The Rented Life, Part 2: How You Can Do It

By Simon Dunne

Last week I posted an entry entitled “The Rented Life: Can We Live Without Owning?” touting the many benefits of forgoing ownership of underused possessions. It’s a lifestyle direction growing in popularity, allowing companies like Zipcar to be successful – they provide an attractive alternative to car ownership, allowing city dwellers to simplify their lives and save money.

I have since explored other cooperative models that encourage less consumption, and in the spirit of the topic, I wanted to share them.

Community Share:  a network of people that share a particular resource with no monetary exchange.  Couchsurfing.org is a prime example here – members of this very successful non-profit “share hospitality with one another”.  I have a couch in Timbuktu; you’re traveling to Timbuktu and need a place to stay; I invite you stay with me.  I expect no compensation, but do receive other forms of recompense – whether it’s the soft, fuzzy feeling of helping someone out, the cultural exposure I get from you, or the expectation that someone else in the community will return the favor when I’m in need.

Couchsurfing.org is a testament to the good will of people across the globe (and believe it or not, if you do need a place in Timbuktu, you have more than one option), but it requires a level of trust that not everyone is comfortable with.

Peer-to-Peer Rent: this approach adds more formality to the proceedings. A monetary exchange creates the expectation of service and trust. Airbandb.com follows essentially the Couchsurfing model, but by instituting a nightly charge, has turned thousands of residents into bed and breakfast owners. Travelers may opt to find accommodation through the website instead of renting a hotel for reasons of cost, location, availability, or cultural exploration.

Of course, travel necessitates the need for a beg, borrow or rent lifestyle. At home, the setting is different, and the share model must take different forms.

Group Ownership: this classic cooperative model emulates ordering a pizza with a group. If you want a slice, you’ll pitch in your share. The Bike Kitchen in San Francisco operates this way. A central hub houses a range of tools that would be difficult for any one person to own and store. Participants pay for what they use – generally a per hour or per visit fee. This model differs from the two previous because it requires a central hub, a keeper of the stuff. Having a central hub ensures a certain quality baseline, but it also greatly increases administrative costs and restricts geographic accessibility.

With that in mind, a number of efforts are attempting to take the Community Share and Peer-to-Peer Rent models to local, at-home communities. Frenting.com is a very exciting start-up in the Bay Area that connects people within a local area to borrow or rent stuff from each other. On my profile I can list anything I think may be of value to others: a kayak, bike pump, table saw, or even my collection of oddly shaped rocks. I can then specify a price, or offer them for free. Then, when I need, say, binoculars for the weekend, I can search my networks to see if anyone has them available.

I think it’s going to catch on. What do you think?

Simon Dunne is a freelance Behavior Change Specialist, motivating consumers to make smarter choices for the environment.

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