Read: Stuffocation

  • A downside of reading ebooks is that you cannot briefly skim the whole book to get an idea about its content, the argument the author wants to make. Yes, the table of contents can still give a clue about this. Yet, somehow with an ebook it is less likely that I will consult the table of contents (again) once I have “turned” the pages.

    Hence, while reading Suffocation (as an ebook) I often wondered why the author would now discuss things like the Streisand effect, or whether he sees a future in our society for whatever he was discussing at the moment.

    Wallman builds his argument slowly, carefully. Yet, without telling his reader the big picture up front. Only after a chapter, at the end of it, or even only after several chapters, it becomes clear what Wallman wants to say, why he tells what he just told, what the purpose of all the (anecdotal) evidence is. At the end, everything is obvious.

    Wallman identifies a problem: Stuffocation. Materialism in the sense of buying (too much) stuff, conspicuous consumption. After the all the unclutter and simplify-your-life books and articles that seem legion nowadays he does not need to spend too much time and effort to make and explain this point. He then discusses three potential solutions: minimalism, regression to simple living, and medium chill (a result of satisficing with rather modest aspirations). They all ain’t it.

    So, he identifies a common core and a less anti-materialist solution to Stuffocation, all the stuff that clutters our homes and makes us miserable, that seems more likely to catch on. Experientialism, conspicuous spending not on lots and lots stuff but lots and lots of memories (and some high-quality stuff that helps to have a great experience).

    All in all, this conclusion does not seem to be very controversial. Or original. Psychologists like Gilovich and Dunn arrived at the conclusion that spending money on experiences is making people happier than spending money on consumer goods much earlier. On the other hand, Wallman asks (and answers) whether this shift in spending on goods to experiences would be viable, whether people would change their behavior in large numbers to have a lasting effect on the economy. Of course, the anecdotal pieces of evidence still hint a the current stage of this idea’s dissemination and adoption: It’s still very, very early. Right now, experientialism seems something that is mostly for the financially (very) well off. Though, of course, these may be exactly the people who feel the most “stuffocated”, who have reached the end of material scarcity, and for whom time has become the ultimate scarce resource.

    So, despite all the shortcomings there were a few parts of the book and ideas for which I am happy to have read Stuffocation.

    For instance, I was surprised to find a(n interesting) discussion of the economic concept of GDP in the book. While Wallman’s perspective seems to be rather anti-business (“captains of consciousness”) he quite correctly points out: (only) what gets measured gets managed. Hence as long as there is no widely accepted replacement (or at least complement) for GDP that captures well-being the progress of society will be measured as the increase of the monetary value of the goods and services produced and sold and not as the increase in its citizens’ well-being, their quality of life.

    And, Wallman gave a nice summary of why conspicuous spending on experiences is better in the sense of likely to make people happier than conspicuous spending on stuff. With stuff, it is almost always easy to rank what is the better (as a proxy the more expensive) thing. With experiences the cost may not serve anymore as a proxy for the quality: a “cheap” experience may still be great. Hence, there is less of a feeling of being behind, less pressure to upgrade and spend more.

Read: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

  • The desire to improve one’s productivity also entails improving one’s (work) environment. I noticed, e.g., that for some tasks I would move out of my home office and use the free, uncluttered living room table. Hence, the challenge for this year is to unclutter. Finally moving in together showed that there is just too much stuff.

    Marie Kondo’s advice is simple: Everything must go.

    Ok, it’s not that extreme. Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is fascinating, insightful, I cannot take it (all) serious, and annoying at the same time.

    The book is fascinating and insightful as her approach to tidying up, to unclutter is refreshingly different. Instead of choosing what to throw out she recommends choosing what to keep. This change of perspective quite radically changes the default and thus the amount of stuff that has to leave. The less stuff, the less clutter. The guiding question “Does it spark joy?” is also quite simple and easy to apply. Though I am not quite ready for that kind of radical uncluttering.

    Due to this radical approach, it’s philosophy of extreme minimalism I also cannot take it all serious. There are things that do not spark joy but are necessary. And, I just do not want to throw anything into the trash that maybe someone else may still find useful. Therefore, the radical one-time weeding out of stuff seems just not feasible. Selling and giving away takes a surprisingly large amount of time. Further, thanking (earlier) possessions for a job well done and for fulfilling a purpose seems just plain silly. Finally, the continuous references to her, Kondo’s, youth (that is actually not that far in the past) and her early interest in tidying up and “better living” magazines do not necessarily spark confidence in her expertise.

    Lastly, the book is annoying as Kondo is quite sexist, assuming only women would like to tidy up and unclutter their living and work environments. It is targeted specifically at women, thus reinforcing a stereotype that should not exist in an enlightened society.