Stuffocation by James Wallman

 

I don’t know about you, but my life is absolutely full of stuff and rubbish. I have just spent a Sunday afternoon filling my Berlingo with things surplus to my well being. I am off to dispose of it. And in a triumph of hope and habits over bitter and direct experience I’m also going to an electrical retail store to purchase some new goods.

We live in a world of mass consumption, and the consuming I have done has generated a great deal of mass. The suspension is creaking under the weight.

This is the subject of suffocation. Its contention is that the pursuit of materialistic goals does not make us happy. In fact it does the precise opposite. What is the solution? A number of possibilities and are investigated. For example there is minimalism. The minimalist live with the minimum number of material possessions that they can get away with. In fact they are rather competitive about just how little they can get away with.

Existentialist are people whose main motivation in life is to have as many interesting experiences as they possibly can. And this seems like a smart move. Scientific evidence suggests that experiences make us happier than possessions do.

And how about giving up the whole materialistic culture altogether and going back to nature. This is difficult. It is hard work and requires skills and knowledge that we have long given up on. But there is something rather spiritually appealing to living the simple life. Perhaps this is the answer?

In fact Stuffocation doesn’t come out in favour of any of these radical alternatives to materialism. But we have to find something. Not only our material possessions not making us as happy as we think they should, they’re also actually adversely affecting our health. Wallman suggests a nuanced approach to solving this issue. We don’t become outright experientialists or back to nature hippies and we avoid the excesses of minimalism. Instead we adopt an approach to life where we pursue experiences more and just generally live a leaner and less bloated existence. We are not throwing out the whole computer operating system, just cutting down the bloatware.

It is an interesting and thought-provoking proposition and the book is well written. The only trouble is that somewhat like the general malaise of society that the author identifies, he Is also rather stuck with a surfeit of stuff to cope with. In his case spreading out a few good ideas over rather large number of pages.

We get a pile of anecdotes and are introduced to a lot of case studies. They are held together by large number of words detailing in depth discussion and interesting background. But it’s rather more that is really needed. The whole book could comfortably be covered in a pamphlet. In fact a PowerPoint presentation would do the job rather nicely.

Indeed a rather felt I betrayed the message of the book by buying it in paperback in the first place. If any book was ever intended to be sold as an e-book and downloaded to a slimline Kindle this was it. But aside from the blatant ignoring of its own principles in its very format, this book is well worth a read. Taking on board it’s ideas is quite likely to improve your life. Anyway this review is already longer than it needs to be. I’m off to the municipal dump.

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