Time to admit the truth: we're a nation of sentimentalists

The runaway success of books like James Wallman’s Stuffocation and Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying suggests that something serious has happened in the private lives of the people of Britain.


This fuss about de-cluttering suggests that, instead of thinking that happiness lies in more stuff, the people of Britain are realising that they have too much, and that less really is more — precisely as Wallman said we would in Stuffocation.



In the book, forecaster and social commentator Wallman painted a picture of a future where we would live with less. And he laid out a manifesto based on new scientific research that shows, if we want to be happy, we should spend less on stuff and more on experiences instead.

Now, a new piece of research not only gives a glimpse into the stuffocation happening in homes across the UK today, it also sheds some light on why we’re all finding it so hard to de-stuffocate.

The new research, conducted in May 2016 by, revealed that one in two of us (54%) admit to holding onto things longer than we need to. It found that a small, but significant minority of us, end up with so much stuff we have to move to a bigger house to fit it all in. Almost 8% of Brits — that’s five million people — say they’ve moved home for this reason.

“That’s deeply worrying,” says Wallman. “If you think about the science that shows experiences bring more happiness than material goods — and the research that shows that moving is one of the most emotionally painful things you can do — moving house to fit in more stuff makes no sense at all. Instead, you’d be better off getting rid of some of your things. The house you’re already in will feel like a new home. And you’ll have a saved a tonne of stress and money.”

The horror of the spring clean that never ends

The success of these de-clutter bibles is having a profound effect on one of Britain’s time-honoured rituals: the spring clean. One in two (49%) of us is now spring-cleaning not only in the spring but twice a year or more. Some have so much stuff cluttering up the place they do the once-a-year clear out every month.

“If you’re spring-cleaning more than once a year, that’s a sure sign you’ve got too much stuff,” says Wallman. “And that too much stuff is wasting your precious weekends — why spend all that time clearing up when you could be out doing something instead?”

Time to admit the truth: we're a nation of sentimentalists

Help! I'm stuffocated, get me out of here

If us Brits are clearing out this often it also suggests something else besides the fact we’ve got too much stuff — that we’re not very good at clearing out. In fact, as the survey found, one in three (36%) admit they’re not very good at clearing up. This wasn’t just the women. Men admitted it too (33% of them). No wonder one in four Brits (23%) say they’d give decluttering a go, if they could find the right sort of advice.

what is stuffocation?

Little sentimental Britain

So, why do us Brits find it so hard to get rid of stuff? This new survey helps here too. It shows there are a number of reasons. A few (14%) of us think our stuff will go up in value in the future. One in five (18%) don’t have time to declutter. One in four (26%) think our stuff will come in handy in later life. One in three (36%) just don’t like the idea of getting rid of stuff.

But the most important reason why people hang onto things — the reason why five in ten women (56%) and four in ten men (43%) said they keep stuff — is for sentimental reasons. Four out of ten people (40%) have still got stuff from our childhood. “This makes some sense,” admits Wallman. “We feel like part of who we are today is because of who we were and what we did yesterday. But that’s still no excuse to hang on to so many of those old things. Who you are today is not what you owned yesterday.”

In recognition of the issues people have clearing out their stuff — and especially things that have sentimental value, and stuff expert Wallman have published a guide with ten essential tips to dealing with your sentimental stuff. Don’t forget to make sure your content is protected with home insurance. Use this’s home contents insurance comparison service to find the right deal for you.

stuffocation infographic

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