gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

There’s a certain irony in this homemade life that I have been trying to figure out. The whole point for me has been to live more simply, and become less dependent on having to buy and consume. Yet, the truth is that making things oneself requires—at least initially—certain tools. And unless one is either very intentional or very creative, or both, acquiring them often means more purchasing. My husband did not fail to point out the irony when I was initially embarking on my “made from scratch” adventures and was hauling home cheese-making and soap-making and canning gear. Wasn’t it paradoxical to buy things so that we wouldn’t have to buy things—to accumulate more possessions in order to live with less?

I didn’t exactly like to hear it at the time, but of course, on some level he was right. Since then, thankfully, I’ve started finding ways to avoid making homesteading just another excuse for a shopping spree. One is to try to wait and see if it’s possible meet a given need in some other way. A lot can be bought used—for example, I found the big enamel vats and metal stirring spoons I use for natural dyeing at Goodwill. Freecycle and Craiglist are other great sources. If I buy new, I try to get the best quality I can afford so that the tools last for a long time, and to think of them as investments.

But the best solution to this dilemma is simple: sharing. In Portland, we’re lucky to have people so committed to the idea of sharing resources and tools that they started “libraries” for home and garden tools and kitchen equipment. That’s right—a free (or virtually free) membership allows you check out all kinds of fancy tools for a week at a time.

tool libraryThe Southeast Portland Tool Library is a public lending library for home and garden tools. It’s entirely run by volunteers, and membership is free. They have over 1200 tools. We have checked out drills, saws, rakes, ladders, pry bars, leaf shredders, trusty old push-mowers to mow the front lawn, and wheel barrows (that is, until we realized we needed it almost every week, and Dan bought me my red wheel barrow—truly, this man knows how to make a girl happy!!). In short, there are so many things one needs only once, or very rarely, and there’s no reason why we should all own one of everything.

Recently, I was very excited to hear rumors that a similar library was being opened for kitchen tools. Kitchen Share SE is now operating, is also run by volunteers, and a one-time membership donation of $10 gets you unlimited access to one-week loans of fancy kitchen equipment. Again, most of us don’t need a pressure canner, or ice-cream maker, or dehydrator, or apple cider press, year-round.

This is what neighborliness and sustainability looks like. This is what simple living, kept simple, looks like. This is what we should see more of in every town, or on a smaller scale in neighborhoods. What forms of sharing, or other ways of reducing the amount of redundant purchases, are going on (or you would like to see going on) where you live?

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