Owning less, having more

As we continue to have our minds cluttered by virtual content, we become less and less tolerant to the physical kind of clutter. We just cannot deal with possessions and maintaining them as we used to. We have simply used all of our quota handling the stream of endless information that comes our way. A host of pictures, texts, feeds, the mounting fear of missing out, the bucket lists from our friends that are now ours.

In 1971 Herbert Simon, an American political scientist from Carnegie Mellon wrote:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

This was before the first personal computer was introduced in 1975 yet he could not have nailed the issue more accurately. As our attention is consumed in its entirety by information we struggle to prioritize, organize, upkeep and upgrade what we have. Whats more, we suffer from decision exhaustion having to decide what to purchase, sandwiched between the on going deals and amazon product reviews.

This is a catalyst for the sharing and on demand economy we are now living. By a sharing economy I mean having occasional paid access to an item, whether we own a piece of it or not, use it while we need it. We long for a world with everything at hand yet nothing owned by us or that requires maintenance. It also seems as the only way to gracefully handle the fast depreciation of goods, the continuous releases of new versions and our urge to try ( not own) the newest gadget (phones, cameras). Could we possibly also be rebelling against years of marketing telling us we should own an item for every task and purpose?

Pinterest is full of people window shopping, virtually collecting items they will never have, crafts they will not get to, decor they will not execute on. We do virtual shopping because it satisfies our aesthetic need without really cluttering our physical spaces. People buy new computers as a way to get a fresh start on an uncluttered machine. We now clutter our virtual life and have yet to find a way out of it.

If you factor in lack of physical space, the need to own less is even more urgent. In cities where people have little storage space and real estate is prohibiting change is moving rapidly towards owning less and having more. Take San Francisco for example, there has been an explosion of on demand access to goods and services: transportation (Uber, Lyft, Zipcar), on demand food because who wants or has a proper kitchen (Sprig, Munchery, Bento), and clothes subscription (Le tote, StichFix), equipment rental (CameraLends).

We seek to free space in our minds and our homes. We are hungry for the that simple click that abstracts a ton of logistics and hides away the middle men we do not want to deal with. The industry of information evolves so much faster than the “industry of things” that we are too occupied trying to keep up with it. We have learned to trust, we want to trust, that our information is safe, that the affordable price reflects the efficiency of the machine behind, and that enough hoops have been jumped for us.