The Rise of Super-Renters (2)

The Rise of Super-Renters: From Car Rentals to Clothing Loans

You may not have heard this term before, but super-renting is a real phenomenon. It’s a trend that’s taking hold in America, where young urbanites (or super-renters) are starting to choose renting items over any form of ownership. And this practice isn’t confined to typical product categories such as wedding dresses and car rentals. These middle class younglings are renting everything from clothes to furniture. It’s a concept that will likely leave many Singaporeans scratching their heads, especially when it’s in our culture to think of renting as another form of burning cash.

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While this trend hasn’t gone to the extremes yet on local shores, the US is witnessing a growing diversity of rental products and services, making it more accessible for users to become super-renters. Think about it. Spotify has made obsolete the ownership of physical CDs, and so has Netflix when it comes to DVDs. The one thing we have to purchase is a subscription, which streamlines the shopping process significantly as well.

Taking cues from the buying habits of the main demographic of young adults, companies in the States such as Crate & Barrel and Fernish are offering rented furniture as well. Rent the Runway, now a billion-dollar firm, provides designer threads at a discount, while a throng of fashion brands such as American Eagle, Vince and Express have launched in-house rental services that could help populate an entire wardrobe. Singapore has its own version too—Rentadella that rents womenswear pieces for about 4 to 8 days for as much as 80% cheaper than the original price tag.

You won’t have to compromise on quality either. Whether it’s lamp or skirt, each piece will be on-trend. As the trends change, so will you be able to. Besides everyday items, renters also have access to Oculus Rifts, Dyson vacuums, and other appliances. If you wanted to, you could almost literally rent your entire life. Still, a big question remains: How did we get to a point where it looks like everyone is struggling with major commitment issues?

The Origins of Super-Renting

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We’re living in a sharing economy, a smart world that has charmed an entire generation into aspiring towards the “digital nomad”, “freelance artist”, “global citizen” lifestyle. As a result, today’s youth value flexibility greatly. The younglings are also emboldened to break moulds, blessed with the freedom to go against the typical 9 to 5 work schedule. No longer tethered to traditional constraints, they could savour the community of a co-working space by day, earn a few extra bucks as a Grab driver by night, and go home to the cat and a couple of Airbnb guests.

It’s not just the freedom that entices either. This way of life can be rather economical as well. In Singapore, at least, it’s a lot cheaper to take a shared ride or a rental car than to invest in a vehicle that looks like everyone else’s and comes with a hefty 10-year COE. Likewise, because most of the land in Singapore is state-owned, once your 99-year leasehold expires, the land and property go back to the government. Property owners are not entitled to any compensation at all. 

Renting assets, thus, becomes a no-brainer. If you’re able to live on your essentials, renting allows you the temporal enjoyment of things you desire, but don’t actually need or use regularly. As for more big-ticket assets such as a house and a car, you could end up saving a lot more if you went with the alternative choice of renting. Such habits benefit the environment as well, a topic that has in recent years made its way into the mainstream with activists such as Greta Thunberg. Hospitality businesses have also joined the conversation, in which sustainability is a major money-making buzzword. Coupled with the climate crisis we’re currently in, there’s a greater impetus not to buy more things, but settle for rented ones that can be reused over and over again by a substantial group of people.

While some see it as a necessity, most regular renters aren’t actually broke vagrants who have no choice but to resort to penny pinching. Rather, more people are actively choosing this lifestyle as their definition of success and wealth shift over time. Whether or not living through the Great Recession played a part in shaping their outlook, it’s clear that these well-educated youths have adopted a mindful approach to life that prioritises experiences over worldly possessions. Being homeless, in the sense that you lack a fixed residence, therefore doesn’t mean that you’re unhappy, unfulfilled or disadvantaged in any way.

Just look at Shailene Woodley, the 27-year-old Hollywood sweetheart and one of the most high-profile role models of today’s youth, who starred in the Divergent trilogy and The Fault in Our Stars. Despite having fame and wealth in spades, she lives out of her suitcase. Speaking to talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, she explained, “I was only home for 15 days last year and I got home and I was like, ‘I don’t want to be alone. I want to be with my friends and family.’ So, I got rid of everything just so I could have one suitcase that would be easy to transport between houses and just kind of couch surf for a few months. But it’s so refreshing and it takes so much stress away when you’re like, ‘Ugh, I only have one pair of jeans to wash.’ It’s so nice.”

Super-Renting: A Symptom of a Detached Generation?

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Though many millennials are following the footsteps of Shailene Woodley, not everyone’s intentions come from a noble, wise place. There’s a tinge of nihilism to this culture as well, where users reject the idea of ownership because nothing in the future feels guaranteed. Life is impermanent, everything will turn into dust at some point, and ownership is an illusion. These super-renters seem opposed to the idea of settling down, which could signal a lacking sense of rootedness or belonging. Everyone is living like lost children in Neverland, simply floating and cruising by without end.

It’s the same culture that saw the introduction of rental relationships. Instead of investing in real ones, you could rent a friend or a lover. In Singapore, Maybe Asia allows you to rent a date (between $80 and $300 for two hours), and Pally Asia provides temporary friends who can act as bridesmaids or sports partners ($15 for a short phone call, to $1,000 for a 12-hour wedding ceremony including a speech). Then, there’s Japan’s family rentals. Family Romance is one of the multitudes of Japanese agencies that sell fake relatives.

A far cry from the humble car rental, these services—almost akin to social and emotional prostitution—suggest that we’ve either lost the ability to commit to real relationships or the ability to even develop them in the first place. When getting a date these days is as easy as swiping right on your smartphone, it’s no wonder we’re slowly unlearning the art of real-life conversations and interactions. Even more heart-breaking is the possibility that we’re choosing fake friends because we’re aware of how fragile and fleeting real relationships are. In the end, these connections will dissolve, so why not detach yourself from ever making such emotionally risky investments?

In spite of the complex underpinnings of this rental renaissance, there’s still value in choosing second-hand or loaned products such as car rentals, whether it’s financial, ideological or environmental. As for the more extreme super-renters, if that’s their definition of living their best life, more power to them.

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