Why own a circular saw when you can just borrow one?

Duh! But what if none of your neighbors, friends, coworkers or family members have a circular saw, or extension ladder, or cement mixing tray or whatever tools your project requires? Wouldn’t it be great if there were a place where you could check out tools like books at a library—maybe after first browsing for them online—for little or no cost? Thankfully, such a good and feasible idea has already been turned into reality in more than 40 towns and cities around the world. These places where you can borrow tools, and sometimes take classes, are called tool libraries.

In the Twin Cities there are at least three community tool libraries: in South Minneapolis, Northeast Minneapolis, and the Hamline-Midway neighborhood in St. Paul. But you can also find them across the U.S., and in Canada, northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Fuzhou City, China. (Know of others? Please help update this map.)

Share Starter, a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington, published a set of guidelines to help groups interested in starting their own tool libraries. The guidelines cover critical topics such as understanding the local market, fundraising, staffing, and insurance and legal considerations.

If you’ve ever used a community tool library, how was the experience?

Small (and I mean small) ways to extend the life of your devices

Most smart phones, tablets and laptops are designed and marketed to last for about two years.

(Pause now and imagine billions of mobile phone, iPod and tablet users across the globe dumping their devices on a two-year cycle.)

There are, however, small things we can do to extend the life of the lithium-ion batteries inside our devices, which could extend the life of the devices themselves. (Check your device manufacturer’s specific recommendations. Here’s Apple’s info.)

  • Avoid extreme ambient temperatures, especially those above 95F/35C — don’t leave your device in a hot car, for example, and don’t use a case that allows heat to build up when the device is charging
  • Aim for moderate charging — regularly allow your battery to run down to 25%, but avoid allowing the battery to go to 0%; you don’t need to worry about over-charging
  • Lower your battery demand —keep WiFi on at all times (accessing WiFi uses less power than accessing cellular data), reduce display brightness, select low power mode or manually disable background applications, and disconnect peripherals and quit applications not in use
  • Avoid ultra-fast chargers
  • Update to the latest software

The “why” part of this post is at least two-fold.

One, most of us avoid thinking about what happens to our e-waste because we feel powerless. However, we can’t even begin to organize our power as consumers unless we become aware of the problems created by our e-waste. Scientific American magazine outlines the issues well in this blog post.

Two, the money we spend on devices goes somewhere. It goes to employees and middle class shareholders of companies like Samsung and Apple. It goes to tremendously wealthy shareholders. And it goes to support and grow the tech industry. Currently, two of those groups are well-organized and politically influential around their particular interests. We consumers can organize, too, to demand less exploitative and less environmentally damaging products and packaging. Greenpeace International and the International Campaign for Responsible Technology are two of many groups advocating for greener electronics.

Lastly, look for the least bad way to dispose of your e-waste. In the Twin Cities, TechDump is one option.


Twin Cities option for donating fabric, yarn, textile tools

If you’re in the Twin Cities and want to find a good home for unused fiber arts materials−or if you’re looking for some good deals on materials−mark your calendar!

16th Annual World’s Largest Textile Garage Sale in Minneapolis  — Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Textile Center will accept donations between 10am-7pm on Thursday, April 7 at the University of Minnesota ReUse Center warehouse in Minneapolis.

Items accepted:

  • fabric
  • yarn
  • thread, notions, and buttons
  • patterns, magazines, and books
  • beads
  • sewing machines, tools, looms, and specialty equipment

The Textile Center is a non-profit organization that displays works of fiber art in its gallery, rents studio space, offers classes, and sells books, supplies, and finished work. The garage sale is their largest fundraiser.


A Twin Cities reuse option for fabric, yarn, textile tools

Zeeda Magnuson fabric art

Fabric art by Zeeda Magnuson on display at the Textile Center.

I happen to live near a non-profit organization called the Textile Center. The center displays works of fiber art in its gallery, rents studio space, offers classes, and sells books, supplies, and finished work.

And that’s where I went to unload a sweater hand knit just for me. Because it had been made with heavy wool yarn, it fit me like a boat anchor, and because it had been hand knit just for me, I could not simply put it in a bag for Goodwill. I thought someone at the Textile Center might be interested in unweaving and reusing the yarn, and instead a young knitter said she would take the sweater and wear it.

The knitter also told me about the Textile Center’s biggest fundraiser: each spring they collect donations of fabric, yarn, and notions, and books and tools for making fiber works, then sell them at deeply discounted prices.

If you’re in the Twin Cities and want to find a good home for unused materials−or if you’re looking for some good deals on materials−mark your calendar!

15th Annual Textile Center sale in Minneapolis  — Saturday, April 11, 2016

Donations will be accepted from 10am-7pm on Thursday, April 11 at the University of Minnesota ReUse Center warehouse in Minneapolis.

If you live in Minneapolis or St. Paul…

Some free, hands-on help with your simplifying
Are you looking for some free hands-on help or motivation with your simplifying? I am looking for a “test case”—someone in Minneapolis or St. Paul I could work with in two three-hour sessions to test my abilities to coach and help someone through the simplifying process. If that sounds interesting, please contact me at ellentveit@gmail.com.

Free repair services
This spring and summer there are good opportunities to have your broken items fixed for free! I brought a knit glove with a hole in the finger (and some scrap yarn) and a broken electric tea kettle to an April Fix-it Fair and left with a hole-less glove and a broken tea kettle with a diagnosis (bad heating element). That April fix-it clinic brought together many talented volunteer fixers and saved 663 pounds of items needing repair at no cost to the item owners. Wow!

The fix-it fairs are organized by a woman-owned St. Paul business called Fixity along with community partners. Check Fixity’s Facebook page for upcoming dates — right now the next fix-it fair is planned for June 28 as part of the St. Paul Public Library’s Maker Fest. Check to see if the fix-it fair includes a recycling drop off for ewaste—you may be able to cross multiple things off your to-do list!

Recycling and disposing of unwanted stuff

If you’re actively reducing your stuff, you’ve undoubtedly wondered how you can find a new home for usable items or how to properly dispose of others. Below is a not-comprehensive list of resources in Minneapolis/St. Paul. There may be similar resources where you live.

Art, craft, and some office supplies
ArtScraps Reuse Store, St. Paul (call ahead to see what they can use)

Home electronics and phones
Best Buy stores (multiple locations)

Home electronics, including printers and computer cables
Tech Dump, Golden Valley

Dispose of mercury-containing CFL and fluorescent bulbs responsibly—ask if your hardware store has a collection program or take the bulbs to your local hazardous waste disposal site; LED bulbs don’t contain mercury, but their parts can be recycled—ask if the retailer where you purchased them has a recycling program

Tips for disposing of medications at home

Recycle your old eyeglasses

Return wire hangers to the dry cleaner

Recycle Brita water filters at most Whole Foods Markets

Furniture and clothing consignment in the Twin Cities

Household chemicals, used motor oil and filters, electrical cords, and needles and other sharps
Ramsey County Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites
Hennepin County Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites

Tools, and new and gently used home improvement and building supplies
ReStore, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, Roseville

Other things including clothing in good condition, mattresses, magazines, cloth, and medical equipment
Hennepin County A-to-Z How to Get Rid of It Guide
Time to Organize


Community oganics composting
MacGrove organics site offers 24/7 access for people who live or work in St. Paul (by recycling and using this organics site, we have reduced our household garbage by about 85%)

Organics recycling is also now available at six Ramsey County Compost sites; check the schedule for site hours

Yard and tree waste
Ramsey County Yard Waste Collection Sites
Hennepin County Yard and Tree Waste Disposal