Are We Going Off ‘Stuff’?

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Peak Stuff?

We’re buying less stuff. We might be spending our November evenings trawling Amazon for ill-advised stocking fillers, but the fact is that our material consumption has peaked. The Office for National Statistics has revealed that household spending on physical goods decreased from 26% of our expenditure in 2003 to around 21% at present. They’ve also measured that consumption of raw materials in the UK decreased by one-third between 2001 and 2013. Earlier this year, the head of sustainability at IKEA even told a Guardian conference that he believed the West had reached “peak stuff… peak home furnishings”. The theory is that the rate of accumulation of physical possessions is slowing or even reversing in developed markets; basically, that we’re going off ‘stuff’…

Source: ONS Family Spending Source: ONS Family Spending

So what exactly is going on? Well, this reversal in consumption can probably be explained in part by the digitalisation of stuff. Documents, photographs, films and calendars (when did you last see a Filofax?) are nearly exclusively managed on devices. Instead of physical goods, we are investing more and more in new softwares and apps; after all, there’s nothing quite like ‘opening’ a new plug-in by the fireplace on Christmas Day.

Access Trumps Ownership. Experience Trumps Possession.

However, there are two other phenomena at play in our move away from buying stuff. First up: the shift from access to ownership. Consumers (millennials in particular) are increasingly reluctant to buy cars, music, tents and clothes and are turning instead to online platforms which provide access to these products without the financial burden of ownership. Jeremy Rifkin, author and economist, gives us just 25 years before he believes “car sharing will be the norm, and car ownership an anomaly.

The second trend curtailing our appetite for physical goods is the emergence of the Experience Economy. Recent research by Harris found that 78% of millennials “would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable.” For better or for worse (the latter) this appears to be driven by a social media induced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out): 69% of those surveyed identified social broadcasting as a driving factor. As Sam Lewis-Hargreave puts it, “if a millennial goes to a club and no one on social media is around to see it, did it really happen?” There are approximately 27 million households in the UK, with the average housing 143 unused items; little wonder that people are losing the desire to accumulate stuff and investing more in events and experiences.

“If a millennial goes to a club and no one on social media is around to see it, did it really happen?” – Sam Lewis-Hargreave

From Peak Stuff To Stuff-Sharing

A stuff-sharing platform like Fat Lama offers this new consumer convenience, affordable usage, increased disposable income and access to niche items. But perhaps most excitingly, it values experiences above possessions. It will allow users to go camping for a weekend for half the price, to have the party they could never have afforded and to learn skills they never anticipated learning. Fat Lama provides for those who no longer find their identity in what they own, but in what they spend their time doing.

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