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On consumerism, trash, and the 'stuffocation' of our world

Now that the hangover from the orgy of materialism known as Christmas has finally evaporated, it’s time to face the obvious.

We are stuffaholics and we are suffering from “stuffocation.”

Christmas is merely the climax in a year of mounting over-consumption. It starts on Black Friday, marches through Cyber Monday, and culminates in two weeks of Boxing ‘Day,’ with the religious dimension of the holiday being swept away in a tsunami of consumption that now starts rolling even before Halloween. But we don’t know what else to do with ourselves.

Stuffocation is the title of a new book by trendspotter James Wallman, and it’s the perfect word for our current state. Too much everything. It’s going to the closet, says Wallman, “and it’s bursting with clothes but you can’t find a thing to wear.”

For other critters on the planet, the consequences are more serious.

There’s an island called Midway, which is 2,000 miles from land, where the sea birds are literally stuffocating on the garbage they’ve ingested from the formerly pristine ocean and beaches. You can watch this below. Check it out and weep. I did.

But Wallman has an interesting theory. He thinks we’ve finally had enough of stuff and the dominant philosophy of the day is changing.

We’re evolving again. Materialism and its stuffocating side effects are giving way to “experientialism,” which means we’re starting to value experiences over things.

Back in the bad old days of conspicuous consumption, your stuff had a point. It was a symbol of your status. Your car was more than a ride from point A to point B; it was a sign you could afford to spend enough to keep an African village alive for a year on your conveyance.

That was then, when it was necessary to impress those in your immediate vicinity. But now that everyone (and I mean everyone) is in the media business, we need content to broadcast to our far-flung friends on Facebook and Twitter.

“I went shopping” is boring. “I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail” is pretty cool.

And who needs a car when you can just use a Zipcar?

According to Wallman, Apple is the perfect bridge from materialism to experientialism. You buy an iPhone and even the package it comes in is an experience. But there are other pioneers in this brave new world. For instance, Patagonia sells, through its partnership with eBay, used clothing and the stories behind it. Puma has a bag called the Clever Little Shopper; if you put it in hot water for three minutes it dissolves, leaving no residue and you can safely pour it down the drain.

Of course, experientialism is just another marketing scheme. This time you buy the experience, and the stuff is just the details. But in a world that’s lost its meaning and is stuffocating us all, it’s a tiny message of hope — in a biodegradable bottle.

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