Every week, our neighbor Betty left a pie, cake, or cookies on our doorstep. Betty was an energetic 70 year old who loved to bake. In exchange, we made ourselves available for household projects that were too high or too heavy for her. It was a sweet arrangement all around. (You can see a photo of Betty here.)
When a local farmer began selling subscriptions for weekly boxes of fresh produce as a CSA (community supported agriculture), we offered our driveway as the in-town drop off point. In turn, the farm offered us a discount on our subscription and the occasional extra box of food when someone couldn't pick it up. We would often pass along this surplus bounty to others as a gift of just-picked organic vegetables.
After the local independent movie theater closed, we got together with other enthusiasts to show films for free to the community every Friday night at City Hall. Each person presented a film one Friday a month, and in this way we all got to see and talk about interesting movies every week. (While the players and the formats have changed over the years, this effort is still going 11 years later!)
All in all we calculate that sharing in one way or another has accounted for up to a third of the goods and services flowing through our life. What started out as an informal extension of our friendships and economic need over the years became a preferred approach. First and foremost, it feels good to share both as the giver and the receiver. That alone is incredibly valuable. However, sharing offers lots of win-win opportunities that are just not possible by through regular commerce. For example, sharing:
— Many people report wanting to spend more time with friends but they feel they don't have time. Sharing offers an opportunity to spend time with friends in ways that are meaningful and rewarding, and that check things off the to-do list. We shift from telling others about our lives to becoming mutually involved on a deeper level.
— The desire to share can bring people together. Some sharing is best done one-on-one, while other types of exchange benefit from a more-the-merrier approach. Often what starts out as one form of connecting—the monthly potluck with stuff swap-can evolve into friendships and other forms of community, like game nights.
— While obvious, it may surprise you how much money this can save everyone involved. We reduced our food costs by 50 percent (and increased deliciousness by 100 percent) when we regularly exchanged food with other gardeners and had a discounted subscription to the CSA. For vacations we have exchanged our house with friends as well as people we didn't know. We've saved in the thousands of dollars at this point.
— Every time we can use resources more efficiently, or eliminate duplicating stuff, we reduce our footprint in some way. Examples include sharing all types of resource-intensive items like cars, trucks, RVs, freezers, and laundry facilities. (We have shared 2 washer and dryers with 30 people and still had clean clothes!) Infrequently used tools and equipment are other good candidates: BBQs, garden implements, home repair tools, painting equipment, ladders, camping and recreational gear, household appliances (think vacuum), kids clothing and toys, and specialty cooking equipment. (Just how often do you really make ebelskivers?)
We can further reduce waste by donating things we no longer need to groups and organizations who share them with others for little or no cost. These vary by community and include: book and tool libraries, thrift shops, soup kitchens, shelters, school programs, and Habitat for Humanity ReStores for building materials.
— This can happen in several ways. By doing something as a group, such as preparing a week's worth of meals, you can save time cooking later. Trading off tasks such that you only have to do a bit more when it's your turn (e.g. running errands, doing chores, walking dogs, watching children, etc.) can help free up blocks of time when it's someone else's turn.
— Sharing can include opening yourself up to what others have to offer. We have tasted, tried, read, and learned things that we would otherwise not have experienced had we not been sharing. Not limited to tangible things, other types of shared experiences have included tickets to shows, teaching and learning opportunities, skills, even encouragement and support. In this way, sharing can be enriching way beyond the direct benefits and truly is...priceless.
We were reminded of how significant sharing has been in our lives when we ran across the authors of The Sharing Solution at the San Francisco Green Festival. Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow are attorneys from Berkeley, CA who have written a book that outlines a cornucopia of sharing possibilities: from houses, cars and household goods, to services for child and elder care, food, and business equipment and space. In spite of their legal training, they offer accessible and practical tips on how to find people to share with, how to make agreements and communicate effectively, and how to avoid and manage conflicts. Thankfully they discuss the legal and tax issues of sharing because, let's admit it, who wants to spend their free time researching that? They include templates for figuring out what and how to share as well as sample agreement forms. The types of sharing they address ranges from the relatively informal (how to share with neighbors including a sample letter to send to neighbors introducing the idea) to more formal and complex arrangements such as co-housing, car-sharing and food buying clubs. We found their enthusiastic and clear-eyed view of the possibilities of sharing inspiring and empowering. They re-ignited a spark to expand our efforts with all their thoughtful tools and resources.
Is sharing for you? Start by making two lists: What do I have to share? What would I like to get through sharing? If the prospects on these lists excite you, take some time to explore the sharing opportunities that already exist in your community. (Freecycle and Craigslist are two national online formats for sharing.) The Sharing Solution offers lots of web sites and approaches. Check your local library for a copy, or consider going in with friends to buy the book and share it (of course)!
Start with something that really excites you, and/or something you think you can do easily and have the resources for. If connecting with your neighbors seems a bit daunting, start smaller. Consider a monthly potluck with friends or at work where you bring stuff to trade that you no longer need and want to pass along.
Ready to take on the world? Consider starting a neighborhood e-mail sharing list, a local seed and plant exchange, a gleaners group, or (fill in the blank)? We look forward to hearing what you come up with!
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
Please pass this along to other interested people. Your feedback is much appreciated.
If you find our work useful or inspiring, consider making a gift via PayPal.