The Boundaries of Borrowing

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It’s a mystery in the Smith household - where did our Ken Burns Jazz DVDs series go?  Every so often we try to remember who we may have lent them to.  Did a person we lent them to forget to return them?  

You may face similar situations.  

Let’s take a look at the boundaries (and etiquette rules) of lending and borrowing.

The Rights of a Lender

Ownership implies that you have the right to allow or not to allow others access to your property.  You probably wouldn't lend to someone you if you didn't trust the person to return the item in a timely manner and in good shape, 

A rule of thumb is to remember that whatever you lend, it is possible that you may lose it. 

Will you have a 'no lending' rule for some things, but not for others?  Will you lend physical items, but refrain from lending money?  You are the one to decide. 

The etiquette guidelines then easily follow.  Your "No" and "Yes" categories are shared in whatever ways that are courteous and respectful.   

Borrowers are sometimes embarrassed to ask.  It's very kind to think of others ways you can help.  If you have a "no lending money" policy, you might offer to help your family member with a budgeting plan.

The Responsibilities of a Borrower

If you are a borrower, you are indebted to the owner of whatever it is you’ve borrowed.  This should be incentive for you to care for the item as if it were your own.  Returning it in a timely manner and good condition will ensure the lender regards you as responsible and trustworthy.

You are also entrusted to:

  • Ask before you borrow anything.
  • Be respectful if you are told “No.”  We each have our own personal policies around what we lend people, and what we keep in our possession.  It’s a very individual decision and nothing to build resentment over.  “Of course, I understand,” is a sentence that will always serve you well in this situation.
  • Be mindful of any agreements that are in place. (“Yes, I said you could borrow it for a while, but that did not mean six months!”)
  • Ask in advance – especially for big things.  And be prepared to arrange pick-up, delivery, etc. yourself.  (For example, if you need to borrow your friend’s outdoor chairs for your wedding.)
  • Repair or replace anything damaged, broken, lost, or stolen.  (You might also want to check that it’s not damaged or broken before you borrow it.)
  • Send a thank-you note or token of appreciation once you’ve returned something to its owner. 
  • Be ready to reciprocate if you are asked to lend something!  


When Borrowing is Not a Good Idea

The last responsibility of a respectful borrower is knowing when not to ask.  This is when good boundaries come into play.

  • Are your own resources exhausted?  Have you weighed your options?  Are you clear on exactly how long you will need the item?  If it's money, do you know precisely when and how you will repay it?
  • If you don’t rank higher than acquaintance level with someone, it’s best not to overstep that boundary.  (Should you ask to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower when you haven’t exchanged regular pleasantries?)
  • Remember that borrowing can be a friendship killer.  Sometimes the person you are planning to ask may not be as comfortable saying "No" than "Yes."   Putting people outside of their comfort zone isn't good for relationships.
  • Consider letting your friend or family member (whom you would like to ask a favor) that you are giving them a heads up; that you want to ask a favor and you do't know their lending or favor-granting personal policies.  (Keep your word and wait.)


Avoiding Conflict

When it comes to borrowing from close friends and family, never assume anything.  

Even though husbands, wives, and domestic partners definitely enjoy benefits of companionship and a sense of sharing, they still may have things they consider exclusively theirs. 

The same is true of other family members.  You may have a very close relationship, perhaps live in the same household, but assumptions on borrowing can easily lead to a necessary apology.  “Oh!  I didn’t think you’d mind,” won’t always get you very far.

Be willing to make up for any mistakes you make.  For instance, if your sister said you could borrow one of her jackets and you take her favorite one, only to return it damaged, you’ll need more than an apology.  Take her shopping for a new jacket – and a little bonding time.

There is a price for borrowing from someone.  You pay by showing respect for the lender as well as the item you borrow.


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