Love thy neighbourHome » Latest issue » Good, issue 8 » Love thy neighbour
We’ll borrow books from libraries, CDs from friends and DVDs from video stores … but we could share a whole lot more. Good meets Kiwis who are lending the love, and gets top tips on sharing cars, clothes, your home and the stuff that’s in it
How to be neighbourly
Do you covet thy neighbour’s hedge trimmer, overlocker or circular saw? These days, buying an appliance you use only three times a year feels like a sin. Here’s how to set up a neighbourhood network to share the tools you hardly ever use—and create a safer, friendlier community while you’re at it.
1. Meet the neighbours. Most of us have a passing acquaintance with our immediate neighbours—but chances are it’s because of their loud music, yappy dog or misfired cricket balls. So before you can start a neighbourhood network you’ll need to meet the people in your street (on friendly terms), then help them meet each other.
The easiest way to make these awkward introductions is to arrange an event for residents to get together, such as a pot-luck afternoon tea or barbecue on a weekend afternoon. And yes, that does mean inviting a bunch of strangers to your house—or a nearby park, in warmer weather. Here are some tips to minimise the weirdness:
- Print invitations and hand-deliver to your neighbours. You could simply put them in their letterboxes, or knock on doors to explain the idea in person.
- Be up front about your intentions. Your neighbours may be wary of an unexpected invitation from a stranger, so make it clear that you’re not trying to sell them anything or convert them to your religion or political party.
- Include information about who else is invited (everyone on the street, everyone on your block, or just numbers 34 to 105).
- Set up a Facebook group for your street, and include the link on the invitation. Your neighbours will be able to check that you’re not a nutter, and introduce themselves in advance.
- Most importantly, include a list of things everyone stands to gain from a neighbourhood network: shared childcare; house-sitting; carpooling to work; a food co-op for bulk buying; shared dog-walking; Neighbourhood Watch; a shared wireless connection; a library of garden or carpentry tools, camping or sports equipment; growing food or flowers on unused land; bartering services (piano lessons in exchange for haircuts, for example); a new mothers’ coffee group; shared storage space; disaster preparedness … or any other relevant thing you can think of.
2. At the event. Find out which networking ideas hold the most appeal for each of your guests, and what they’re willing to share. You might discover a retired neighbour who’s keen to dog-sit during the day, or a couple with a home gym set up in their garage that they’ll let neighbours use for a weekly koha.
If people are struggling to ‘get it’, try this example: most household drills are used for only a few minutes a year. Worse, you never actually need a drill—what you need is a hole. The drill is just the tool that provides it, so why buy it when you could borrow one from your neighbour?
Once they’re on board, ask your neighbours to write down their names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.
3. Follow up. Type up your neighbours’ names and contact details, along with what they’re keen to share or swap, then email them to everyone on the list (dropping a hard copy around to elderly neighbours or those without a home computer).
Give the neighbours who didn’t make it another chance to get involved. Write them a note outlining some examples of what your neighbourhood network will be sharing and include your contact details.
If your neighbours are tech-savvy, encourage them to join your street’s Facebook group. You can use it to put out requests for tools or services, or just share news about local events. With a little encouragement from you, your ’hood could soon be humming the Neighbours theme tune: “That’s when good neighbours become good friends.”
people in your neighbourhood
Neil McGowan suspected his neighbours were a little weird. Renovating his new home in Birkenhead, Auckland, he noticed one neighbour stroll casually into his back garden, up to a pile of discarded timber, and start picking out choice pieces of wood. Another helped himself to Neil’s skip out front, tossing his own rubbish in.
But when he came over with beers to say thank you, it all became clear: Le Roy Terrace was no ordinary street. “He turned out to be a very nice guy, and a good friend now,” says Neil.
No one knows when or how the cul-de-sac became a social hub for its residents, but they’ve been throwing street parties for years: there’s the Christmas barbecue, the annual progressive dinner, the Le Roy Olympics and the notorious toga parties.
Being in a dead-end street makes a difference, says Neil. “Whenever anyone drives up or down the road, generally a wave comes with them, because it’s someone who lives on the street.”
The neighbours formalised their habit of sharing tools by creating a website and online tool library several years ago, but once everyone knew what everyone else was willing to lend, most borrowing started to happen over the fence.
