I currently live with my family, in a fairly sizeable house. My sister also lives at home, as does her boyfriend who has grown to be my closest friend.

Both of our main hobbies is mechanical work on cars and motorbikes. We both have a lot of basic tools, but each of us has a number of specialist tools that it makes no sense to have multiples of (and some materials too). One of us owns them, and in the past we've been pretty good at just sharing their use.


Recently, I've noticed my friend has become more and more cagey about lending me his tools. He's naturally more protective of his stuff than I am, and a few instances have built up of people borrowing his tools and either losing them or them coming back broken (same thing happens to mine every now and again, but I find it easier to let this stuff go). I haven't been as good as he has about replacing stuff I've broken or lost of his in a timely manner, which is something I plan to change. This is probably a contributing factor.

All came to a head recently when he fitted a key-latch to his garage (as much to just keep the doors shut as to lock everyone out). I mentioned that it'd mean if we wanted to borrow one of his tools it'd be more effort for him to come and unlock it, so would he be happy with that, given how freely and happily I share my tools.

His response was 'Fine, I won't use your tools then', and has since made comments that make it clear he's still angry about this.

Additional Points

  • On average, I have more specialist tools than he does (and the tools I have will be more expensive for him to purchase). He also uses more of my materials than I use of his. From a purely objective perspective, he has more to lose.
  • I know he's more protective of his stuff than I am. I make sure not to ask to borrow any tools I own myself, and am very careful to always ask before borrowing anything. The former he holds to, but I'm not so sure about the latter (I don't really pay attention to it, so it may be that he does but I don't register it).
  • I specifically make a point of not counting favour/reciprocation as that way bad relationships lie. I share my stuff because I like him, he's my friend, and I want him to be happy. It hurts me that it feels like this feeling is not reciprocated. To try and get away from the whole 'counting' thing, I tend to focus more on attitude when asked than volume.
  • The resistance to sharing feels childish to me. I try to see things from his perspective (he's a young man currently living with his girlfriend's family, likes to have his own stuff, probably going through the whole 'carve your niche' process young adults go through, and is probably feeling a bit hemmed in and not being able to find somewhere that's his own space). So the feeling of childishness could well just be different perspectives.

The Question

How do I best communicate with my friend that sharing of specialist tools is both within our mutual interest, and not doing so will needlessly incur significant financial burdens on both of us and makes me feel hurt?

Having read a number of IP threads on communication, my current plan is to have a convo about how his actions make me feel hurt and try to steer away from any examples of 'counting'. For one, I just don't give a toss if it's unbalanced in those terms. Secondly, it might just avoid any knee-jerk 'Fine, I'll just use my stuff and you use yours' reactions as that way everyone loses. I'll probably try to end with 'If that will really make you happier then we can do that, but it does make me feel a little hurt'.

Not so sure on the last phrase as it feels a little manipulative, but it's an honest descriptor of cause-and-effect. Not sure what's more valuable in this case...

  • 2
    "I mentioned that it'd mean if we wanted to borrow one of his tools it'd be more effort for him to come and unlock it, so would he be happy with that, given how freely and happily I share my tools." What was the reason for saying "given how freely and happily I share my tools"? I think that's probably the reason you got the reaction you did. That's not really relevant to the point you were trying to discuss, so it could have been viewed as an accusation ("I'm being so nice by letting you borrow my tools when you want, so you're a jerk for not doing the same.") Aug 16, 2018 at 15:20
  • 1
    @AnthonyGrist Yeah that's probably the bit that I minced, although it's probably fully accurate to how I was feeling at the time. I make a point of being as generous as possible to the people I like, including sharing the stuff I have. I do feel a little hurt that it doesn't seem to be reciprocated, given how much effort I've put into it. It's not a feeling I'm keen on feeding as you can get really petty about that kind of stuff and as is pretty evident you tend to get unconstructive responses from it! Aug 16, 2018 at 15:40
  • How old are the two of you? Aug 16, 2018 at 18:02
  • I'm 27, he's 24. Aug 16, 2018 at 19:20
  • @AnthonyGrist I feel that bringing up "it's more work for you if I need something" also rubs me the wrong way in this instance. Aug 16, 2018 at 19:55

5 Answers 5


From what you've said, my initial reaction is to see your friend's point of view. He isn't unusual in wanting to protect his expensive possessions, and it isn't as if he has been "over-protective" of them from the outset. He has toughened-up his stance in direct response to some of them being lost or broken.

That said, your attitude is very admirable. It seems like you want to make peace; you value his friendship; you have more tools and so it doesn't appear that this is all about what you can get out of the arrangement; and most importantly you have acknowledged that you haven't been timely in putting the losses of his tools right and you want to fix that. When I say that I see your friend's point of view, I certainly don't mean you are in the wrong.

Every friendship is different, and what works for one friendship doesn't always work in another. Some friends live in each other's pockets, as the saying goes, and never fall out. For many though, some boundaries actually help the friendship thrive.

