Forget the Christmas turkey; we are the ones who are over-stuffed. Our lives, homes, bodies, businesses, shops, backyards are filled with stuff. We are part of a tsunami of consumption. As we drown in the masses of objects and products we bring into our lives we fail to see the environmental impact of the resources we are using.
The earth’s natural resources are finite, which means if we use them continuously we will exhaust them. Evidence is that at the present rate of growth in their use, we are near peak extraction for many sources of energy and materials. Peak oil has had the most attention. No one knows whether we are at peak oil now, or within another decade or so, but it does not have an infinite horizon. Peak does not mean that we run completely out. It means that we can no longer extract at an increasing rate. After hitting peak, the annual draw of any virgin material cannot support continued growth in its use. Indeed, assuming two percent annual growth in use, even iron ore will hit a peak within 50 years.
The air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we need to grow food are all impacted by our desire for stuff, but we continue to accumulate and to make room for more or newer stuff we dispose of stuff.
Author James Wallman , Stuffocation: Living More With Less (2015, Penguin), writes that Western countries are “stuffocating” under the weight of our possessions, he writes that we have more possessions than we need or use, and this stuff is not only cluttering our lives but it is stressing us.. it might even be killing us.
Many of us can relate to the feeling that James Wallman writes about, ““Stuffocation is that feeling you get when you look in your bulging wardrobe and can’t find a thing to wear; when you have to fight through piles of stuff you don’t use to find the thing you need, and when someone gives you a present and your gut reaction isn’t ‘thank you,’ but ‘what on earth makes you think I could possibly want or need that pointless piece of stuff?’
James Wallman is promoting The Experience Revolution to help people be happier by nudging them less stuff and more experiences. He believes that individuals, businesses and governments have a part in this revolution.
With all these things you may wonder if there is room for actual living. U.C.L.A. researchers tackled the question of when does all the things stuffing our homes become too much. The anthropologists were given access to 32 “ordinary” middleclass families to document how they lived. The study produced the book, “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors” and a web series called “A Cluttered Life: Middle-Class Abundance”
Consumerism is not new in our culture but many factors have created the hyper consumerism we see today. “The Empire of Things : How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth to The Twenty-First” by Frank Trentmann documents the history of consumerism as he writes of the many reasons that our society is moving faster with consumption accompanying the faster pace. As The Program Director for The Culture of Consumption project , a program the consisted of 26 projects that looked at the changing dynamics of consumption, past and present, and the implications for the future. Included in the programs presentations was a short overview of 4 ½ Lessons About Consumption
Frank Trentmann ,Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London believes we can learn from history and that history can prove how we can create change. His lecture recorded at The London School of Economics and Political Science is well worth listening to.
There may be no silver bullet to save the day, but we can all work harder at changing our habits and behaviours. We can learn to reduce and support others to change. We can become more mindful of the impact of our material selves.