I’ve never minded loaning things. I actually like it when I’m able to help someone out by letting them use something of mine, which they need but don’t have. On the other hand, I’ve never liked borrowing things. I’ve always hated the feeling of being in debt to someone, even if it’s just for little while. So I’ve often bought tools or other items that I may never need again, rather than just borrowing one from a friend or neighbor who would be happy to loan it to me.

I’m trying to overcome this. I read an article in the most recent edition of Mother Earth News about building alternative economies. There are some good tips in the article. One section is titled “Own less, share more.” That seems to me to be good advice.

One day each year I need a stock trailer to haul hogs to the processor. I fret often over the fact that I do not own a stock trailer, but I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to buy one.

I have a friend and neighbor who has one. For the last two years I have borrowed it from him to haul our hogs. He has absolutely no objection to my borrowing it. Last year it needed a new tire so I replaced it for him. It seems crazy to think of buying a stock trailer to use one day a year, when my neighbor has one already and is happy to let me use it. Nevertheless, I still feel a desire for my own stock trailer.

For many years I never went to the library. Over the years I’ve bought mountains of books, which I read once and which are now stacked all around our house. It would’ve been much more sensible to borrow books from the library, then return them after reading them so someone else can also read them too. I’m trying to get better about that. In fact, we’ve decided to let our Mother Earth News subscription expire, and check out back issues from the library instead.

I’m convinced that community-based economies make good sense. For items that are necessary but used infrequently it just makes sense for community to only have one, and to let the members of the community use it when they need it. In other words, it makes sense to share.

In order for an economy based on sharing to work, some people will need to overcome their reluctance to loan things, and other people (like me) will need to overcome their reluctance to borrow things.

That’s something I hope to work on this year.


17 comments on “Sharing

  1. Steve Carlic says:

    I may borrow this idea this year ….


  2. DM says:

    I can relate to both pulls. Where it breaks down is when people you trust (and loan) something that costs some $, don’t take good care of it. I had a siding break (about a $750 item at the time) that I loaned a “friend” so he could work on his mom and dad’s house on the side. I asked only that he kept it inside and out of the weather. Few weeks went by and I needed it so I called him up and said I had to take it back for a while but then he could use it again…got to the jobsite and low and behold the thing was sticking out of a snow bank. He not kept it inside when he was not using it, in fact, because he had set it up along side the building, when the snow started melting off the roof, it was directly underneath the “avalanche” Boy was I hot and let him know. This past Summer, same guy (now he works for me) was using my new sawzall and within 30 minutes had burnt out the motor. He is on the naughty list and I will no longer “share” with him. I grew up on the farm and dad always said, if you do borrow the neighbors stuff, make sure you send it back better than when you got it. ie fill up the gas, etc.


    • Bill says:

      I’ve loaned out things that were never returned, but honestly I don’t worry about that as much as I do breaking or losing something I’ve borrowed. A neighbor loaned me a potato rake to use to break up the dam beavers were building around our pond pipe. I didn’t ask for it, he just knew we were having problems so he brought it over for me to use. You can’t find these anymore. The one he loaned me was made by his father. (You can probably tell where this story is heading). One day when I was using it I lost my grip and dropped it in the pond. I tried hard to find it, but in 20 feet of water I just never did. To this day I feel terrible about it. I was such a dummy for not tying a rope around it just in case that happened, but I’d used it many times without problems and just got careless. My neighbor was great about it, but it still bothers me. Last year he brought over a hay trailer and just left it here for me to use whenever I need it (so he isn’t holding it against me). Last year when his lawnmower was broken down I let him come get mine. We trust each other (notwithstanding what happened).

      I agree that things should be returned better than they were when borrowed if that’s possible. The neighbor whose stock trailer I borrow told me he loaned to another neighbor once who broke a part on it, then charged him to fix it. I don’t think he’ll be getting to use the trailer any more.


  3. df says:

    I remember when my kids were very little talking to a preschool teacher about how it’s in no way surprising that children hate to share, when their parents don’t tend to actually model sharing their own things very much. That stayed with me. My biggest indulgence is books, like you, and it’s a hard one to fight, though because I don’t actually have lot to spend on books I’m limited in how much I can buy. I love the library, but having our own library at home matters to me. I started using Bookmooch years ago as a way of recycling books, and I like that model (though the more local the better really). I can really relate to the idea of worrying about damaging someone else’s possession, but if we all adopt the idea of sharing and looking after things, it *shouldn’t* be a problem.


