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What’s mine is mine: unpicking the psychological reasons people like to own things

Adapting to product-as-a-service or sharing models in a circular economy could prove difficult for individuals who derive a feeling of safety and identity from ownership. How can insight into these motivations help businesses adapt their relationships with users?

Photo by Parker Burchfield on Unsplash

A variety of ways to acquire

Although it is the sharing platforms that have primarily caught the global public imagination, Product-as-a-Service (PaaS) models are on the rise. Bundles offers subscriptions to washing machines, while MUD leases its jeans. Ikea is testing furniture rentals, while running shoe maker On has been offering its recyclable Cyclon shoe on subscription since 2020.

Ownership as a passport to identity

Many practical factors could have an impact on whether a person will choose to access rather than buy, including product sector, age, life stage, location, and socioeconomic group. Often it is a combination of these factors that can make ownership more attractive than sharing. Car-sharing, for example, is especially popular in urban areas where parking is scarce and among younger people who can’t afford to buy a car. Car ownership, on the other hand, is more popular among families who need more instant access to a vehicle that can also double up as storage space.

Photo by Maria Ziegler on Unsplash

Attachment to ‘things’ develops through a life

One of the earliest development phases a baby experiences is the realisation that his or her mother is separate from them. Paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s well-regarded theory is that the child then fixates on a blanket or toy to serve as a ‘transitional object’, helping them to process this sense of separation and develop physical and emotional independence.

Not owned but still valued?

  • Controlling — mastering the object, having the ability to use it and modify it if necessary
  • Creating — making something in order to use it
  • Knowing — having an intimate knowledge of its workings
Photo by Jan Baborák on Unsplash

The sisterhood of the travelling dress

At its operational heart By Rotation is a system for the lending and renting of clothing. It’s a pragmatic offer in that it enables users to source an exciting piece of clothing for a special occasion that they might not be able to afford to buy. It also gives those who rent out items the chance to earn back the cost of initial purchase (and more in some cases).

Photo by Burgess Milner on Unsplash

Psychological benefits of By Rotation

Belonging — By Rotation has created a community that is bonded over a shared wardrobe.



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Ellen MacArthur Foundation

We work to build a framework for a circular economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.