You obviously have lots of things in common with your friend, who you describe as your closest, but you are very different in your attitude to your belongings. He may be a little uptight about them, whereas you describe yourself as much more laid-back about things lost or broken. Those two personality types clash. Even if you don't break or lose his tools, your attitude alone will make him think you don't take things seriously enough to take care of them. I would say that a boundary in this area is needed.

I would advise you to accept his new limitation, and by your actions show that you respect it. See, if he believes that you aren't as responsible with his tools as he has been with yours, showing that you accept his decision will go some way to proving that you aren't as reckless as he might believe you to be.

If you can, maybe it is time to try and build up your tool collection so that you don't need to rely on his - so long as you don't put the cost before anything more important. You will probably find that your friendship works better when you are independent in this way. The situation you currently have where you live in the same house as your sister's boyfriend is unlikely to last forever anyway. Eventually you will get places of your own.

Regarding the friendship, you have a choice of either speaking to him about it now, or just letting it lie and perhaps addressing it if and when he brings up the subject of borrowing tools.

If you really feel like the friendship has been damaged, or that he is angry and you feel like this needs fixing straight away, you could perhaps say:

I'm really sorry about the situation with the tools. If I broke/lost any I'd like to replace those for you, and I will as soon as I can. I respect your decision to stick to our own tools in future. The most important thing to me is that we are still friends.

Alternatively, if things just cool down naturally now that you are sticking to your own tools, you may choose to just leave the conversation, but make sure you continue to treat him normally and as a friend.

If he actually brings up the subject, perhaps asking to borrow one of your tools, you again have a choice - you could "lead by example" and let him borrow your tools. It might make him realise he has been a little unfair. Or, if the reciprocal arrangement really matters to you, you could perhaps say:

I'm happy for you to borrow my tools. I'm a little sad that you don't trust me with yours anymore though. Our friendship is very important to me. Do you think it would be better if we kept to our own? Or is there a way you could trust me again so we can share?

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    Cracking advice, and sort of on the lines of what was bubbling up through my head as I was typing the question. Sort of a 'maybe he has a point', thought. I like the lead by example option as well as that lets me keep what I try to foster in myself (unwavering generosity to the people I like). Aug 16, 2018 at 13:15
  1. Replace his lost or broken tools.

    Currently he has a real (meaning physical, like in real estate) complaint against you. You've lost or broken some of his tools without replacement. Rectify this by purchasing replacements. Also, when you think you've finished, ask him if that's everything. He may remember things that you've forgotten. And it may be the things that you've forgotten that really bother him.

  2. Offer to share your tools without reciprocation.

    He also has an emotional complaint against you. When he took an action that made your life more difficult, you implied that it was unreasonable. In order to fix the relationship, you should do something for him. The next time he needs a tool that you have that he doesn't, offer to loan him your tool.

  3. Casually mention that you need a tool that he has that you don't.

    If he offers to let you borrow his tool, great. You've rebuilt most of the relationship. If he doesn't, then either borrow the tool from someone else or buy your own. You have more work to do.

I numbered these because order is important. Also, don't expect to run them all together. This week, you might replace his tools. Next week, he might mention or otherwise indicate that he needs a tool that you have that he doesn't. The week after that, you might be able to drop a casual mention of a tool that you need into the conversation. Maybe. Don't be afraid to put it off. Loan him multiple tools without reciprocation if necessary.

When I say casual, I mean casual. Don't imply that it would be helpful if you could borrow his tool. Mention it as if you don't know that he has that tool. E.g.

I'm planning to pull my spark plugs. I don't have a long socket for that. I wonder if I can borrow one from [some other friend] or I might have to buy one. Are you interested in taking a trip to [the local tool store]?

Please ignore any lack of truth in that example. Perhaps that is entirely the wrong tool or task. You'd know better what would be the right one. And the wording should be yours, not mine. Consider writing this down ahead of time so that you know exactly what you want to say and don't accidentally imply that he should loan you the tool.

If he doesn't offer to let you borrow the tool, then clearly you have more work to do to earn his trust.

You describe yourself:

I find it easier to let this stuff go

A couple things. You say

On average, I have more specialist tools than he does (and the tools I have will be more expensive for him to purchase). He also uses more of my materials than I use of his. From a purely objective perspective, he has more to lose.


The resistance to sharing feels childish to me. I try to see things from his perspective (he's a young man currently living with his girlfriend's family, likes to have his own stuff, probably going through the whole 'carve your niche' process young adults go through, and is probably feeling a bit hemmed in and not being able to find somewhere that's his own space). So the feeling of childishness could well just be different perspectives.

Not to be harsh, but to encourage introspection, I think that these are cases where you are not letting stuff go. If his actions hurt him more than you, that's his problem. It's not yours. If he's being childish, that's his problem. It's not yours. So if you do decide to have a feelings talk with him, avoid these feelings like the plague. Expressing these kind of feelings is the problem, not the solution. It would be better to express them openly than in the passive/aggressive way that you have. E.g.

