Could America Be Trending Toward Owning Less Stuff?

Whether it’s because of the recession isn’t clear, but there seems to be a trend in America toward owning less stuff.

This is evident in the growing popularity of car-sharing services and in the scaling of solar leasing, where people want solar but they don’t want to own it.

One of those solar leasing companies, Sunrun, commissioned a  survey on this "trend toward disownership," which was conducted online by Harris Interactive.

The survey generally concludes that over the past two years,  people are renting, leasing or borrowing items they previously would have owned, such as automobiles, bicycles, clothing, tools and home appliances.

In fact, 83% say they prefer it that way if renting or leasing is made easy. 52% of Americans rented or borrowed over the past two years they previously would have bought. 

Why? Because it saves money. Also people don’t want to store so much stuff and be responsible for maintenance.

"These results show we’ve entered an age in which Americans recognize they can get more value by owning less," says Lynn Jurich, co-CEO of Sunrun. 

Entrepreneurs would be well-advised to develop business models that offer people flexibility in how they access products and services.     

Zipcar’s annual study of urban Millennials, for example, shows they think differently about personal mobility, and are heavily influenced by technology, social networks and collaborative consumption.

SunRun’s study shows this trend goes further, cutting across age and geography. 24% of Baby Boomers are more likely to rent now than they were five years ago. The same is true of 50% of people who live in the South and 46% in the Midwest, in addition to people that live in urban and coastal areas.

Interestingly, those with college degrees or higher are leading this trend, and it seems to be present regardless of income level.

Here are some of the items Americans prefer to rent or borrow:

  • Vacation houses/rooms (i.e. short-term rental): 52%      
  • Heavy equipment tools (e.g., trailers, tractors, bulldozers):  50%      
  • Books/textbooks: 41%      
  • Household tools (e.g., lawnmowers, leaf blowers, saws, carpentry tools): 26%      
  • Cars/trucks: 25%      
  • High-end, Luxury-brand apparel or accessories: 12%      


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