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Foraging Scurvy Weed

Room for change

Collaborative living

Our home has a spare room that sits empty most of the year. We’re not alone. More than 75 percent of Australian homes have one or more spare bedrooms.

We decided to earn a little extra cash from our spare room and took in a housemate.

In collaborative consumption lingo, we utlised the "idling capacity" of our spare bedroom.

Collaborative consumption describes the rapid explosion in sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping. These traditional actions are far from new, but new online technologies have made them easier.

Rachel Botsman, co-author of the book What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, suggests we are surrounded by unused or underused assets that have an untapped value, or idling capacity. Collaborative Consumption is about using the latest technologies to redistribute idling capacity and maximize usage.

The financial benefits of renting a room to a friend and her son soon faded into insignificance against all the unexpected bonuses of collaborative living.

We shared cooking, child-minding, chores and my daughter got to experience a sibling-like relationship.

I know a number of families who regularly rent out rooms to students or travellers. One friend has shared her home with 12 international students in the last eight years through the Newcastle University Homestay program. She loves that each introduces her and her family to a different culture.

There are several online communities that make it easy for home owners to realise the idling capacity of their spare bedroom and even their couch. helps people rent their homes to travellers. I checked out what’s available in Newcastle and discovered dozens of people renting out rooms, from $36 a night for a tiny room with a view to $111 for two bedrooms, bathroom and lounge.

For home owners more interested in receiving a helping hand than money there’s or where hosts provide food and board in exchange for a few hours work.

There’s even an option for people willing to offer accommodation for free at I was surprised to discover over 140 people offering free accommodation in the Newcastle area.

Perhaps you like the idea of sharing your home, but only while you’re not in it? There’s a suite of home swapping websites where you can arrange to swap your home for another, either in Australia or abroad.

These collaborative living options are a nice way to save resources, help a friend, make some money, or just enjoy some extra company. There’s room for change in everybody’s life.

Are you tempted to realise the "idling capacity" of your spare bedroom? Would you, or have you, shared your home? 

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 9th February 2013]