Why don't people share more?
I saw an article recently suggesting that neighbors share a garbage service. One neighbor hires the service, the other kicks in to cover half the bill, and both bring their stuff to the same spot on the curb on garbage day. The standard deal with a hauling service will take away a lot more garbage than a small household produces (or even a large household, if they compost and recycle). It's a good idea, and not just for garbage. Why don't we see more of that?
It used to be normal for people to share stuff. From small-scale sharing, like neighbors sharing tools and kitchen supplies, to large-scale sharing, like villages with communal bread ovens, where housewives would make their bread dough in their own kitchens, but all bring it to a central oven for baking.
There's huge opportunities for that to happen still. Look in any suburban garage and you'll see a bunch of stuff that only gets used for a few hours a year--tools, garden implements, a snow shovel, a lawn mower, a BBQ grill. Look in the garage next door, and you'll see a very similar collection, give or take a leaf- or snow- blower. Surely there's a more efficient way for people to tend their lawns and gardens than for every family to invest thousands of dollars in stuff that spends 99% of its time sitting idle.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons people want to own their own stuff.
One good one is that some things all want to be used at the same time. Outdoor Christmas lights, for example, spend 11 months a year in storage, but the few weeks a year that they're up are the same few weeks for everyone.
People want their own because they want a particular one. That's fair. There's a market out there for stainless steel BBQ grills whose prices put me in mind of Pentagon procurement scandals. I wouldn't buy one, but that's what the free market is all about.
People want their own because it's convenient. If you just have your own, you can do stuff on a whim, without planning ahead. Also, if you do plan ahead, you don't have to coordinate your plans with anyone else (or deal with the conflicts when plans don't mesh).
People want their own because they want the item to be treated well. In college I lent my typewriter to a girl in the dorm and it came back with white-out all over the bit of clear plastic cover that had (until then) let me see the letters I'd just typed. (I'm no longer bitter about that.) There are lots of things that can stand up to heavy use, but need a certain minimum amount of maintenance--shovels need sharpening--and it's human nature to be a bit more casual with stuff that isn't theirs.
Contrariwise, people also want their own because they don't want to have to worry abut taking good care of it. I know a guy who has never changed the oil in his lawn mower. His dad harped on him a few too many times about taking care of his stuff, so now he doesn't. He figures he'll just use it until it grinds to a stop, and then buy a new one. Last time I talked to him, the lawn mower was still going strong, long after he'd expected it to have failed.
Having said all that, I think the real reason a lot of people want their own comes down to being estranged from their neighbors. The social structures that used to let people expect to borrow from their neighbor and expect their neighbor borrow from them simply don't exist any more. In many neighborhoods, unless they have children the same age, people don't even know their neighbor's names, let alone know them well enough to ask to borrow the lawn mower.
And being estranged to that extent makes people's fastidiousness kick in. If you don't even know your neighbor well enough to borrow their lawn mower, you'd certainly feel uncomfortable if they asked to run a load of laundry in your washing machine. Think of the cooties!
The only way we see much sharing nowadays, except within families, is when an institution supports it. I share washers and driers with my neighbors, but none of us own them--the apartment complex has them in every building. I don't own a grill--the apartment complex has charcoal grills scattered about in the common areas. I do own a lot of books, but I read a lot of books I don't own--they're owned by the public library.
Basically, sharing has been institutionalized.
The fact is, though, that sharing doesn't just depend on neighborliness, it creates neighborliness. Neighbors who depend on one another for small things gradually learn that they can depend on one another for big things.
Sharing is frugal, but it's also part of the adhesive that holds society together.
Over the past couple hundred years, we've become so wealthy that everybody can afford to have their own everything. I think that's likely to change, as energy gets more expensive, and as people come to realize that externalized costs (like environmental damage and climate change) are still costs--people will find themselves less wealthy and will turn to their neighbors for support. The social structures that make neighborhoods work will come back.
People who can get ahead of the curve, and share things with their neighbors before it's cool again, will have a leg up on the rest.
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