Outside your comfort zone: Why you might be happy you lent out your things
Madonna said it back in 1985: “we are living in a material world”.
For decades, if not centuries, what you owned, the brands you bought, and how much stuff you had were important signals as to your wealth and status. Shopping was also a powerful way to boost self-confidence and self-esteem (however fleeting) and led to the term “retail therapy”.
But all that might be changing.
Tastes and preferences have undergone a shift in recent times. Buying stuff isn’t as important as it used to be. More people instead prefer having access to things, rather than ownership of them. They’re choosing experience over expense. In other words, fewer people are finding happiness in consumerism.
There are probably a few reasons for this. Let’s look at some facts:
- 75% of people between 18–35 prefer to spend money on experiences than possessions
- 1 in 7 Americans have a room in their homes filled with rarely used items
- After a decade of austerity 46% of Americans find it difficult to meet monthly expenses, and 33% of Britons have no spare cash after paying monthly bills
- There is over $4.5 trillion worth of asses sitting idle worldwide
A combination of these factors, along with technological disruptions (smartphones, etc.), are likely culprits to the changes in consumer preferences. (I also wouldn’t discount the realisation after several decades of consumerism that it’s not the path to happiness or wellbeing).
In any case, we live in a time where millions of people own way too many things, earn way too little, and are searching for a meaningful and fulfilling existence. It’s the perfect storm for the sharing economy, where people can do more and go further with less. And that’s why it’s a massive and as yet untapped market for people to start lending out their things.
So, here are some reasons why you should think about lending out your stuff.
1. It’s a great way to make some extra cash
This is the most obvious and utilitarian answer. A lot of people could do with an additional revenue stream to help pay the bills or save up for something special, like a trip or a wedding.
Most people don’t realise, though, how much value is locked up in the things they own and even fewer know how to monetize their possessions. The average US household has over 50 unused items cumulatively worth over $3,000. While you think the roads are jammed with traffic because everyone is driving, in fact most cars spend 95% of their lifetimes parked!
In terms of how to unlock the value in your personal things, Airbnb has long been the frontrunner. They have helped thousands of people supplement their incomes by creating a marketplace for them to rent out a room or an apartment or a house. Uber is another in this vanguard, giving people the opportunity to earn from something they already own: their car.
Earning off your other possessions is the next step in the sharing economy, and one that is certain to grow in the coming years as more people discover the untapped wealth sitting in their cupboards, garages, spare rooms, and attics. Veritable treasure troves await.
2. It means that purchase you made isn’t going to waste
This is an emotional reason, to be sure, and one we have all experienced. We buy something absolutely certain it will get used all the time because “won’t it be great to have freshly made bread every morning!”. Then reality hits and we end up never using the bread maker or whatever other impulse buy we made.
You don’t have to feel guilty any more. Bring out the exiled rowing machine from the store room, or the electric guitar from the cupboard, or the karaoke machine from under the stairs. Lend it out and you can make back the money you spent on it, and then some!
3. It’s good for the environment
This is a no-brainer. By buying fewer things we help save on energy and water while reducing CO2 output, pollution, and waste. When asked, 76% of people agree that sharing things is better for our planet.
But that means people need to be lending out their items in the first place. So go on and help protect the planet by letting people borrow your stuff so they don’t have to buy it!
4. It’s a great way to meet people in your community
One of the unintended — but worthwhile — benefits of borrowing and lending things is that you get to know people living around you.
Several decades ago it was much more common for people to be born, raised, get a job, start a family, have a career and retire all in the same city, if not the same neighbourhood! The bonds between people were stronger because we had taken the same journey together in the same place, we had seen their faces and known their names all our lives.
But now, with globalization making the world ever smaller, people move communities much more frequently, whether for education, jobs, or family. It means the neighbour across the street is often also a stranger, and that can leave us feeling disconnected or alone.
But when people can borrow and lend from each other, natural bonds begin to form. You meet, exchange names, learn a bit about each other. Maybe they become repeat borrowers and you realise you share the same interests. After a while, strangers become real neighbours, and even friends.
So go on and lend that pushchair to the family across the street. Or your mountain bike to the guy upstairs. Or your party equipment to the girl around the corner. And don’t forget to say hi, because they’re part of your community and could one day be a good friend.
5. If you’re very good at it, you could actually make a living from it
The sharing economy is estimated to be worth over $2 trillion, so that’s a big piece of pie waiting to be sliced. Just like with Airbnb and Uber, it wouldn’t take much to professionalize lending out your things and make it your primary source of income.
It already happens on eBay and Amazon where the platforms have become vital to millions of small businesses being run from home. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, you could find the most in-demand items in your city, source them for affordable prices, and lend them out regularly.
Or you could bring something new to a city that is not available — a foreign brand or hard-to-find device — and see how the local market responds. If it’s popular you have an incentive to bring in more.
The great thing about lending out items is that once you’ve recouped your cost, everything after that is pure profit.
Those are just a few good reasons why lending out your things could be a game-changer, for your finances, your social life, your business, and the planet — perhaps ultimately nudging you towards a happier life!
Sources & further reading:
‘Primer On The “Global Sharing Economy” In 20 Charts’, Zero Hedge, 2017 (summary of Bank of America report)
‘Hopping Aboard the Sharing Economy’, BCG, 2017
‘The Sharing Economy’, PwC, 2015
‘Americans have too many things and not enough money, study finds’, PR Newswire, 29 August 2016
‘Do you have ₤1,000 of clutter in your home? Study finds average household is sitting on unused items worth a small fortune’, Daily Mail, 19 March 2013
‘Average US household has over 50 unused items worth $3100 according to eBay/Nielsen survey’, Business Wire, 26 April 2007
‘Ten-year-olds have ₤7,000 worth of toys but play with just ₤330’, The Telegraph, 20 October 2010
‘Unused clothing worth ₤30bn, report finds’, The Guardian, 11 July 2012
‘Third of Brits have no spare cash after paying bills as households face fastest rise in living costs for three years’, The Sun, 25 April 2017
‘Gig work, online selling, and home sharing’, Pew Research Center, 17 November 2016
‘Household debt is dangerously close to 2008 levels’, CNN Money, 16 February 2017
‘Household debt, total, % of net disposable income’, OECD Data, 2015