It’s hard to define who James Wallman is, but he calls himself a ‘futurist.’ He is a trend-forecaster, a field which is popular in Western countries and nowadays spreading in Turkey. And he is the author of ‘Stuffocation.’
Came to Turkey for a giving a talk, Wallman writes for GQ, New York Times, Financial Times and Guardian, and he is an advisor for brands like BMW, Burberry and Nike.
Wallman imagines people to live based on experiences, not on stuffs.
He talked to us about his book ‘Stuffocation’.
You have coined a new term: stuffocation -upon which you touch many aspects in your book. What is the stuffocation in a nutshell?
Stuffocation is a few things…
It’s that feeling when you open your wardrobe or a cupboard. And there’s so much stuff in there, you have to rummage around to find the thing you really want.
It’s the realisation that we have too much stuff, that we have things we don’t use.
‘Let’s focus on ‘doing’ things rather ‘having’ things’
It’s the realisation that more stuff and materialism isn’t making us happy anymore. Instead, we’re realising that being materialistic is bad for the planet, and bad for society. It’s making us stressed and depressed in record numbers.
So it’s a cry for help, and a call to arms: we’ve got enough stuff! So let’s spend our time, energy, money and focus on ‘doing’ things rather ‘having’ things. If we do that, it’ll be good for you and me our and our families. We’ll be happier. We’ll have richer, more interesting, more story-filled lives with better relationships.
It’ll be good for the planet: less environmental pollution, at a local as well as global level. And it’ll be good for society: instead of worrying about inequality and the gap between the haves and the have-nots, we’ll realise that we all have experientially worthwhile lives. There’s robust evidence that status has a significant impact on health.
I assume you had a short trip in Istanbul. What do you think about the settlement of the city? I think it doesn’t fit your understanding of minimalism, does it?
I’ve been before. I love the city: so much energy. And I love the people: so friendly. The city is fascinating.
‘I’m not anti-stuff, I’m pro-experiences
I don’t advocate for minimalism! I’m not anti-stuff, I’m pro-experiences. A minimalist city sounds like a city without life to me. Humans are messy. We have things. We do things. We make things. We break things. This, to me, is life. Cities full of life should be messy. That’s meaningful.
As the anthropologist Danny Miller has observed, there can be a violence in minimalism. Istanbul is a city full of people, and the energy of their lives.
Have you seen a house of an ordinary Turkish family? We like to live in the houses crowded with furniture. And we have a lot in our minds.
Darn! I haven’t been invited in yet. Can I come to your house??
The problem of too much stuff – and too many things to do – is a modern ailment. It’s a great problem to have. It’s a signifier of success: the success of our capitalist system, the success of our lives.
Older people grew up in a time of scarcity. If you got something, you held on to it. Because you didn’t know if you’d be able to afford another.
Modern people don’t know how lucky they are to have this problem of too much stuff…
‘Stuffocation is the equivalent of the obesity’
With too much stuff – physical things and things going on – we need to learn to manage it all. It’s a new skill.
Stuffocation is the material equivalent of the obesity epidemic. Our systems tell us very quickly when we’re hungry, but they’re slow to tell us when we’re full… We need to learn to know when we have enough, and shift our focus.
Move your focus to experiences and you’ll see you have so much. There are so many amazing places to visit and things to do.
Minimalism is a concept, or a lifestyle which becomes popular among the young people in recent years. There are a lot of articles online and print, and even there is a documentary on minimalism on Netflix. What happens when the more people become minimalist? What are the pros and cons?
That movie on Netflix features the two guys in the opening chapter of ‘Stuffocation’… minimalism is great on a personal level. Stop just trying to get more stuff.
But on a societal level, we need people to spend, because capitalism’s virtuous circle is based on people spending spending spending.
If we spend more, we’ll all be richer – that’s the lesson from the revolutionary poem, the ‘Fable of the Bees’.
How can we become minimalists? Isn’t it too hard? Most people don’t want to get rid of their stuff. What will we win if we transform our lives in a more minimalist tendency?
We should all become experientialists. Instead of thinking we’ll find happiness, identity, status, and meaning in material things, we should realise that the best place to find them is in experiences.
Then we should remember what my granddad told me, that memories live longer than things.
We see simple design on internet. But does it count in favor of minimalism? What is your opinion about social media?
I love social media!
A little is good. But spend too long on social media and you’ll miss out on what matters.
‘I was shocked at seeing people at dinner on their mobile phones’
I was out last night at Bomontiada, I had drinks and dinner there. I was shocked at how many people were sitting at dinner on their mobile phones.
People! Put your phones down and talk with the beautiful, breathing, flesh and blood person sitting in front of you. Connect with her or him.
I think restaurants should ban phones at the table. Society should frown on this practice. Sorry, but if you’re on your phone, you’ll miss out on the magic of the people you’re with.
The surest way to happiness is relationships… real relationships. Yes, phones and social media support these. But they can also get in the way.
Is politics stuffocated? Can it be minimalist?
No idea! Politics is messy, because ruling is messy. Minimalism in politics sounds like violence to me: how can you reduce the mess of human political issues into simple forms?
Take experientialism: it works. It makes people happy. It gives them status. So they’re spending more on experiences!
What is your vision for the future?
Lots of people buying ‘Stuffocation’ and then sharing the ideas, talking about the ideas, embracing the better future it offers for them and their families.
And more people spending less on stuff but more on experiences. Happier people, less pollution, and a less fragmented society.