Living on Borrowed Time: Rent is the New Buy

When I was twelve, I sauntered into Sam Goody and bought myself my first two CDs – Chicago’s Greatest Hits and the movie soundtrack to Grease, but of course- with hard earned babysitting money. My children will never experience this. First CDs went obsolete thanks to MP3’s and ITunes (where a lot more of my cash was deployed over the years). But now? We don’t own our music anymore- we subscribe to it on services like Spotify and Pandora.

These days it seems like the runway for renting vs. buying is long and getting longer. I remember the hemming and hawing it took to decide to lease my first car. The idea of paying all that money for three years and not having a car to drive at the end of the time period was a really tough hurdle to wrap my mind around. I remember being lectured by friends when we were all feckless young couples about how we were throwing money away by renting a closet sized NYC apartment and not putting the funds into a mortgage so we could own our home in years to come.

My how things have changed! No one seems to want to own anything anymore, and every new unicorn business seems to be taking advantage of our willingness to pay for things without ever actually having things to show for it.

We used to spend hundreds of dollars to get Microsoft Office suite on our new computers, but now? There’s a fee for that. This is called software as a service.

We used to buy video games and put the cartridge into the console when we wanted to play, but now? There’s a fee for that. We download our games and have to buy battle passes and skins and the other things that make gaming an endless money pit. No wonder Toys R Us is gone and GameStop can’t survive!

We used to go to the mall and go back to school shopping, and try on clothes in dressing rooms, and send our dirty wares to the dry cleaner. First our bedrooms became the try-on room, and now a company sends me 4 high end pieces at a time- all pre-worn by a stranger- and I mail them back to be laundered and shipped to someone else. My closet has never been emptier, but I rarely wear the same outfit twice.

I am one of those dinosaurs who still have an iPhone 6s, and time how fast the battery can drain with very little effort, while others now pay a monthly fee to always have the latest and supposedly greatest handset device. There is no end to the cost of things. Heck- even things like electric toothbrushes and razors are available on a subscription basis.

Malls are dying. No one needs to leave their house to buy anything anymore. But the next frontier is giving up ownership entirely, and this seems to be getting forced upon us around every corner. Convenient? Yes. Exciting? Certainly. There’s always the promise of something new replacing what’s become obsolete overnight.

Does anyone else think we’re giving something up by giving everything up? I worry that my children will view permanence as an abstract concept rather than a sure thing. I’m terrified that a bird in hand is no longer worth two in the bush at all, but rather, we will spend our lifetimes chasing the entire flock’s migration from north to south and back north once more, and never again feel the satisfaction of working to actually have something of our own.

Aspiration will soon be a thing of the past. The pride we feel at any level from attaining things that truly belong to us is what we’re trading in for monthly subscriptions and recurring bills and endless upgrades. I can only hope this craze is just a fad, and at some point we find we want to moored to ownership again in the future.


2 thoughts on “Living on Borrowed Time: Rent is the New Buy

  1. So true – my generation did buy things but now we are burdened by the sheer volume of “stuff” we have accumulated but aren’t quite ready to get rid of. Downsizing is just not an option. My daughter’s generation will do things differently for sure and part of me is a tad jealous. There is much more freedom in not owning so much and (a gripe of mine) come the day, we have to hand over all our assets to the care homes we might need to look after us. I couldn’t do it but part of me wants to get rid of it all and adopt “van life” – What am adventure that would be.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I think there is something deliciously radical about owning (or working towards owning) things that everyone else passes up or passes on. There is great freedom in not following trends but in going against the current of what everyone else is doing. I go to music fairs and people – especially young people – are mad about vinyl records and cassettes are making a comeback, would you believe it! People are also crazy about ‘vintage’ this and that.

    I think the non-ownership of things particularly applies to housing these days – people just can’t afford to buy and own their own homes without being completely loaded, so they rent, house share/swap, etc. This aspect of non-ownership is very sad.

    And don’t worry about being a ‘dinosaur’ 🙂 I have a simple andriod which is a phone and glorified camera. That’s it. Oh, and leg warmers are also making a comeback… and Abba music. Simplicity = happiness!


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