Computer perched precariously in my lap, I write this as I drive around London in a van collecting discarded food that I will be eating for dinner. As strange as that sounds, it's not the craziest thing that I did in a whirlwind month where I discovered whether or not I could 'survive' in the sharing economy.
From wearing strangers' clothes to eating their food, teaching their children, writing about their lives, working with them and sleeping in their beds, I have run the gamut of sharing economy experiences and come out the other side in one piece.
So, is the sharing economy all that it is cracked up to be? Well, here is what I've learned.
It's easy to make money by sharing your stuff
The sharing economy succeeds beautifully in its efficient distribution of idle resources. Rooms that would've stayed empty get rented out. Cars that would have remained parked by the curb get driven thanks to car sharing platforms. And as the sharing economy grows, more and more platforms are being invented to help us 'rent' out the stuff we don't use.
At first it may feel hard to let go of your precious things, but you quickly realise that the people borrowing your items are just like you, and take pretty good care of them. Combine this with the fact that you are able to commoditize reputation by leaving reviews and that, in most instances, you are covered by the platform's insurance, you realise that most of the time your stuff is pretty safe.
But the funny thing is that you start to see your posessions in a different way -- like a resource to be shared rather than something to be owned. This is a pretty liberating mindset, as items around you suddenly become revenue sources rather than depreciating assets.
But it's hard to make money by sharing your time
The sharing economy also covers businesses where people can share their 'time' by doing peer to peer work. After getting rejected from being a cleaner on Task Rabbit, to trying to do odd jobs for just $4 on Fiverr, I found working in the 'gig economy' hard and stressful. The precarious nature of the employment made me edgy, and the tiny amounts of money coupled with the often 20 percent platform fee made me depressed.
The anonymity of not knowing the person you are working for combined with a globally competitive market means that if I wasn't willing to do a piece of work for a small sum, someone in a developing country probably was, driving the prices lower and lower.
But if you can play the economics it can work. Providing an experience (GrubClub, Vayable), specialist skill or selling a product (Shopify, Etsy) is much easier, although whatever industry you work in you will need to get good at making videos and marketing yourself.
We act differently when money is removed
Human beings are funny creatures because we act in such different ways when money is involved. Big sharing economy websites like Uber and Airbnb realised this early on and created a situation where money is dealt with in advance, so the experience goes from being transactional to social.
And this is where the magic happens. When people act on a social level, they are more open with each other, resulting in beautiful serendipities. Like when my couch-surfing host ended up being a professional photographer, my house-sitting hosts became valuable business contacts, or when my Airbnb host became a friend. And this made me realise one thing above all else:
We are happiest when we share
Doing things for others makes us feel great. On a cold Monday night I ran 5 km and helped prune in a community garden with Good Gym. And while the run made me feel good, the knowledge that I had done something for the community made me feel even better. Now, as I sit here in the front of a City Harvest van collecting food that will either go into landfill or the mouths of people who need it, I do so with a huge smile on my face.
This month of sharing has changed me. It has made me braver, kinder and more hopeful. It has made me look at people in a new light, because I have seen that all it takes is just a tiny interaction to pierce the bubble of being 'strangers' and to become friends.
And ultimately that is the beauty of the sharing economy. It offers us so much more than a simple economic equation, because each interaction creates bonds between us. Sharing is part of human nature, and the sharing economy is simply a new term for something that has been going on since the dawn of time.