    • Bill says:

      It’s sort of built into us to resist sharing. Of course if we share more we’d all buy less, and that would be bad for “the economy.”

      I do love having our own personal library, but no one is using it but us and it’s rare for me to read a book a second time. We’ve started donating books to Goodwill and (if they’re school books) selling them on Amazon. Even with the purging we’ve been doing our house still has way too many books (if that is possible).


  4. shoreacres says:

    My goodness. Just this week I borrowed some ice cube trays from a friend. My fridge has an icemaker, but no trays. I’d bought a half-bushel of Myer lemons and juiced them, and needed to freeze the juice. Cubes are most convenient, but it seemed silly to buy trays I haven’t needed in twenty years. I got the trays from my friend, used them, washed them and took them back. Never gave it a thought.

    I do think there are some differences between borrowing and lending practices and whether someone can be said to be willing or unwilling to share.

    For example, I’ve had a few occasions when I’ve said no to someone who wanted to use my Porter-Cable orbital sander. It’s one of the best ever made, it’s critical for my work, and they aren’t manufactured any more. If someone’s going to drop it in the water or burn out the motor, I’d prefer it be me.

    On the other hand, if you want to borrow my heat gun and scrapers, no problem. 😉

    I’ve been told “no” myself when I asked to borrow something, and that doesn’t bother me at all. In one instance, what looked to me like a ratty old set of garden loppers turned out to be a friend’s father’s garden loppers, and she wasn’t willing to share those. Being able to set such boundaries is important, too.

    What surprised me most in your comments was that you rarely read a book a second time. My library is made up almost entirely of books I re-read or use as reference. There are some I’ve read a dozen times over the years. I use the library a good bit especially for books that catch my attention. If a book is something that has real value for me, and I know I’ll want to go back to it, then I buy a copy for myself.


    • Bill says:

      Reference books I use often and there are some books that I return to more than once (I’m rereading The Sound and Fury now, for example), but I’d say 90% of the books I own are unlikely to ever be read by me again. Cherie has often said to me, “Why are you keeping those books? You know you’re never going to read them again.” She’s right, but I’ve just liked possessing them. That’s what I’m trying to get over.


      • shoreacres says:

        I just remembered the most common sort of borrowing and lending among my friends and I – clothing for UP NORTH! Many of us have family or friends in places like Connecticut or Montana or – heaven forbid – North Dakota. But, there’s no need for that kind of clothing down here. So, when we get word that Miss Emily has to trek to Left Overshoe, we get her outfitted and away she goes!


  5. Bill, I’m with you on allowing others to use my stuff but reluctant to borrow other people’s stuff. I have a some what community shed with utensils that are not motorized. It’s an open door policy with any thing in the shed. I figure they can’t hurt hand tools much. The shed has rakes, axes, pickaxes, sledge hammers, hoes, post hole digger, and assorted garden tools. Things come and go through the year and seem to always find their way back to the shed. Ladders and a wheel burrow are available as well.

    The neighbor across the street has a trailer for his lawn service which he let me burrow for hauling all my yard waste mulch this last fall. That was a great help as I can only haul about 25 bags in my pickup truck. By using his trailer it increased the load capacity to about 100 bags.

    The library resource is awesome and at one time I was of your opinion. I have modified that some over the years to seeing if what I think would be an interesting book is at the library for review. If I like it then I buy it. I think there’s some value in supporting an author or magazine by buying the book or subscription.

    Have a great community day.


    • Bill says:

      I think I’m a generous lender, and a reluctant borrower. I suppose that’s better than the other way around.

      I love your community tool shed. I have a friend who’s done that in the city. He locks it at night but during the day the shed is open and folks are allowed to borrow and use anything they need. In his neighborhood that was a real act of faith. It’s been a blessing to his community.

      Even though I’m using the library more now, I still buy plenty of books. I’m just trying to be more sensible about it.


  6. I work in a library, and consequently borrow a lot of books. I also own a great number, many from before I began working here. I’ve evolved a system now whereby I “test drive” books from the library – someone says “you absolutely HAVE to read author xyz”, so I borrow one of their books from the library. If it’s something I know I’ll go back to, I’ll buy a copy later. If it’s not, I won’t. This works particularly well for reference type books – gardening, DIY, even cookbooks.

