Why Buy When You Can Rent? 5 Product Service Systems I Wish Were More Common


photo: N_Creatures via flickr.

One of top things you can do to make your life a bit greener is cut down on stuff. Limit your purchases to things you really need, really use and will last a while. Making it more difficult is that some of the things that are really useful only get used every so often. Why buy something you're only going to use once or twice a year, or perhaps seasonally but then have to store the rest of the time? You can now easily rent cars by the hour, and more cities are establishing bike share programs, but programs to rent smaller items aren't as prominent, nor as convenient. This may be a very personal list, I admit, but here are five things that I wish I could rent more easily: Air Conditioners & Fans

If you live in a building with central cooling this may not seem like a big deal to you, but if you live in someplace where storage space and window area is at a premium neither leaving your air conditioner in place all winter, nor storing it out of the window seems like particularly attractive options. Ditto floor fans taking up room in some closet all winter.

If you could rent them you could always be assured of having a well-serviced model (not that fans need much service...) and not have to worry about storing it when not in use. Perhaps the costs would be such that it didn't make sense, but for three-quarters of the year when I'm staring at my unused air conditioner I can't help but think it would be better to rent than own.

Household Tools

OK, so I'm pretty handy around the house but I don't get into DIY the way some people do. And I live in a pretty big apartment building where I'm sure there are plenty of people who feel similarly. Why should we all buy a toolbox full of items we end up using only once every couple of months?

Sure, you can go to any of the big home stores and rent items, but wouldn't it be better if you could just go down to a community-based tool shed and take what you need?Tool lending libraries do exist in some places, but they're certainly not the norm.

Leave a cash or credit card deposit and take the tools for the couple hours you need them. Return them and don't worry about where to store them, or everybody in the building having to have their own set of wrenches, screwdrivers and hammers. If you're into DIY, by all means buy the best, but for the rest of us it seems unnecessary.

USB Modems While Traveling
WiFi has revolutionized the way we work, no doubt about it. As a matter of fact, most days I make the rounds of various coffee shops and fully embrace the mobile office concept. But not everyplace exists in a WiFi cloud like New York City or San Francisco. Something which becomes painfully obvious if you travel frequently.

What I want to know is why renting USB modems isn't easier while traveling? Why have to buy the modem or even deal with pay-as-you-go if you're only going to use infrequently. Or when you travel abroad. It seems an obvious thing that should be more widespread. Rent it for a couple of days while at a recalcitrant conference which doesn't pony up for WiFi access, while traveling overseas for a few weeks, or perhaps for a few months in the winter when you migrate to a warmer clime.

Vacuum Cleaners and Other Household Gadgets in My Building

Here's another space waster: Vacuum cleaners, carpet and floor cleaners. You can rent the latter but not the former, but wouldn't it be better to have some community- or building-based rental system so that these items are around when you need them but not everybody has to own one?

Perhaps several per building would work out well. Much like building laundry rooms, there might be some conflicts in scheduling but that's a minor logistical concern. Have them set up where you pay a deposit on a card, insert the card into a slot in the storage locker where they are kept and get the deposit back when you return them.

Large Luggage

I try to travel light whenever possible, but there are some times and some seasons where traveling light is more difficult and for these times I wish I could hire that large rolling suitcase rather than paying out for one that most times (even for the length of the year sometimes) it just sits in my closet collecting dust.

In some places you can rent backpacking gear, but basic large luggage doesn't seem to be so common. I admit it's sort of creepy using someone else's luggage, that's been who knows where—especially considering that bedbugs are again a problem in a growing number of places—but since someone who rents out this sort of thing would have their reputation based upon cleanliness, any creepiness would ideally be only in people's heads.



The whole idea around all of these is the product service system—a fancy, perhaps overly technical phrase, for a library. We're all used to libraries for media, and hiring sporting gear is pretty usual, but it seems that there are plenty of more ordinary items that could be appropriate.

What in your life could you do without owning, if only there was someplace within walking or biking distance where you could easily rent it?

Product Service Systems
What Makes a Good Product Service System?
Clothing Libraries, Another Product Service System
Toy Libraries - a Product Service System (PSS)

Tags: Communities | Living With Less | Product Service Systems

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