134 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on 15 February 2014
James Wallman has no doubt written an extremely well researched book. As soon as I read about this in Marketing Week I had to buy it. Around 20 years ago I decided that my life should be full of experiences - from raising a family to doing an Art degree in my 30s - rather than about conspicuous consumption. I gave up the high flying job in marketing to do this.. You could say I became one of the experientialists that Wallman talks about - but that was 20 years ago. And I was only able to give up the conspicuous consumption in favour of experiences because the country was in a very sound economic state.
Wallman tracks our consumer history from it's mass consumerist beginnings in the 20s where overproduction in the US led to a national agenda to promote over consumption. This he argues has continued until in recent years those who have 'enough' are moving towards experiences as a way to demonstrate their status in society. Facebook he proposes has been a major driver of Keeping Up with the Jones by showing off our holidays and adventures rather than our stuff.
This is a fantastic book for anyone who has never really pondered these concepts in great detail. Wallman uses a forecasting technique based on observation of what is happening now amongst the few and extrapolating that the relevant behaviour will be picked up by the many. Whilst I can't deny the astonishing research that Wallman has put into this book I can't help but think he isn't looking far ahead enough or taking into account enough of the current trends. Or perhaps he has but doesn't dare to put those thoughts forward in his book. Afterall those who predict too far into the future may be deemed to be mad.
What I see around me is youngsters who are not using Facebook, but preferring Whatsapp and Snapchat to live in the moment. No recording here of Keeping up with the Jones experiences. I see hard-worked professionals going part-time because it's all too stressful and having to give up incomes to do that. I see students holding down full time jobs and full time careers just to get by. I see yoga and meditation on the rise. I see the rise of budget supermarkets as an indication of pulling back on purchasing out of necessity. If I were to use Wallman's method to observe what's happening now in order to predict the future, then I can't see how these factors lead to a rise in wanting to swap goods for expensive experiences. In fact many of the experiences that Wallman puts forward as the future for society are on the whole all rather expensive - sitting on some other side of the world working from one's PC and spending income on pursuits such as surfing, sailing and windsurfing. Wallman's version of swapping stuff for experiences seems all very upper middle class. In flood torn and wind-swept Britain, concerns about the economy are now turning to concerns about their environment and people may be right back to survival street.
Wallman on the whole rushes past the whole area of being overwhelmed by psychological stuff and stuff to do. Indeed his example of swapping stuff for enjoying Secret Cinema showings where real actors create a dramatic experience betore the watching of the movie only seems to add to psychological Stuffocation. Such experiences are indeed the leisure version of Stuffocation.. Since when was watching a good movie not enough in itself? His observations don't extend to those middle-aged people having to hold down a job, deal with the children and look after elderly parents whose idea of reducing their 'stuff'might be a long soak in the bath in pure psychological isolation.
My own personal view of the future is one in which there is greater simplicty in life. Less to do and be as well as less to own. . If I were to predict the future it would be one where eventually we all realise the futility of Keeping up with the Jones by nature of our experiences posted on Facebook and turn instead to the wonder of a warm, dry home, one of listening to children play, teenagers signing in their rooms, stroking the cats. Unlike Wallman I will admit that this is a personal view, not a scientific one. Whilst Wallman observes this trend of the Simplicity Movement he dismisses it as boring - a highly emotive conclusion. My key criticisms of this book are not the research or the writing style - both of which are excellent. The book is intellectually stimulating. However, dare I way the author hones down on the trends that seem to personally resonate with him. The dismissal of other key trends, means that the conclusions of this book come across as Wallman's personal opinion than a reliable forecast.
I am giving if four stars because although I have my reservations about the content, it is a jolly good read and has fired me up enough to write a review. Anything that gets people thinking has to be worth a good rating.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2015
3 Stars because, well... it's ok. His argument against materialism is sound, but his arguments for experience is based on exactly the same concepts as materialism i.e. spend loads of money on experiences and use these as a status symbol! He defends this by saying that spending money continues the growth of the economy and means there is more work, therefore more money, therefore more spending therefore more work etc. If you are a capitalist then this form of minimalism is probably as good as it gets, but ultimately capitalism is all about exploitation and the book really starts to get irksome with anecdotes of middle class city types spending fortunes on doing stuff instead of buying stuff, and it would seem that to do stuff you have to have garages full of equipment anyway (bikes, skis, kites, hang gliders, climbing gear etc.). Perhaps what we need to think about is EVERYONE working less, this will of course mean less wages, but it also means that we have more time. Goods, and services will all have to become cheaper as after all (according to Wallman's own research ) we have reached saturation point and don't want these things any more. Instead of a spiral of ever increasing growth perhaps the spiral needs to start moving in the other direction?
