Millenials on their phones.
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Why millennials don’t think it makes sense to own stuff anymore

In thirteen years, you will own nothing.

In thirteen years, you will own nothing. At least, that’s what the World Economic Forum (the organization of economists that organizes the big meetings in Davos every year) recently predicted. Chin up, though, because they also suggested that the move away from ownership to ‘access’ will actually make us happier than ever.

The WEF’s vision of urban life in 2030 is one where all products have become services. Car ownership makes no sense because driverless and flying cars are just minutes away; we don’t pay rent because someone else is using our 'free space' when we don't need it; and, on the rare occasion we do want to cook for ourselves, we rent the equipment we need, to be delivered in minutes.

People are already buying less stuff

We're pretty close to this already. The “Uber for X” model is disrupting new spaces by the day. At Fat Lama, where I work, we see cameras, drones, tools and tents rented by those unwilling to pay full price for these seldom-used items. Small businesses in need of office space are nowadays just as likely to scan Vrumio and set up shop in a neighbour’s kitchen as they are to take out a lease on a corporate office space. We’re sharing our cars, parking spaces, bikes and boats too; even our laundry is set to follow suit.

goldman-sachs-research
Research by Goldman Sachs.

Clearly, we’re buying less stuff. The must-haves for previous generations – cars, luxury bags, TVs – simply aren’t as important for today’s consumer. Millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – are either putting off big buys, or avoiding them altogether. So why doesn’t it make sense to buy stuff anymore?

1. We want value.

“I moved here for affordable rent and cheaper living costs” said no big city dweller ever. You’d better be prepared to part with an hour’s pay for an after-work drink in a capital city, and in my city of London, part with half your salary for your rent. With so little disposable income, it makes zero sense to blow it all on items that we only use for a few days a year. A mid-range DSLR camera, for example, could set you back close to a thousand pounds; renting one from a nearby photographer could save you 95% of the cost. The pay-as-you-go model allows cheap use and unlocks access to better quality stuff.

2. We'd rather do stuff than own stuff.

Nearly 4 in every 5 millennials would rather spend money on an ‘experience’ than on buying an item. If that doesn’t surprise you, then the same study by Harris found that Americans are spending 70% more (proportionally) on live events than they were just thirty years ago – though we're not going to ask how much of that was spent by Beliebers...

belieber

This trend, driven either by a genuine case of Bieber Fever or Instagram-induced FOMO, is another reason why we’d rather not put our money towards owning stuff anymore. Item-rental platforms like Fat Lama are an extension of this ‘experience economy’. On the one hand, they free up our cash to spend on events; on the other, they facilitate experiences themselves. A film night, for example, becomes possible when your neighbours’ idle projectors, furniture, and popcorn or ice-cream makers are just a click away.

movie-night

3. We've run out of space.

Buying stuff means storing it. Which costs more money. To take myself as an example – Londoners looking to find somewhere ‘affordable’ to live have the happy job of choosing between box-rooms, sheds, cupboards and crevices. The ability to comfortably store your belongings is now a luxury reserved almost exclusively for the rich. Our cupboard/wardrobe ‘real estate’ is at capacity and we’re using self-storage facilities more than ever in the UK. With less and less space to live in, owning items which will sit idle for much of the year and clutter our space is illogical.

Garage Stuff
"I'm 100% I'm going to need this one day..."

4. We're worried about our future.

... not to mention the future of our children. The responsible shopper knows that not everyone on the same street needs to own a drill. Shifting from products to services also means shifting away from a style of consumption where we buy something once and throw it away towards a working ‘circular economy’ – one where as much as possible of our stuff gets repaired, reused and recycled. When products become services, we’ll no longer be interested in buying what is poorly made. We’ll buy less, and buy better, and save the planet (at least a bit). All in a day’s work.

Liked this piece? Check out the rest of Economy Explores: Stuff

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Reader Comments

  • I get that more people will rent stuff in the future, which I totally encourage given that we keep buying stuff and never using it, but the scenario illustrated by the World Economic Forum is just absurd. How can AI take over human jobs if we need engineers to design AI machines? How can transit, energy and shipping be free if you still need electricians and systems analysts to help keep things running smoothly? And why would people keep renting items that they use almost every day, at which point the cost of renting the item is on par with the cost of buying it, if not more? Most importantly, how can you base your predictions on millennials, who are just getting started in the working world right now? I bet baby boomers/generation X-ers were also less intersted in purchasing stuff when they started working.