'Stuff memories, not things,' author says
Nalan Koçak - ISTANBUL
“Memories live longer than things.” That was the last note a dying grandfather wrote to his grandson.
That grandson has chased the meaning of that sentence and left everything aside: A good career in the best retail companies, a satisfying pay check, a prosperous life. British author James Wallman is the leading character of this story. He describes himself as a futurist, journalist and writer. He is the author of a bestseller book, “Stuffocation,” in which he discovers the art of living more with less and questions a very modern day problem: Stuffing.
Why do we buy more things than we need? Why do we need experience more than stuff? He delves into these questions. We met Wallman in Istanbul this week, after he spoke at an event, and discussed his novel ideas on consumerism. But before delving into the details of the interview, let’s have a wider look at the ideas against excessive consumerism and for minimalism.
‘Freedom from traps of consumer culture’
Minimalists, and those who are against excessive consumerism, underline the same point: Living with less helps you in finding freedom. But freedom from what? Freedom from fear of not being able to buy a thing, freedom from worry, freedom from guilt of a crazy day in a shopping mall, etc. In a nutshell, minimalists suggest, it promises freedom from the traps of consumer culture.
Like many minimalists, Wallman does not oppose to the concept of “material possessions.” The problem they claim to diagnose is the meaning that is attributed to those possessions. They claim we give too much value to the things we own or the things that we do not own yet, i.e. creating objects of desires to buy in the foreseeable future. The worst part is, according to minimalists, we do this at the expense of our health, social time, relations with family and friends.
Wallman says that capitalism, actually, is “fantastic” in the sense that it has altered humankind’s life conditions drastically. “Industrial and consumer revolution have made people like you and me rich. Normal people have running water at homes. It may sound simple but you turn the tap and you have hot water. In the 1930’s only 30 percent of the homes had that. Or imagine older times, do you think that Ottoman sultans could have turned the tap and got the water temperature exactly as they wanted. Probably not… Your shower is better than a sultan’s shower in terms of function.”
A first in human history: Obesity
According to Wallman, capitalism has pulled millions of people out of poverty and scarcity into living lives where we have good tea, 10 pairs of shoes and beauty products.
But at the same time it has come with its side effects, namely stuffing. Wallman thinks stuffing will be one of the defining issues of 21st century; he explains the reason for that. “Since the beginning of human life, the problem is how we can get enough food on our tables. But because of the industrial revolution we have so much food and it’s so cheap that we got obesity as problem. That’s the first time in human history. For me the problem with stuffing is the material equivalent of the obesity epidemic. So all of a sudden things became cheap and plentiful and this created materialism,” he says.
Take the fashion industry for example, Wallman says, everybody buys more and more things. Especially for women followers of the fashion industry, things are never enough and they go “out of fashion” so easily. Some very innovative figures found a very minimalist solution about this fashion pressure. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are very well-known for wearing the same color t-shirts and jeans all the time. They claim that minimalism in their wardrobes helps them focus on other issues in life more easily.
Human beings are consumers innately but also rational creatures. So how do we fall into this cycle of consuming? “When you hear a message that touts you so many times, you just get used to it. When something gets familiar, you start to like it, it feels relaxing. When you buy a particular brand of lipstick, for example, you think it makes you happy,” Wallman explains.
But is that real happiness? Wallman has an answer to that question as well. “You buy things which you do not need to impress people with the money that you actually don’t have, with credit cards. So this is bad for us, you get into debt and it causes stress. Or the marginal happiness out of things diminishes as you buy more. With a pair of shoes you get happy, but what about the 10th pair of shoe? It does not make you as happy as the first one.” Wallman stressed that stuffing is actually bad for mental health as well as the environment.
‘Shift your spending from things to experiences’
So then it’s time to ask the big question: How can we break this cycle?
“Happiness resides in you, not in the things you buy. Instead of buying extra pairs of shoes, spend that money for qualified time with friends or family. Shift your spending from things to experiences. Forget having things, embrace doing things,” Wallman says.