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
The book focuses on the 'modern' phenomenon of stuffocation, namely the tendency of the post WW2 middle classes of accumulating significantly more belongings than is strictly necessary. As many of today's households suffer to some extent from this development, reading about it is certainly of general interest.
The book is divided into three main parts, which overlap to some extent, namely the research on the topic of stuffocation - to what extent does it happen and what are its consequences - then some alternative ways of dealing with it, and finally how to replace belongings with experiences as a special case of addressing stuffocation.
I feel the author does an excellent job of summarizing the research on the phenomenon and this bit of the book is quite interesting. The options of foregoing stuffocation via minimalism, back to the basics or medium chill were all intriguing to learn about via the various cases presented and there may very well be the odd reader finding these attractive.
The final component, namely the replacement of physical belongings with experiences - the author's trend prediction of the most likely solution to the problem for the most people - is where I have some problems with. First of all the experience phenomenon is not new and many of the experiences the author has been using as examples - while potentially novel or racy for the majority of the population - have been around for decades and accessible to a fair fraction of the population. Especially the travel aspect is far from new.
Another comment I would make is that contrary to the author's thesis, namely that experiences are hard or impossible to compare, I am very much of the opinion that these are ranked in a similar way - often the most status being accorded to those experiences which are expensive or difficult to accomplish - meaning that rarity and exclusivity remain. Consequently hedonic habituation and status anxiety remain (the author admits that keeping up with the Joneses remains a main driver and that Facebook makes it easier to do so for experiences).
But given the innovation diffusion the author is using - making him more of a trend researcher than futurologist - a trend needs to be well on the way before one can reliably predict its future spread, so one can only partially fault him for the conclusions.
Be that as it may, little research was quoted to support the thesis that experiences are a panacea to the stuffocation phenomenon, or more importantly, that experiences per se are largely responsible for the slowing down of artefact accumulation.
Irrespective of what you feel about the value of experiences and whether your belonging accumulation has slowed as a result, the book is a worthwhile instrument for reflection and the description of the phenomenon as well as of some common alternatives are good enough to recommend the book. It will largely apply to readers in middle classes (if you are finding it difficult to make ends meet the problem will not present itself) but if you see yourself belonging, do by all means give it a try.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 10 March 2014
After someone I know raved about this book, I approached Stuffocation expecting to be goaded into ditching our CD collection and living life on the cloud, etc, etc. Yes, there is some of that – but there is much, much more to this book than decluttering. Stuffocation just might change your wallet, your next weekend/month/year – and your life.
Wallman is a writer and trend forecaster and it shows in how he’s really done his homework here. Assembling great real-life examples, academic research, records and statistics, he weaves a rich and readable series of stories. Wallman brings real people who’ve made real choices vividly to life, from the reformed spender turned radical minimalist who bagged up his possessions to see which ones really got used, through families who sold up, packed up and went travelling, to less drastic lifestyle changes with less stuff, less debt (and less ambition), more time and more meaning.
Drawing on the work of anthropologists, historians, economists and psychologists, Wallman provides insights on our journey from pre-Industrial Revolution scratching a living to the present day – and Stuffocation. He charts the rise in over-consumption, such as the post-Depression-era boom in spending, the Mad Men of the post-WWII era, and our ‘look at me’ compulsions that social media play host to.
This is a compelling read, as the author shows us something we may admire, adopt or reject, and then questions himself. Yet clues start to emerge from Wallman’s highly engaging interviewees, his own experiences and search for meaning. We may not want to make quite such radical lifestyle changes, and the good news is we may not need to – but we do need to shift our thinking, significantly. He sets out how we can break free of Stuffocation and why we will want to, making the shift from merely acquiring to experiencing. And just when we might be wavering, Wallman hits us where it hurts. But I won’t spoil it for you. I hope Stuffocation helps and inspires you as much as it has me.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2014
This was the perfect book to read around Christmas time! Just when everyone else was going on a shopping rampage, I was inspired and motivated by 'Stuffocation' to carry out a massive de-clutter, to lead a simpler life, and to turn the focus on experiences, above material belongings. It's really working and I highly recommend this brilliant book by James Wallman.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2015
It seems that there's a huge amount of research only to discover that people buy things, often to feel superior or show off. Now people are moving on to having experiences instead.
