Sharing our stuff (instead of buying more)

I was intrigued by the featured opinion piece in Sunday morning’s DMN, which asks the question: "Why own anything?" The premise of the piece is the possibility of shifting from a consumption-based society to "product service systems" — as in,opting to lease instead of own a wheelbarrow, ladder, chainsaw, etc. The piece gives examples of companies beginning to embrace this model with items like cars and bicycles, but talks about how it would require a mindset shift on the part of companies to switch from selling us stuff to selling us services.

"The essential insight is that in many purchases, we don’t want the thing per se — we want what it can do for us. You don’t crave a lawn mower, you want shorter grass; the desire is not for a refrigerator but for cold, unspoiled milk. And according to an emerging line of thinking, there are great benefits in meeting the customer’s needs in creative ways that don’t necessarily entail ownership."

Of course, many factors could lead to this shift — the recession, the desire to be "green", the fact that we do, indeed, have too much stuff, and as we realize this, our purchases are starting to slow down. (If you don’t think we have too much stuff, read this New York Times story on our obsession with storage. It’s long, but incredibly interesting.) As a result, companies are trying to think of new ways to make money, and perhaps this method will be an answer.

I also wondered if any neighbors still do it the old-fashioned way — a neighborhood pool of stuff, or just lending out and borrowing to and from each other on a regular basis. The piece opened with a man who had borrowed his neighbor’s wheelbarrow the previous weekend, and wanted to use it again, but felt bad asking. He thought about offering a small fee to borrow it, and then thought it would be great to have an entire network of lending and borrowing between neighbors, so created Rentalic. No Dallas residents have posted their "for rent" items on the site yet, but you can rent a wet/dry vac from Richardson and a chipper/mulcher from Carrollton. Other sites along these lines mentioned in the story are: GoGoVerde, Neighborrow, Bright Neighbor, WeCommune and NeighborGoods. It’s a great idea, and one that I hope takes off here.



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