Lessons from the New Generation: Stories Not Stores

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Maria Bartiromo of CNBC sat down to a 4-course dinner with several young entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s who are rewriting the future of U.S. consumption.  Together they represented half a billion dollars in venture capital, provided by the venture capitalists also at the table.

They’re seen as being part of a movement … a movement where, in one of those wonderful reversals where we wise older ones may well have a lesson or two to learn from the next generation.

They call it a “sharing economy,” one that is driven by “collaborative consumption.”

What does that mean?

Well, in the post-war economy that many of us grew up in, by standardizing everything through production lines, everyone could have more than they ever dreamed.  Consumerism was born.  Sixty years later, every nook and cranny of our homes (and storage units) is filled with stuff.

Add to that the Chinese ability to replicate absolutely anything at a price everyone can afford and there is no longer anything much to strive for.  We have accumulated a lot, but then so has our neighbor.  (And probably a lot of the same stuff.)

Enter authenticity.  And a drive for uniqueness.  Add to that a disdain for traditional consumerism.  And you get this new trend …

As part of the redefinition of the American Dream, home ownership fell off its pedestal as the ultimate goal.  Instead of houses being the perfect store of value, the last five years have shown how vulnerable their value can be.  So many people now find themselves with houses worth less than their mortgages.  As a result, today people who would normally be purchasing a house, especially younger professionals, are renting.

Instead of gathering assets—and “stuff”— they are giving priority to gathering experiences.

And the tech-savvy young entrepreneurs around that dinner table have stepped up to make it easier to fill our lives with experiences … using technology.  Whether it’s a lodging rental site that helps them spend a few days in someone else’s home (no, not the old house exchange), or using someone’s nice car that would otherwise sit parked for days on end, or renting a designer dress for a few days at a price they can afford, they are living “Cinderella” moments.  Or “Prince Charming” moments.

As one of the entrepreneurs said:  after a long work week, she has no desire to go into a store on Saturday to buy something.  (Besides, anything she really needs she buys with a few keys strokes on her smart phone.)  She’d much rather have a memorable experience.

She said, “I prefer stories, not stores.”

Maybe it’s a private chef through on-demand site Kitchit.

Or an instant-access private car and driver (instead of a cab) at the snap of the fingers in any of 21 cities through Uber.

Or replacing a cookie-cutter hotel room with an interesting stay in a home through Airbnb.

Or being one of 3 million women, mostly under 35, who have already rented an outfit for a few days through Rent the Runway.

What they’re actually doing is “buying on a temporary basis.”  And enjoying personal, authentic experiences they might otherwise not be able to afford.  You could call it the Access Economy instead of the Ownership Economy.

And the trend is growing.

How will this affect the rest of us?

Well, if we look carefully we might see another trend among our peers, one in which people are downsizing.  Living minimally.  Living more intentionally.  More authentically.  As such, for us to decrease our level of purchasing is perfectly in keeping.

So next time you’re thinking of buying something, think about whether there is a way to access it without acquiring it.  And with the money you don’t spend, think about what you can do that adds a layer of excitement or uniqueness to your life.

Remember:  stories … not stores!

Let us know in the Comments section below if you’ve seen a shift in your own priorities, away from physical things … and towards activities that add joy to your life.

xxxxxxx

Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.

  • Thanks Sharon: Great topic.

    The Sharing Economy is real — and growing. I hope like heck that it is a result of new values ingrained in the next generation. I fear, however, that it may be a short-term result of the extended recession of 2008-2012. I also see it working much better in densely populated urban areas than in the ‘burbs where meaningful sharing is, well, “inconvenient” enough to be difficult and rare.

    There may be hope — my neighbors and I have started a “Shed Club”. We stuff our various yard tools (mostly big, powered machines) into one man’s shed and then share access to everything between us. For the cost of my electric blower, I now have a riding lawn mower, power edger, roto-tiller, and string trimmers.

    Hope it sticks and we all remember the lessons of 2009 when the economy again (inevitably) heats up and we all feel like “keeping up with the Joneses” once more.

    Cheers,
    David Worrell
    http://www.RockSolidFinance.com

    • My comment disappeared! Here goes again: Good to see you, David. I noticed that your site has evolved nicely, congratulations! I too had hoped the lessons of 2009 would have lasted longer, but I see personal credit card exposure creeping back up. I think more Boomers may have registered the lesson as a wake-up call, but as for the rest of the demographics, the jury is still out. First I’m looking for more than insipid growth of the economy … and then I’m vigilant in case all the manipulation still triggers a correction. But then, none of the macroeconomics rules I learned apply any longer … so maybe we’ll skate by? All the best!

  • You know how much I love this topic, Sharon. Thanks for bringing this conversation up in such a relevant way!

    • I know, Amity, it feeds right into your resource-saving philosophy! Thanks for sharing it forward … 😉

  • Barbars Becker

    Great article Sharon. Yes, this is the type of lifestyle I’m living right now. It feels free and allows me to be more creative. I so much believe in our younger generation. They have gifts, talents and abilities to create heaven on Earth. I hold the space of positive and affirming love and support for them, for all!

    • Indeed, it is freeing and does leave room for more creativity! Just figure how much less energy is being absorbed if our spaces contain fewer material things …

  • This really speaks to me — though I am no longer in that demographic! 🙂 The older I get, the less stuff I want. And I love the term “Access Economy.” Thanks for a great post, Sharon.

