It became a meme a couple of months ago, this notion of “peak curtains”.
This pithy phrase came from Steve Howard, IKEA’s head of sustainability, speaking at The Guardian’s Sustainable Business debate. The full quote was, “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.” He said the new state of affairs could be called “peak curtains”.
Now Mr. Howard went on to laud IKEA’s initiatives to take back and repair product, but what he was saying nonetheless feels true. It’s been an AltLuxe meme for a while, it’s been a nagging worry among manufacturers and retailers – the notion that people particularly millennial – want experiences, not stuff. James Wallman’s written a new book / polemic about it called Stuffocation. Marie Kondo, the spark-joy-or-toss-it advocate has a new book out (a master class on the KonMari method). And now we have the news that Apple’s sales of iPhones have flatlined and growth is stalled. Even now, Japan, the European Central Bank, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden have negative interest rates, in an effort to goose spending.
Some of the blame goes to affluence and affluenza. Some goes to marketers and the relentless way in which they flog goods. And I would think that some goes to the internet, which has made everything both instantly available (thank you Amazon) but also virtually available (Pinterest and Instagram).
The question is, what happens from here on out? Will demand dry up? Will malls continue to wither? Will even the mighty Amazon succumb? Will producers of consumer products (and then those of the equipment and machinery that produce them) die? Is what’s been going on in the stock market (stock prices lowering as oil prices lower, partially driven by lowering demand in former growth economies like China) going to continue indefinitely?
Is this a sea change, a generational shift? Or is this just a trend that’s just about to – excuse the phrase – peak?
I think that at a macro level, there is a recognition that our systems are spinning wildly out of control, so incredibly focused on consuming and acquisition that there has to be a slowdown.
But on the other hand it’s just not in the nature of people to stop wanting beauty whether from sunsets or peaches or films or a chair or a pot. It is in our nature to want pleasure, which comes from the senses, and the senses are in large part who we are as humans.
What’s so often lacking is the meaning. The question is, how do you shift a global advanced economy from one that’s focused on stuff, to one focused on meaning? What does that look like?
Wonky stuff from a blog focused on alternative luxury and pleasure, but there you have it.