Public Libraries and Unconventional Borrowing


This is the Salt Lake City Library. It’s beautiful. I write here, read here and meet friends to gab and brainstorm here. There are several floors of books and other resources that I can borrow for weeks at a time.

The first time I decluttered my home with the intention of becoming clutter-free, it was almost easy because I had so much stuff. Each pass I made after the first became easier as I discovered the benefits of living with less and more challenging as I got down to the stuff that was harder to release.

I got rid of excess stuff and clutter in this order:

  • Trinkets and stuff I never used or liked
  • Multiples of household items like silverware and measuring cups
  • Clothing/Jewelry/Accessories (Thanks to Project 333)
  • Other stuff that started to feel excessive once the first 3 categories were gone
  • Sentimental items
  • Books

The process wasn’t as clean and linear as described above, but it went sort of like that.

I got rid of my books last, but still use them on a regular basis. We don’t have book shelves in our new tiny space, but I am still an avid reader thanks to the public library. Each time I walk into the library, I am inspired by all of the words waiting on shelves to move, change or entertain me. I recently borrowed Elaine St. James’ Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. When I return them, I’ll borrow another book or two. While I still purchase books to support awesome authors, I give the books away when I’m done reading.

Letting go of my books was harder than it needed to be. I don’t miss them and gave way to much thought to what life would be like without them. Just because my home is book free, doesn’t mean my life is book free. Realizing that made me think about other things we can borrow. I haven’t taken advantage of these resources, and they aren’t available everywhere, but if you are interested, consider other ways to borrow.

Unconventional Libraries

Tool Libraries. Check out this interview about the West Seattle Tool Library or this list of tool libraries all over world. Do you really need your own lawn mower or home improvement tools that you rarely use?

Clothing Libraries. You can rent special occasion clothes, shop consignment or share items with friends. If you are unemployed or in need of clothing for job interviews, check your local area for organizations like Dress for Success that donate or loan business attire so you don’t have to invest in something you may only need once or twice.

Work Space. If you are starting your own microbusiness or you work on your own, you probably don’t need a dedicated office space. Work at a local coffee shop for the cost of a latte, or for free at your local library. There are great co-working space options popping up everywhere too. Check out concepts like Gangplank or Workbar or form your own local group to share a space.

Use and/or support unconventional libraries by borrowing and donating as a way to reduce consumption in your own life and help out those truly in need of items that they cannot afford to purchase. If you can’t find one in your area, think about creating one.

Sharing and borrowing will help you enjoy without attachment and will likely make your future decluttering efforts even easier.

Borrowing space, books and other resources from my city library has made me start thinking about what else I can borrow if I need it. I think I use everything I own now, but then again, I used to think I couldn’t live without my books.

What do you borrow now, or wish you could lend or borrow? 


  1. says

    What a beautiful spot to write, to be, to read! I like the idea of tool libraries. We haven’t accessed one, but I think it’s intriguing because some tools can cost so much.

  2. andrea_upnorth says

    Public libraries are great places to be utilized by the community. However, as a former librarian and current library board member, please do not use the library to set up your “office”. Sounds great if you are just using the library’s WiFi and copier but is a different matter when running cords to outlets and constantly asking to use office supplies.

    • Courtney Carver says

      Some libraries are set up better for working remotely. This library has several sections dedicated to that function.

      • Beverly Hansen says

        We do indeed. Once in a while someone will step over the line, though. A few days ago we had a patron try to set up a massage studio, of all things, in one of the A.V. study rooms!

  3. says

    Books were hard for me as well. I kept a few. Cookbooks were very hard, even though you can get any recipe that you desire on the internet. There is something sentimental about the tomato stained pages of a cookbook. Oh well, no room for nostalgia in my tiny home. The freedom that tiny living has given us more than makes up for any loss in sentimentality.