    I’m a terrible lender. I’m far too A type – I want to tie all sorts of strings to the lending. I try to mask it by sounding generous and cheerful, but it’s a little difficult to manage when I’m also trying to give them the 10 point instruction list on how to look after it, make it work, etc. I’ve had bad experiences with lending things in the past, and I guess this partly contributes to my attitude, but truthfully, I’m just not good at it.

    Borrowing is affected by my own concerns about lending, so I tend to be very careful with things I borrow. That said, I am also pretty bad about being timely with returning. Case in point: I ran out of room in my 3 freezers last year and my brother (a good lender) cheerfully offered me space in his to store some frozen “spent hen” chicken that I had – about 20. His freezer was virtually empty, all they were using it for was ice cream, so I happily took him up on it. And promptly forgot about them. This year, I called him to ask if he could loan me space for some pork, and he reminded me gently that he still had 20 chickens in his freezer of mine, and no space left. Ooops. I bought a new freezer.

    My girls borrow each other’s clothes, mostly with permission. And relatively cheerfully. Not so much when the sweater/jeans/jacket get torn or stained on the other hand.

    I relate borrowing to favours I think. I tend to have a tit for tat thing about them. If someone does me a favour or loans me something, I feel obligated to return the favour, or to make something available to them to borrow. Which makes it hard to borrow sometimes, knowing in advance that the person I am getting help from needs nothing I can offer.


    • Bill says:

      My wife (who is a former librarian herself) uses the library to “test drive” authors too. I spent a lot of time in the library was I was a (bookworm) boy. Out here in the country we’d get visits from the library “Bookmobile” in the summer. I loved it. But once I entered the “real world” and got a job so that I could finally afford books, I just quit going to the library. I spent a lot of time at bookstores instead. (Strangely enough, I was President of the Tampa Friends of the Library for years. I knew and appreciated the value of libraries, even though I didn’t use them.) Now I’m rediscovering the library. I still don’t borrow books as often as I should, but I’ve been able to break my music-buying habit by borrowing CDs from the library instead. That has saved me a bundle.

      The things I’m most likely to be reluctant to loan out are books and records. I guess that shows what I value. 🙂


  7. Jeff says:

    This whole discussion about borrowing and lending gets to the core of the reason capitalism has flourished: it commodifies borrowing and lending and eliminates, for the most part, the complicated interpersonal ties that are a product of borrowing and lending. I say “for the most part” because debtors’ prisons haven’t been outlawed. Oh, there aren’t any actual debtors’ prisons, but they surely exist in the allowance of usury and “company stores”.

    If you ever have some time to study a social institution, look into the existence of the commons. Contrary to what Garret Hardin wrote, the commons worked very well indeed because access to the commons was highly regulated. Hardin was an apologist for capital and a eugenicist. As capitalism rose to dominance, the commons declined to the point of near-extinction, at least in capitalist societies. The commons still works very well in “under-developed” and “primitive” societies. There is a commons movement building in capitalist societies these days, but I think it tends to try to “make friends” with capitalism, with which it shouldn’t be on speaking terms.

    The commons based “borrow and lend” economy existed for tens of thousands of years and was intimately tied to kinship relations. Capitalism is a new invention, dating only to the 14th century or so. It’s time we got back to a commons-based economy. Capitalism, while satisfying individual needs, does not work on a society-wide basis. There is more than ample evidence for that assertion, but not many people want to look at it. Everyone wants to “fix” capitalism. It can’t be fixed. When government exists to support a commons economy, a very large number of our problems will be solved. But government is in the hands of capitalists and exists to support capitalism. I don’t think that it is necessary to point out that politicians are in the pay of Wall Street, is it?

    The Libertarian chant about “free markets” and privatization is all about capitalizing social transactions. It has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with individual autonomy. A sharing economy is messy and needs government regulation to exist. Freedom is not found in expressions of individual choice – it is found in social interaction and service to others. That’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around for those immersed in capitalism, though. The definition of “freedom” also explains a lot about the crises of contemporary Christianity.


    • Bill says:

      It seems to me that an essential first step toward a return to community-based economies, where sharing is the norm and loans are interest-free, is to recover our sense of community. No one will want to share with people that they fear or dislike. Few will refuse to share with people they know and care for.


      • Jeff says:

        Aye, and that’s the rub. Capitalism, with its reification of individual desire, is in direct opposition to community. The only way out that I see is going to be because it will be increasingly expensive to live in coming decades because of the damage capitalism has done to the environment. People will be forced to be in community – their only other “choice” will be to starve. Unfortunately, homo sapiens is not, for the most part, pro-active.


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