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  • Think Upstream

The case of affluenza

Trish Hennessy

I’m beginning to think there are two kinds of people in life: Marie Kondo devotees and those who say “Marie who?”

Marie Kondo, a self-styled decluttering guru, has taken the western world by storm with her advice to simplify your home by only keeping what you love.

Maybe the annual spring cleaning ritual is making you think twice about your possessions.

Maybe it was your new year’s resolution to get rid of all the stuff; the knick-knacks, the do-dads, the two-sizes-too-small clothes piled up in your closet.

Or maybe, like me, you’ve downsized. A few years ago we gave up living in big dank old houses for a smart little condo. When I say little, I mean 600 sq. ft. Stuff had to go.

The most painful part was giving up most of our large book collection, much of which I’d schlepped across Canada, from my days in Saskatchewan, Calgary, Thunder Bay, Kingston, Ottawa, Hamilton, and now Toronto.

I admit I cried a little when the junk truck drove away with old furniture that was so worthless we couldn’t even give it away. When the tears dried, I realized that a small mountain of stuff was just stuff. Why was I so attached to stuff?

Then I opened a book that made it on the “keep” pile, Affluence: The All-Consuming Epidemic (published in 2005). Page 1:

“In his office, a doctor offers his diagnosis to an attractive, expensively dressed female patient. ‘There’s nothing physically wrong with you,’ he says. His patient is incredulous. 'Then why do I feel so awful?’ she asks. ‘So bloated and sluggish. I’ve got a big new house, a brand-new car, a new wardrobe. And I just got a big raise at work. Why am I so miserable doctor? Isn’t there some pill you can give me?’ The doctor shakes his head. ‘I’m afraid not,’ he replies. ‘There’s no pill for what’s wrong with you.’ ‘What is it doctor?’ she asks, alarmed. ‘Affluenza,’ he answers gravely. ‘It’s the new epidemic.”

It was an imaginary exchange meant to illustrate what the authors call “the virus affluenza”, which they described as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overhead, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

The book prescribes “voluntary simplicity” with individual suggestions for change as well as workplace and community changes, and new political initiatives at the structural level.

We have a new resolution in our household: if we bring something new into the condo, something’s got to go. Whatever stays we have to love or need. And everything needs to be meticulously organized; every item needs to be in exactly the right spot.

Marie Kondo in a nutshell, only she wasn’t our inspiration; necessity was the mother of this invention.

It’s just stuff.

Feed Your Head



“I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” — Oliver Sacks, an excerpt from his collection of essays Everything in its Place, published posthumously.

Trish Hennessy is a senior communications strategist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the director of Think Upstream


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