Stuffocation: Living More With Less, is the ‘catchy’ title of  a new book by James Wallman that explores the simple living movement.  Unlike most of the books I’ve read on simple living though the emphasis is on ‘explores’, this is not a passionate call to arms, rather it’s a fairly thorough exploration of the various trends at play and how they might realistically morph into a more general movement that affects society as a whole, from the blurb on Amazon:

Stuffocation is one of the most pressing problems of the twenty-first century. We have more stuff than we could ever need, and it isn’t making us happier. It’s bad for the planet. It’s cluttering up our homes. It’s making us stressed—and it might even be killing us.

I found the book very refreshing in it’s approach and while I didn’t learn much, I did get a more balanced view from it than in other books that I’ve read.  Books that promoted the idea of living out of a suitcase, or in a tiny house not much bigger than a horse box, or being able to count your possessions and still have ‘change’ from a 100.  None of these extreme interpretations of simple living appeal to me, I like my luxuries, my books, my tools and having enough clothes to suit all weather conditions…. 

Jame’s also considers the current trendy idea of substituting experiences for stuff.  In fact his conclusion is that ever richer experiences are the ultimate conclusion of this simplicity trend, for example instead of going to the cinema we will attend a live theatre like experience that immerses us, as full participants, in scenes from the movie.  Other examples of ‘rich experiences’ might be helicopters rides long the Grand Canyon, visiting all of the modern wonders of the world or diving with sharks.  Keeping up with the Jones switches from a greener lawn, a bigger pool, or fancier car to ‘bagging’ ever richer experiences, more from the blurb:

Experientialism does not mean giving up all of our possessions. It is a solution that is less extreme but equally fundamental. It’s about transforming what we value. Stuffocation is a paradigm-shifting look at our habits and an inspiring call for living more with less. It’s the one important book you won’t be able to live without.

Personally these over-the-top experiences don’t appeal to me much, they seem to lead to just the same kind of excesses that too much stuff manifests.  Instead of too much stuff, we just substitute too much experience.  People would end up seeking freedom from the pressure to accumulating ever more overly luxurious experiences, in the same way that a few of us are seeking out freedom from too much stuff today. 

I’m already past that point though, personally my simple living quest is as much about finding satisfaction in simple experiences as it is in rationalising my wardrobe.  It’s also about simplifying my life as a whole, not just my possessions.  For me simple living means means:

  • having high quality, reliable, predictable possessions, in a warm, dry, safe house
  • well designed, effective, dependable, public services
  • a health care system that put’s the emphasis on proactive care, gets to the root causes of problems with staff who have time to get to treat the whole person
  • plenty of well maintained, clean and safe public spaces
  • a population that’s caring, friendly, helpful, generous with it’s time and that takes responsibility for confronting and fixing problems. 

These are the kind of experiences that I want my day to be filled with, friendly, efficient, clean, safe, reliable, predictable.  They will likely be more labour intensive than the experiences that I ‘enjoy’ today, but I’d rather spend my money on these than on more stuff.

Once the basics are taken care of I want to spend my time experiencing nature, cycling, hiking, chilling with friends and family, creating, painting, gardening, immersed in a good book, watching a TV show with the family, going on picnics, playing ball games or watching the sun set.

When it comes to work, I’d be looking for simplicity here too, well scoped projects, with sufficient time and funding to do a good job, a well motivated team to work with, the right tools and less of the back-stabbing and politics. 

Right now the world is obsessed with growth and profit, at every level.  Individuals strive for bigger houses, better cars, more gadgets, more jewellery, shoes, clothes and travel.  Employers focus on profit and growth at the expense of loyal, engaged, motivated, employees and long term satisfied customers.  Governments focus on GDP rather than fairness, sustainability and happiness. 

Everyone is obsessed with accumulating and experiencing more, when we should be focused on living well with what we have.  Mindfulness is the start point in my simple living quest, but it doesn’t get a mention in Stuffocation. Nor does the fact that many experiences that have previously cost thousands, or maybe money can’t even buy today are about to become as cheap as a movie or game download.  Virtual reality is about to sweep over the world, making flying down the Grand Canyon like a bird, just a few clicks away.  Similarly ‘every’ song, book, TV show and movie will be available for a subscription cost, not much much more than a few coffees a week at your favourite cafe. 

We are not going to lack for the availability of experiences.  The challenge is going to be that virtual reality, virtual meetings, online media (books, TV, music …) and online shopping are going to be so easy, so compelling, so cheap, so addictive that the real world might well suffer badly as a result.  When the real world fades away in importance, so does the safety, cleanliness and beauty of the real world.  Why pay for the parks to be maintained, for the Lakeland paths to be resurfaced, for the potholes in the roads to be fixed, for the town centre shops, for the streets to be safe … when people don’t value these things anymore, their home is their castle.

I don’t think the challenge the world faces is stuffocation, I don’t think the solution is ever richer experiences, I think the risk is everyone being sucked into the seductive virtual world.  Gamer’s already know this, some so in the thrall of games that they go days without eating.  What happens when virtual life, a few clicks away for everyone, becomes as seductive as gaming is today for the few.  We won’t be promoting ‘more [virtual] experience’ then, but I will might well still be happy with my definition of simple living.

I wrote this post sitting in Caffe Nero Lytham, I’m going for a walk to Fairhaven Lake later with a friend of mine.  Starting the day here is an important part of my morning routine, a very valuable part of my morning experience.  I normally go to my local cafe in St Annes though after which I enjoy a walk along the prom and beach, the photo that decorates this post is of a small part of that walk, taken from the Grand Hotel, where the golf course meets the Dunes, just next to the Beach Terrace Cafe (just out of shot on the left).

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

3 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    steve – really enjoy your refreshing POV. I am 56, have worked in corporate America for 31 years and am frankly gassed by this whole approach. I want to retire to the Great Lakes in Michigan with my wife of 34 years and chill down to a real life with a new simple purpose, that isn’t constantly based on extreme growth, coveting, dissatisfaction, but on a simple but pleasant life that appreciates family, healthy living, beautiful lakes and friendly small town life. I’m ready.


    The “other” Steve from Denver, Colorado

  2. Matt says:

    Having been fortunate enough to visit the grand canyon, the reality can never be replaced with photographs, video, or VR. As our Guide walked us up to the ridge, he said something along the line of just put your cameras down for a moment “This is the Wow Moment, I’ve never known any first time visitor not have their breath taken away” He was right, and no mater how many photographs I took with My stuff (Panasonic G2 DSLR) they simply don’t capture what the human experience is with your eyes, altitude perception and general feeling of irrelevance (in a good way – Grounding, significance) As I watch more and More people at attractions, places, events, all viewing them through the 4/5″ screen on Phones and cameras I wonder where the experience is, and just how far away your view of just spending our lives immersed in headsets actually is

  3. I hope it’s a very long way away matt, but I’m afraid that I’m going to be wrong and that unless we are mindful of the dangers, people will get sucked ever more into their ‘screens’

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