James Wallman thinks we are all suffering from “stuffocation” — a term he coined to describe the anxiety Americans are feeling from having too many THINGS.
[O]ur problem is often having much more than enough, which means more hassle, more to manage, and more to think about. In our busy, cluttered lives, more is no longer better. It is worse.
This problem is the other side of the pendulum that swung in the ’80s and ’90s and into the new millennium — the age of materialistic consumerism. We believed that to be more, we needed to have more, which meant spending more. And now we want to get rid of all that STUFF.
I thought the idea of feeling “stuffocated” was one that was more or less unique to living in an insanely crowded city like Manhattan, with four people squeezed into less than 1,000 square feet, trying to remind ourselves that the entire city is our backyard (except if we left our bikes and scooters in our “backyard” we could expect them to be gone 20 minutes later). According to Wallman, however, this is a systematic and widespread epidemic that everyone is feeling — and lots of people are studying.
An environmentalist will tell you we’re feeling this way because we’re worried about landfill, carbon footprint, climate change. A social commentator might say we’ve had enough of stuff because it’s giving us affluenza. A philosopher might explain we’re fed up with the status anxiety that comes with materialistic consumerism.
And an anthropologist might tell you – quoting from the most extensive study into daily life ever conducted by the Los Angeles, California-based Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) – that we’ve had enough of stuff because we are living in “the most materially rich society in global history”. We are at a point of “material saturation”. And we are facing a “clutter crisis”.
One look at my Facebook page confirms that I’m not the only one feeling this “clutter crisis.” Many friends post about living a minimalist life and wanting to purge their belongings — and it’s not even spring. I’m not talking about people’s fascination with the show Hoarders — these are normal families who just want less around them.
And while a majority of Americans are experiencing stuffocation, research shows that women are more deeply affected.
UCLA psychologists Rena Repetti and Darby Saxbe found that women who have issues with clutter have the signature pattern of cortisol [the stress hormone] that is associated with people who have chronic fatigue, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a higher risk of mortality. Women who struggle with the stuff in their homes, in other words, are more likely to feel tired, depressed, and die.
So do yourself a favor this week and skip those tempting after-holiday sales — because “30% off” may translate to years off your life.