By Ellen Massaro, Professional Organizer
In summer 2016 I spent a week in a beach house in Katwijk – I had always wanted to give it a go. Delightful – right on the beach. And how simple and uncluttered is life in such a tiny house; and how much time you have to do all the things that otherwise you never get round to. James Wallman’s book had been waiting to be read for some time. ‘Stuffocation’ is about a simpler life, with fewer possessions. And about experientialism – what better excuse for starting to read it.
The book begins as a novel, with a description of how Ryan Nicodemus restarts his life in a new house, with all his possessions in boxes. His experiment: he takes only those things out of the boxes that he really needs. He quickly realises that he does not need very much. And he realises that he is much happier and can spend more time doing the things that are important to him – and which he previously never had time for.
Wallman has divided his book into clear sections, and writes not only about decluttering, but also about the causes and consequences of too much stuff. He writes with an easy style about the experiments of Nicodemus and others, and about the research and trends (such as minimalism) in simple living. He then dives into the history of our consumption and throw-away culture. He describes in a fascinating way how the power of large companies over the years has determined what we deem as necessary to have. The idea was to have things as status symbols, the more you have the happier you are. And keeping up with the Joneses.
In the western world we have probably reached a peak in stuff. Charity shops can sometimes no longer cope with the stream of incoming goods, and the recycling industry grows and grows. It is no wonder that books such as Stuffocation, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo are so popular. People become restless and unhappy from having too many stuff. As a professional organizer, I know only too well how people feel liberated when they get more room in their homes (and in their diaries). And what’s more, fewer things mean less maintenance, less requirement for space, and perhaps even less work. You can feel rich with more spare time, because that has become a rarity.
A new era has begun. An era that values ‘experiences’. It is clear (and scientifically proven) that people derive more happiness from experiences than from things. Wallman deals with this extensively, with many engaging examples. You get longer lasting pleasure and inspiration from experiences.
He calls the movement ‘experientialism’. It is only natural that people boast of their experiences (for example on Facebook) and try to be one up on their neighbours – and that is also a good advertisement for experientialism.
In the meantime the ‘experience economy’ is running at full speed. Just think about adventure holidays, food truck festivals, or changes at work where you get an Italian coffee bar instead of a vending machine.
Wallman has an interesting question at the end of his book: Can you be an experientialist and still like stuff? Certainly, if for example, things are made from a special material, or are made in a special way – such as my bamboo bicycle, furniture made from recycled material, a book that inspires me, or a small laptop that allows you to work anywhere.
‘Stuffocation’ is recommended if you want better insight into ‘living more with less’.