Since 2010 I have been speaking about what I see as three new consumer economic trends that will alter consumer behavior in the developed countries of the world. A number of aligning forces are significantly increasing the influence and impact of these three trends.
In a recent column here, I wrote about Conscious Capitalism, one of the three new dominant trends of consumer behavior for the Transformation Decade 2010-2020. Conscious capitalism is when a company takes on an altruistic cause, charity or practice and applies revenue to that endeavor. In that column I profiled two companies, Tom’s Shoes and Panera Cares that are practicing new forms of conscious capitalism.
In addition I highlighted two of the largest drivers of this trend as being global and generational. Global in the sense that climate change is dramatically increasing our “Spaceship Earth” mentality – that sense of the fragile preciousness of this lone planet of ours. Generational in the sense that the Millennial generation sees conscious capitalism as one of the first influencers of what and where they buy.
Both of these forces affect the second major consumer economic trend.
Less is More
In a column that I wrote for Oprah.com three years ago I called the recession a “too much stuff recession.” When the recession hit, we all stopped spending immediately and reactively. We then looked around at our lives and realized we had too much stuff. Stuff we hadn’t worn, watched, listened to or read. We decided that we didn’t need to buy anything new because we already had enough. The debt-fueled consumption spree was over.
The next thing we did was to get rid of stuff we realized we were never going to wear, watch, listen to or read. We downsized. We donated to charities. We traded stuff in for other used things at recycled clothing stores, used bookstores and used music stores.
We also moved much of the last vestiges of analog in our lives to digital. In 2007, I probably had 300 LPs, a similar number of CDs and perhaps 50 DVDs. The LPs and CDs are now MP3 files and I have kept only the DVDs that I want to revisit, and those will ultimately get transferred to an external hard drive that will get connected to the TV. As for books, those were a bit harder to get rid of, but hundreds have been donated or given away and most if not all the new books I buy are for my Kindle and Kindle app on my phone. So this freed up about 30-40 feet of shelf space of content storage, and much of that content I now carry in two pockets.
So, we spent less on stuff. We bartered or traded rather than purchased. Our buying habits changed. We digitized much of our content so our homes became much less full of physical content. Our buying of stuff was reigned in and our content became digital. The third major force of this Less is More trend is generational, as much of the Shift Age is.
Baby boomers are downsizing. Empty nesters are moving to smaller, often urban residences. This entails getting rid of stuff. This downsizing results in separating the stuff that has sentimental meaning for us from all the other stuff we have accumulated. This results in a keener focus on what stuff to acquire in the years ahead.
The Millennials are not nearly as into the acquisition of stuff as their boomer parents were when they were that age. The Millennials are more interested in technology that keeps them connected than in other stuff. If they seek status, it is largely with new smart phones, tablets or laptops; certainly not fancy furniture or even cars. There have been many articles recently about the Millennials not learning to drive, not wanting cars and of course living at home. If you graduated from college in the years 2009-2012 you entered the worst economic landscape in 70 years – and often with student loan debt. These two realities have obviously put a huge crimp in any acquisition of stuff except essentials and connectivity. In addition, the Millennials are fine with buying used stuff, as it is both cheaper and more environmentally acceptable. This last fact points to the larger reality and way to think about personal stuff.
One of the Five Contexts of the Shift Age that I delineated in “Entering the Shift Age” is the Earth Century. This is the century where, increasingly, how we manage resources on Earth will become ever more a part of our thinking and our lives. We live on this unique, splendid place called Spaceship Earth. We have accepted the concept of recycling as part of 21st Century life. This now comes to the category of stuff. There are already billions of cars, couches, chairs, pieces of clothing and just about anything else. Why not reuse them, recycle them and reduce the manufacture of any more of them than necessary. Environmentalists understand this, Millennials embrace this and we are all increasingly using such things as eBay and Craigslist to act upon this vision.
Now, and in the years ahead, starting with the developed countries of the world, we will all have less stuff in our lives, across the board.
David Houle is a futurist, strategist and speaker. He has always been slightly ahead of the curve. Houle spent more than 20 years in media and entertainment. Most recently, David is a featured contributor to Oprah.com. Check is out here www.oprah.com/davidhoule. David can be contacted at David@DavidHoule.com.
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