Do you really need that specialized power tool forever, or just for the day? Should you invest in a full set of camping equipment, even if you’re not sure your family will enjoy it? Isn’t there someone out there who wants to trade those size 8 ice skates for a size 9?
If you ever find yourself pondering questions like this, welcome to collaborative consumption–a concept of organized sharing and swapping. Although peer-to-peer sharing may have been a tenet in communities of lore, our modern this-is-mine culture has taken us away from what seems like such practical common sense. But times, they are a-changin’.
Privately-held clothing and book swaps have become a very practical social pastime among freinds, but now the premise is spreading into more official capacities. Sites and services are popping up to facilitate the simple concept: You can get what you need without buying it. The arrangements are manifested in a number of ways. SnapGoods, for instance, helps to connect people with stuff to lend with people who wish to borrow; while Neighborhood Fruit lets people swap garden bounty or distribute fruit harvested from public trees. Some places arrange rentals, some create swaps, while others create communities of sharers.
It’s a brilliant model of sustainability–no new stuff to clutter the landfill, yay!–but according to an article in Time magazine, there is a beneficial emotional aspect as well. Not only in the community-building, but in that the lending element requires trust, and being trusted feels good. Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, has shown that people get a spike of the pleasant neurotransmitter oxytocin when they’re entrusted with another person’s goods. “We’re gregariously social creatures, and one way we can exhibit that sociability is by sharing our things,” he says.
With a little research, you can find pretty much anything, there are even sites that allow you to borrow cars. But perhaps my favorite are those that are charity-inspired, such as Swap for Good. This site helps people set up clothing swaps and collect donations from participants (who are saving money by swapping not shopping) to give to domestic-violence shelters and other organizations.
Collaborative consumption is at once so simple, yet so revolutionary. It replaces “beg, steal and borrow” with “lend, share and swap.” It’s green, the sense of community feels great, and that little rush of oxytocin doesn’t hurt either.