This was one of my holiday reading titles. I chose it because I’m getting interested in the idea of minimalism and really looking beyond the collecting of stuff. So this looked like the ideal volume to get stuck into during the holidays.
The author’s credentials are that he is a discerner of trends and does so for large corporations. He applies his skill in this to seeing where the western world (and by extension the rest of the world as the catch up) is going.
Stuffocation, he defines, is the mental and physical price paid by people for over consumption. The roots of which can be dated back to the early 20th century where US factories were producing more goods than people wanted. Thus, the book tells us, the captains of industry got together with the advertising sector and persuaded people to buy buy buy. And in the process we created the throwaway consumer culture that we see today.
The problem, he goes on to tell us, is that we became very good at overconsumption. Houses are stuffed with things and we’re paying ever more for larger property to hold it or storage facilities to keep the stuff we can’t bear to part with.
It also drives us in our jobs to work longer hours just buy more stuff. In short, we’re keeping up with the Jones’ but killing ourselves in the process.
So the author examines the three possibilities for getting out of the trap. First up is minimalism. He tells some stories of people who have downsized and possibly taken it to extremes such as the family that gave it all up to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
The second idea presented is what has become known as Medium Chill. If minimalism is stepping on the brakes, Medium Chill is taking the foot off the accelerator and slowing down. The idea is to work just hard enough to be comfortable, consume what is necessary and spend time doing things that are enjoyable. Basically just to relax.
Third up and his suggestion for the future is the experience economy. This is where resources are spent on experiences rather than on things. The theory goes that experiences last longer in the mind and are more enriching than physical goods.
The problem with the experience economy is one that the author himself brings up in the book, namely social media. We use good such as cars and houses as a way of displaying our status. With physical goods, this is only to our immediate peers such as neighbours and friends. With social media such as Facebook, we have the opportunity to do the same with experiences and to reach a wider audience. The endless parades of status updates about what people are doing have even produced a new anxiety, Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). It would appear than in beginning to embrace the experience economy, we’ve exchanged one competition and set of problems for another.
For me, the stand out idea in the book was Medium Chill. Having the ability to take the foot of the accelerator and live a happy and content life consuming as required but living within our means and doing what is important seems right and simple. And it led nicely onto the other book that I brought on holiday, a book on the Stoic philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome.