Donated tools, the cost of free.
I was listening to Essentialism by Greg McKeown on audio book whilst stuck in traffic on the M1 southbound, McKeown was detailing how to think about tasks and how to priorities them. He drew the analogy that sorting through ones obligations, work and such was a little like sorting through a wardrobe (he said closet). On finding clothing that you don’t wear, doesn’t bring you joy and doesn’t suit you, that you should consider “sending it away”. If you are having difficulty with this, a useful question to ask yourself is “how much would I pay for this, if I didn’t own it already?”
The shrewd amongst you might have determined where I’m going with this. A new rule of thumb on accepting donated items into a hackerspace. I’ve talked before about loaned items and how it has an effect on the power dynamic, intended or otherwise, between the lender and the collective (i.e. don’t accept loaned tools generally). This rule of thumb is about “Free stuff”. Yes, I know how we all love free stuff.
This one is pretty out there, so hold onto your hats. The new rule of thumb is this. In a hackerspace, nothing should be accepted for free. What does that mean? Okay well I’ll explain. When you are offered a tool or some stuff, collectively or through the person appointed to be responsible, you should ask “What would I pay for this item? Would I want this item if it wasn’t free?” If the answer is no, I only want this item BECAUSE it is free, then reject the item. I’ll say it again.
Consider how much you would pay for the item, if the item was not being offered for free. If the answer is nothing, then you do not want that item.
I’ll take it further. Not only should you ask this, there should be a mechanism whereby the Hackerspace MUST make a financial transaction for every item accepted into the space. This need not be payment to the donor. This could be a donation to a set charity or even a financial contribution into a savings box for a specific expenditure later (the church spire fund or whatever). The important thing is that there is a consideration and a real financial impact/exchange on an item. Not just a nominal “I’ll pop a £ in the city farm collection tin.” But a real contribution from the hackerspaces funds.
My theory is that its very important to manage the things that go into a hackerspace. It’s one of the most crucial tasks to making the space effective and efficiently provisioned with the best possible tool and resources offering and not simply filled with junk. Junk, no matter how much potential, clutters, obscures and distracts from the objective of providing workspace and tooling to the collective. Consider that in my opinion, the mission of a hackerspace should be “to provide tooling and workspace collectively that the community could not afford individually.”
The acquisition of stuff triggers some deep chemical part of our physiology, I think this is especially true of people who make things and solve problems, having a large amount of things on hand, things to scavenge and salvage from, to take inspiration from and to reconfigure to your will is extremely important. I argue that within the hackerspace this sort of inspirational scrap-heap should be better managed and curated. Maybe its a room, something like a ball-pit, filled with junk, one can swim in, somewhat like Scrooge McDuck in his money-bin.