Before the advent of money in around 5000 BC, people used the barter economy to exchange goods and services. Now, in the 21st Century, more people are turning back to this age-old practice in the hopes of a simpler life.
The rise of the internet has revolutionised the way that people connect with like-minded communities – and sustainability groups have seized the opportunity to push the concepts of sharing and borrowing as a way to reduce landfill and cut down on unwanted goods and produce.
In the high-density population of Melbourne’s inner north, where most residents live in apartments or terraces, finding room to store tools for DIY projects can be tricky.
Hence the birth of the Brunswick Tool Library. After moving from the United States to Melbourne, founder Joleen Hess was suffering from an oversupply of tools, a lack of space and a love of handy projects.
“I do a lot of DIY and jobs for my friends, so I acquired a lot of tools,” she says.
“Some of the tools I’d never use after the one use, and my friends were borrowing things and I started thinking maybe a tool library would be a good idea in Brunswick.
“A home tool’s average use for DIY is about 12 minutes and then it gets stuck in the cupboard.”
Hess had been a member of a tool library in Portland, Oregon, and contacted them for advice about how to start her own locally. The Brunswick venture launched in May last year, with the idea of creating a community shed, and now boasts a membership of almost 120 people. The fees charged to members cover rent and tool maintenance, but Hess is still searching to find a government grant or commercial sponsor to help cover the insurance costs.
You borrow tools as you would a book in a library, and face a small fine, usually accompanied by a friendly call from one of the library’s volunteers, if you’re late to return an item.
Following the launch, Hess started her first Woodworking Wednesday workshops to pass on her own skills and knowledge to those willing to give DIY a go.
“Ideally, we want to run workshops to make people feel more comfortable using the tools, and make things,” she says of the classes.
“My theory is that people are maybe a little bit scared of the tools, even though they might enjoy the aspect of building something on their own.
“I used to run Woodworking Wednesdays out of my backyard and it was really quite neat to see people who didn’t know they could build anything, and they walk out with a table or something.”
One of the best benefits is social.
“It can be a social area [where] you might run into people you don’t know that might live around the corner from you,” she says.
“We’ve had barbecues and it’s turned into a bit of a hub for that, just somewhere to get to know your neighbours.”
Here’s our guide to borrow, trade and share your way to a richer life – not to mention a smaller credit card bill.
Why own a car? Well, there are plenty of reasons -but if you live in an area where you don’t always need one, try a sharing instead. GoGet operates from Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, with pods around the metropolitan areas. You pay a joining fee – the GoStarter option is $49 annually – plus a per hour fee to use the car.
For an economy car, it’s $9.90 per hour, plus $0.40 per km. Melbourne operation Flexicar has been taken over by car-hire giant Hertz, so the locations around Victoria’s capital are prolific. Its annual fee is $70, with hourly rates from $13.50. Gumtree also offer a car share category, which works for finding travel buddies to share the load on longer trips as well as commuting.
Borrow a bike
Riding around on a bike is a good alternative to driving, and it’s even better when it’s free. In Adelaide, you can hire a free bike daily. In Melbourne, it’s a $2.80 fee per day, or you can get an annual subscription. Likewise in Brisbane there’s a daily fee, or you can buy an annual subscription for $60.
The Brunswick Tool Library describes itself as being “like walking into a shed with a library card and checking out tools”. You can borrow tools for a small annual fee of $60, or $40 concession. And if you have a shed of items gathering rust, you can donate your excess. The library also offer workshops as well as tips for the casual handyperson. There are plans for similar libraries in Brisbane and Western Australia.
Food from friends
— Sophia MacRae (@SophiaMacRae) February 1, 2014
Community gardens have become a coveted commodity in high-density areas of Australia’s capital cities as a great way to eat fresh vegetables. Check your local Council for details or more general information here. In Melbourne’s Fitzroy, Altona and Williamstown, there’s a monthly exchange where you can trade produce, gardening tips and a friendly chat.
In South Australia, you can head to Henley Beach or Semaphore at various times during the month. If you want to start your own, check out Urban Harvest’s guide here. There are now more than a few cafés that encourage their patrons to bring in excess herbs, vegetables and fruit from their garden, rather than pay money for their meals. In Victoria, you can try Lady Bower in Reservoir. The Wine Library in Sydney and Café Troppo in Adelaide also have similar arrangements.
There’s nothing quite as cathartic as cleaning out your wardrobe, except perhaps re-filling it. The Clothing Exchange, which stages events nationally, has the potential to scratch both itches in one go – for free (almost). It costs $15 to attend – and it’s recommended that you bring clean clothes in good condition, so that means no underwear, bathers or trackies. There are also numerous online options, such as Thread Swap (Australian site coming soon), or you could organise your own with a group of friends.
Give and get online
There are a number of websites that operate on a pay-it-forward concept. While you can’t trade or buy, you can give or request for free. There are groups in operation around the country on Freecycle, including in rural areas, some more active than others. Givit works with charities to request items for people who can’t afford them.
Gumtree’s swap/trade section is where life as a trader can really get interesting. It’s worth keeping an eye out – as much as for free amusement as anything else. If you have a spare iPhone lying in a drawer, you could score a set of tyres. Or perhaps you’re sick of that jet ski or tent you never use? Trade the waves or campsite for the road and this bike.
An organisation that promotes play time? Sign us up. Toy Libraries Australia are available across the country, loaning out educational items aimed at pre-school aged kids in return for an annual subscription. The cost depends on the number of families in the library – from $15 for up to 15 families, up to $125 for a group of more than 200 families.
Free books are one thing most Australians can access with ease. Your local library is free to join. But if you want something without a return date, try Book Swap Australia or Book Mooch. You get points for each book you post that allows you to get one in return.
— Behomm Community (@behomm_com) September 12, 2013
Why shell out big bucks for a holiday home, or countless hotel rooms, when you can swap it instead? Home Link is the world’s oldest home-sharing website, with local coordinators to help you out. It costs $250 annually for an international listing – but that’s less than one night’s accommodation in most hotels. Home Exchange also offers monthly or annual subscriptions of up to $500, with access to more than 50,000 homes in 150 countries. If you are lucky enough to work in design or a creative industry, you’ll be eligible for a home swap at Behomm – but be warned, the standard of housing is very, very high.