Book review: Stuffocation is a must read for families with kids
‘Stuffocation: living more with less’ by trend forecaster James Wallman (Viking Penguin, £9.99) is a book you should read. Expect to hear the phrase ‘stuffocation’ a lot more during 2015, as it exactly conjures up how stuff can overwhelm a home. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com
If you like to judge a book by its cover then Stuffocation offers plenty of clues: a white-walled room empty of everything except a high backed chair. Even the book shelves are empty. It’s a miserable scene, devoid of personality! But it’s the perfect cover too for an author attacking materialism as he sells the idea that we enjoy living more when we purposefully have less.
The difficulty, and it’s a proper 21st century problem – is having less. I was sent this book during the hectic run up to Christmas. Every corridor in my home was crowded with xmas gifts waiting to be wrapped and bags of wrapping paper saved from the previous year. With so much seasonal clutter around I was tempted to pass this book along faster than it deserves.
And so I read it, and re-read it, fascinated by the idea that an increasing number of people already realise that too much makes them dissatisfied (especially middle class families it seems). This is not a prettily photographed coffee table book – there are 345 pages of dense print to work through. Once Wallman has made his point about stuff being a blood-pressure raiser his main concept is that experiencing things (being in the moment if you prefer) is a good way of enjoying what life has to offer and far better than buying yourself a new anything. Sometimes these experiences can be bought – a balloon ride at dawn, wildlife safari or front row seats at the theatre – but many more experiences are free including walking barefoot on grass, enjoying soup at an impromptu picnic or singing along with a friend or congregation.
Readers of my book Homemade Kids (or this blog) are likely to be familiar with the idea of making your own fun – even creating your own family traditions. These can be as simple as having pizza on a Friday night or hanging out the homemade bunting in anticipation of Granny’s arrival.
But I find that the best experiences tend to need kit – especially if an experience is also offering you the chance to learn a new skill (ski waterproofs, jodphurs for riding horses, reflective gear and lights for cycling). As a consequence the people I know who are most on top of experientalism, as Wallman calls it, also tend to be hoarders (though maybe not so extreme that they have 16 grand pianos, just in case). And if they have growing kids they might also have far more than is needed for the family right now, much of it in the next size up. It may be bagged up and out of sight after a fortuitous sighting of something that will be useful one day -a wet suit or skating boots – at a car boot sale. Or it may be half-squeezed under the bed or in an already bulging wardrobe.
Like many families I accept that this cluttered stage until the kids grow up and I’ll either pass the final sets of outgrown walking boots, cello and waterproofs on or I’ll save them for my kids’ children. To be fair to Wallman visitors to my house with grown up children, no children or bigger homes (I was recently told it was odd to keep an axe in our downstairs bathroom) invariably comment that we need to do a bit of sorting.
Instead of tackling this problematic area of stuffocation – for instance by pointing out what a business opportunity there could be for renting rather than buying or easy ways to share not often needed kit – Wallman picks an interesting fight with Facebook. He points out that those who use it are bludgeoned by other people’s photo updates of sunset drinks, good time parties and significant life moments. It’s a way for Facebook users to show off that they are having experiences, but apparently it’s led to the rest of us who only logged on to catch up feeling that we’re missing out. FOMO – fear of missing out – is not an attractive condition. It increases people’s anxiety levels to the extent that they either spend their time glued to their mobiler to catch up with what everyone else is doing or worry themselves into such a stressy mess that they need anti-depressants, yes, even before going to a comedy gig.
Reading Stuffocation I felt it would be easy to fall out with the rest of the human race (the richer ones that is) yet applying the book’s fundamental message – do more, buy less – is a great plan.
Some years ago I was switched on to this idea by an American friend who suggested that sticking to a rigid gift budget didn’t always make sense, instead it might be better to buy theatre tickets for birthday and Christmas presents so that the gift giver and recipient got a shared moment of time they’d, hopefully, remember. And of course it doesn’t have to be a pricey show, a pub walk or picnic can be fun too. I don’t always go for experience gifts – as my family and godchildren know – but it helped me feel I had permission to sometimes spend cash on what might otherwise be seen as frivolities cutting into the weekly essentials. Curiously this friend has the same problem as me: a great deal of clutter around her home, although she does try and shift it on ebay from time to time.
Wallman concludes Stuffocation by claiming we need experiences more than ever. “By having less and doing more, we will be happier, healthier, richer in every sense: less clutter, less regret, less anxiety, more conversations, more connections, a healthier take on status, and a stronger sense of belonging.”
Rating the book 6/10. It’s a tough decision going to a six, as though I totally agree with the idea of rethinking what it is we value, I struggle to find clutter the problem when it can so often also be a fantastic insurance towards enabling opportunity. Then again I’m not buying an expensive new pair of high heels or queueing for xmas’s fashionable electronic toy. And I do think I’ll try and give some of Wallman’s ideas a go…
Have a look at the stuffocation website here.
Here’s the amazon.co.uk link here.
Over to you
I’m so looking forward to hearing what you think about this idea. Do leave a comment now, or go read the book and join the debate.
You can buy from amazon at this link Stuffocation: living more with less by James Wallman (paperback rrp £9.99). There’s also a kindle version.