Welcome to #23 of the Shift Age Newsletter! Welcome to all the new subscribers who have signed up since the last newsletter was published. We follow up #22 with a look at the other two dominant consumer economic trends that are changing the way we thing about buying things.

All editions of the Shift Age Newsletter are archived here. New and long term subscribers can go to this page on my web site to access the entire archive of past newsletters. If you like reading the newsletter, this is where you can go to take a look back at columns, videos and forecasts from the past three years. This is also the sign up page should you want to share with friends.

As noted in the last newsletter, “Entering the Shift Age” went to the #1 Amazon sales ranking in the category of Business Planning & Forecasting. It did so the day that Shift Age Newsletter #21 was published, meaning a number of you ordered the book. The good news is that in the past few months my latest book has consistently been in the top ten to top 30 rankings in this category and in the category of Future of Computing. [Not sure about category as my book touches on computers but is not a book about the future of them, but hey, a top ranking is a top ranking!]

It has been gratifying to get all the positive feedback about the book. I felt it was the best book about our general future that I had written and the response confirms that. Thanks to those that have bought and read the book. To those that haven’t, think of “Entering the Shift Age” as a book that describes the new age humanity has entered, provides the contexts to better understand all the incredible and transformative change that is going on, and provides a future look at many areas of human endeavor and what they might look like in the next 15 years.

In the last Newsletter I wrote about Conscious Capitalism, one of the three significant consumer buying trends that are and will be reshaping consumption this decade. I promised to write about the other two in this, the next Newsletter.

The following two trends are different but similar. In some markets they overlap and in others they are separate. These two trends began with the reorganizational recession of 2007-2011. Reorganizational because this was the great economic disruption between the Information Age and the Shift Age. We entered it at the ending of the Information Age and left it, clearly in the Shift Age.

Here is a look at these two trends. They will impact some part of your life or your business between now and 2020.

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 very 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 new anything as 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, well a bit harder to do 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 linear shelf space of content storage, 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 places to live. This entails getting rid of stuff. This downsizing results in separating the stuff that has sentimental and important 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 of 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 Craig’s list 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.

Four years ago I started to suggest that in the United States, the reorganizational recession might have broken the aspirational, patriotic vision of home ownership. This was a fairly obvious supposition due to the collapse of the real estate market leading the way into the downward economic cataclysm. Not only was the old saying “real estate always goes up in value” blown up, but the inability to sell the home one owned kept millions from being able to move to where they could gain employment. So ownership in an illiquid market also meant unemployment.

This led me to think about what I now see as the third major trend in consumer behavior. We are moving from embracing ownership to embracing renting. We are moving ever more to a rental and sharing economy. Not just in the area of housing.

Think about the phenomenon of the Zip Car and other such companies that allow you to pick up and drop off a car at convenient locations. Use and pay for the car when you need it, not paying for a car – and parking place- for when you are not using it.

Think about the reality that a young woman in her 20s who buys an expensive purse might not think of it as a lifetime purchase, but as something that she can resell on EBay in a year or two. Short-term ownership is very much like temporary rental.

Think about airbnb.com, the web site that allows people to rent out their couches, beds and homes to others, generating revenue. Hundreds of thousands of people have used airbnb.com on both sides of the economic equation, either to generate revenue not previously available or to rent a place to stay at a price lower than a regular hotel room.

Think about all the streaming video and audio sites. They are basically renting content for consumption, not selling content to be owned. They are also allowing one to experience content before buying, which will greatly cut down on the desire or impulse to own.

So, in many major categories of purchase, we are becoming less about owning and more about renting.

Of course this Ownership to Rental trend is closely tied to the Less is More trend. We will own less stuff. We will rent more stuff than we do now, as then we are not acquiring, just using for a period of time. Mobility and the desire for experiences, most evidenced with the Millennial generation but also the Baby Boomers, will redirect financial resources away from ownership and acquisition.

Recycle, reuse, reduce and rent. The new Four Rs of Spaceship Earth.