It started with a backpack: How NeighborGoods sparked a new era of sharing

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The very notion of Liftshare – and indeed the wider sharing economy, is founded on the idea that we help each other using what we already have. That old image of the person next door asking their neighbour for a cup of sugar may feel out-dated, but thanks to companies like NeighborGoods, it’s closer to reality than you think.

NeighborGoods
was founded by Micki Krimmel back in 2009, and has quickly become a place where everyday people share everyday things. Need a ladder to help you paint a ceiling? No problem. Are you in dire need of a karaoke machine for a friend’s birthday? Post a request and take your pick of the replies.

If you can think of an item, chances are this community is sharing it, but where did this concept come from? Weirdly, it all started with a backpack – Kimmel’s Osprey backpack to be precise. After unsuccessfully asking around to borrow a hiking bag for a trip to Southeast Asia, she had to buy one for the princely sum of $200. Inspired to help others in a bind, the site was born, and enjoys great success today.

“NeighborGoods can save people a significant amount of money by reducing the need to buy and rent many household items that are used only occasionally or for a short period of time,” Executive Director Alan Berger tells us.

“But in addition, think of the benefits to the environment from not having to produce, transport, and eventually dispose of so many new consumer goods. Finally, we’re helping to build more self-reliant local communities that will be more sustainable in an uncertain economic future.”

The site recently launched a goods-sharing library – which is a physical depository for donated and loaned goods the wider community can request and use as and when they need them. Within the first few weeks, users donated over 200 items to the pool and counting. Users can swap items in person, while divulging as much or as little personal information as possible, and at a meeting place of their choosing.

We ask Berger for his thoughts on how public perception to sharing has changed, and he agrees that a big barrier of the sharing economy is in changing people’s behaviour. “People have been brought up and sold on by a worldwide corporate marketing machine a certain way of living that emphasizes the acquisition of consumer goods,” he replies.

“Most people’s first impulse when they determine that they need something, is to think about where to buy it and often go to Amazon to see where it can be purchased and for what cost. They don’t first go to their local sharing economy services to see if the item is available next door or just down the block.

“This is what has to change to make it truly viable as an everyday part of people’s lives and one way to do that is to make it as easy or easier, and cheaper and more satisfying, to borrow something from a NeighborGoods than buy it through an Amazon.

You can still borrow Micki’s bag on the site, the one that started it all

As a result of users banishing their presumptions and taking the plunge, the NeighborGoods community has spawned many real, human stories of people aided in their time of need, or committing truly selfless acts. Berger recalls the tale of a woman named Arleen, who offered a bike to the community. “This bike belonged to Arleen’s niece, Dylan who rode it only a few times,” he begins.

“She had an asthma attack one day,” he continues, “but the ambulance never came and the family brought her to the hospital on their own. By the time she arrived at the hospital she had suffered from brain damage and is now in a wheelchair in a nursing home. Dylan’s mom wanted to share it so others could use it, and if one day Dylan improved enough to be able to ride it again, she could.”

With over 35,000 members and over 17,000 items listed around the world, it’s clear that there is a real desire out there to avoid wasting objects by simply using them once, and to help others in need. It is a community that defies the concept that we’re all becoming insular and afraid of socialising with our neighbours, and further proof of the sharing economy’s capacity for good.

Be sure to check out NeighborGoods today, and let us know if you fancy giving it a shot.

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