The Boundaries of Borrowing

Sisters Shopping

It’s a mystery in the Smith household - a beloved set of Ken Burns Jazz DVDs is missing.  We continue searching and searching, and trying to remember who we may have lent them to.

Was someone borrowing without permission?

I’ll wager the same thing has happened to you.  I’ll also wager that we’ve all borrowed without permission at some point or another, probably assuming it would be okay - just this once.

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

The Rights of a Lender

Ownership implies that you have the right to gift or deny others access to your property.  This also means that if someone takes what is yours without your knowledge, that person is stealing from you.

You probably have more gray area in your personal policies around lending than I’m giving in this explanation.  My point is, as the owner of something, you decide who else gets to use it.  You decide how long and where they use it if you choose to exercise this right.  And lastly, you decide the consequences if the item is not returned, or is returned in worse condition than when you lent it.

The Responsibilities of a Borrower

As 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!”)
  • Show respect when asking for someone’s time by suggesting a specific place, time, and time limit.
  • 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.  This shows your trustworthiness as well as gratitude.  (Borrowed your neighbor’s kitchen fruit baller?  Send over a bowl of fresh watermelon balls.)
  • Be ready to reciprocate if you are asked to lend something!  Graciousness is at stake.  You want to be viewed as someone who gives as well as takes.

When Borrowing is Not a Good Idea

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

  • If you haven’t asked and received permission, don’t take 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?)
  • If you aren’t sure who actually owns the item, you might want to leave it be.  If it’s something you found (perhaps the landscapers left a few tools behind), check around before assuming you can take possession.  You may also want to get written permission before borrowing valuable items (computers, jewelry, etc.).
  • If you can’t give reasonable notice before borrowing, you risk asking too much of someone.

Avoiding Conflict

When it comes to borrowing from close friends and family, never assume anything.  They are human, too, and may have personal rules on lending that you are unaware of.

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.

Now, about those jazz DVDs . . .

You may also enjoy reading . . .