How sharing can save the world — seriously

Using things you don't need to get the things you do

By Nicholas Nehamas

A promotional event for Zipcar, which allows customers to rent cars by the hour. Zipcar and other companies like it are the corporate arm of the new “sharing economy.” (Reuters)

Bartering may be prehistoric, but it’s coming back into style.

That’s the motivation behind Global Sharing Day, which is being celebrated around the world on November 14th.

Before you blow it off as some hippy-dippy love-in, you should know its organizers hope to reach more than 60 million people in 147 countries. Active “sharers” claim you can save thousands of dollars a year by not buying every single thing you need or want.

Their pitch is simple: Why pay for something when you could get it for free? People have plenty of stuff they just don’t need.

On Global Sharing Day, you can take that old tennis racket you never use anymore, bring it to work and trade it for the hardcover Lincoln biography your co-worker has already read. Or why not fix your neighbor’s toilet in exchange for help with that big move.

Benita Matofska helped create Global Sharing Day and says employees around the world — including some of Global Sharing Day’s 161 corporate partners — will share their belongings between 1 and 2 PM local time. She calls it “the Greatest Share on Earth.” Matofska, who heads a UK-based non-profit called The People Who Share, estimates she saves more than $30,000 a year by sharing, instead of buying, some of the things she needs.

“Sharing is about making the most of the things you’ve got in order to get the things you need,” Matofska explains. “As a working mom, if I weren’t doing swaps, where some other parents pick my kids up from school on days where I need to work, and vice versa, then I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do.”

Instead of buying a new Honda, she says, you can join a car-sharing club. Instead of hitting the mall, swap clothes with a friend. It’s good for the planet and for your bank account.

The more you share . . .

Matofska says you can share bigger than household items — how about sharing your entire house?

Last summer, instead of paying thousands of dollars for a summer vacation, her family swapped their home in Brighton, England for a restored farmhouse in Italy.

“The Italian family gave us all their recommendations so we went to the best local markets and restaurants,” Matofska recounts. “More than saving money, we had an experience that was completely different from staying in a hotel. And when we got back to our house, we walked in and there were flowers on the table, fruit in the fruit bowl, a bottle of wine and gifts for the kids. Fortunately, we had left them gifts too. And we’ve stayed in touch since.”

Planting the seeds of a better future in a community garden in Chicago. (Ramon Gonzalez)

On Global Sharing Day, Ramon Gonzalez, an urban gardener and writer who lives in Chicago, plans to give away hundreds of bulbs and seeds to his neighbors.

“Sharing highlights this problem we have in urban areas,” he says, “where we just pass people by because we don’t think we have any common ground.”

Gonzalez remembers looking over a fence into his neighbor’s property last year and seeing a man trying to pot a pepper plant. Gonzalez keeps several pepper plants. In an instant, a connection was born.

“It gives you a reason to be outside of your home, to talk to your neighbors,” he says. “And by bringing people together, sharing has the potential to impact communities that are lower income or experiencing problems with drugs and violence.”

The sharing economy

But is a world based on sharing a pie-in-the-sky pipe dream?

Matofska says no, pointing to companies like ZipcarAirbnb and Skilio, which are making a profit by encouraging people to share cars, apartments and even their talents. All three companies, by the way, are corporate partners of The People Who Share.

Besides, after a global recession, frugality is appealing.

“Times are really tough for some people,” Matofska argues. “Families are strapped for cash, struggling financially. Sharing is about a smarter, better way to live, a way that you can save and make money and find friends and have fun doing it.”

In New York, Adam Berk of neighborrow.com wants to create a marketplace where people can lend each other goods for a small fee. Ideally, the business would be mobile — say, on a truck — so it could make deliveries straight to your front door.

“I hate waste,” he says. “I’d rather have something really good when I need it, and not at all when I don’t . . . and I’m not just saying people should share a drill. It’s about designing a new collaborative approach to consumerism. ”

On Global Sharing Day, Berk and the group SharedSquared plan to run a “pop-up library” in midtown Manhattan as a test run.

“What we’re seeing is a big shift fundamentally,” adds Matofska. “This is the way of the future, and there’s nothing hippy-dippy about it. This is about being smart. It’s about making the world better by using the things you don’t need. Who wouldn’t want to do that?”