As a minimalist I had great hopes for James Wallman’s book, expecting big praise of the minimalist movement and it’s ongoing development into the ‘next big thing’.
James Wallman is a cultural forecaster who predicts trends, and ‘Stuffocation’ is essentially a predicted change in culture that he talks about as a result in the rise of those of us who rebel against materialism.
I really liked his use of different academics in the introduction and early chapters…the explanations through scientists, technologists, minimalists and environmentalists who argue different reasoning for the rise in those turning against material goods. There were arguments and explanations in there I hadn’t thought of or even considered. For example the rise of downloads and ebooks has turned even the most avid collector into a declutterer of ancient books, DVDs and CDs that are no longer needed (For a bibliophile, that makes me shudder at the thought of an ‘e-book’. Proper books all the way for me, I just get them from the library.)
Wallman’s arguments and explanations of how trends are forecast are also really interesting. I reviewed myself as an early adopter of minimalism as I still think there’s a long way for those who just don’t get decluttering, or even more the minimalist movement. Some of the case studies of famous minimalists such as Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, and Courtney Carver of Project 333, one of the first capsule wardrobe leaders of this era were known to me, and interesting that he included them as examples of minimalism of the modern day, as they’re pretty famous ones. He talks of simple living, which I definitely aspire to, and it’s difficulties in the modern world. Without the use of technology or machinery, one family spend most of their time cutting wood for the fire, and the life they live is hard.
Where the argument falls down for me though is that experientialism is the new trend, the answer to stuffocation. That we just replace all our spend on consumer goods and material items with experiences. I loved the example of the guy in his little Earls Court flat with barely any possessions spending all his rather considerable salary on doing ‘stuff’ instead of buying ‘stuff’. I completely agree that experiences rather than things are the way to go, and I think that he’s right in society is definitely moving that way, but shifting your spend from spending the same amount on goods to experiences just doesn’t sit right with me. He talks about two crazy experiential marketing events including one for Louis Vuitton where a theatre company called Punchdrunk were commissioned to provide what sounds like a pretty crazy experience, in essence to sell Louis Vuitton. How is that a change in our culture? It’s a big brand trying to sell stuff, but by using an experience.
In a world where there is less employment, more people, less happiness, and essentially if we’re to believe this trend, a rise in experientialism, but no less of a spend, how will there be all the money to go round? Will people with less still struggle to feed and clothe themselves and their families while others sip champagne in an underground London warehouse?
To me, minimalism and simple living creates equals of us. It says we don’t have to have things. We can live with simple pleasures such as a coffee with friends, the sun on our face, time with family and friends, one sofa instead of three (and for those in the world with lots of money, that might be a really, really expensive one) but it equalizes and it simplifies. Huge, indulgent experiences, just replace one level of consumerism with another. There is still a hierarchy of spend, there is still massive indulgence. People still need to sell their soul in the corporate world to take helicopter lessons, to go rafting in the Andes, or to sit on a beach in some of the world’s most beautiful places whilst running a restaurant in London remotely on their Macbook.
If this sounds like bitterness or jealousy for those people it isn’t. It’s more disappointment that Stuffocation didn’t address those people like me who don’t aspire to earn huge salaries, and never had done, who look for a simpler solution, and who although experientalist in nature, don’t seek the big quit for a 6 month trip across the world. It felt like Stuffocation was a solution for well off middle class Guardian readers with a London property who might sell their second home for a little adventure and call themselves a part of the Stuffocation movement.