Did you know?

Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word


noun [uncountable]

a feeling of stress caused by having so many things that you do not know how to use or store them all


verb [intransitive/transitive]

'Our mum blogger worries that she might be spoiling her two sons (and is suffering from a touch of stuffocation)… Reading around online I can find plenty of other parents also complaining of stuffocating – suffocating in stuff. Some operate a one-in, one-out rule at Christmas and birthdays, which sounds potentially traumatic.'

Yahoo Lifestyle UK 6th February 2015

'Whether you're feeling stuffocated and plan to list your trash to see if it takes anybody in the online market as must-have treasure,… the options for selling unwanted items via the Internet is broad'

Telegraph 29th December 2014

With yuletide celebrations over and the twinkly lights all packed away for another year, January is a month for breathing deeply, surveying the things we've stockpiled through festive generosity or impulsive sale shopping, and mildly panicking about where, oh where, this heap of new gear is going to live. If, like me, you can identify with the concept of drawers so full that their bases collapse and contents peek out in a desperate bid for fresh air, you might be interested to know that there's now a name for this irritating but often unintentional path of materialistic chaos – this is stuffocation.

stuffocation is the feeling of being overwhelmed and weighed down by material things

Put very simply, stuffocation is the feeling of being overwhelmed and weighed down by material things, i.e. 'stuff'. In practice this can mean different things to different people, but classic examples include regularly having to rummage through masses of junk you never use in order to get to the items you actually need, opening a wardrobe brimming with garments and not being able to find a thing to wear, and on receiving a gift, not feeling pleasure or gratitude but a surge of indifference or anxiety about what you're going to do with it. In short, rather than thinking of stuff in a positive way, believing that material things are useful or pleasant and enhance our lives, stuffocation embodies the idea that more things equate to more to deal with, more to organize, and so more hassle. On the pattern of the verb suffocate, those of us experiencing such a negative reaction to stuff can be said to stuffocate, with related participle adjectives stuffocated and stuffocating depending on whether the experiencer or cause is being described.

So, why is it that we've finally given lexical expression to a pitfall of consumerism that's been staring us in the face for decades?

One theory is that, in the developed world, modern generations have 'gorged' on cheaper, more readily available material goods in much the same way as they have with food, especially during the heady consumerism of the 80s and 90s. In more recent times, however, possibly galvanized by the digital revolution and the ability to talk to each other with unprecedented ease, we're not defined so much as by what we own, but by what we're 'doing'. Some argue that we've therefore passed the point of what's been described as peak consumerism, the maximum level of interest in acquiring material things. Cramming our homes with stuff is therefore beginning to lose its appeal – we'd now rather spend our time and resources on experiences, not things, and avoid being stuffocated.

Background – stuffocation

The term stuffocation is chiefly associated with trend forecaster James Wallman, author of a book of the same name (subtitled 'Living More With Less', Crux Publishing, 2013). Wallman also promotes the concept through a dedicated website, stuffocation.org, which features blog posts encouraging people to de-stuffocate their lives. Some evidence for use of the term pre-dates Wallman's book by a couple of years however, going back to 2010.

Other recent expressions similarly relating to the trappings of materialism include first world problem (something only considered a problem by a prosperous person living in the western world) and affluenza (a blend of affluent and influenza used to refer to stress and overwork fuelled by the perpetual need for material wealth).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

For teachers

Would you like to use this BuzzWord article in class? Visit onestopenglish.com for tips and suggestions on how to do just that! The downloadable pdf contains a student worksheet which includes comprehension activities, 'find the word' exercises and vocabulary-building activities.

Last month …

Read last month's BuzzWord. Mx.

This article was first published 19th January 2016.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

add a word


A must for anyone with an interest in the changing face of language. The Macmillan Dictionary blog explores English as it is spoken around the world today.

global English and language change from our blog