Nearly 5 years ago now, before ‘the sharing economy’ was a buzz word, our small band of friends came together in Toronto over a concern for the state of the world – poverty, the environment, mental health, discrimination, war, debt. We wanted to solve ALL the problems. Not long after meeting, we learned about a Tool Lending Library in Vancouver and thought that maybe this would be a good place to start for Toronto as well:
If we could inspire people to share tools, could the sharing movement expand in a way that would make a real difference in reducing over-consumption of goods while increasing access to what people need?
Now four years later, the answer seems to be coming up yes. Last year we opened Canada’s first ever Library of Things, The Sharing Depot, and now, our small but growing team of board members and volunteers are currently in the midst of opening our fourth location in the city at 830 St. Clair West. This location will include not just a tool library, but a Sharing Depot and a permanent space for the Repair Cafe Toronto!
Running a non-profit tool library is no easy task – it takes a massive volunteer effort as any money made goes back into running the library. We wanted to take a moment to tell you a little bit about why we do what we do:
Buying less stuff means we can reduce the amount we are dumping into our landfills. Canada, due to its overwhelming waste problem, is now shifting its waste management strategy in this direction with an emphasis on the first of the three Rs: REDUCE.
Sharing items within a community is a great way to reduce unnecessary consumption. If you imagine the amount of energy and materials that go into making and distributing a single tool (the oil and rare metals used to create it, the gas used to ship it all over the world, the packaging it comes in, etc.) you can imagine how effective it would be if one drill was being used by a community rather than sitting in every household’s basement. The mass, private ownership of tools makes little social sense when we consider that most domestic power tools are used for just 10% of the time they are designed to last and spend the rest of their lives depreciating in basements and storage units.
THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
The devil’s advocate might ask: but if so many people are using a single tool, won’t that wear the tool out faster rendering it useless and in need of quicker replacement? While many things are not built with longevity in mind (cheap materials and poor construction contribute to built-in obsolescence), the hope is that if lending libraries for things were to become popular enough, the movement would pressure manufacturers to create more durable, longer-lasting items. In a similar vein, the sharing movement with its roots in environmental activism could work towards favouring manufacturers that build items with their end-of-life in mind, pushing towards a fully fledged circular economy.
This is one of the reasons we make our Lending Library model open-source and coach people from all over the world to help them open their own Tool Library or Library of Things. The bigger the movement grows, the more likely we can make this happen.
But we aren’t there yet. So until then, dare to repair! We have a team of fixers who work with us on a weekly basis to fix and maintain our tools. The goal is to extend the life cycle of our tools for as long as possible. Where someone who owns a tool might toss it when it breaks because they don’t have the skills or money to get it fixed, when you have a community centre for sharing resources you also have people who are dedicated to keeping those items in good working order. And, when a tool has reached the end of its working days, we retire it with dignity by salvaging usable parts and properly disposing of the rest.
This is why we are very excited that our new location at St. Clair West will provide a permanent home for Toronto’s Repair Cafe, enabling them to host repair workshops several times a week instead of monthly.
Sharing tools builds a lot more than shelves and DIY projects: when you share resources, a creative hub emerges where people come together to help each other out. Sharing tools allows individuals to be part of a community of like-minded makers, builders, re-builders, tinkerers, experimenters and innovators.
Beyond the immediate community within the tool library, sharing tools simultaneously serves to bolster the broader neighbourhood by giving people access to tools and the knowledge to use them who otherwise would not be able to afford it. When everyone is paying a small fee to have access to all the tools, everyone benefits. Suddenly those who were not able to afford renovations to their home are empowered with the skills and tools to do it themselves. Those who did not have a space to brainstorm, create and problem solve are given a place and a network to do so.
Toronto, like so many cities, is expensive. If you need an item only occasionally, what sense is there in spending money on that thing to own it?
If you need a tool for a project (or even a couple of projects) it is smarter financially to have access to them when you need them rather than forking over all this cash for something you are hardly going to use.
In the same vein, if you own a lot of stuff you need a place to put it. Canada’s self-storage industry is now second in the world only to the United States – it’s so big, in fact, that it generated its very own reality-TV series: ‘Storage Wars‘.
And this may be the very reason that Minimalism as a lifestyle is soaring into vogue with best-sellers like Marie-Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.’ We are like a child who has gorged on too much candy and is now reeling from the stomach ache, waking up to understand that owning things is not the key to happiness and that perhaps the American Dream has been more of a nightmare after all.
To bring it back to tools, Greg, who sits on the board of the non-profit behind the tool library in Toronto, puts it nicely: “Sharing tools doesn’t just give me access to things I don’t own – it lets me do more with what I already have. The space in my home that isn’t taken up by unnecessary possessions gives me the freedom to be creative there.”
When you give people a chance to share items they otherwise would have purchased for themselves individually, you provide an opportunity to think about what else could be shared. Living in a culture that surrounds us with messages of ‘buy endlessly’ and encourages people to express their sense of identity through owning things, it can be tricky to convince them to live any other way. Tools are a good place to start when helping people through an attitude shift from individual ownership to shared use.
The truth is, we produce a lot of waste. We overwork ourselves to have money to buy things we don’t really need when the science says stuff doesn’t even make us happy. We have a lot of people in need on this planet who could probably be taken care of if we made a few systemic changes. We have the resources, it’s just matter of sharing them.
This shift in attitude happens slowly over time – the more we share, the more open to sharing we become.