Christobel Munson explores the convenient treasures of The Library of Stuff, where borrowing beats buying and creates an awareness of our excessive expense and unnecessary waste.
Scenario 1. You’re planning an important event – a 21st birthday party, a wedding or a wake. You’ll be needing plates, cutlery, cups, napkins, tablecloths, even the marquee and chairs. You can buy them but then there’s the cost and what do with these items after the event. Lots of this ends up in landfill.
Scenario 2. You’d love to blitz that special area of your garden one weekend. But the tools you’d need make the job easier are expensive to buy, and you’d only need them once or twice a year. So maybe you’ll buy a cheaper version, even though you know they’re not built to last. Landfilll again.
Around the world and around Australia, a community-driven grassroots movement has been initiating a new way of accessing infrequently used items: via libraries of things.
Around 40 libraries exist around Australia, mostly in large cities. The first one to cover the Byron Shire – the Library of Stuff, established in 2017 – is based in Mullumbimby.
Co-founder Sasha Mainsbridge was inspired by the documentary The Story of Stuff, by San Francisco’s Annie Leonard. AsSasha explains: “The Story of Stuff details the detrimental effects of increasing consumption of low-quality consumer goods. With cheap, less durable options available, more expensive, longer-lasting goods are being purchased less and less, and the impact is evident in the increasing volume of waste our communities are producing, and climate change. The majority of emissions generated are directly related to the extraction, distribution and disposal of goods for human consumption.”
As she puts it: “Sharing and repairing are decidedly radical acts these days. Why? They directly oppose the capitalist purpose of modern society.”
You may – or may not – see yourself as a radical opposing the capitalist purpose of modern society. But you may well be considering the cost – both financial, and to the environment – of your upcoming family event or your proposed DIY garden make-over, for example.
A volunteer team of 10 operates the Library of Stuff, a community asset and a project of Mullum Cares Inc. It is filled “with good quality items that are shared amongst its members and provides affordable access to items for the Byron Shire community”. To use any of the 1,247 items in its inventory, you become a member paying $50 for an annual subscription, and you contribute what you can to the running of the operation. Since it began, the Library has loaned out 12,301 items.
Located in a brick shed south of Mullumbimby Community Hall, it is open for two hours, three days a week. Repairs on inventory items are performed by two of the team.
Among the most frequently borrowed items are a pole saw, quoits (there are heaps of kids’ games available), hedge trimmer, orbital sander, sewing machine, a Gerni and a trailer.
The inventory includes sporting equipment, games, camping equipment and hobbies and crafts.
Co-founder Celine Massa puts it like this. “We’re not just a cheap hire service. We’re a community non-profit organisation composed of like-minded people. Members get involved with the Library operation and can get to know others living in their community, while being able to give back to a cause they really believe in.”
Active members are welcome. “We’re a movement,” Celine explains. “In participating, our members become part of that movement. They’re saying: ‘This is the kind of world I want to be part of, that I want to create’. They’re saying: ‘I want to reduce the amount of stuff I own and decrease my impact on the environment’.”
Feedback from users is universally positive. “The library is a place full of hope for us as a community. It is a practical answer to issues relating to reducing our individual consumption, stepping away from a monetary only exchange. And the conversations and community have helped me personally, enormously,” says Sarah.
“The Library of Stuff is the answer to becoming more ecologically friendly and financially savvy. Every town should have a Library of Stuff. It’s essential, and I can’t imagine myself going without a membership,” says Anna.
“I love the Library of Stuff because (it) allows us to borrow things instead of buying them… I think the library demonstrates that there is another path. We can share and repair. Kids these days are desperate for hope for the future of their planet and the Library of Stuff provides that hope. It illustrates a practical way that we all, as members, can make a difference in the world,” says Dominque.