Experiences over stuff: the decluttering Millennial lifestyle

We need to get rid of all this stuff.” This has been said in my household for as long as I can remember. I never thought anything of it, until I realized it was a common one among my friends, whether still living at home or having moved out.

I then started noticing a connecting thread… I caught an episode of Tiny House, Big Living on HGTV. I came across a book on Amazon (apparently ‘inspired by my shopping trends’) about domestic purging by Marie Kondo, a best-selling author that helps people declutter their lives. I would log on to Instagram and see bloggers showcase their meticulously organized items, arranged in a neat square frame. And I started noticing brands – all types of brands – offering to help consumers simplify their lives. Ironically, having a slimmed-down, simplified existence with less stuff has become big business.

Just listen to George Carlin in this 1986 Comic Relief appearance, talking about the importance of stuff in our lives – it will get you to rethink your stuff for sure 😁.

Millennials go minimal

All this inspired me to examine this cultural shift that is not primarily a result of, or dependent upon, technology. While technology has helped motivate Millennials to streamline their lives and possessions, it has not singlehandedly influenced them to make this lifestyle change. Millennials have not yet had the time or money to accumulate lots of possessions (and their associated responsibilities) that are weighing on baby boomers and Gen Xers. Furthermore, Millennials are entering the workforce while also paying off their student debt, which makes possessions even less of a necessity. Decluttering and living a minimalistic lifestyle are almost the natural progression.

Decluttering - data

Showcasing experiences over stuff

A lot of people think that this is a trend and they’re wrong. This is a generational shift based on values, and so, it’s going to take a generation for it to shift again. Aesthetic trends come and go, but value-based trends, they have staying power,” says Blake Smith, CEO & co-founder of Cladwell (a start-up that helps consumers create capsule wardrobes).

Not only does technology help eliminate the need for excess stuff (digital CDs, photos, books, etc.), but social media has encouraged this generation to showcase their experiences, and to place an emphasis on going out and experiencing rather than buying.

Seventy-eight percent of Millennials – compared to 59% of baby boomers – would rather pay for an experience than material goods,” according to a survey by Harris Poll and Eventbrite cited on Bloomberg.

So, Millennials are opting for experiences over stuff, they are going out more frequently than the average consumer, and they are spending less on these experiences.

How brands support the decluttering lifestyle

With less need for possessions and an increasing desire for experiences, Millennials have greatly reshaped the retail industry.

This is a generation that is bigger than the boomers in population, but their wallets are smaller, and they are more into the style of life than the stuff of life. This is a big threat to retail. They’re not into a lot of shopping.” Robin Lewis of The Robin Report in an interview with Forbes.

Decluttering websites have partnered with social media to promote to Millennials to get rid of clothing they don’t love, suggesting a more simplified and streamlined existence. While browsing the blog Advice from a Twenty Something, I discovered a website called Cladwell Capsules. With their mission statement ‘A Smaller Wardrobe. A Bigger Life,’, Cladwell promotes having less clothes for a more sustainable and free lifestyle.

Being sustainable and responsible is not about getting more, it’s about getting smarter about what we have. Cladwell believes that cheap clothes hurt our wallets, the environment, and the workers who make them,” as stated in Cladwell’s mission.

This mantra is appealing strongly to the 20-something females looking for a simple, fun (and Instagram-aesthetics-approved) lifestyle. The combination of saving money, interacting on a web-based platform and creating a more streamlined and personal style is the dream for many young women. And this got me intrigued by how big-name brands were approaching people, not just the 20-something women; what kinds of products and messages could be crafted to inspire people to declutter, own less, and winnow out unneeded possessions? I came across two brands – one for-profit and one non-profit – and checked out what they are saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported that IKEA is developing products to tap into a growing pool of consumers that are living in tiny places. Innovations such as movable walls and sliding power sockets make it easier to create sub-rooms and move furniture around. As people continue to opt for smaller living areas, IKEA is devoting significant R&D on trying to figure out how to create flexible interiors through the use of sliding walls, plug-in wardrobes and collapsible beds.

Goodwill Industries is running a campaign that encourages people to reduce and declutter while helping families. In addition to helping less fortunate families, the ads also remind consumers that Goodwill helps fund job training and placement opportunities for people with disabilities or disadvantages. Goodwill’s website has a Donation Impact Calculator and provides links to the nearest donation center. One of my favorite ads informs readers that ‘your clothes that are too small can do big things for others’ and is supported by the tagline, ‘Donate Stuff. Create Jobs.’

At the end of the day, it seems that Neil Young, that perennial Millennial, might have been preaching to my generation’s choir when he sang:

          I used to have a treasure chest
          Got so heavy that I had to rest
          I let it slip away from me
          Didn’t need it anyway
          So I let it slip away

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