“It’s generally tools, from wheelbarrows through to shovels,” says Neil. Skills are shared too. The street is home to a builder, a landscaper and an architect: “He draws up most of the renovations. We don’t have any plumbers or sparkies yet, unfortunately.” Others share food: herbs or freshly caught fish.
The neighbours are never far from a willing babysitter or someone to help with the kindy run, and take care of each other’s homes when they go on holiday. It helps safety and security in the neighbourhood and it’s even good for property values—if anyone ever sells, that is.
How to set up a car share
1. Meet your match. First, find the right people. It helps if everyone lives in the same neighbourhood. To avoid any problems later, it’s useful to agree on some ground rules. Here’s what we agreed for our three-person car share:
- Ownership of the car is split three ways. If the car is ever sold, payment will also be split three ways.
- If anyone ‘opts out’ of the car share, someone else can buy in, working out a fair price at the time.
- The car has one home, which is where bookings start and end (though we are flexible on this).
- All bookings are made on Google Calendar, but you can ring or text the others if you need the car urgently and you’re not near an internet connection.
- If someone else has booked the car for a time when you’re desperate to use it, just get in touch and see if you can work something out.
- For out-of-town bookings on weekends or public holidays, it’s a courtesy to let the others know. It’s not simply a ‘first in, first served’ system.
- If someone is using the car a lot more frequently than others, they have less right to use it if there’s a clash—but we keep it diplomatic.
- Maintenance, repairs and insurance are split three ways. Splitting repair costs means there’s a big incentive for each owner to maintain the car well.
- Over time, we might notice that one or two people are using the car more than others. If so, we share some repair costs on the basis of usage as well.
- Petrol costs are discussed below.
2. Buy a car. In our case, two people each bought a one-third share of the car someone already owned, once we’d agreed on a fair price (a measly $350!). Next, get a set of keys for everyone.
3. Set up a calendar. The easiest way to set up a booking system is to use Google Calendar. Set up a Google account with a shared user name (e.g., OurCarShare) and password that all members know. Then simply make a booking on the calendar.
If you already use Gmail or Google Calendar, you can link this shared calendar to your existing account, giving permission via the car share account. This way you won’t need to log in and out each time. Just go to your existing calendar and car bookings will be highlighted in a different colour.
4. Keep track. All users keep track of how many kilometres they have travelled in a notebook in the car. Whenever someone uses the car, they write in the odometer reading. When they end their booking, they write in the new odometer reading (this system ensures the next person will put your mileage in if you forget).
Anyone can fill the car with petrol at any time. Keep a copy of the receipt, and enter your petrol purchase into the back of the notebook.
When someone’s heading out of town on a longer trip, we use a different system. Simply fill up the car before you leave town, and record that petrol cost in the notebook. Also, note the odometer reading at this point.
When you get back, fill up the car again—but this cost is paid by you alone, and isn’t recorded in the notebook. We use this system because more petrol is used per kilometre for shorter trips, so this keeps it all fair.
5. Split costs. We do a tally every two months, which takes about an hour (we set up a spreadsheet to help with the accounting).
The tally is simple: the total amount spent on petrol is divided by the total (city) kilometres travelled. The cost can then be calculated for each user, according to their share of the kilometres travelled. For example, if I use the car for 25 percent of the kilometres, I pay for 25 percent of the petrol. Those who have already paid more than their share of petrol expenses are then paid back. Easy!
Run Lola run
Lola the Corolla belongs to Jasmine Cargill, Eva Lawrence and Joanne Tunna, three friends living near each other in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn. They’ve been sharing Lola for three months, following Nick and his friend’s system with a couple of tweaks.
“We base our system on negotiation,” says Jasmine. “We’ll be flexible and say, ‘I can do that, if you drop me off’.” Google Calendar is handy for scheduling trips in advance, but they also email and text each other at short notice. "The technology helps with booking, but as with any sharing, our system works through being respectful and flexible," says Eva. "Writing the kilometres in the notebook took a while to get used to, but now it's automatic".
The three friends share a bank account for Lola, each depositing $15 per week to cover insurance, registration, warrant of fitness and wear and tear.
