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Collaborative Consumption (or, how sharing has gone mainstream)

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Riding public transportation | Collaborative Consumption

When you think of ideas that will change the world, you generally think of new technologies: space flight, bionic limbs, tissue regrowth. But according to Time Magazine, one of the 10 ideas that will change the world is a very old one: collaborative consumption.

You may not recognize it by its new name, but you will by some of its old ones:

  • Renting
  • Lending
  • Sharing
  • Bartering
  • Swapping

It’s a regrowth of the neighborhoods of yesterday, where you could borrow your neighbor’s tools, barter your eggs for another person’s vegetables, or trade out baby furniture and clothes as the kids grew.

The big difference is today’s neighborhoods are larger because the Internet is the connector. You don’t have to live in your hometown all your life to develop this network of trust and sharing. You can have it at the touch of a button.

Collaborative Consumption Inspires Trust

We do a lot of housesitting. Our favorite resource is Trusted Housesitters, an online site matching homeowners with people who want to care for their homes while they are away. The comment we always hear from our homeowners is that of friends and family: “You’re going to let strangers in your home while you’re gone?”

It works the same way in our travels. We often rent apartments (also via collaborative consumption sites) for weeks or months at a time, and if a reader or fellow travelers comes our way we often open our temporary home to them. When we offered a place to stay in Edinburgh to a reader passing through she was flabbergasted. “How could you open your home to a stranger?” she asked.

We go about our merry way showing people it’s okay to trust and believe in the good of your fellow man. In the case of house sitting, we have references and plenty of experience. Homeowners can trace our activities online through the site and social media. We live very openly, so there is little risk in hiring us, and we are always interested in meeting other people who live openly as well. Travelers usually fit in this category and we feel very safe with them.

What we love about sharing living spaces is the trust it inspires in complete strangers. It forms a quick bond, and we usually have a long-term friendship develop from the people with which we share space.

Collaborative Consumption Decreases Congestion

When we lived in Seattle, we signed up for the car-sharing service Zipcar. With our membership, we could reserve cars parked in locations all around the city and drive them for as little as one hour or as much as a day. It was perfect for people who lived in the city and could walk most places. We only needed a car occasionally, and $8/hour was a lot cheaper than a car payment and insurance.

This is why we’re also big fans of public transportation, renting public bikes or sharing a bus or metro with other people to get around a city and avoiding the price and frustration of finding parking. In our travels we’ve shared horses, buses, minivans, cars, and even hitched a ride in the back of someone’s pickup.

We’ve also discovered ride-sharing services in Europe where you can pay to travel with someone going your way. It’s common to share transportation resources in other places, and we’d love to see it spread to cut down on the use of gas and congestion on roads. (Did you know 78% of cars on the road contain only 1 person?)

Collaborative Consumption Reduces Clutter

You know this is our big thing, right? The more clutter you have in your life, the less freedom you have to move and grow – literally and figuratively. When you can easily borrow the beach umbrella from your neighbor once a year instead of buying your own, you are reducing clutter (and saving money). The circle is complete when you can also loan your hedge trimmers to the neighbor each spring.

We work so hard to be independent, we’ve forgotten how freeing it can be to have a community of support. Proponents of The Compact movement vow to buy nothing new for a year (except food and bare necessities for health and safety). They are instead encouraged to go without, barter, or buy used. Our reader Angela documented her year on The Compact and still lives by the tenets of collaborative consumption 3 years after completing her original commitment. She’s learned the value of sharing and bartering, especially as she considers what is enough in her life.

When you work to use what already exists in our world – at used bookstores, by shopping on Craigslist or Gumtree, or by asking around before you buy – you’re developing community, reducing clutter, and saving money. You’re also asking yourself at every turn what is essential in your life and what isn’t. When you start to look at your world this way in every thing you do, every purchase you make, you’ll begin to see how much power you have in crafting the life you want.

Collaborative Consumption vs. Self Sufficiency

You don’t have to go your own way, provide for all your own needs, and take self-sufficiency to the extreme. Asking for help from your community means you are also open to giving it. Think if we were all a little bit more trusting, a little more generous with our neighbors, and a little bit less wasteful. It doesn’t decrease our self-sufficiency, but it does raise our collective efficiency. And in a time of overpopulation and reliance on limited resources, it’s the smart thing to do.

Old-school sharing is making a comeback thanks to the Internet, and it’s about damn time.

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