Thursday, 10 September 2015

Stuffocation by James Walman - A Book Review

Before we headed off to Florida, OH treated me to a new book whilst we were doing a tiny bit of last minute holiday shopping.  I chose this book by James Wallman and looked forward to reading it whilst we were away.

In some ways, it was good to read it whilst I was away and without all of my own stuff around me, weighing me down and making me feel guilty.  In addition, many of the examples he talked about in the book, of new movements relating to living simply, minimally and experientially, were of people living and working in the US, which made it even easier to relate to what the book was saying.

In this book, Wallman identifies a new general malaise in developed societies, that he calls 'stuffocation', whereby millions of people are starting to feel overburdened by the vast number of belongings they own and he goes on to show how different groups are reacting to this by adopting new ways of being and consuming (or not) in our predominantly consumerist world. He discusses the popularity of concepts such as mimimalism and simple living and how millions of people are joining these movements and are trying to live happier and more satisfying lives with less 'stuff'.

Being in the US whilst reading this, made it easier for me to see how much more difficult it might be for someone living in the US to step outside of the box of consumerism.  When we visit the US we realise just how much of the country is dominated by large corporations and large retail and food chains and whilst it isn't much different here in the UK really, the scale on which it occurs in the US is so much larger.

In general and from my own experience, (and there will be exceptions) everything in the US is so much bigger; nature, the sky, the weather, the vistas, the roads, hotel rooms, cars, homes, food portions, and a few of these things (hotel rooms, the sky, nature, weather, vistas, roads) are the things that I really love about the US.

Consumption in the US, as argued by Wallman, is equated with patriotism and keeping the economy alive and people in jobs. With this in mind and some of our experiences on this visit, it has really given me a new respect for some of the bloggers and writers who are actually stepping away from this lifestyle and creating new ways of living in the US and elsewhere today.  It can't be easy preaching simplicity and mimimalism in a land of plenty.  Why deprive yourself  and damage the economy when there are no apparent shortages?  Why live like a poor person, when you can live an affluent and priviledged lifestyle and let everybody know about it by the labels you wear or the bag you carry?

On this note, there was a very disturbing video on the news whilst we were in the US of a young woman being robbed for her Louis Vitton handbag.  It made me very glad that I don't have an expensive handbag to draw the attention of thieves.  Whilst this happens all the time here too and one should be able to have a designer bag and not worry about it, inevitably, owning expensive items does cause a certain amount of worry, to me anyway.  I digress.

Wallman goes on to discuss the idea of experientialism, whereby experientialists' focus in life is more on experiences than acquiring possessions and on what he calls the medium chill, where you can decide to not always be aspiring to own or earn more, but instead be content to stay in a job and live in a home that allows you to comfortably live within your means and without debt and ignore all the consumerism around you by not buying into it.

Whilst recognising the merits of all of these movements, Wallman goes on to dismiss all of them for varying reasons, as sustainable ways forward for better living in our consumerist world.  He does, however, argue that a kind of consumer experientialism could be the answer, whereby, like some of the people interviewed in the book, one might live simply with the main focus being on experiences, yet still consume, but consume mindfully and sustainably. With this way of living, one would be consuming less, which would be more sustainable, and would buy only quality products that are essential to live life and do the things one enjoys.  He then goes on to give some essential tips about how to do this successfully.

I enjoyed reading this book, which discussed some of the ideas that are forging new ways of living, that reject the dominant consumer ideals promoted in developed societies, but I did feel that the conclusion was perhaps a little simplistic.  I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who would disregard it completely, as it doesn't really tackle the root of the problem i.e. the capitalist system.  It was however, a very interesting read that shed light on the many ways that people are finding to live a more authentic, non-consumerist life today and I would thoroughly recommend anyone to  read it.


  1. " stuff " can be overwhelming at times. I am starting a clothes & collection for the Syrian refugees & will deliver to an aid agency.

    1. Funny you should say that but I saw a migrant support centre the other day and wondered if they might want some of the stuff I was donating. That's part of the reason I'm happy to give it to the Give and Take so people in need can take it for free.

  2. I have simplified our home and lifestyle, no more Saturday sport as day of shopping, I don't feel lost or anything missing, but I never chased the designer labels. Getting dressed is much easier, not so much to choose from, and our home feels calmer. We still have more to do, but it is a case of less is more, not read the book, but I have heard it is good.

    1. Hi Marlene, like you I'm still in the process of simplifying here, but progress is definitely being made and I can honestly say that I don't have shopping urges as strong as they used to be. I'm still working on it as I do indulge from time to time, but it is getting easier to resist temptations as I find I'm happy with what I already have most of the time.