It’s a simple1 idea: bearers (and camels and another caravan pets) should have an additional option in the interaction menu wheel, apart from “Follow”, which puts them in a special “follow and help carry” mode. In this mode, all harvesting actions should first try to store the harvested items into the follower’s inventory; only if the follower’s inventory is full should the items go into player’s inventory.
By “harvesting actions”, I mean anything you get from swinging a tool. It would definitely not include picking stuff up from any kind of container, such as corpses, loot bags, chests, crafting stations, etc.
With this mechanic in place, and combined with a few other changes (bearers’ inventory increased to 50 slots, followers immune to lava and fall damage), the 5th encumbrance perk wouldn’t be as irreplaceable for PVE players who specialize in building as it is right now2.
EDIT: I’ve changed the post so that it makes this new behavior optional, activated through a special option in the interaction menu wheel.
EDIT 2: Just making it clear that this thread is not for discussions of 5th encumbrance perk. There’s a thread for that, so if you’re replying to this thread, make sure that you’re discussing this suggestion and not the perk.
1 I meant it’s simple to describe, not necessarily to implement.
2 I am not advocating for or against the perk replacement in this thread. There’s already a thread to discuss that topic. This suggestion should hopefully have a merit of its own, regardless of the perk.