Help, I can't breathe! ... 'stuffocation' ...

Stuffocation’  s a new word which we could easily add to our dictionary. The trend watcher James Wallmann coined the term to describe the feeling that too many things, too much stuff is suffocating our way of life.

Thanks to mass production and global markets, we have access to a huge amount of relatively cheap products which we readily buy … and then store! The explosion of self-storage facilities over the past 10 years testify to the fact that we have too much stuff and too little space to keep it. Not only too little physical space but also too little emotional space. The excess of things is beginning to show us that more is, in fact, less.  

I was very surprised to read some comments from Steve Howard, Head of Sustainability at IKEA, a company which survives very nicely by offering us such a wide range of things we never knew we needed, who said that we have reached a limit on how much we can consume!  “We will be increasingly building a circular Ikea where you can repair and recycle products,” Howard said.  In economic terms, Howard says, ““If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings… ”

We have reached a clutter crisis. The more we have the more stress this brings. It all has to be managed, used, repaired, stored, maintained – and this is not bringing the satisfaction we expected!

The Czech professor Dr. Tomas Sedlacek in his book “The Economics of Good and Evil” stated, ““The more we have, the more we want. Why? Perhaps we thought (and this sounds truly intuitive) that the more we have, the less we will need. We thought that consumption leads to saturation of our needs. But the opposite has proven to be true. The more we have, the more additional things we need. Every new satisfied want will beget a new one and will leave us wanting.  For consumption is like a drug.”

One of my favourite economists, E.F. Schumacher in his book “Small is beautiful: Economics as though people matter.” Stated this:

“The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear. Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of strife and war.

That the cultivation of needs leads to unrest and dissatisfaction was also noted by the Fransican Friar Anselm Grün, who leads a very large group of businesses in southern Germany.

“The attitude of never having enough leads to a nomadic behaviour and continual dissatisfaction. The desire for possessions is really a desire for rest. But the paradox is that we never find rest because we are possessed by the desire for more.”

So, what is the antidote for our disease called ‘stuffocation’?

One excellent suggestion from James Wallmann is to spend your money, not on things but on experiences. “Instead of buying presents for my kids at birthdays or Christmas, I take them to a show. My most recent present for my wife was a flying lesson!”  Such shared experiences strengthen relationships and builds precious memories of time together.

I am not against material things, but when we reach a saturation point, the law of diminishing returns comes into play. Extra investing does not bring extra results!

Another suggestion is to give; after all it was Jesus Himself who said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Join in the ‘sharing economy’ in which things such as cars, mowers, tools could be shared with family and neighbours.

Downsizing can bring extra space in which to breathe … several books on this and organizing your material life can bring much needed space.

In the end, our life does not depend on how much stuff we can gather. The well-known bumper sticker “he who dies with the most toys wins’ … does not!

Jesus told of a rich man who wanted to enjoy life, living off his accumulated assets. ““Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? ’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”