Collaborative consumption and how it can change the world.

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collaborative-consumptionFor most of what’s left of the lower middle class, ownership can seem like an unrealistic dream in today’s world, and for those that are struggling every day that goes by that dream gets a little less attractive. This theory of the American Dream is grounded in ownership but does it go further than that? The story goes like this – you are born, attend school, learn and grow and as you reach adulthood you are supposed to want to do better than your parents. You get caught up in the desire to settle down and find the right guy or girl to start a family with. Purchase the house on the hill with two cars parked in the driveway and over the years fill up every room with furniture and electronics, end up with the attic packed with old clothing in plastic bins, the garage and shed stuffed with once a week (or less) used gardening tools, mowers, chainsaws and everything else we clutter our lives with and probably don’t truly need.

So what if we just gave up this incessant need to own and keep things to ourselves? Sometimes it seems like that’s all we do in life, acquire and acquire just to keep up with the Joneses, amassing heaping piles of stuff that either sits collecting dust in our homes, storage units or eventually clogs the already overflowing landfills. The battle for what to do with it all is never-ending in today’s consumption driven society. Last year’s model is around until the latest model becomes all the rage. Flashy commercials are produced with your favorite corporate whore celebrities, prices are driven up as demand grows and supply shrinks and around and around we go. There are even entire companies that have sprung up just to buy your junk, refurbish it and sell it back to other consumers at a marked up price.

What is the average consumer who has grown tired of this ridiculous cycle to do? Well, change your habits and the world of course! Many Americans are searching for ways to simplify their lives with families drowning in debt, doing the monthly juggling act of robbing from Peter to pay Paul, struggling to get ahead and usually ending up further behind. For some people it doesn’t have to be as dire of a situation as that to want to make a difference, though. You could just be interested in becoming part of the solution to so many important environmental issues by reducing your carbon footprint through recycling, upcycling, reusing and even repurposing consumer products, which is a great place to start. Though, there are also times when our things could be useful to others. One man’s unneeded belongings can be another man’s gold!

With the above mentioned in mind comes the often forgotten concept of collaborative consumption, the idea that says everything we own but don’t use on a daily basis is basically being wasted and could be more beneficial being put to good use by others in need while not in use by yourself. All the previously mentioned consumer goods and products now available at the click of a button. Not only will it save money and resources, but it’s extremely useful in strengthening communities and neighborhoods through socialization with those around us. Who knows — you just might find a new best friend. There are several sites around the internet that allow us to be more successful in our mission to get out of that consumer mindset and into necessity mode, and they might just have a greater impact on the world than you would initially think. Take a site like NeighborGoods.net for instance. There you can search for just about anything you can think of to get connected with people in your community to share goods. Even if you don’t need anything you can share some of your own unused products and get involved in that way. Being part of this movement is especially satisfying at a time where the corporate machine that pushes the products we think we need, cares so very little about the consumers who have gotten them where they are today. We can continue to play right into their hands or we can wean ourselves off our perceived dependence upon them, and instead learn how to depend on and help those around us at the same time.

There are also other sites to get involved with to make a difference in our lives and the lives of those around us that go beyond small consumer products. There are car share programs like RelayRides.com for those that don’t need a daily vehicle or iCarpool.com for commuters who want more efficient travel. People living in the big city can use public transportation like buses or trains and many of these cities now host bike-share programs. Companies like Alta Bike Share have begun operating in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC and even Chattanooga Tennessee. These bike-share programs offer exhaust free transportation throughout cities, making travel less stressful — and can even provide the health benefit of exercise for those who may want to use it as an excuse to get in better shape.

The concept of collaborative consumption may seem like a far-fetched utopian lifestyle, but when you consider how powerful social networking has become in our lives and how the younger generation of today has developed and used technology to play such a huge part in the spread of knowledge and ideas, it should leave no doubt as to just how successful this concept could be. Just imagine being part of a movement where people stopped relying on this corporate machine for their every need and started relying more on their friends, family and neighbors, bringing back a sense of community and belonging, breaking down the barriers and shackles of debt and ownership that enslave us. Think about the house mentioned earlier, can you take it with you when you die? What about all the contents of the attic or the shed? Where does it all go? Does it then burden your children or other relatives? Will it all rot in landfills polluting the Earth we depend on for life? Let’s be the generation that breaks this cycle. I think I am beginning to realize what’s truly important in life. It’s time to simplify and start living.

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Michael Wunderlich

Mike Wunderlich is a single father originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania currently residing in Richmond, VA. He is the founder of Center Ice News (a popular Facebook group dedicated to hockey news), and a self proclaimed professional appreciator of music and art. You can follow him on Twitter @mwunderlichFP.

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  • Pipercat

    I like the concept but, there are some issues with this that will rear their heads as this becomes more popular. Predators, liabilities, damage and the like. The website you posted in the piece acts only as an intermediary. It is always prudent to see both extremes in human nature when choosing to participate in something like this. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the car, waiting.

    • Forensick

      As a frequent user of similar sites, it become similar to ebay in that ratings matter. a new user might be able to rent a shovel and a wheel barrow without a positive rating history. However to rent a $5000 dress people might want a bit more.
      Car rental, even privately in the CC way, the driver is protected by their insurance, but of course in setting their price should be mindful of risk of claims etc.
      As for the stuff i lease out, most recently my rockband game, microphones guitars and drum kit. yes there is a risk it might get broken; however it has sat in the corner of my living room for 2 years without being touched… so what is the risk really?
      I have also rented out rarely used tents, and most of us should know from experience, tents especially seem to get damaged more by NOT being used, than being used.
      I have also found, people take care of what they rent better this way, than from a rental company; the sense of it belonging to SOMEONE, as opposed to a faceless company seeking only to profit off you, really does make people respect what they have rented more

      • Pipercat

        I love the community idea a whole lot. I’m just a bit cautious is all. I’d like to see some sort of renter’s insurance, if you will. Not so much on shovels but, things like bikes and other items. Hopefully, this can evolve into something really great.

  • VT Girl

    The idea that we could get back to a place where we actually know and care about our neighbors even on a small scale seems too good to be true but where this world is headed is so scary that it just might work 😀

  • Wayne Bassett

    I love the idea, but how will this effect the economy as a whole? With less people buying items, because they can rent them off a friend for a day, will this reduce consumption to a level where companies no longer need to employ as many staff?