How to Share in the Sharing Economy

Inspired by Oregon’s pioneer settlers of the 19th century, we explore how to participate in a “shared economy” in present day Portland.

By Kristin Belz June 21, 2013

Try out dehydrating tomatoes at home without splurging on your own dehydrator by borrowing from one of Portland's kitchen share libraries.

Image: Nanisimova

Too often, home life means accumulating consumer products. More and more things. Does your house have a garage? A basement? Oh good – more room to store your stuff. But how much stuff do you need? Doesn't something have to give? Whether you’re downsizing, or just starting out living on your own, or subscribing to a less is more sustainable philosophy, there are lots of reasons not to own so much stuff.

But not owning so much stuff doesn’t have to mean not using the right stuff when you need it. You just have to know who's got what so you can borrow when you need to. Some things obviously fall into this category: few of us own a truck just so that we can move to a new city a few years from now. U-Haul serves us well.

The people who moved from Missouri in 1856 and settled south of Portland in what is now the town of Aurora didn’t come in their own trucks or even U-Hauls. They wagoned out on the Oregon Trail. But they came together, and once they were here, they kept up their sharing habits.

They cleared land and created the Aurora Colony. (Read more about our recent visit to the Old Aurora Colony Historic Museum.) They built houses, a church, school, hotel, restaurant, and several businesses. They planted fields and operated a grist mill and depended on each other, while still maintaining their own homes and independent families.

The Christian oriented, utopian society of the Aurora Colony only lasted a couple generations, as young folk started to move away from the home village and the official colony disbanded in 1883. Still, their model is an interesting reminder of the value of sharing.

We’ve got the basic infrastructure in Portland today – no need to clear more trees to plant fields. But sharing things like kitchen items, tools, ladders, cars, and clothes is becoming a new and welcome habit. Most of us know about the Multnomah County Public Library, and the car sharing services Zipcar and Car2Go. But there are others.

Here are some ways to up your sharing capacity, with help from leading sharers of Portland.

  • Tool libraries –  if you don’t need them every day, just borrow items like ladders, drills, and circular saws. Tool libraries are established in several Portland neighborhoods (Southeast, Northeast, North, and Lents).
  • Kitchen shares –  cooperative organizations that let you borrow special items you’d use in the kitchen or for entertaining. Need 80 plates for a wedding party? Want to try canning fruit but not sure you’ll like it enough to do it more than once? Don't feel ready to invest a couple hundred dollars for a food dehydrator so that you can make your own turkey jerky? Borrow what you need from a kitchen “library.” Some to try: Home Goods Library – at Know Thy Food in Southeast Portland; Kitchen Share Southeast; North Portland Preserve and Serve.
  • Swap shops – communal play spaces  (usually indoors) for adults and their children, where members can also share and swap clothes, books, and toys. A community oriented hybrid of Chuck E. Cheese and Goodwill, these groups have cropped up in Sunnyside, Woodlawn, Eastside, and at North Portland at Swapnplay Community Sharing.

As long as we're into the spirit of sharing, here's a question for us all:

  • Which individuals and organizations are working to make Portland a better place? We're accepting nominations for Portland Monthly's annual Light A Fire awards through June 30. Please nominate all your favorites, and vote early and often.
Filed under
Show Comments