What is the collaborative consumption scene?

This post has been updated (from 2012 to 2020) is dedicated to all of the wonderful people out there who are embracing collaborative consumption on a business and everyday level who sometimes find it a little bit hard to explain the concept to friends, family and people in the street. This is inspired by my previous work with Open Shed but also answers some of the questions asked when using the Illawarra venture Make-Do Library of Things in the old Bulli bowling club and the Port Kembla Library of Things on Wentworth Street Port Kembla.

What the heck is all this stuff about the Collaborative Consumption scene?

Take yourself back to kindergarten or pre-school…

Here you found yourself in a strange room full of toys, crayons, chairs and things to do filled with people that were not your family or your friends you parents let you play with. Sounds exciting yet there is this weird concept that keeps popping up called “sharing” and no amount of bum planting, whinge bottom teary tactics are going to get you that super awesome tambourine or groove-a-licious chalk board one second longer than the allocated five minutes.

What you catch onto is the concept of sharing stuff around so that other people can experience the same fun and joy you have. And you even find that playing with a group with the same cool thing, or just watching someone else enjoy that toy is a pretty awesome feeling.  Heck, sometimes you even learn new ways to play with it as a result!

Fast Forward to Adulthood…

a red for hire scene is hanging on a pole to denote the collaborative consumption scene
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo via Unsplash

Here we and most of us own a hell of a lot of stuff. Electronics, musical instruments, fitness gear, tools, things we use when we are on holiday or only when we are travelling. Books we have collected over the years we cannot bare to part with, DVD collections, board games, dress up costumes, formal gear, kitchen cupboards full to the brim, beer brewing equipment, baby furniture, trailers, fishing rods- the list is endless.

You name it, you have it under the bed, at the back of the cupboards, in the shed or taking up space in hired storage, mates places or even your parents garage just waiting for those important yet infrequent times to get used. The clutter may not be maddening, but there is a sense of guilt as your trot past that idle thing or the “gee I forgot I had this” moment as you rediscover it when searching for something else hidden away.

This is where the collaborative consumption scene excels. It takes what we only need access to in short bursts and it makes it viable through bringing a crowd of people instead. We see this in action all the time. Ideas from the collaborative consumption scene we’ve readily adopted include coworking, ridesharing and short term rentals via pop up shops and accommodation services like Stayz or AirBnb. 

Tool libraries or libraries of things are same sort of principle. It’s about sharing that drill you got to hang three pictures. Or borrowing that bubble soccer game for your kid’s birthday instead of storing it all the time in your shed.

So why aren’t we sharing our stuff?

Having worked with and as a member of Open Shed and other businesses in the collaborative consumption scene, I find when you broach the idea of using collaborative consumption, you get the same sorts of objections over and over again. Valid, sure, and like anything in life if someone is dead against the idea, you shouldn’t really take the approach of beating up the person objecting with your justifications.

However if you, like me, are always seeking the one liner that explains why you choose to participate in collaborative consumption and what you aim to get from it, here are a few things I say that help illustrate my interest:

What is Collaborative Consumption?

Standard Lead In: It’s about making your stuff available for someone else to use periodically, and others doing the same.

Why Me Personally: I have collected heaps of quirky musical instruments in my time and whilst I love using them when I am in the mood, I certainly don’t practice every day and I don’t use them as near enough as I should.

Why Other People: By the same token, I know other people are interested in using them as they have asked about them or borrowed them before. They may want them for an album recording to see if the kids actually care enough to invest in the new hobby.

Why tool libraries: I figure it cannot just be my friends that would like to borrow them from time to time so I have put them on places like Open Shed or other tool libraries in the past. When people use them, they give me a little rental fee for the trouble and I feel kind of nice knowing someone else is experiencing the joy of something I own.

Aren’t you worried they will screw your stuff up?

Why Me Personally: I’ve been lending stuff to my friends for years- hell even my dog on occasion to single friends so they had a little extra pulling power and nothing’s ever come back soiled. Besides, I have been renting for half my life now and never demolished, set fire to or lost anyone’s house so I figure the chances are pretty slim.

Why libraries of things: But if they do end up ruining my stuff, I have various forms of recourse, depending on the particular library in question. I can also give feedback on that renter that reflects what they have done.

Be Smart About it: And I will choose to rent things that are not irreplaceable (like family heirlooms) or illegal (fairly sure dog rental wouldn’t exactly be kosher).

Why not just buy what you want?

Standard Lead In: I don’t need to own something to be able to enjoy it.

Why Me Personally: Sometimes I think I like something, I buy it and I find it becomes a glorified dust collector. Other times I am tossing up between two things and there is only so much Google and talking to mates about how they go with their version of whatever it is will take me so it would be nice to check it out before I commit. And sometimes it’s nice to take something like a kayak for a holiday without having to take ownership of one and then convince the dog it’s his new sidecar due to a supreme lack of space.

Why Other People: I figure I cannot be the only person on the planet who takes good care of their stuff who doesn’t mind other people borrowing it.

In summary…

If I had my way, we’d all be sitting on the carpet passing around the Flintstone Phone and having a giggle at the funny sounds each of the members of our circle could make. But apparently that’s a bit mental for an adult, so the collaborative consumption scene is the closest thing I can get.

Jokes aside, this hits the button for any of us who loathe spending money “just because”. It’s for those of us who worry about how much of the earth’s resources we use or about ethical concerns tied to production.

Who understand you don’t have to own a lot of things to get fun out of experiencing them. Or who’d like to swap the guilt of owning a lot of stuff into a wee bit of cash and sunniness associated with knowing someone somewhere is enjoying your stuff.

It’s a way of formalising it for people who have shared stuff with the locals for years already and never had a name for it. Or would like to rent something without a credit card and having to fill in so much documentation you start to wonder when the request for the DNA sample will come.

Happy sharing around the collaborative consumption scene!

Are you in the collaborative consumption scene and need a marketer? HIRE ME. I have extensive experience in the industry!

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