Decluttering with Astrid (48)

Stuff and food

I love new words. Words that immediately evoke an image in your mind. And I recently read such a new word in the book by journalist James Wallman: stuff-obesity. Is there a connection between abstaining from a slice of cake and not buying a new notebook? Wallman believes so.

In his book, Stuffocation, Wallman writes that since the emergence of the consumer society, Western society is suffering from the material equivalent of overeating. We are stuffing ourselves with vases, iPhones, bags, candlesticks, tea cups, books, garden gnomes and more. A kind of stuff-obesity. And just as obesity is not exactly healthy for a person, having too much stuff is also ill-fated. In fact, the whole decluttering thing can actually be looked upon like a kind of diet. And the dietitian is called a personal organizer, or Marie Kondo of course. And just like a real dietician, these personal organizers are strict and they always see light in the darkness.

American psychology professor Sherry Turkle also links the food industry and the material goods industry. But she sees other funny parallels, too. For example: that, as consumers, we are changing and not swallowing everything that we’re being told. Turkle offers up the example of sugar in our food: more and more people wanted to get rid of all the sugar contained in our food. From biscuits to bread to soft drinks, the Unilevers of this world were quite simply lavish with their sweeteners. But, thanks to consumer demand, less and less sugar is now being added to such products. I find it funny that she says we ultimately also have to ask the manufacturers of material goods to protect us by not making new models anymore; models that we simply ‘must have’ and that we constantly want to be using. So, no new TV that offers even more possibilities. No item that will break after three years and need replacing. No new lamp because ‘copper is the new white’, or vice versa. According to Turkle, it’s not entirely inconceivable that people will be standing outside the Apple store begging, “No! No iPhone 8. We can’t take it anymore!”

And so, back to that lovely word: stuff-obesity. It helps when I’m in for example, [Dutch retail chain store] Hema and I hear it rumbling inside me when I’m getting greedy with all the notebooks in my hand. But in a way, I do find it a shame. To go on a diet, to have to take a deep breath. You can’t really diet one day, and not the next. And you can never really stop either.

Astrid, together with Irene, is the founder of Flow Magazine. She lives with her partner and two children. Each Tuesday, she writes about the sense—and nonsense—of decluttering.


“Week 48 – Stuff and food”