A new relationship to ‘stuff’, alongside self-care, connecting with each other, enjoying nature and putting wellbeing at the heart of policy, is at the core of our vision for a world where people and the planet thrive. Here, NOW’s Director, Roger Higman explains why we need to rethink how we consume and live.
Let’s face it. We live in a material world. We depend on the material environment around us to survive and to thrive. And, like many species, we do not simply consume what nature has offered. We actively change our environment – by making homes, by planting gardens, by cooking and preserving our food, by making clothes and so on. And for millions of years, we’ve made tools to help us do so more easily.
Refashioning the material world around us to better suit our needs seems to be fundamental to our wellbeing.
Yet, modern society seems to deny this reality. The default expectation seems to be that we should all work to earn as much as we can, and then buy everything we need or want from what’s on offer through the ‘market’. We’re even expected to pay for our own entertainment and for spas and other treatments that supposedly improve our wellbeing.
This vision of people as both subservient workers and passive consumers lies at the heart of conventional economics, yet very few of us can afford to live entirely this way – nor do many gain satisfaction from doing so.
So, for generations, people have sought to save money and/or improve their lives by doing things directly for themselves, whether by growing or making their own food, making or mending their own clothing, improving their homes or making their own entertainment through music and games.
This ‘do-it-yourself’ activity is very important to our wellbeing. It’s creative, enjoyable, adds quality to our lives and gives us a sense of agency and achievement – a feeling that we are in control.
Yet, perversely, access to the tools people need to make their lives better also depends on their having the money necessary to buy them and the space to store them. And for many people, money and/or space are in short supply.
So, while some people have houses and garages that are full of tools and appliances, others are constrained in what they can do because they don’t own and can’t afford the necessary equipment – especially things they might only need occasionally.
That’s where the Share Shed – our travelling library of things in South Devon – comes in. The Share Shed stores over 350 tools and other pieces of equipment for its members to borrow. This helps them to get more things done while saving money, resources and space.
Its members borrow carpet cleaners and pressure washers to clean their homes. They borrow drills to put up shelves, and trolleys to move house. They borrow gardening tools to grow vegetables, and dehydrators to preserve fruit. They also borrow games and musical instruments, tents to go camping and chocolate fountains, candy floss makers and plastic crockery for kids’ parties.
Accessing goods in this way enables them to be used more efficiently. Fewer goods need to be bought, which means fewer need to be manufactured and less material needs to be mined. This in turn lessens the use of energy and the waste we create, all of which eases our impact on the Earth, helping us to preserve its natural systems that are themselves vital for our wellbeing.
And sharing goods in this way connects us with each other. When borrowing an item, we might reflect on who used it before. When returning it, we might think about who else will use it in the future. The very act of joining the Share Shed brings us into contact with other members and gives us a stake in a growing community – all of whom have an interest in looking after a common resource.
Ironically, as most of the Share Shed’s inventory is donated, even the people who originally purchased an item get a benefit, as they themselves save space and get the satisfaction of seeing something that would otherwise sit on their shelves being put to good use.
The Share Shed is a part of a growing ecology of groups including repair cafes and remakeries that are hoping to change the way we think about, use and consume ‘stuff’.
They challenge the idea of people as being passive consumers, exploring instead a more active relationship with the stuff we use. This might include:
- sharing what we no longer want or need, by giving it away;
- extending the life of the the stuff we keep by cleaning and resharpening tools or servicing and repairing electrical goods;
- making our own stuff, whether it be jam, bread or even clothing;
- buying pre-loved rather than new, and upcycling to meet our needs;
- borrowing what we only use occasionally;
- recycling and reusing our waste perhaps as compost in our gardens.
This takes time so we all have to balance what we do against the many other demands on our lives, but through these and other ways, we hope to grow our wellbeing together and be kinder to the planet, so that it can continue to be kind to us.
For more information about the Share Shed, visit www.shareshed.org.uk.