‘Stuffocation’ means exactly what you think it means – it is the idea that we are suffocating ourselves with ‘stuff’. We have become so tied up in a culture of materialism that we are overwhelmed with things. We are drawn into a cycle where we work hard so that we can afford to buy things, to keep up with the Joneses, to acquire more and more, bigger and better. But having everything we thought we wanted isn’t making us happier.
In his book Stuffocation, James Wallman traces the history of our consumer culture and proposes a new way of living which he calls “experientialism”, through which we reject meaningless stuff in favour of experiences. Wallman suggests, and I agree, that experiences, rather than things, will lead us to happier, more meaningful lives.
I came across Wallman’s book via my friend Hayley’s guide to buying presents on her blog Mission: Mindfulness. Ever the minimalist and strong campaigner against stuff (really, I can’t handle stuff), I’m surprised I hadn’t come across this book before. I recommend Stuffocation to anyone who feels overwhelmed with stuff, who rejects the culture of materialism or who wants to find ways to live a more meaningful life.
These are some of my key takeaways from the book (I know “takeaway” is the buzz word, but it always makes me think of Chinese take away containers. Anyone else?).
Now, I didn’t need the book to tell me this, but it was nice to read some evidence and case analyses to back this up.
Not only is stuff making us unhappy, it is ruining the eco system. Did you know that for every one bag of rubbish you throw out, SEVENTY bags of rubbish were created to make the rubbish that filled that bag. Me neither, but it’s scary. Watch this short video to find out more about the way we make, use and throw away all the Stuff in our lives. It’s eye opening to say the least.
Like the Lenets, who gave up their jobs, rented out their house and gave away all their stuff to travel the world as a family, the rewards for success in the consumerist system – i.e. stuff – aren’t enough for me either. Life is about family bonds and personal growth, not about status measured by the size of your house or the make of your car.
I do reject the consumer culture. We’ve never celebrated Valentines Day. We didn’t buy each other or our daughter presents for Christmas. We won’t buy a new car/phone/television/gadget just because there is a new make/model/colour. But we are still very much part of ‘normal’ society. We haven’t packed our lives up to move to the country for the ‘simple life’, nor can we store all our possessions in one back pack. We buy things that will serve a purpose or which bring us joy (oh, how very KonMari of us!).