Jasmine uses the car two or three times a week, and loves the system. “I wanted a car to use sometimes but couldn’t bring myself to buy one when I’d lived without for so long,” she says.
The three women try to avoid unnecessary driving and have agreed that Lola won’t be used for a daily commute. “Sometimes she’s sitting outside and I think it’d be nice to drive to work, but I catch the bus,” says Joanne. “I definitely still consider public transport, walking and biking as the first option.”
Car sharing may require a little effort, but for those who aren’t used to owning a car, it’s well worth it. “Going from no car to a third of a car is quite a bonus!” says Jasmine. The arrangement can also be configured to suit other situations: a family considering a second car might find that one-and-a-half cars are enough. It just requires a different mindset, says Joanne: “Not, ‘I own a car’, but ‘there’s a car that I have access to’.”
"People seem fascinated with the car share,” says Eva. “Some think it's a great idea and others can't get their heads around it. I have access to a car when I want it, without needing to have full ownership." Even better is taking the car to get fixed. “If some cost comes out of the blue, knowing I’m only paying a third is a really good feeling.”
How to host a naked lady party
Also known as swap-a-frock, swishing and schwapping parties, getting friends together to swap clothes is a great way to have a clear out and get new-to-you clothes without spending a cent. Here’s how to host a successful clothes-swapping party.
1. Invite. Guests will need time to sort out their wardrobes, so pick a date two or three weeks away. A weekend afternoon is a good time. Creating a Facebook event page will allow guests to make particular requests: work clothes or maternity gear, for example.
A group of between eight and 15 is manageable and helps everyone feel more comfortable. You don’t need to restrict invitations to women who are the same size—they’ll probably bring some clothing that’s too big or too small for them—but make sure everyone has at least one ‘match’ in approximate size or height. Being the only short ’n’ small in a room of lanky larges won’t be much fun.
Set a minimum number of garments to bring: at least five items of unwanted clothing in good condition, washed, ironed and on hangers if possible. Including handbags, accessories and shoes means there’ll be something for everyone.
2. Have a clear out. Set aside an afternoon to sort out your wardrobe. Make it fun: put on some music, do your hair and makeup (you’ll be spending a lot of time in front of the mirror) and heave everything out of your drawers and wardrobe and onto your bed. The clothes you wear frequently get put straight back. Everything else goes into three piles: things you definitely no longer want, things to mend or alter and a ‘don’t know’ pile.
The ‘don’t know’ pile is where the mirror comes in: try on each item and see if it will work with what you’ve got (shoes and accessories can make all the difference). If it’s still uncomfortable, unflattering, not ‘you’, or if it no longer fits or goes with the rest of your wardrobe, then it’s time to give that garment to someone who’ll get more wear out of it.
Deal with your mending (see good.net.nz/mend), and you’ll be left with one pile of unwanted clothing. Not every garment will be suitable (no one wants your grey bra or daggy trackies) but if you’d be happy to see a garment worn by a friend, and to swap it for an item of similar quality, then bring it to the party.
3. Organise. Put together some snacks and drinks, or ask guests to bring a plate. Music and a glass of wine help guests to relax and make it much easier for them to accept clothes and styling tips from strangers. You’ll also need at least two full-length mirrors and a separate room for changing.
Designate different areas for tops, skirts, dresses, trousers, shoes, bags and accessories. Borrow a clothing rack if possible (or use a handy curtain rail) and clear some table space for folded items. A few baskets or bowls for jewellery and scarves will keep them organised.
As guests and garments arrive, place like with like, as if you’re setting up your own little shop. You may wish to make a note of how many items each guest brings, to help settle claims for popular items.
4. The rules. There are many ways to run a clothing swap. Start with some kind of structure, but don’t panic if the party takes on a life of its own. Here are a few possibilities to try:
- The host calls names randomly, or in the order of who brought the most items to who brought the least. When your name is called, you get to choose an item to try on.
- Each guest chooses one item to try on. Once everyone has found one thing they want, they get another pick, and so on.
- Have a friendly free-for-all, but restrict it by garment type: tops, bottoms, dresses, then accessories, for instance.
- Swap within price ranges, by giving each garment a coloured sticker to indicate its approximate cost (red for gear that’s not worth much, green for garments that cost a bomb).
- One-in, one-out: for each item of clothing you contribute, you can take another one home.
