LEIGH FORBES: Books of all Sorts

Stuffocation: living more with less

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by James Wallman.

Stuffocation begins with a look at the current “clutter crisis” as experienced by the western middle-classes. Research shows that this newly-wealthy section of society breeds a new kind of disease (albeit a first-world one): too much stuff.

Exposed by the many popular “hoarding” programmes, Wallman reveals that this problem is actually making us ill – raising our cortisol levels to the point where it becomes detrimental to our health. But stuff is not only injuring our health, it’s hurting the planet too, as rampant consumerism, and the wastage that goes with it (from manufacture to disposal), has a increasingly catastrophic effect on the environment*.

Wallman goes on to introduce various lifestyles that involve having less stuff, together with the reasons why they are (sadly) unlikely to catch on: minimalism (e.g. owning fewer than 100 items), simple living (giving it all up, and going to live in a hut in the woods), simpler living (as above, but supplementing one’s income with outside work), “the medium chill” (feeling that you already ‘have enough’ and don’t need to take that promotion to earn extra money and work longer hours – more about having time to spend with loved ones, etc.).

The final lifestyle Wallman considers is that of the experientialists: those who would rather do than have; those who seek experiences rather than things – an existence that taps into the modern phenomena of social media (which is far more experience-hungry than focussed on possessions), and also supports the economy. It feels like he gets a tinsy bit evangelical at this point, but perhaps with good reason – he addresses each potential obstacle with reasoned argument, and leaves me feeling this is more how I want to live.

Stuffocation is very much presented as a middle-class, first-world problem, so on one level it’s hard to stomach – seeing folk advised to simply “buy less” (when so many others struggle to buy basic items in the first place), but it’s clearly becoming a major issue, and if your heart fails to bleed for the comfortably off, this book will encourage you to feel for the planet at least.


*See also Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made by Gaia Vince.

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