What if our lives were only made up of money and things? Material possessions I mean.
Golly, that doesn’t sound too awful. It might resemble the Las Vegas strip.
No. In fact, most people are chiefly concerned with their immediate lack of both money and things. Also two great sources of stress.
Even I admit that most of my days are spent thinking about (1) things I’d like to possess, and (2) how to afford part 1.
Such a life would be without much hardship.
What IÂ can’t conceive of, and generally take for granted, is a life without all the other elements that enrich my existence and stimulate my brain.
That is, things like politics. Music. Art. Diversity ofÂ opinions and cultural customs. Exercise.
If you know me well, you know I love firetrucks, which are a mostly intangible, observational and coincidence-based hobby.
Where will all the issues go? What will I be passionate about, if not better public spaces, urban design, public transit, and old-world quality? Heirloom knowledge…?
Where will the struggle be? The motivation to do better, be better, and learn.
I bring this up because I’ve spent time in my life around people who really do revolve solely around their social network, and the activities related to stuffocation. Only recently have I come to see its vacuity.
It is a bleak place to exist, friends. I found myself physically ill surrounded by it.
I learned that term, stuffocation, from a Fast Company article by James Wallman.
It spoke to me in a way few articles do, mostly because I have long felt something ugly and destructive in my own drive to accumulate. Items, pieces of wealth, scattered about,Â values indeterminate.
On the one hand: I see beauty and harmony in well-made decor and fashion. Style, and its material execution, can make your success, or spell failure. It can also bring a lot of joy.
On the other: the place few of us have or will ever be, is one of effortless possessionâ€”but ultimate boredom.
The Wallman article traces the worldwide change of virtues: from that of thrift and frugality, to one of material and monetary accrual. The invention of thingsâ€”implements, status symbolsâ€”changed the way we measure success, or having lived life well.
Now, we are overstuffed. The world is literally obese. And there is a show devoted to hoarders, which most watch with knowing fascination.
Digging back through the memory bank, I recall having a similarlyÂ nauseous response to The Queen of Versailles documentary.
A couple years ago I took a long walk with a friend I’ll call Jerry. I was dog-sitting near where he lived, so we met up at a park and caught up on life. He had been running his own business for a year, trying to make ends meet after being laid off. We discussed money and debt.
He told me his goal was to live completely debt-free. Live in a house with a small environmental footprint, use little energy, and be ‘off the grid’ so to speak. Total possessions to count no more than is 100% necessary.
Not for the reasons you’d think. He isn’t agoraphobic. Or plotting mass mayhem. Or diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.
He sees value in reducing his environmental footprint, and being free from “legal slavery”â€”also known as debt.
At that time, his opinions were strange and foreign. Surely I would never lose my desire for a grand closet, full of numerous beautiful things.
And yet, here I am, enlightened.
I will always appreciate beautiful objects – worn or otherwise. That is inherently me.
But what would I have, if that’s all I really had?
To have a complete life, I’ll also fight for issues (like transit, urban sustainability).
I will stand up for my friends and family, and relish our shared time. I already do. They are a finite resource, and cannot be replaced.
And, I will defend the philosophies which I find valid and beneficial to live by. The modes of thinking and the mental health strategies that have helped me so much.
When I take stock, my life would only be diminished slightly by a lack of money and things. The meat of my happiness are all those character-shaping forces that are intangible, and require more than a fat bank account.
Like skimming icing off the cakeâ€”it’s still delicious, but icing makes it just a bit more exciting and indulgent. Icing only though, and you’re asking for a stomach-ache of sugar overload. No substance, no feeling of fullness.
So to you, dear reader, I ask: are you stuffocating?
You are (Jerry excluded). We all are in some way.
Take a moment to consider all the intangible elements of your life. Could you be happy, or at least driven, without themâ€”but with more money and accumulation of stuff?
The answer is probably no.
Keep that in mind the next time you prioritize your day.
What is valuable, and what is OK to lose?