One of the economic megatrends of the past decade is the shift from owning things to accessing them. The sense of freedom gained by owning fewer things, while still maintaining access to everything you need, can become addictive. Have you experimented with clearing your shelves and shedding your stashes of stuff on your journey towards minimalism and owning less? For many of us, each subscription replacing a purchase, feels as though we’re beating a system designed to increase our debt and weigh us down with unnecessary possessions we arguably don’t need to own.
Recently, we’ve started wondering how far can we go with this idea of owning fewer things while still enjoying life to its fullest. This inspired us to jot down a few questions that could be used to assess if one truly needs to own any type of possession — from the smallest trinket to the largest big-ticket item. When you catch yourself contemplating a purchase, try asking yourself these questions.
Does this thing I plan to own appreciate or depreciate in value over time?
Is it costly or time-consuming to maintain?
Is it easy to access without owning?
Am I buying something that will seldom be used?
Does ownership of that thing restrict my freedom, willingness to take risks, or ability to connect with people?
Does it have sentimental value?
Let’s put the questions to the test by applying them to different categories of stuff.
Media (music, movies, and books)
In the age of Spotify and Netflix, buying a DVD or CD has gone the way of the Dodo. All those discs (and tapes) that used to pileup in our houses are long gone. Best Buy, a major retailer, will stop selling CDs altogether this summer! The desire to have access to media without owning it, and buying organizers to put it in, doesn’t end with music. Many of us lighten our loads and make room on our shelves by downloading eBooks. The idea of book-sharing has become a worldwide phenomenon thanks to “Free Little Library,” a non-profit that erects birdhouse-like bookshelves currently in more than 50,000 locations throughout the world.
American cities are facing a housing crisis of epic proportions. The term “housing cost-burdened” refers to households where 30 percent or more of family income goes to housing. While values have been on the rise ,suggesting that buying a house is a smart financial deal for those who can afford it, the financial crisis of a decade ago should not be forgotten. Many analysts believe the housing price bubble is ready to burst, creating risk and uncertainty.
The decision to rent or co-house versus owning needs to be a comprehensive evaluation that includes not only mortgage payments, but property taxes and repairs. Moreover, if home ownership prevents you from considering a new job or different life opportunities, then the psychic cost of owning a house might be more than it’s worth. While there’s an undeniable sense of pride in home ownership, there’s also a perceived freedom accompanying the ability to call a landlord to fix and pay for repairs.
As much as you might like that new-car smell and special features tailored to your preferences like leather seats, the minute you drive a car off the lot, a brand-new vehicle will have lost 30 percent or more of its value. But, how about the question of whether or not a car is costly or time-consuming to maintain? Duh — by the time you add up the additional expenses like financing, licenses, taxes, fees, repairs, and tires, you might start to more heavily consider if you want to own right now. We’re approaching a new age of mobility allowing us to get into a car without ever having to endure the ordeals of buying or leasing a car from a dealership if we don’t want to.
Car subscription services, like Canvas, allow you shop online for a vehicle and have it delivered to your driveway within days! For an all-inclusive monthly fee (including perks like insurance) beating the cumulative monthly cost of ownership, you can park a capable low-mileage car (including fun, sporty models) in your driveway. Canvas allows you the freedom to swap vehicles throughout the year and only pay for the miles you drive.
Tools and tech gear
Decades before the digital revolution, local public libraries in forward-thinking communities established the branches that loan expensive power tools the same way books are issued to card-holders. Today, there are nearly 100 tool-lending libraries around the world. Perhaps there’s one in your community.
It doesn’t make sense to buy a power tool for a current project but then stash it away to be forgotten for years. What tool-lending libraries have done to provide access-minus-ownership of work tools, the advent of hackerspaces have done for using computers, printers, and high-tech gear. Shared workspaces can also be a means to create closer connections with people who share your interests.
Furniture, housewares, and cookware
While it’s possible to rent a house, condo, or apartment with a full set of furniture and a well- equipped kitchen — and that might be the most economical approach — most people have specific tastes when it comes to their domicile. The stuff filling our homes certainly takes up a lot of space, weighs us down, and takes time and energy to obtain. So as a broad consumer category, owning housewares cannot quickly be dismissed.
What’s needed is an item-by-item assessment to reduce rather than eliminate owning essential furniture and kitchenware. How many sets of dishes or sets of utensils do you need? It’s about the essential possessions needed for comfort and convenience. Those are the ones that require an investment in fewer high-quality examples, while resisting accumulation of discount items that don’t last.
Of course, nobody wants to rely on a wardrobe of shared shirts, pants, jackets, shoes, and especially underwear. However, most people wear 20-percent of their clothing 80-percent of the time — putting the same outfits into regular rotation and mothballing the vast majority of clothing. That creates clutter and a need to unload things you almost never wear to a local consignment or thrift shop.
It’s hard to explain why clothes have special sentimental value, but if you can declutter, that will leave room to on occasion access clothes needed for special occasions, trips, or experimental fashion phases of your life. Also, there is a growing number of Netflix-style subscription services for maternity clothes, multiple piece coordinating pre-selected wardrobe sets, and barely worn formal attire — for those who can’t understand storing a once worn gown or tux.