Thursday, September 22, 2016

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

It is one of the most important days in your life: your only child's wedding day. Family and friends are gathering from afar, plans are all set and the church is decorated and waiting. This is the kind of day June is expecting when her entire world falls apart in Bill Clegg's Did You Ever Have a Family. When a terrible accident takes everyone that means anything to her, June does what she can to survive. She runs.

It this moving novel, we follow June on her journey, but we also are allowed to follow the other characters touched by this awful disaster. We get to know the bride a little, the groom's family, the people who take June in when she needs it and the people she leaves behind. People have complicated stories and Clegg resists the temptation to simplify them. I really enjoyed this book and its beautiful writing. I hope you'll read it.

...We've learned that grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it.

Stuffocation by James Wallman

I am in the process of moving out of state and as anyone knows, moving is the surest way to realize just how much STUFF you own. I've had Stuffocation by James Wallman on my Kindle for a while now, but this seemed like just the right time to read it. In Stuffocation, Wallman makes the case that we, as a society, have way too much stuff. And of course, he's not wrong. One flip through a few basic cable channels will show you he's right. How many different version of Hoarders are on TV now? Too many. While most of us just have overflowing junk drawers and crowded closets, it is a growing problem.

It is about how you, me, and society in general, instead of feeling enriched by the things we own, are feeling stifled by them.

Wallman writes a very well-researched and almost academic review of the problem of clutter and our accumulation of stuff. While I found most of this very interesting, some of it did begin to drone on a bit and I admit that I skimmed the last 20% or so of the book. That being said, I did find Wallman's book interesting and thought-provoking. I especially liked his comparison that Stuffocation is the material equivalent of the obesity epidemic. He also discusses that our desire to accumulate more stuff causes us anxiety and is bad for our health. We spend so much of our time and effort working to make more money to buy more stuff and it doesn't actually make us happier. We would be much better off with fewer possessions, working fewer hours and enjoying life more.

Wallman presents several case studies where people have given up most of the things they own and have become happier for it. What I especially appreciate is that never does Wallman say that we all need to give up most of our things and live in a tiny house with only our toothbrush, but he does encourage us to let go of materialism and try to get by with fewer things.

In the end, Wallman promotes not minimalism, but Experientialism which he defines as "having less and doing more." He says:

...We will be happier, healthier, richer, in every sense: less clutter, less regret, less anxiety, more meaning, more flow, more intrinsic enjoyment, better conversations, more connections, a healthier take on status, and a stronger sense of belonging.

That sounds like a pretty ringing endorsement to me. For the last year or so, our family has actually been striving toward living a more Experiential life without actually calling it that. We have urged our children to want less stuff, especially at traditional gift-giving times and have begun planning trips together instead. We are early in the conversion, but it is going pretty well so far.

This book was interesting, if a bit wordy, but I think if you were to pick it up you would find quite a lot of good information. It is definitely worth a read, though like me, you may skim over parts. Oh, and consider getting it at the library- no need to accumulate more stuff!