Apartment, Car, Wedding Lehenga: Why Buy When You Can Rent it All?

Social Commentary

Apartment, Car, Wedding Lehenga: Why Buy When You Can Rent it All?

Illustration: Hitesh Sonar

I have never rented “things” like clothes or furniture… yet. That is a big yet because the more I look around, the more convinced I become of the economic prudence of renting things that you are likely to tire of in a couple of years. 

I am an exception though – my friends and cousins wear the “Renters and Proud” tag without any shame or hesitation. Only recently a cousin called me and asked me to help her shop for her wedding. I expected her to head to a luxurious Sabyasachi showroom, but she’d asked me to come home. And there we sat, in front of her laptop, spoilt for choice, deciding which designer to pick and which lehenga to rent. Yes, rent. The plan was to wear it for her big day and return it. 

The hype around your wedding outfit is only as big as you make it. You wear it once and then it’s locked up in some suitcase stored in a loft for years. You probably look at it again on your 25th wedding anniversary, so that you can show it to your children. But is the nostalgia worth ₹25 lakh?  

Ownership has more to do with sentiment than practicality. Buying a new car and then a house have been ultimate #lifegoals for our parents and our grandparents. But we millennials are a part of what many today call “Generation Rent”. And our mantra is: Why purchase something and be stuck with it for the rest of our lives? This of course, is a reflection of a generation that does not want to be tied down to anything, be it a relationship or a loveseat.

I have walked into a friend’s impeccably done up house, only to be told later that she simply chose a “living room package” from a website and the furniture arrived. Out of the 15-odd cities that I visited in the past year, I have chosen to rent out apartments on Airbnb, because “living like a local” is a huge part of my traveller experience. 

With technology providing us the convenience, the ambit of things one can rent is becoming wider by the day. One can now rent everything from the TV to the treadmill. The same goes for cars. And that explains the popularity of Uber and Ola. You don’t have to worry about driving in traffic, parking space, or maintenance. And this has visibly eased the lives of “urban nomads” who could be living in Mumbai today and Delhi tomorrow. My friends in Mumbai not only rent homes but prefer the fully furnished option that comes with a bed, modular kitchen, washing machine, heck even crockery and curtains, because they don’t know where they will be in a couple of years, and whether the furniture that they invest in will complement the house they move in to next. They want the experience of coming home to a nicely furnished apartment without the frills attached with going about shopping for everything from a table to a lamp. 

For those of us caught in the hustle and bustle, moving cities for jobs is a given and yet with every move we make, we find ourselves with a shrunken social circle and almost zero emotional support. Perhaps that is what is driving the “rent-a-friend” (Mumbai), “‘rent-a-shopping buddy” (in China) and “rent-a-pet” (in UK) services. In the US and UK, cuddling has turned into a profession, where cuddlers now offer platonic hugs for a fee. It is only a matter of time when these services become as common as ordering your food. 

The renting culture offers us flexibility when we don’t want to be tied down to a thing or a place. It gives us access to a wider range of products and services for the same kind of money or less.

Prioritising “experience” is a very millennial way of life. We have realised that the cost of any thing or service is attached to our engagement with it and not in ownership at all, so we rent or subscribe to platforms that can offer us the things that we want, but which we know we will use on a “per need” basis.

Companies, too, have smartened up to this fact; they know that collaborative consumption is the way forward – take for instance the boom in co-working spaces. A decade ago, we hadn’t even heard of such a concept, but now there is a WeWork or an Awfis everywhere you look. The next big thing on the horizon is co-living spaces, with a few projects in metro cities already underway. All of this points to how wholly millennials have embraced the sharing culture. And numbers don’t lie. According to a report by PwC, 51 per cent of total turnover in the sharing economy for retail and consumer goods are from people under the age of 29, another Economic Times article says, “Unmarried, young and urban people make up for over 60% of the user base of renting platforms.”  

Renting works for people like us because it is tailor-made for our fast-paced lifestyle. When I say people like us, I mean those who have the same mindset of living in the moment, the ones who are tech-savvy, curious and who seek instant gratification instead of patiently waiting to buy things. The renting culture offers us flexibility when we don’t want to be tied down to a thing or a place. It gives us access to a wider range of products and services for the same kind of money or less. 

We millennials are a curious bunch, indeed. While we want to have our cake and eat it too, we don’t know where the money will come for all that our hearts desire. With everything, from education to groceries becoming expensive by the day, we are left with little to splurge on stuff that we really want. It is here that the economics of the renting culture appear to make sense. 

In a way, we know that the world is changing at a rapid pace and so are we. We know our tastes may change over the years and hence we do not want to be stuck with something in the long term by owning it. Add to this the growing acceptability around minimalism and sustainability and what you have is a trend that looks permanent.  

The growth of the sharing economy proves that we aren’t embarrassed of using second- hand stuff. We prefer flexibility over stability, we want to be a part of the gig economy instead of a 9-5 job cycle, we want to spend on the now, instead of saving for the future. We are not measuring our success by what a mythical Sharma ji ki beti has or hasn’t achieved in life. And we are definitely not as obsessed with status as our parents were, which gives us the space to experiment with different ways of living. Remaining asset-light and renting things is one such experiment that I’m on board for. 

So Nirmala Sitharaman can keep blaming us millennials for the slowdown, but Generation Rent is here to stay. What should we take on lease next? Maybe a new FinMin.