From Clothing Swaps to Tool Libraries, Sharing is Not Rocket Science

The Center for a New American Dream/Video screen capture

I wrote the other day about the barriers facing collaborative consumption start ups, but it's important to remember that the sharing economy is not rocket science. We've been sharing tools, skills and resources since humans first evolved, and while the new wave of collaborative consumption offers some important technological innovations for enabling sharing among strangers, there are often simpler, more tried-and-tested methods for spreading the love among neighbors.

A couple of new videos from the Center for a New American Dream show just how simple it really is. The first chronicles the development of the Berkeley Tool Lending Library, an extension of the public library which allows residents to check out everything from cement mixers to ladders to screw drivers and masonry bits.

While my own efforts at starting a neighborhood tool share scheme fizzled out due to too many lenders and not enough borrowers, it's good to see that a larger scale system that is directly modeled on public book lending libraries can operate successfully for years.

Meanwhile Suzanne Agasi has created a commercial venture called ClothingSwap.com hosting clothing swaps around the country. But here too, in this video she shows just how simple and informal a swap can be—simply inviting people over, providing some snacks, and creating an incentive to have fun, reconnect, and refresh each others' wardrobes at zero cost.

Whenever I talk about the sharing economy and collaborative consumption, I invariably hear from folks who argue that it's bad for the economy. After all, what are hardware stores and clothing boutiques to make of these alternative models for resource sharing. But this critique gets to the heart of why the sharing economy matters—it is a mental recalibration of what the economy is supposed to do. Sure, for each person who gets a free outfit at a clothing swap, that's slightly less money pouring in to the retail and apparel industries—and slightly fewer jobs will be created as a result. But at the same time, that's slightly less money that the person has to earn in the first place—they have received the benefit they were looking for at zero cost to themselves, minimal cost to the environment, and all the while making an investment in social capital and community connectivity.

The economy must serve our well-being, not the other way around.

Tags: Consumerism | Economics | Living With Less | United States | video

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