- Trade deals: “I’ll swap my silk scarf and black skirt for your bag.”
- Auction: everyone gets two tokens for each item they bring. Items are held up and described by their previous owners, and guests bid with their tokens. If no one bids for an item, the auctioneer gives it to someone they think it will suit to try on. If they like it, they keep it (without sacrificing a token).
- Crazy naked ladies: guests arrive wearing outfits made up of clothes they want to give away. Everyone swaps items with others and by the end of the party, everyone has a new outfit on. (You may need more guests—and get extra wine—for this option!)
‘Finders keepers’ isn’t particularly friendly, so you need a plan for when two people are keen on the same item. You could toss a coin, play rock-paper-scissors, or give dibs to the person who brought the most items along. If they’ve got thick skins, have each person model the piece and let everyone decide who looks best.
5. Donate. Decide who you’ll donate leftover clothing to: Dress for Success, the Salvation Army and Women’s Refuge are good places to start. Don’t be offended if some of your clothes are left over. It’s not personal; style is an individual thing!
Schedule another party in a few months at someone else’s place. Some of the same items you missed out on this time might be up for grabs again.
How to open your home
The place where you lay your hat, and head, is your private space. For homeowners, it’s also your most valuable asset. Why share it with others? Here are a few reasons:
1. Worry-free holidays. Going away on holiday can mean leaving your house and possessions more vulnerable than usual. You can spend lots on security—or you can arrange for a house-sitter.
Do you know a friend or trust-worthy student living in a poky flat who’d enjoy a change of scene, even if just for a weekend? For police-checked, SPCA-approved house-sitters, check out the local company HomeSit.
Leave a clean house, a stash of fresh bed linen and clear instructions, including the time you’ll be returning home. If asked, sitters can feed pets, walk dogs, clear the mail (and phone) and water the garden. They might even drop you at the airport in exchange for the use of your car while you’re away.
Encourage your sitter to feel at home. Share a little, and instead of returning to a musty-smelling house and sad plants, it’s likely you’ll be greeted with a home that’s tidier than you left it, an enthusiastic thank you note and a bottle of wine.
2. Help with the mortgage. Have a spare room? Boarders are a great way to make a bit of extra cash. If you are at home caring for small children, house mates can also provide welcome adult company and, if negotiated, subsidised help with housework and babysitting. Ask around, or check out websites such as www.share-accommodation.co.nz to help find a suitable boarder. To host an overseas student, contact your local secondary college or English language school.
3. Free accommodation. Can’t afford a family holiday? What about swapping your pad with another family’s elsewhere in the country as a cost-effective break away? Check out websites such as: www.homeswap.co.nz, or www.homelinkinternational.co.nz for holidays overseas.
How to share the web
Do we really all need our own connection? You probably have Internet access at home. So do most of your neighbours. Each of you has an account with an Internet provider, a modem or a firewall, and a certain amount of data that you can download before you start paying more. Some months you use just a fraction of what you pay for, and sometimes you find yourself with a nasty bill.
That’s stupid. The Internet is everywhere; why can’t we just all share? That’s the idea behind TheFreeNet, a group of Wellington netizens who make some or all of their Internet connection available to neighbours, friends and each other. Even better, all these devices can be combined into a ‘mesh’ network, creating a vast wireless community that can share a bunch of connections. TheFreeNet even has free Internet in the middle of Wellington Harbour. Handy!
How to share a ride
Jayride is New Zealand’s biggest local rideshare website. It was launched in December 2008 by Rod Bishop and Ross Lin, two travel-keen Kiwis. Since then, more than 2,200 members have signed up for over 20,000 trips around the country.
“Ridesharing is one of the most efficient ways to travel. Sharing transport is a way to cut travel costs, petrol spend, parking costs and carbon emissions,” says Rod. “Jayride works for everyday commuters and long-distance travellers. It’s used by students, backpackers and business-people.”
Jayride is easy and free to use. It doesn’t charge people for listings—if participants want to charge for their ride they’re free to do so. “The most fun is some of the unexpected uses that have arisen,” says Rod. “We’ve had people selling bus tickets, sharing rides in stretched limousines, or long-distance haulage. We even have one member who regularly offers free flights in his Cessna.”