Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Extreme Risk of Stuffocation

Forgive us if we’ve been harping on about the experience versus stuff subject. Tis that time of year. Every scene of our lives seems set to the drunk-on-eggnog caroling of marketeers, urging us to get more stuff. And we talk about it so much because we believe it’s one of the most important topics of our times. This tightly wound knot, where retail value has become inseparable with emotional value, must be undone–for the sake of our planet, wallets, closets and lives. Anyway….

This leads us to James Wallman, a British trend forecaster who has defined and named this global material and existential crisis. He calls it “Stuffocation”–an apt name for the asphyxiating quality our addiction with stuff has produced in our planet and lives. He has penned a book of the same name, and in this short talk at the Royal Society of Arts, he outlines some of its concepts (note: the actual talk is the first 20 mins or so of video).


He touches on the now-familiar ecological and psychological problems that stem from stuffocation. But he also provides solutions. Rather than dissolving the world economy and moving to primitive, agrarian societies, Wallman suggests the movement from materialist to experientialist values. He envisions and predicts a new economy that supports the experience of living great lives, not the accumulation of the symbols we’ve been trained to believe denote them. To give an idea of what an experientialist economy would look like, he challenges the RSA audience to spend the same amount of money they would normally spend on stuff on experiences. E.g. take that money you’d spend on a Rolex and go on a vacation.

The book is already available in the UK. It’s US release is January 20, 2014 (full review coming soon). In the meantime, watch Wallman’s talk, check out his website and let us know what you think.

  • Marrena

    I would say I’m MUCH more materialistic now than I used to be, and the website backs me up. I think it depends on your definition of “materialism”. I spend much more time thinking about my material possessions than I used to. I used to spend without thinking, out of habit. I would buy things I didn’t particularly like and I would buy lots of disposable things. I was concentrating on the life of the mind. Now I spend a lot more money on things, but after the purchase I am basically done. I focus on durability, quality, design and practicality. It’s the difference between buying a box of tissues or buying a box of handkerchiefs.

    And the money I save (and I’m saving a lot of money living this way) I don’t spend on experiences. I am a treehugger, and it sounds like the experiences in the video involve a lot of travel with a big carbon footprint. Maybe it’s because I have already lived a full life and seen many places and done many exciting things, but nowadays the experiences that enrich my life the most are the mostly free ones–spending time with my boyfriend, with family, watching movies at home, walking around the neighborhood, cooking, and even housework. I enjoy doing housework when my home is filled with beautiful items that I love. I used to live my life with my head in the clouds–now I am anchored by my material surroundings.

    The money I save I spend on buying better-sourced consumables–the few consumables I still must buy. I’m trying to buy as organic as I can when it comes to food. Again, I am more materialistic than I used to be. I didn’t used to care where my meat came from. Now it’s almost to the point of the Ameglian Major Cow in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, the way I interrogate my butcher.

    To a lesser extent I am also trying to buy sustainable clothing that is also durable and high quality as my current wardrobe slowly wears out. It’s depressing–there are shops I would like to buy from, like Patagonia and some of the places featured on this website–but no companies like that make plus-sized clothing. I suppose I need to slim down my body the same way I have slimmed down my possessions. I have far fewer things than I used to, but they are nicer quality things.

    • Christina

      Your post is just spot on and I send younthen power to slim down your body, too! If you need help with it check out: EFT, it is a method to empower yourself . All the best

      • Marrena

        I’ve heard of EFT but never tried it. Thanks for the tip. In the meantime, I did find this website that carries plus-size quality organic clothing for women:

  • Maggie

    Not that I need another book, but it’s on its way.

  • Maggie

    Read the book and – wow! I’ve read any number of organising/decluttering books full of ‘practical’ ideas but this one hit a different mark. The socio-economic history of how we got caught up in acquiring things was a fascinating journey, one which sometimes I didn’t know where I was being taken on. And as for the down-and-dirty tricks to get you to buy!

    While I’ve been collecting the ‘experiences’ that Wallman talks about as the way forward, I’ve still felt burdened by my stuff. My pre-Christmas decluttering made a dent (10% gone) but, reading this book, I had a ‘lightbulb moment’ and found myself with renewed vigour to rid myself of more things and gain the freedom from “stuffocation”. I’ll need get down to the 3 or 4 suitcases of possessions, or box everything up till I really need it, I tend to get rid another 25%, which I think is doable as opposed to the 40% which might leave me at a squeeze for daily living.