According to market research company ICM Research, in 2012 Britons spent £240 million on DIY tools they have yet to use and an astonishing £360 million on kitchen appliances that had a similar fate. The irony is, there are many people who don't own a food blender or power drill but could certainly use one.
The solution, says RentMyItems, the goods rental enterprise that commissioned the ICM study, is for people who own underused gadgets to rent them out to those who need them. RentMyItems is one of dozens of websites set up by social entrepreneurs for renting, swapping, lending and exchanging goods and services, an online marketplace where they hope a sense of community will be created by encouraging trust between lenders and borrowers. Their system has a name — collaborative consumption.
Waste not, want not
RentMyItems has listings for dozens of different types of tools, appliances, furnishings and other domestic goods available for rent from individuals. These range from a John Lewis sofa that can be rented for £25 a week (maybe to make a home you are selling look more lived-in) to a Bosch electric drill at £20 a week. Patio heaters are offered at £6.88 a day, handy for anyone holding an evening barbecue.
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"We have a wide array of items on the website, with tools being the most popular," says founder Warren Heal. "One lady put hair rollers on there."
According to Nesta, a charity promoting collaborative consumption, the types of services exchanged may include lessons in French in return for tutoring in the art of sushi making. Social networks such as Land Share have matched up 60,000 hobby gardeners with 60,000 garden owners. Gardeners get to pursue their passion, and garden owners receive help with maintenance tasks. It's a good way to make new friends, too.
Caius Howcroft, who set up peer-to-peer goods and property rental website RentNotBuy in 2008 in the US and Britain, says the system is green, because it cuts out wastefulness.
"We see a lot of over consumption in the US and UK, and it's mad really," he says. "People have a lot of junk they just don't need. I have a saw and have used it exactly twice."
It isn't only household items that are rented out online. There are also deals to be done on cars, holiday homes and empty offices. The ParkatmyHouse.com website is claimed to have enabled "tens of thousands" of Britons with unused garages or driveways to rent them out to vehicle owners in need of a parking space.
On the SpareRoom.co.uk website, a flatshare is agreed every three minutes, according to director, Matt Hutchinson. It puts people with a spare room in touch with people looking for somewhere to rent.
More people are taking in lodgers says Hutchinson. "Renting out the spare room is simply the biggest source of income you've got without actually working," he adds. SpareRoom runs speed flatmating events which are based on the speed dating concept, whereby multiple landlords and lodgers meet socially to find out whether they would be happy living together.
If you've got a drill or other tools lying idle, make them earn their keep with collaborative consumption - that means rent them out
Ownership is old hat
Hutchinson says it is important for people to meet each other before a spare room is shown to anyone. "The people are more important than the flat," says Hutchinson, "because they shape the way you live and how you feel when you get home."
Half of the flatshares agreed on Spare-Room are in London and the home counties, a reflection of how the capital's private rented residential sector is the largest in Britain. A quarter of Londoners rent privately.
Heal says the growing popularity of renting household items is tied in with the expansion of the private rented sector, which has changed attitudes to ownership.
A shift to renting is supported by the increasingly transient nature of London's population. According to London School of Economics research, central London has a 17 per cent "churn" in its population each year.
People who are in a location only temporarily prefer to rent homes and possessions rather than buy. "You don't want to take a big children's car seat with you on the plane, so it is better to be able to rent these things," says Howcroft. "It is a well-trodden path in America."