As I walked around my neighbourhood yesterday, I found myself musing about all the houses I passed, each stuffed to the gunnells with duplicate stuff, most of which hardly ever gets used.

I’m sure I’ve read a factoid somewhere about the average amount of time that an electric drill is used for. Certainly I’ve got a drill that, though I have used it a few times, lives most of its life in a cupboard.

Each household probably has roomfuls of stuff that gets used only occasionally. Tools, sports/fitness equipment, suitcases, even furniture. Months can go by without my dining room table and chairs getting used, as I tend to eat at my kitchen table.

A review of a book about minimalism was published on Grist a few days ago, prompting interesting debates. One commenter raised the issue of all the crockery and cutlery they keep for when they have guests.

The kitchen has got to be one of the rooms in any house that contains the most ‘used only occasionally’ items. Toolsheds would be another. Plus whatever room contains your books.

As always, it comes down to finding balance. On the one hand decluttering and having less stuff reduces your environmental impact, saves you time and money, simplifies your life and reduces your mental clutter. On the other, you want to keep the stuff that makes your life work smoothly (and organise it in a way that supports you to live the life you want to live).

Can sharing help shift this balance? Enabling each of us to own less stuff.

I love ideas like Bid & Borrow, an organisation in my area that enables members to hire out their belongings to each other for cash. I’ve listed several items on the website: a camera tripod, a phone headset, a pasting table, a cool box, a cupcake stand…

There are challenges of course. I suspect sites like Bid & Borrow work best on a hyper-local basis. People are unlikely to be willing to schlep across town for a low-value item they could easily buy. Plus the environmental impact of such journeys being made by car could undermine the benefits of the reduced consumption achieved by hiring instead of buying.

And I wouldn’t want to have to plan ahead every time I wanted to use a food blender.

There are issues of personal taste too. Everything we choose to acquire is influenced by our own aesthetics and preferences for functionality. If you and I each went to buy an electric drill, even with the same budget, we might well come back having chosen different ones.

If that’s true for a drill, how much more true would it be for a dinner service? How happy would we be to serve dinner on plates chosen by our neighbours, not ourselves?

On the other hand, mismatched plates look good in a shabby chic way.

There’s another potential drawback too. Could it encourage us to hang onto stuff we could move on, in the hope that someone will hire it from us for cash? Maybe that doesn’t matter. If the stuff’s being hired, it’s being used, making us money and not cluttering up our home. If it’s not, we’ll soon realise there’s no point hanging onto it.

All but 2 acquired secondhand, I'm proud to say

As I write this, I’m considering the pile of dinner plates in one of my kitchen cupboards. 17 of them. Two sets of four, a couple of sets of two and various random ones. For all I’ve said above, I’m not willing to part with them. It’s just so convenient to have them there if I want to use them. And (maybe more importantly), I feel attached to them.

I used to feel that way about books though and I’ve cured that…

What if each street had a central store of occasional-use objects like dinner plates, power tools, spare chairs, gardening equipment…?

Could it work? What do you think?

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