Peak Stuff: March 2016


By Clive Lindley-Jones | March 16, 2016 1:17 pm

“If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings,” Steve Howard

Steve Howard from IKEA said this  at a Guardian Sustainable Business debate.  He amusingly commented that the new state of affairs could be called “peak curtains”. Howard’s comment had been compared to a “Ratner moment”, named after Gerald Ratner’s description of goods at his jewellery stores as “crap” in 1991.  As  I read this piece  about Steve Howard’s rather daring, candid statement the other month it got me thinking.  I was busy clearing our old cupboards and was immediately both amused by the term, ‘peak stuff’ and recognised that I was at that stage in life of being in danger of letting stuff, overcrowd my life, instead of improving it.

I am old enough to remember the more spartan times of the 1950’s when the shadow of the second world war still hung over a rather grey, smog covered,  bombed-out, London  and one could but marvel at the seeming cornucopia of goodies that appeared to be available in far-off  America. There was no way the child-me, with my face up against the toy shop window, would, at that different time, have understood the concept of ‘peak stuff’.

The surprisingly engrossing  recent BBC series Back in Time for the Weekend , through the device of putting a family through a speeded up series of decades looking at the entertainment ‘stuff’ that they had available, brought home our changing relation to ‘stuff’.

Stuart Jeffries (The Guardian, Enough is Enough 02.03.16) also wrote an interesting piece noting that  British consumers are actually spending 5% less on their total household budget buying physical goods over the last decade. Altogether, Jeffries reports, we are getting through 10.3 tonnes per person, down from a high of 15.1 tonnes twelve years earlier. All those discarded VHS tapes that cannot be recycled and the 4m tonnes of food we waste each year may be one of the reasons we rack up these enormous totals.  Will our greater awareness, tightened circumstances and increased digitization see a significant reduction in these, rather horrifying, figures?

As nearly all societies become increasingly unequal again, under the new order,  even a simple and civilised  William Morris-like appreciation of a few well-chosen, beautiful objects, for our homes is slipping out of the reach of many, to be replaced by gluts of stuff for some and no chance of a decent home to contemplate any wished for beautiful objects, for many.

But perhaps the real challenge for us all, is one that cuts across the growing  material divide. If we shift focus for a moment from our physical ‘stuff’ to all those tired, broken and tarnished beliefs, certainties and ideologies that we might still have tucked away in the loft of our minds, there might be some decluttering to be done that could be even more useful to us all than the physical decluttering now espoused by best sellers like Marie Kondo’s  The Life Changing Magic of Tidying.

I would like to leave you with the challenge this month. Go up into your ‘mental loft space’ and rummage around there sometime and see what old, out of date, mental baggage you still have stored away, that no longer serves you. Ask yourself if that old 1950’s belief, potentially poisonous  ’60’s ideology or quaint ’70’s style social construct, inherited from your parents, are really fit for purpose in our present time?

It is not difficult to see the damage that such old certainties that are being clung to around the world are doing, both to our fragile physical world and to the political discourse of our time.

May be it is time to bring some of these  dysfunctional, outmoded thought forms, down. Give them a wash and take them to  the dump where there can be safely recycled into something more imaginative and fitting for the  undoubted existential challenges to come. Something to think about.

1 Comment

  1. Doug Bonnar on March 17, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    70’s… quaint?? How dare you- swords at dawn sir 🙂