    Dan @ Healthy Food Matters

  4. says

    As a person in the middle(OK, OK, beginning) stages of decluttering, I appreciated the order. That appears to be the order I am going in as well. As a librarian, I am jealous that you get to hang out in such a beautiful environment, but love the idea of alternate libraries. My husband and I recently visited a little library in Belize. When I spotted a sewing machine on a shelf I got all excited. Turns out one friend was leaving it there for another person to pick up, but the idea of having libraries for things like that has stuck with me. Borrowing something like that would have its drawbacks (what to do if it comes back broken), but it still appeals to me. Thanks for a great post!

  5. Thomas says

    There are little “libraries” installed in disused phone boxes where you can take books for free. You just have to put another in, or more if you want. Nice idea in small villages or towns without a public library. Works good if there is maintenance from time to time.

    I was thinking about a network where neighbours can borrow tools and garden equipment. Everyone put’s a tool in a small shed which is easly accessible for all and then can take whatever he or she needs for a day or so. There should also be maintenance, of course, and a book where you can write in which tool you used and when (for tracking). Saves space at home, no need to purchase tools rarely used and strengthens community.

  6. says

    The SLC library looks almost identical to the downtown Minneapolis public library. So much so that I actually thought it *was* the downtown Minneapolis library before I started to read the post. I guess there are only so many beautiful, modern public library designs around, eh?

    I know you didn’t mention the words “collaborative consumption” in this post Courtney, but your words embody the spirit of this movement. If people dig this post then I think they’ll dig Shareable too. Here’s the link if anyone wants to check it out:

  7. says

    I somewhat recently found your blog and wondered if you didn’t live in Salt Lake! I am currently in Bountiful (owning) but plan to be in downtown Salt Lake in a few years (renting), so your blog is working as a kind of guide for me. Good stuff and I am enjoying it!

  8. Kris says

    In our small city, we have a wonderful art museum, a real blessing for a city this size. They have a lending library of, not only books on art, but artwork itself. I used this service when I first got married and had little money for decorating our small apartment. Your posting reminded me of this service and I am going to revisit it. I always had a reverence for books and it killed me to get rid of them. But I recently began to downsize and simplify and went through the piles of books that I had collected. Many were mildewed, some I had never gotten around to reading and I began to realize that the book itself is just another object. It is the literature that feeds the soul. And that can be accomplished by borrowing the book from a library, buying or borrowing an on-line book, or purchasing a book and then passing it on for another to share. Keep it simple.

  9. Lindsay says

    Lived down the street from a library when I was a kid. Love, love, love the library!!! I used to also love having shelves and shelves of books in my home but now I’ve realized books are meant to be read, loved and shared so I’ve pared down quite a bit. I’d rather release books back into the world for someone else to read than sit gathering dust on my shelves.

  10. says

    Courtney! That is a heck of a library. Most of Houston’s are less than appealing. Wish we had a Gangplank or Workbar local here. We could easily share a work space with someone who worked during the day as we teach after school. Damn! I suppose we could begin a Gangplank here, but that sounds like it takes a bit of doing;)

  11. MelD says

    For those of you with access to good libraries, be grateful.
    There are libraries where I live, but they neither have books in my mother tongue nor do they have a very broad selection of books in the local language. They do not accept donations nor do they get hold of books the public might ask for. The librarians choose which books are bought and that is that. Older books are destroyed. If you want serious tomes, you need to know what you’re looking for and order at the desk, there is no access to the underground archive.
    Eat your hearts out…
    And don’t wonder that although I have disposed of over half my books in the last 10 years, I won’t be getting rid of them all by a long shot!!

  12. says

    It is always refreshing to see that there are people out there in the world that are sharing, learning to appreciate the “lessness” of things. As a child I learned to share toys with my sisters, now my husband and I share as much as we own with people that are willing to accept the responsibility that comes along with respecting other peoples things. Slowly but surely we are becoming eco-minimalists and getting rid of our books is still on our to-do list.

  13. says

    There is a certain beauty and art about libraries. Our society is losing touch with them in this age of instant gratification using our Kindles, iPads, and other pieces of technology. Libraries can be a wonderful source for more than just books and places to work. Thanks for reminding me!

