Reality Bites: Mass redundancies & sharing. 5 easy steps to ‘spend less + have more’

The average power drill is used for between 6 and 15 minutes in its entire lifetime. We don’t actually need a drill we just want a hole in the wall. So why do we all spend large sums of our hard-earned cash and savings on things we rarely use?

In last Saturday’s Courier Mail Kathleen Noonan commented that people across Australia are too scared to spend money. That’s why in this week’s ‘Reality Bites’ I’m discussing sharing, renting, bartering and borrowing – or what some people describe as ‘access rather than ownership’.

Each week in ‘Reality Bites’ I take a topical big issue or theme from the BMW Guggenheim Lab and discuss it in the wake of mass redundancies. I suggest five ‘steps for success’ that could make our homes, our communities and our cities more resilient. I want to provoke strategic discussions, coffee-time conversations and dinner table debates.

In her book ‘Why We Want What We Don’t Need’ Juliet Schor explorers how buying, owning and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ has defined our lives. By contrast, sharing, renting, bartering and borrowing could dramatically transform our economy – from single transactions between buyer and seller (with many purchases spending their lifetime in a cupboard!) – to continuous cycles of monetary or non-monetary trading transactions between renters, borrowers and barterers.

Sharing is no longer for so-called ‘alternative communities’. BMW are enabling ‘access not just ownership’ to luxury cars. Apparently, the average car is parked for 95% of its lifetime and 80% of seats, in the average moving car, are empty. That’s why BMW created ‘Drive Now’ the first car sharing scheme with premium cars, based on instant access and devoid of fixed pick-up/drop-off locations. BMW allows ‘us’ to get a car when and where we need it.

My colleague John who lives in suburbia with his two teenage sons has proved that you don’t need to own something to use it. His boys wanted a swimming pool because all the neighbours had one. John calculated the costs of building and maintaining a pool, added to the equation the number of times the neighbours actually used their pools each week and then went and bought an annual pass to the local sports centre for each son. Now his boys get to swim, play sport and use equipment that their, and most, households could never afford to buy.

Sharing doesn’t have to be commercial or difficult. The manager of my apartment block started a communal library soon after the January 2011 Brisbane floods. I’ll admit, at first, it was a bit of a disaster – a huge bookcase containing only three or four dog-eared lifeless novels. When a few nice books finally arrived they soon disappeared, presumed but not proven, to have been sold on e-Bay for a small profit by a not-so-communal neighbour. 18 months on and the ‘share’ shelves are a huge success with more than 200 books; fact, fiction and bestsellers. People tidy the shelves, people donate and I for one have ‘borrowed-read-returned’ some fantastic books with no costs incurred.

Of course sharing is nothing new. When I was growing up, people were always knocking on our door asking to borrow my Dads cement mixer or extra-long ladders. Sharing just happens in country towns but now websites like Meet-Up or Gumtree (which is free to use) have provided the opportunity for women across Sydney and the Gold Coast to swap high-end designer clothes.

So what are the five easy and immediate steps for sharing, renting, bartering and borrowing that we can all be part of to get hard hit places back on track?

1.            We can share our time

We can create Time Banks in our communities. ‘Time banking’ uses units of time as currency. For example a member might earn credit by doing the shopping for an elderly neighbour and then spend that credit on getting somebody else to provide baby-sitting. My friend Emma is a single mum with three small children, she uses her local time bank to help with school pick-ups and drop-off. There are already more than 400 trading groups operating across Australia who can provide you and your community with start-up advice.

2.            We can share our skills

We can all share our skills to make our communities more resilient. When I was last in the UK I read a fantastic article in one of my mum’s magazines about retired men and women sharing their skills with vulnerable young people in their London suburb. One lady, a grandmother of six, spends one afternoon a week at a centre for teenage mothers teaching them how to cook cheap and healthy meals. Showing someone how to cook a Spaghetti Bolognese might not seem revolutionary to some but her compassion, patience and homemaking skills has changed the lives, health and purses of many young women. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if enthusiastic suburban gardeners taught inner city dwellers how to grow fruit and vegetables in patio planters and window boxes?

3.            We can share our knowledge

We can all share our knowledge. In Sweden Aged Care facilities are often provided on or adjacent to university campuses. The ‘seniors’ get to attend as many lectures as they want for free whilst the students get to gain knowledge and absorb decades of worldly wisdom. We can all be a mentor. It doesn’t have to be academic, professional or time consuming. We can all advise and guide a younger, less experienced person. The possibilities and opportunities are endless and often cost nothing to establish. Your local Rotary Club might be a great place to start

4.            We can share our information

We can all be an ‘Information Outlet’. Facebook is free and we can all use it, and other social media, to share information. My friend Heather is a fantastic gardener and cook. She uses her Facebook page to share recipes and photos of what the end product should look like. You don’t have to be an expert – you just need to be trusted and reliable.

5.            We can share our ‘stuff’

We can get together in our communities and ‘spend less and share more’. In the wake of mass redundancies I’ve been asking are ‘shops that are not shops’ the future in our cities? In Berlin, Leila Stores  and allow members (who pay membership upwards of 50 cents per month) to borrow almost anything; children’s toys, camping equipment, musical instruments, outdoor furniture, suitcases, blankets, children’s car seats and picnic baskets. Because Berliners don’t spend their cash on things they rarely use they have more disposable income for ‘life’s little luxuries’; ice-creams, coffees and cafe lunches, all of which goes a long way to supporting their local economy.

I’m looking for people to help start a ‘share shop’ in Brisbane. Anyone interested?

Voluntary simplicity; sharing, renting, bartering and borrowing is dependent on trust, enthusiastic champions in our communities and people who are prepared to take some responsibility. If we really want all of this to be normal, mainstream and popular we all have to think and act differently.

These stories provide a prompt for change and I’ll leave you with a quote from George Bernard Shaw.

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple.

But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”


Reality Bites is a project conceived, created and written by Rachel Smith.