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29

Oct

2019

Marie Kondo, Minimalism and the Sharing Economy: A world without Ownership?

 
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Is ownership of property obsolete? And what will our world look like without ownership? Consumers are gradually losing interest in owning personal property. Marie Kondo, an organizing guru turned into a new cultural phenomenon, tells us to discard of objects that do not bring us joy. This is not a simple or easy advice. The underlying assumption is that we own too many possessions, more than we could ever enjoy, and that these unneeded belongings burden our lives. Kondo’s advice goes beyond a helpful organizing tip. She maintains that decluttering our home from personal belongings is an important step towards emotional decluttering and mindful living. Marie Kondo is not alone. Minimalist and ecological movements similarly warn us of excess consumption. They argue that happiness does not come from material possessions. Ownership will not bring us joy. Giving up things frees the individual to engage with the more meaningful aspects of life.

These movements challenge the superiority of ownership in legal theory and the premise of many consumer culture, marketing, and psychology studies. The common wisdom was that ownership of goods reflects who we are, and represents our identity to the world. Examples range from the wedding ring to a book, from our home to our private car. One’s home, clothes, and books tell others in the world who they are and at the same time shapes their identity inwards. Losing possession of certain goods was considered to be a devastating experience, that results in a period of grief and loss. Ownership also provides us with freedom and independence and the ability to make various life choices.

The world is now changing, and consumers, especially young consumers, care more about experiences than owning the good itself.

There is a real conflict between this legal ideal and new consumer preferences. The world is now changing, and consumers, especially young consumers, care more about experiences than owning the good itself.  Ownership is no longer a marker of identity, and it is not the foundation for communal ties. This attitude is not exclusive to minimalists and people who are environmentally minded. Many consumers want to use diverse items and enjoy luxury goods. The experience is important, not control of the property or long-term attachment. Material things become functional, merely an instrument to a purpose.

The sharing economy fits well with these trends. It allows owners to rent out assets such as cars, homes, bikes, or even pets to strangers. Instead of buying a drill, a user might choose to rent John’s drill today and Jill’s drill next month. Instead of buying a car or even leasing one, a person might rent a car from a neighbor and then rent a different car next week. Instead of owning too many toys, children can exchange toys in a toy lending library. Accessing drills, cars are toys meets consumers’ need to move from place to place, drill a hole or play without the commitment involved with owning the property.

Destabilized Property by Shelly Kreiczer-Levy

Destabilized Property by Shelly Kreiczer-Levy

Property is still here to stay, but casual use and enjoyment of things are gradually eroding the role of ownership.  The rise of access as an alternative to ownership poses new challenges. What will a world without (or with less) ownership look like? The law today protects property rights, most prominently ownership. It defends owners’ right to possess goods without interference, privately, and to control the object and its use. As access grows in cultural, legal and practical importance, the law will need to update its rules, creating new protections. Instead of preserving what people have, new laws will have to protect the opportunity to access safely. Rules against discrimination, regulation of platform power, protecting safety of users, and rethinking some of the outdated legal barriers to access. This is the challenge the lawmakers, regulators and public policy officials will face in the coming years.

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About the Author: Shelly Kreiczer-Levy

Shelly Kreiczer-Levy is a Professor of Law and the head of the visiting scholar program at the College of Law and Business, Ramat Gan, Israel. She holds an LL. B. (2004) and a Ph.D. (2009) from Tel Aviv University law school and has clerked for Israel's Supreme Court Chief Justice, Aharon Barak (2003–2004). She served as the President of the Isra...

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