Rent, Don’t Own, to Simplify Your Life

Photo: Steven Perez/flickr"The more you have the more you want" may be a truism but like most truisms, this simple sentence contains a grain of … well … truth. America has long been known as a consumer society, where the hallmark of an individual's status has tended to be how much they own and what they are worth in financial terms. Since the economic downturn early in this century, though, people have been learning to tighten their belts and make do with less. Part of that process involves giving up traditional American consumerism and instead of buying more and more consumer goods, renting what they need when they need it. Would that work for you?

What You Can Rent

Nowadays you can temporarily “own” a huge assortment of material objects. Entertainment-related products have long been at the forefront of the rental market -- just look at the success of Netflix, for example. In recent years, tools to rent have turned into a hot ticket, especially when it comes to costly, infrequently used items such as pressure washers or power augers. Another fast growing rental field is fashion. Designer gowns, elegant tuxedos, or precious jewelry can be had for a single gala event, allowing you to attend in style without blowing your budget on something you'll wear only once.

Toy rental has also become quite successful, due, most likely, to children’s' boundless thirst for novelty. (You have to wonder how the leasing firms deal with the inevitable wear and tear, though.) Renting a vehicle is nothing new, but now the field has updated to offer such in-demand services as the possibility to lease a car for just a few hours or to hire a bicycle from a roadside stand, dropping it off at another point along your journey.

What You Gain from Renting

Traditionally, folks have rented when it worked out cheaper than buying. Today's reasons are much more varied. Renting, especially locally, tends to be more eco-friendly compared to purchasing. It also frees up space in your home that would otherwise be used for storage. (And you know you're in trouble if you have to park outside year round because you've got so much stuff that you can't close your San Diego garage doors -- this works only in mild climates, by the way.) As zero-dimensional living becomes an increasingly greater part of our lives thanks to the Internet, decluttering and minimization of material possessions are associated with peace of mind. On a more prosaic level, renting offers you the opportunity to try before you buy. You'll have access to the latest and best models and can select from a huge range of consumer goods.

What You Lose

Of course, there are some sacrifices to be made. Renting means that you will lose out on the convenience of having a jigsaw, say, right there when you want it. Consider how often you’ll actually use a tool or other object before deciding whether to invest.

If you hire evening wear, you may worry about staining or tearing the garment, or not getting it back to the rental company within the specified time frame. There can be health concerns connected to renting items like beds or other upholstered furniture, especially with the recent bedbug epidemic. Last but not least, rental deprives you of the pleasure of ownership. Tangible possessions can represent wealth, status, and security. What’s more, they may have a value beyond the material; just think of the emotional satisfaction of a woman who’s saved her (bought, not rented) wedding dress and passes it down for her daughter to use a generation later.

Laura Firszt writes for

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