  14. says

    Libraries were the reason I got rid of my books first before I started with the rest. It is easier to get rid of something when you know you don’t loose access to it.

    In my hometown “my” library was within walking distance, and another, bigger one was within biking distance, so I figured that I didn’t need any books as I could borrow them anytime I wanted. Although I have to admit that it was kind of hard at the beginning, since “my” books had a special sentimental value for me (which is a little bit strange maybe).

  15. Elle says

    The comment above that “books are meant to be read, loved and shared” is spot on. The best book I have read so far this year is one that I found a few days ago while leaving a conference – another participant staying on the same floor as me had left a little pile of books and cosmetics she didn’t want to take with her, and I took a book.

    When I’ve finished it, I’m going to leave it in a special book-swapping place near where I live – it’s a tree in the street that has had it’s trunk hollowed out and made into a bookcase. It even has curtains so that the books don’t get wet when it rains :)

    As for libraries, I’m lucky to live near a beautiful one, and I sometimes go there to read my kindle!

  16. says

    I had a criteria in getting rid of books. When I first started this process the idea was to not touch the books (WHAT!?!?!?! GET RID OF MY BOOKS/ FRIENDS?????? NEVER!!!!!). As I was further along in my simplicity process and able to let go of items I thought I would never part with I opened each book & if it creaked… it was out!

    I have always been a lover of my local library, but relying on it more & more, in addition to the library at the local university, of which I am an alumni & get borrowing privileges, I have also gotten to know the people who work there and have made some good friends.

  17. says

    Some other libraries I’ve seen are art lending (already mentioned), fishing gear, and toys! I’m a public librarian too, and I have to admit I also get frustrated by people who take the idea of using their library as an office a bit too far – as andrea_upnorth mentioned. We constantly have people asking to use our phone and fax, and beg for envelopes, and walk away without paying for their printing! But I do think that libraries and coffee shops are great places to get some work done – it’s not always productive to be cooped up in the house!

  18. says

    We have a really awesome clothing library here in Helsinki: you pay a half-year subscription, and then lend 2 clothing items each week. It is a blessing for people (well, women) who want to dress with less and still wear something new every week. It’s called Vaatelainaamo = Clothing libaray in Finnish.

  19. Beverly Hansen says

    Wow–I didn’t know you were so close; I work at the SLC main library in A.V. Yep, it’s a great place, and libraries can make a real difference if you’re trying to simplify or minimize. Borrowing books, movies, etc. save plenty of money and space in your home. We also have some fine books on the art of simplifying your life. We’ve just hired on a new director who has some ideas for extending our lending services into things like cake pans and Jello molds; if you have more ideas, we’d be more than happy to look at them!

    • Jenna says

      kids toys and jigsaws and the like. Our old library had a great little selection, then we moved states and I miss it :(

  20. Karen T. says

    Wow, what a gorgeous library! My small town has a correspondingly small library, and the building doesn’t get much natural light, so it’s a little depressing to spend much time in it.

    I walked with my dad to the library every week when I was a kid, something I always looked forward to. I still visit my small library every couple of weeks, and something I really appreciate is the inter-library loan system. I can log on to the regional library website (it covers several local counties), search for a book a friend has recommended, or that is a sequel to something else I liked, or that I’ve seen in the book store, request the book, and in a few days I can pick it up at my own local library! I’ve read lots of books this way that aren’t on my library’s shelves.

  21. Becki says

    Hi Courtney,

    Great post, giving up books is tough for a lot of people. What did you end up doing with your cookbooks? I remember your “Just One Cookbook project” post, will you be sharing any updates on that project soon?

    I would love to hear what solution you came up with. I have too many cookbooks and big 3-ring binder of recipes. Getting them online would be so great, but it sounds pretty overwhelming!

  22. CJ says

    I couldn’t bear to get rid of my books so in the end I donated them to our local library. I figured I could revisit my ‘friends’ whenever I liked. And have I? Nope – I borrow lots of different books instead.