There's nothing enlightening or eye opening about any of this. Many people value really living rather than buying.
The one thing I took from this? Rich people are spending their money in a different way because they've found no satisfaction in consumerism. In order to experience, we still need to earn, but that isn't addressed.
How do I get my money back? I feel I have one book too many.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 24 November 2013
I really enjoyed this book. It is wittily written and easy to read but it tackles many big questions about life today. It would be almost impossible read it and to remain emotionally detached, I think that everyone can relate to the issues it covers. It has really made me think about my own life, the way I spend money and what I value.
If you thought that the documentary on planned obsolescence was shocking, you should read this! The author takes you through the first examples of consumers being encouraged to buy things that they didn't need and he sets out the history of why this was and how it has developed over time. It gives you a lot of think about, especially about the way you are being manipulated yourself.
There are also lots of funny parts of the book too, your sock drawer isn't safe! You'll end up thinking about all of the things you own, whether they are visible or invisible and what they add to your life.
There is also a chapter of the book towards the end that draws on the author's own personal experience and which I found very moving. The book isn't just an argument, it involves lots of personal stories and interesting characters that make it come to life.
I would recommend Stuffocation to anyone as I think that even though the premise of the book is about consumerism, the underlying theme of the book is how to be happy in society today. There are many parts of the book that made me question what I aim to achieve life, why it would be hard to turn down a promotion and the quick-fixes I go to when I want to cheer myself up. After finishing the book, the ideas have stayed with me and it has changed the way I think. I can't recommend it highly enough.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2013
I' ve read several books about similiar topics, but was regularly disapointed either about the lack of research which was done or a rather narrow view on things due to professional specialisation of the authors.
This book does neither of this. Since the author is a trend scout, he seems to have an unbiased, multiperspective view on things. From the first page I felt as if Wallman took me by the hand and took me on a fascinating journey through the past, present and future aims and needs of our society.
It is a "must read" for all those who want to look beyond money and stuff
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2015
Hmm. Good effort. This is a nice synthesis of some current trends and a stab at predicting the future. My only big complaint is that this is predominantly a white, middle class, First World, affluent, future. Like another similar thesis I read in the book "Happy Money" I found myself grinding my teeth over the relentless Guardian and Sunday Times supplement depiction of our "experientialist" dreams and ambitions. You too can sit on a beach in Ghana and run your London Michelin starred restaurant on the Internet from there. Throw your Hermes bags in the cupboard (in case you change your mind later) or lend your favourite eight artworks to friends for safe keeping - you do have at least eight favourite artworks at home, don’t you? - and become a globe-trotting life coach solving other people's First World problems. Guess what, doing this will make you happier in life!
To be fair, the book is a bit deeper than this and the author does try to dig under and into the shallow dreams of wannabe rat-race escapees, pointing out that The Good Life might not be the answer either. His book is really about the rejection of materialism and if it will, or even should, happen as we progress into the future. Is there a different model? And is replacing your Maserati by posting on Facebook as you write poetry from your beach hut in Sri Lanka, living with the gains from everything you've saved and sold, a different dream? Both are just essentially boasting about what you've got, although the latter might be a more interesting tale to tell on a daily basis. Tomorrow the Maserati is still only a Maserati and you're getting used to having it, like you once did with your Ford Mondeo. In Sri Lanka, however, tomorrow your beach hut might be hit by a tsunami, or at least that's what all your rat race living friends will be hoping. That'll give them something to talk about if you don't survive and you something to casually boast about if you do.
Stuffication is an interesting and stimulating read, but I would think relevant only to a small section of the population who are in, or are close to, a position in life where they can think of jettisoning some of what they have already got. And, fundamentally, that means having a stash of cash to be able to do it and not worry about the consequences. It's achingly middle class and there's hardly even a thought given to what Stuffocation might mean to a single mother living on the dole. Maybe because the answer would be "nothing"?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2014
I enjoyed reading this book a lot. The author's examination of present day materialism was extraordinarily interesting and the book is a must read for anyone who questions (or would like to question) what the important things are in life. We spend too much of our time obsessing about the latest goods and buying things. This book may help you in finding your way out of that!