10 Reasons Why Millennials Have a Whole Different Outlook on Buying "Stuff"

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become increasingly more of a minimalist. I’d much rather own one pair of high- quality boots than five cheap ones. I love the smell and feel of a real book but plan to purchase most of mine via Kindle from now on. I own a car but try my best to take the Muni whenever possible. And if I can borrow a toy, baby swing, or other-miscellaneous-baby-item for my one-year-old, or purchase a used one on Craigslist, I feel like I’ve just won the lottery. Keeping my proverbial “stuff” to a minimum makes me feel, for lack of a better word, peaceful – financially, environmentally, and on a more basic level that compels me to not create a whole lot of waste. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not cool enough to have so few possessions that they’d fit in a single suitcase, or even a single room. There are families out there who are truly minimalist and periodically give away half their possessions; for them, this is a committed way of life. I wouldn’t classify myself as extreme in any sense. I’m really an average Jane when it comes to shopping and my possessions. But over the past few years, I’ve begun to see the appeal of only buying what I really need, and it feels like that’s a sentiment being adopted by millennials everywhere. Some say it’s the economy that’s causing our generation to eschew buying cars and houses; others feel our singularly Gen-Y spending habits are more deeply rooted in our outlook on life and our coexistence with technology. Yes, the internet has forever changed the way we all buy, sell, trade, advertise, and share – that’s obvious. But I think there’s more to it than just that. I think that our generation has a perspective on “stuff” that’s fundamentally different than anyone else’s. Here are 10 reasons why:

1) We care about the environment and the world at large. From Tom’s shoes to Honest Company diapers, millennials no longer shop without paying attention to what’s behind the scenes. Green products are important to us, as are socially-conscious companies.

2) We don’t have a whole lot of space. We don’t place as much value on giant houses in the suburbs as we used to, and many of us live in cities, where our closets are pea-sized. Both my parents and my husband’s parents have storage units that literally give them nightmares. They’ve warned me not to follow in their footsteps. I’ve taken heed.

3) Most of our “things” are in the cloud, anyway. When’s the last time you bought a CD? Printed out snapshots of your kitten/summer vacation/baby/new tattoo?

4) Possessions aren’t status symbols anymore. Sure, we love fashion and style and neat-o electronics. But we can Rent the Runway, Bag Borrow or Steal, or inherit our gadget-obsessed boyfriend’s old iPhone when the next generation comes out. And who needs material status symbols when you’ve got Spotify playlists, Pinterest boards, Flickr feeds and, of course, personal blogs to showcase your talents, random thoughts, and personal style?

5) Things aren’t as scarce or hard to obtain as they used to be. Owning that shiny VCR, Nintendo, or Mercedes Benz used to mean that you were going somewhere in the world, or that you’d already arrived. Now you never know how much somebody else spent on their car or pair of designer jeans. And every teenager worth his/her salt knows how to log on and find a flash sale, a coupon, or a daily deal.

6) We like our shopping to be efficient because we have other things to do. Unless you really enjoy shoe shopping as an activity in itself (and plan to go home and pin every pair, then send out a blast to your twitter followers), you’d probably rather order those wedges on Zappos.

7) We’re placing much more value on experiences than “things.” Most millennials I know would rather spend their extra cash on a bottle of wine and a palate-pleasing meal with friends than an expensive item only they will enjoy. Some say we’re becoming less connected as we text, tweet, and FB message our peers, but I say we’re becoming more.

8) We’d rather spend our money on services than goods. Paying for cable used to be a big deal. Now we’re willing to shell out mucho bucks for quality of life-improving services (Amazon prime, Cherry car washes, iTunes) that entertain us or make our lives more efficient – saving us more time for other endeavors.  

9) Our entire experience of shopping has been forever changed by the net. We’re finding style icons on fashion blogs, curating outfits on Pinterest, buying and selling unique goods on Etsy, and even “window shopping” by placing items in our virtual shopping carts, then signing off before we can do any real damage (wait, am I the only one who does that?)

10) We see opportunities everywhere. Need to earn some extra Benjamins? Rent out your apartment on Airbnb or your car on getaround. Sell your goods on eBay or pick up some excellent free furniture for your new digs on Craigslist. There are so many new companies facilitating these renter-rentee relationships, you can practically make money just by existing.

So, what does all of this mean? If millennials truly are a generation of entrepreneurs (social and otherwise), that means we’re headed into an exciting era, where instead of letting our purchases control us, we find ways to let them truly enhance our lives. Or something like that.