Leslie MacKenzie is good at sharing — her home, her garden’s bounty, her bicycle, her ideas. MacKenzie is co-founder of Transition Longfellow, a neighborhood sustainability group that has operated out of south Minneapolis since 2011. For eight years, MacKenzie has been living the “sharing economy,” teaching herself, her husband and neighbors ways to share housing, transportation, food, skills and more. In this new year, I asked her to help us practice what she preaches, which is “tapping into the abundance within our community by finding ways to give and receive.” MacKenzie will teach a class on the sharing economy March 4 at Pratt School through Minneapolis Community Education.
Q: You blogged that, in 2010, you heard a talk by Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute. You wrote that his talk shook you to your core. How so?
A: We’d certainly heard about climate change but he really brought the reality of that home for us, which I think still very few people understand. We talk about climate change in a very abstract way; he talked about, in concrete terms, what was really going to happen. He also talked about the connections we don’t usually hear about: how our waste stream and food and economic systems contribute to climate change. And he gave us a lot of examples of how to contribute to solutions. Sharing is one of those solutions.
Q: People might be reticent to join the sharing economy, thinking it’s too much work. You say they’re already doing it.
A: Sharing is in our very nature. We wouldn’t be here if our mothers hadn’t rather selflessly cared for us. My class is about expanding the ways we share. One of my early sharing experiences occurred when my clothes dryer broke. I asked my next-door neighbor if she’d mind if I used hers. She said, “Oh, no, I don’t mind.” I would never have thought to ask. It wasn’t a big deal to her but it meant a lot me.
Q: Then you got serious about sharing.
A: My second husband, Peter Foster, and I were typical people. We had five kids in a blended family, two jobs, and we were just holding stuff together. After hearing Richard, we understood the need to make life changes as soon as possible. We got rid of one of our cars and started carpooling and using mass transit. We rented rooms in our home. One of our roommates suggested we take in couch-surfers, which we did. And when we downsized, we moved things along responsibly.
Q: Why couch-surfing?
A: There is an online community called couchsurfing.com. People share their homes — a couch or a bed — for a few days and no money changes hands. It’s truly sharing. We’ve conservatively had 50 couch-surfers over the past few years. It’s been wonderful. We’ve met people from all over the world and we’ve couch-surfed, too.
Q: Regarding moving a lot of stuff along, tell us about your “Year of 1,000 Things.”
A: One day I looked inside my medicine cabinet and thought: Whose stuff is all this? I took 50 things out of the bathroom including five nail clippers — things left behind by now-grown children and past roommates. Then I thought: What else do we have around this house that we don’t need? We could give away 1,000 things. I hired a Hennepin County Master Recycler to help me figure out how to move this stuff along. She identified where things should go, who could reuse this, who could take that packaging. A whole bunch of building materials were posted to online groups and people came by to haul away things I never imagined anyone would want, including old, damaged ceiling tiles for a basement recording studio. Twenty partial cans of paint went to a theater person for props. Other items ended up at a church rummage sale. By the end of the year, we had given away 1,079 things that didn’t end up in the landfill.
Q: You propose sharing skills, too.
A: People who are willing can share what they know. My organization does a quarterly mending circle where three women teach people how to mend. When we belonged to a CSA (community supported agriculture), we helped on the farm we supported and learned how to grow and harvest. Now we plant our own garlic. One of my neighbors taught me how to make jam. I became a Master Gardener and now I help people start gardens. One past roommate taught us how to repair a bicycle. Young parents can create a child-care exchange or maybe share pet care. There’s a book I use when I teach, titled “The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community,” by Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow (Nolo Press). It’s a super wonderful resource for people looking for ways to share.
Q: What impact do you think your efforts have had on your children?
A: My three are 28, 30 and 33. All of them are less materialistic than their elders and I feel like this is true across their generation. All three kids used bike transit for years. My daughter will meet people along her travels and send them to us to couch surf. She’ll tell them, “You should go meet my parents.”
Q: What’s been the biggest benefit of joining the sharing economy?
A: I have a family saying: “Think of it as an adventure.” When you first approach something, it can look difficult. But when you actually do something, it may not be difficult at all. And even if it is a little bit of a challenge, that’s OK. That’s the adventure. You’re living a bigger life.