Tag Archives: thrift

The Original Sharing Economy

The sharing economy gets a lot of press these days. Enable people to share something via an app—be it a car, tool, apartment, whatever—and there is likely to be a lot of people speaking breathlessly about how original or transformative this idea is to daily life.

There is something disingenuous about the heaps of praise ladled on the new barons of the sharing economy because the foundations are really quite old fashioned.

No one talks about the public library with breathless enthusiasm, but spend any time in a well-run public library and you will quickly gain an appreciation for how a community can embrace the sharing economy. Outside of a few books I have purchased as reference materials for my disaster bookshelf and a spontaneous airport purchase all of my reading material that comes in physical form comes from the Cedar Rapids Public Library. It’s not convenient for me, as I live on the north side of town many miles from its downtown location, but it has become my de facto source for books and movies the past six months.

It’s not just me either. Every time I visit the library it is being frequented by people who I perceive to be from all walks of life. My estimation is that in this age of “government is bad” thought from the talking heads of television journalism something as quaint as a library run by the government for the good of the community is probably akin to communism. While Joe McCarthy is spinning in his well-deserved grave I will gladly check out books for “free,” as a tax payer I know that some level of my income is redistributed and it does not bother me one bit.

The original sharing economy is broader than just the public library. I own a pickup truck and as any other owner of a pickup truck will tell you, “The day you brought that truck home you became everyone’s best friend.” Why? Because you have the vehicle that almost everyone in your neighborhood needs once or twice a year. Trust me, I have bartered the short use of my truck for everything from the obligatory six pack of beer—it helps to have a neighbor work in the beer distributing business when you want to get something new or unique—to more esoteric items like used kegs—it helps to have a neighbor who rents properties to college students.

The truck is just a tool in my opinion. And if you are the owner of a lot of tools you have been at the center of the original sharing economy since time began. Why does your neighbor need to buy a belt sander to round off the edges of a CrossFit-style jump box when you have the same tool sitting in your tool cabinet? The answer is that he does not need to go to the store. All a person needs to do around my neighborhood is ask.

This all comes back to community, which I feel is the ultimate bulwark against the potential threats of climate change and social upheaval. Community is the center of the original sharing economy and it does not take an app on a phone or a website or a new start-up company to make it happen. It’s about knowing the people around you. Novel concept, huh?

By the way, can I borrow a cup of sugar?

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Why Don’t We Celebrate the Garage Sale?

I spent the weekend—okay Friday and Saturday—manning the payment table at my family’s garage sale.  Initially, I was skeptical of the entire endeavor because I did not want to spend the better part of a glorious spring weekend watching people sift through my stuff in the hopes of trading the ignominy for a dollar or two.

This attitude seemed like a total “first world problem” the more I sat and thought about the humble garage sale.

First, what was I going to do with all of this stuff.  Sure, I could donate it to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or the local Young Parents Network.  Some of my children’s clothes and gear will make it to the YPN next week for sure, but it seems insane to merely drop off a car load or four of clothes, housewares, and what not on the unsuspecting folks at Goodwill.  Too often we treat charitable organizations like free dumps to sort through and dispose of our unwanted stuff.

Some things even charitable organizations want nothing to do with because of liability concerns, like cribs and car seats.  What do you do with these serviceable items when your children have decided that sleeping on the floor is the preferred option now?  It seems silly to load up a car and take it all to the dump.

Besides, when all was said and done my wife and I netted over $1000 for a day’s worth of work.  Not too shabby for selling stuff I would have gladly given away to someone who needed it.  Heck, we did give away all of our baby boy clothes and other baby gear to a friend who was having their first child.  I cannot imagine how much we might have netted with all of that gear available for sale.

Second, there is a lot of life in the stuff we have in storage.  Children’s clothes, especially baby clothes, might last three months before the child grows out of them assuming the clothes are not destroyed by blowouts, vomit, or spills.  I don’t have use for a box full of beer mirrors—gotta’ love Old Style—but someone might want some decoration for the so-sad “man cave.”

Third, it is psychologically cleansing to get rid of stuff.  I do not know what part of the brain the activity excites, but I feel so much better after clearing away dusty boxes full of stuff that I will never use again.  Why do we keep all of this stuff?  Why is there an entire industry dedicated to providing storage for the stuff that cannot fit into our homes anymore?

Maybe a better question is why we do we buy so much stuff?

Lastly, the city-wide or neighborhood-wide garage sale is like a community event.  In the span of a day I saw more of my neighbors than I would over the course of a week or more.  The people who were not having a sale at their house were out and about talking to the people having sales.  A food truck could have done a massive business by parking nearby with all of the foot traffic.  If there is one component of resiliency in the face of any kind of turmoil that is often overlooked it is community.  We are stronger, in all aspects, when the community is strong.