    • Glad you enjoyed it. My hope is that the concept of Access Economy takes hold to a great enough extent to be visible to the masses. That has to happen in order to get true momentum. And it can then extend beyond the Gen Y cohort and include all of us older than that demographic, as you say.

  • I loved this article!!! What a great idea to gear your lifestyle towards this phenonemna!

  • WOW! I love this post! I feel the older I get, the less I have the need for material “stuff.” Great term : “Access Economy.” Thanks so much!

    • That one phrase says it all, doesn’t it, Alexandra?

  • Wow, never even thought of it that way. I am not too much of a materistic type of person. So I do live minimumly, but that is my own nature.

    • Marilyn, you’re lucky to be that way naturally. So many people, especially as they get into their strongest income-earning years, tend to accumulate more and more toys. And if you have lots of toys, you need somewhere to put them. So then you have a house bigger than you need … etc., etc. And so it goes.

  • Tom Holmberg

    Love this message ! Memories are soo much better than throw away things!

    • I agree, Tom. Memories are even better than lots of “keeper” things! Especially when they were created with others …

  • Your article reminds me of the old saying “you can’t take it with you when you die”. Living minimally is not only good for the pocket book but good for the soul. Thanks for the wonderful article.

    • You’re welcome, Meryl. You’re right in that I can’t believe the soul is particularly “fed” by possessions!

  • Martha Giffen

    What a great message. And food for thought. Accumulating stuff IN PLACE OF meaningful moments has never made sense to me. Living minimalistic? The older I get, the more I like the idea 🙂

    • Martha, I think that with time some of us realize that we accumulate–and hold on to–so much “just in case.” If you see what people own who live TRULY minimally, you realize how much of what we have fills a want, not a need. And empty space in closets and cabinets somehow feels so good.

  • For the past six years we have given our children events, not presents, for their birthday. This could be a hot air balloon trip, paintball, a gift certificate so they can choose what they want, even an aerobatic flight. The kids love it and they always remember those ‘presents’.

    • Nothing better, Kathy. Especially since anything material you give them will be outgrown–and set aside–so quickly. The memory becomes part of the tapestry they will one day call their “childhood.”

  • Memories are so much more important than things we can use up and throw away as they will live forever in our hearts and minds! I have thousands of pictures from over the years and those are much more precious to me than any material things I own.:)

    • Love hearing that you’ve captured moments in time in pictures … as reminders of people, places and experiences that touched you, Dani. One sign of a rich life!

  • I’ve definitely slowed down in my consumeristic behaviour – I can remember feeling a definite shift in the idea of I don’t need more *stuff* and really not only enjoying what I have but for sure getting into the stories rather than the stores! Thanks for a great post.

    • I often wonder if that shift isn’t also somehow triggered by maturity. Although it doesn’t seem to happen to everyone, it may start with the recognition that time is precious … and most “things” are not … so you might want to use your time really well!

  • Absolutely agree have had the over 4000 square foot house, the toys, custom furniture etc… Love the simplicity with less on so many levels

    • Carly, I’m down to 960 sq ft and I “inhabit” every nook and cranny. Love the idea that my energy (and that of others) fills the house. It still holds more than I need … but in no way holds back the memory-making!

  • Hi Sharon, since recovering from my illness this idea has really taken hold. I give my family experiences now instead of things. Between Christmas and Birthdays my living would be filled with stuff–much of which ended up in the trash. Today we Creat collages of our experiences and often laugh about them over dinner. Thank you for another great article. Xx

    • Carmen, about 25 years ago, my best friend (a Belgian woman) and I drove across Ecuador on a hair-brained, crazy adventurous trip. Full of stories. Every few years, when a new group of people is around the dinner table with us, we start in on recounting the stories and mishaps. We still get overtaken by the energy, laughter and self-deprecation each time … with tears rolling down our faces from laughing so hard. So I understand what the collages mean to you!

  • Experiences are remembered as precious treasures more than things.

    • So true, Pat. And the older we get, the more precious they become!

  • What a great post, Sharon, and it fills my heart with hope for the next generations.

    I have seen my daughter grown from a spoilt girl (my doing!) into a wonderful woman careful with what she spends her money on, thinking twice before buying anything and often food shopping just before closing time as she will get a 50 % discount on perishable. Her latest decison: banning all PET containers and she bought the latest model of Sodastream which now features glass bottles.

    I have definitely seen a shift in my own consumerism, away from materialism and turning towards creating memories. And here’s to more porch gatherings, 🙂

    • More “porch gatherings” indeed, Barbara! Now if we could just figure out how to share a nice, chilled (virtual) Gewürtz … and it would be “porch heaven!” And congratulations on instilling whatever allowed your daughter to blossom as she has!

  • Filling our life with stuff does not satisfy for very long. Soon you find yourself looking for more and more and more — and much ends up in the trash. Happiness is not found in things, other people or even out there. A lot of it depends on our mindset! Great article Sharon.

    • Thanks, Norma. I’ve found that what makes experiences and memories even better is when they are shared with someone loved … that’s absolutely the best!

  • Excellent article, Sharon! So many are not able to grasp this. Thank you for sharing this!

    • You’re very welcome, Robin. Too many forces, like family habits and the marketing industry, instill the value of ownership … so it’s an uphill battle to make it less than top priority. But I do see and hear more and more people shifting, even if they’re still a small minority. One by one … 😉

  • I’ve become a huge fan of a couple of second hand brand-name stores. Unique clothes and only buying what I want is key. I love tossing stuff out of my house to make space for space.

  • Lorii Abela

    What a great
    article! Thank you for tips on wise spending. Some people need more advices
    like these!