards of living for all. And greed meant stuff, which could be purchased to increase one’s status. Basically “conspicuous consumption”, or buying stuff to look good or give off a message about who you are, rather than buying stuff to meet a practical, personal or experiential need.

 

But now, Wallman notes, this greed cues for us, “more hassle”, “more to manage” and “more to think about”. Basically, stuff = clutter. Minimalism = aspirational.

 

So what does he advise? He loves a declutter. And there’s no time better than January to get rid of the stuff we don’t need. He loves a repurposing of stuff even more. He suggests we ask ourselves where, and more importantly who, our excess stuff could go to, to unlock any possible experiential value the stuff contains. And most importantly, he says we should make a conscious effort not to re-clutter - to put experiential possibilities above material ones, and to see through the consumerist pressure that is everywhere and tries to make us buy more stuff we simply don’t need.

 

The novelty of a new thing fades quickly, but your return on money spent on a holiday, a festival, a movie-screening, exhibition, gig or new society or club will be much greater, and will last as long as the memories and photos of the days and nights well-spent as a result.

Image by Emily Parker

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