By now, you’re already familiar with over consumption-busting slogans like ‘buy less, buy better’ or ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ and like all conscientious cheapos, increasingly shopping second hand. But there’s another novel concept spreading among Londoners – ‘buy less, borrow more’. Inovative new borrowing schemes like The Library of Things are a great alternative option to buying items that you’ll seldom use.

What is The Library of Things?

As its name suggests, a scheme where stuff can be borrowed, instead of borrowing books, you borrow things, particularly useful or specialist household stuff. According to LoT, 80% of household items are used less than once a month. The simple idea behind it all is that you can borrow decent quality items for a few quid and only pay for them when you need them. The LoT has teamed up with top brands like Bosch, Kärcher and STIHL to make borrowing an affordable, and appealing alternative to buying.

Borrower using the Library of Things
LoT is a community aspect at its heart | Photo by Eddie Hamilton, Seymour Powell

How does the Library of Things Work?

Although the LoT is designed to minimise waste and help people save money, there is also a community aspect at its heart. It’s a social enterprise that began as an experiment at West Norwood Library and also encourages local people to meet and share practical skills.

Each item is listed in the same way as it would be on an online shop, it has a photo and list of the features and benefits, in this case the amount of storage space saved, money saved vs buying and the environmental impact (waste saved from landfill). Listings also come with user tips, YouTube tutorials, and manufacturers manuals.

The basic rules of borrowing are clearly explained on the LoT website. There are five rules, but the TL:DR version is: return things on time, in good working condition and report any issues. You can borrow things as a same-day pick up (although you may as well pay for a one day loan as you’ll be charged the same), a multi day loan (up to four days) or a weekly loan, which comes with a little price cap at four days.

Each Library of Things works as a self-service kiosk. To get started, you just browse online and reserve an item at your nearest LoT, then head down to collect it, and bring it back all cleaned up and tidy for the next borrower – simple.

using a power drill from the library of things
Photo by

What kind of things can I borrow?

Items are arranged into various categories including DIY, adventuring (so far that’s camping gear), large cleaning items like carpet cleaners and pressure washers (shredders are an odd entry into this category, but it works if you want to do data clean up!), hobbying (a slightly random collection including bike repairs and pasta makers), and gardening including cordless lawnmowers and garden shears.

What are the costs of borrowing items?

There’s an upfront fee of a quid to become a borrower and make your first reservation. Items start from under a fiver to eight quid a day for DIY kit from power drills and hand sanders to planers and extendable ladder.

One tip for making purchases (or in turn, deciding on what to borrow), is working out the cost-per-use. Power tools might be a great thing to borrow, especially if you only use them occasionally, they’re expensive and bulky and if you don’t have much storage, they take up a lot of room too. On the other hand, a low cost pop-up tent is probably decent enough (and easy to store) if you’re just dusting it off for festival season.

There are discounts available for borrowers on a tighter budget, so you can sign up for a concession membership to get 25% off borrowing costs.

Where can I find a Library of Things in London?

So far, there are eight LoTs across north, south, east and west London. Current locations are Crystal Palace, Morden, Hackney Wick, Kentish Town, Finsbury Park, Dalston, Bromley, Woolwich and Hammersmith.

If you want a Library of Things but there isn’t one in your area yet, you might be want to spread the word about and partake in their crowd funder and share offer.

Woman using water blaster
Have a blast learning some new skills | Photo by Library of Things

What kind of skills sharing events can I join with the Library of Things?

The LoT runs regular repair parties and mending meetups, details of online events and links to similar events around the UK such as Restart Parties, where you can learn how to fix broken and slow devices from toasters to iPhones. Want to share some skills? You can sign up to be a skill share volunteer.

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Are there any other borrowing schemes in London?

Yes, if there isn’t a Library of things in your neighbourhood yet, or you have more specialist borrowing needs, check out Fat Llama. Often dubbed “The Airbnb for things”, Fat Llama is a startup that connects renters and borrowers, so if you do have a bunch of high quality items and want to make a bit of cash, it can work as a secondary income stream too. So it’s a peer-to-peer system rather than a community enterprise, and is UK-wide, not just London based.

The other key difference is categories. Fat Llama is much more specialist than DIY or general household items, so it’s great for serious hobbyists, tech enthusiasts and even petrol heads. You can borrow anything from drones and DJ equipment to chauffeur driven cars and even wedding dresses. The variety is bigger, but again consider the cost per-use value.

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