What Does “Home” Mean in the Sharing Economy?

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Everyone is talking about the results of IKEA’s most recent annual survey, showing that globally, one in three people feel more at home outside of their living space. Since IKEA first asked this question on their survey in 2016, the percentage of people who feel this way has risen from 20% to 29% (35% for those who live in cities).

This begs the question, what does it mean to feel at home? In IKEA’s report, meeting the following needs is what creates a sense of home: privacy, security, comfort, ownership and belonging. So, is it a bad thing that some of us feel more at home in the world at large? According to the survey, the answer is yes, “Our physical homes are getting smaller, smarter, busier and noisier…All of this impacts on how successfully a single space can deliver what we need from it — functionally and emotionally. When we can’t get what we need at home, we head outside.”

In fact, 45% of respondents in the United States said that they go to their car to have a moment to themselves. It’s interesting that so many are seeking refuge when more Americans are living alone than ever before — the number of of adults 18 and over who live alone has doubled since 1967, from 7.6% to 14.3% in 2017.

How do we make sense of this? For all of those who are sharing their spaces, the sanctity of “home” seems to get lost in the shuffle. In large American cities, more people are renting instead of owning, living with roommates or with complete strangers as AirBnB hosts. In IKEA’s survey, 25% of respondents rent out their space on AirBnB, and 25% work from home — again, an increase.

As the space we call home become multi-use, what does privacy mean and where do we find it? Not data privacy, but physical spaces where we can get some alone time and feel like ourselves. According to the survey, the bedroom (72%) and bathroom (55%) are popular spots, but is that the best we can do?

While technology has allowed us to become looser with boundaries — we can work from home, take calls from anywhere — perhaps our spaces shouldn’t follow suit? It’s hard to know what’s leading to the erosion of the concept of home, and how that should be addressed. But perhaps these numbers will take a turn for the better? Seventy percent of Americans aged 18–24 are planning on owning their homes and everything in it. Their aspiration isn’t currently matching reality — whether in urban or rural areas, almost all twenty-somethings rent, a figure that’s on the rise. But perhaps they’re thinking about future decades, when home ownership is far more likely.

“The generation of people who are now in their 20s and early 30s are moving into home ownership at roughly the same rates the Baby Boomers did. They’re just starting later,” said Susan Brower, Minnesota’s state demographer, told CityLab.

However things shake out, it’s likely that AirBnB will continue to be part of the landscape. After all, it’s the second most successful startup besides Uber, with a valuation of $31 billion. In its remarkable ascent, it’s created something known as the AirBnB effect, driving up rental prices in neighborhoods with a concentration of AirBnB transactions. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, the increase has been notable — 21.6% in Chelsea and 18.6% in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. What’s less examined is the impact AirBnB has on hosts and guests alike. On the one hand, guests get to feel “at home” in a city they’re traveling to, supporting the local economy and the financial future of the host first and foremost. On the other, as travel has become far more accessible and affordable, what is happening to our concept of space, specifically private spaces?

Writing about her experiences as an AirBnB host, Jeannie Ralston noted that “… even if you’re used to people throwing darts at you in your professional life, it’s something else to have strangers judging your home and your way of living. And doing it publicly.” Not only are you inviting strangers into your home, you’re also inviting them to write reviews that are visible to anyone on AirBnB’s platform. And you never really know how things will turn out; one host recounted how her guests spent their days in their underwear watching the World Cup. In New York, annual median earnings don’t top $6,000, though that’s clearly enough of a draw — the state boasts an estimated 46,000 hosts.

If we return to the five needs IKEA identifies as central to the sense of home (privacy, security, comfort, ownership and belonging), I wonder how these will be met as AirBnB continues to expand, the value of real estate in major cities continues to rise, and our aspiration to own rises with it? Only time will tell.

President of The McClennan Group, Serial Entrepreneur, Digital Businesses, Co-Author Innovators Anonymous, #IA

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