Experiences Are Replacing Possessions As What Define Us
There was a time when the American dream was defined by what we owned: a house, car, jewelry, furniture, artwork. Having stuff meant we were successful and statused and, man, we just loved it all.
But, as the saying goes, times have changed. People—particularly Millennials—have come to understand that owning something actually carries significant life-inhibiting costs: time, maintenance, storage, repairs, even your peace of mind. As a result, modern consumers looking to soak up today’s exist-anywhere culture are perhaps more likely to view ownership as a burden than a benefit.
In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, author Marie Kondo seizes on this idea by calling on those seeking happiness to consider only owning possessions that truly “spark joy.” Here are six reasons that millions of people are following Kondo’s advice and simplifying their lives for the better by owning less stuff.
For anyone affected by it, the 2008 crash doesn’t merely appear in the rear-view mirror. In fact, it continues to live with the millions who still bear its financial and emotional scars. This is especially true for Millennials who grew up amid the crisis. With the loss ranking as a formative experience, they’re determined not to repeat the financial mistakes of the past and are leery of any financial transaction that requires them to bite off more than they’re comfortable chewing. The solution? Find ways to access big-ticket items without maxing out your available credit or bottom line. This doesn’t mean you have to be the “tiny house” couple you saw on TV. But for many, it means developing a lifestyle built around services that contribute to their freedom and improve the quality of their lives.
In many cases, Millennials simply don’t have the same opportunities to buy into the old-school American Dream that previous generations enjoyed. Besides dealing with a boatload of student loan debt, they’re navigating the job market during a period of sustained stagnant wages and find it difficult to dump money into buying things like houses and cars. So what are they doing? They’re creating their own American Dream, built on practicing responsible consumerism, maintaining the ability to travel, and engaging in the sharing economy. Airbnb, Uber, Bird, Turo, and other freedom-enabling options are giving them access to basic necessities of life, like housing and transportation, without long-term commitment or overwhelming levels of debt.
According to a survey from Harris Poll and Eventbrite (via Bloomberg), 78 percent of Millennials “would rather pay for an experience than material goods” compared to 59 percent of Baby Boomers. Call it the Instagram Effect, but the biggest economic force in our society is more interested in traveling, seeing and doing rather than owning. After all, who wants to see pictures of your latest gadget on social media when they could be seeing your latest vacation?
Be honest. How many times have you gotten caught up in the hype of buying “the newest thing” only to to have it gathering dust or hanging untouched in your closet within a few days or weeks? You’re not alone. According to Cladwell, an app that teaches consumers how to create and manage a capsule wardrobe, the average woman in 1930 owned 36 pieces of clothing—and you can bet they probably wore every Depression-era shred of it. Meanwhile, today’s woman owns 120 pieces—with 80 percent of it going totally unworn. If you’re not using what you buy, why buy it in the first place? This is the question Millennials are now asking themselves. And they’re increasingly answering it by keeping their money in the bank.
There’s no doubt the push toward social consciousness and green living is influencing how we spend our money. As Climatetracker points out, consumerism is responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And when you buy things that need to be shipped, that only adds to the problem. The solution for many is simply buying less—or buying used, where the product has already been produced and is now able to provide additional utility in the world without additional undue impact on the environment.
In 2016, Reuters spoke with 36-year-old editor Fumio Sasaki about why he decided to get rid of most of the stuff in his stark one-room Tokyo apartment. His answer was pretty straightforward. “Spending less time on cleaning or shopping means I have more time to spend with friends, go out, or travel on my days off,” Sasaki said. His decision points to a shift in priorities that is easily observable in our culture—from the sparse design aesthetic of an app designed to move you efficiently through to checkout, or the minimalist design of a store that doesn’t want the thing you came for to get lost amid uncessary clutter. But it also addresses the main fallacy of the “possession mindset” that says the things we have will make us happy. In reality, they can do just the opposite—weighing us down, sticking us with unnecessary debt, and forcing us into lifestyle choices that service the things we own rather than the experiences we want.