Last week, inspired by my old sandals’ new soles, I looked at the importance of the second “R” in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” To reuse things, we need to know how to fix them and how to share them. But obstacles lie in our way.
“One reason it’s difficult to live simply is that we have no infrastructure for sharing,” said a participant in one of the simple living sessions I’ve been teaching at Holden Village.
Yes—and no. Craig’s list and www.freecycle.com are good signs that the online infrastructure for sharing is growing. Car-sharing is gaining ground in urban communities. But market forces relentlessly tout the merits of personal ownership, persuading us to buy our very own lawn mower, bicycle, car, snow blower, power washer, or home—and to upgrade instead of repairing items on hand. Sharing hurts the bottom line!
Fortunately, churches do offer an infrastructure for sharing. What church isn’t already collecting and redistributing canned goods, quilts, and school and health kits? We take seriously the dictum to give away our second coat to our neighbor. Is it possible to extend our infrastructure of sharing to ourselves, and find ways to swap or share goods and talents that build community, lower stress, and consume less?
This kind of sharing could change the way we share with unknown others. Do we buy the generic brand for the food pantry, give away our oldest clothes, or buy the cheapest stuff for service projects? At a simple living session I led in Pennsylvania, a woman wondered whether the child who received her church’s school kit might actually have made the inexpensive items that were inside it. “It’s like we’ve decided we’re gonna help other people, and we’re going to go to WalMart to do it,” she said.
Instead of “sharing” by sending cheap things elsewhere, let’s take a page from early Christian communities and learn how to pool more of our resources. Let’s follow the example of the congregation that cans vegetables together and shares the results, or the congregation that holds regular “freecycles” in which people swap needed items, or the congregational repair clinic that fixes beloved old shoes and sweaters and restores vacuums to working order.
This kind of sharing is mutual, not one sided. Accepting a mattress, a can of tomatoes, or new soles from our own community teaches us to be receivers of gifts, not just givers or consumers of stuff. The infrastructure of mutual sharing is liberating, and carves an alternative path in a cluttered, overcommitted, overspent culture.
We can call it “the path less purchased.”