I mentioned that it'd mean if we wanted to borrow one of his tools it'd be more effort for him to come and unlock it, so would he be happy with that, given how freely and happily I share my tools.

But better not to express them at all. You unintentionally insulted him with this. Telling him that he's being childish and not looking out for his own best interests would just insult him again. When you talk about your feelings, make sure that it's feelings about things that actually relate to you. Some of what you say comes off as somewhat patronizing. He's three years younger than you, not thirty.

Before trying to express your feelings, take time to address his. You know at least part of it. Address that first. Then, before trying to communicate your feelings to him, try to get him to communicate his feelings to you. And listen to what he is saying. Because as of this moment, it is more important to address his complaints against you than your complaints against him. It's possible that you might have to prime the pump with something that you feel to get him to respond with how he feels. But if he starts talking, listen and encourage him to continue.

You may want to write out how conversations might go. Then reread them a few times and try to see things from his perspective. Are you being patronizing? Are you focusing on how you feel about the results of his actions on him rather than the impact on you? Are you making the relationship transactional with quid pro quo requirements? If you notice problems like that, fix them. Set the conversations down for a week and then read them again. Do you notice new problems? Fix them, review them, and wait another week to review them again. Repeat until you can't find new problems.

Also, be honest with yourself. Are you bothered that his actions are childish or hurt him more than you? Or are you really just bothered that they hurt you? It's fine to care about how things affect you. There is no one better qualified to determine that. But don't gloss over that with yourself. If you do, your real feelings will keep coming through and offending him.

  • Great advice. I appreciate the practicality of it. You nailed the example too. Long sockets are used for spark plugs ;) I also know that outright telling someone I think aspects of their behaviour is childish is a catastrophic idea. I think you're right on the opportunity for introspection. I suppose it would be accurate to say 'previously I found it easier to let this stuff go, and now I am finding myself evaluating it more', which I expressly don't like as a behaviour in myself. If I do find that sticking around, it'd probably be healthier to be less generous if more risks counting behaviour Aug 17, 2018 at 9:20

Respect a person's tools. Period. Full stop.

One of the first things I learned working in construction and trades was that a person's personal tools are their livelihood. While that may not be the case here, it's probably worth treating everyone's tools with that level of reverence.

While it may just be a tool to you, many people develop a really very serious attachment to their tools. Every tool in their garage or box has a back story. They become a bit like old friends. When you pick one up you remember all the projects you've conquered together. You remember the sweat and frustration of those really difficult jobs, and the elation of finally making some damn thing work again... Or in those really great moments, creating something with your own hands.

Many of my personal tools were inherited. They were my father's tools and I remember learning to use them with him as a child. A tool of sufficient quality to be passed from generation to generation is a precious, almost magical, thing. It may just look like a beat up old framing hammer, but it's really Mjölnir.

Just trying to offer some perspective on why this tool borrowing thing is as delicate as it is.

Borrowing a tool in this context is a sacred trust.

If you have to borrow a tool it had better come back in the same, or better, shape than it was when you asked for it, and it better go back to the exact spot that it was borrowed from. It can be infuriating to be in the middle of a job, and have to hunt for a tool or find it damaged. Completely flushs the flow state down the toilet.

If you've violated this sacred trust, it's more than understandable that your friend is hurt. He's probably properly pissed off about it. Replacing a broken tool doesn't bring his friend back from the dead. He has to make a new friend of this new tool...


Now that we've put this situation in context. What can you do to recover the lost trust?

Don't ask to borrow anything for a good while. Work beside each other and let him see you taking the time to care for your kit. Make a real genuine effort to show him that you treat your tools as seriously as he treats his.

Trust is earned, that takes time and effort. It can't be expected or demanded. It can't even be asked for politely.

If you re-earn his trust, and he let's you borrow something, be careful. Know that you're using something that may be valuable to him in ways that aren't readily apparent.

Basically... Show don't tell. Show him that you take care of your tools and that you're trustworthy enough to care for his.


This is too much of an answer to be a comment, but it's also similar enough to Astralbee's answer that I won't rehash some of the things that were already said.

However, I would like to add:

No one has ever gained trust, by expecting trust.

This is the point in your post that I take as being the most likely source of contention:

I mentioned that it'd mean if we wanted to borrow one of his tools it'd be more effort for him to come and unlock it, so would he be happy with that, given how freely and happily I share my tools.

You basically told your closest friend that you expect his trust, because you trust him, and while I think he could have responded more maturely, I wouldn't go so far as to say his reaction was childish, just more, young-adultish.

Quid Pro Quo doesn't make for healthy relationships, and you basically asked for a favor by saying "because I did you a similar favor."

There's a Psychology Today article that speaks about this in detail. However, one of the key things it talks about and is relevant here is that imagine if you invited your friend over for dinner. You made them dinner, and at the end they pulled out their wallet and asked how much they owed you.

I don't doubt your intentions at all, you sound very sincere in your request, but I feel like it's very important to realize how this possibly came off to your friend in an effort to repair that relationship. I won't advise you on what to do at this point, but it seemed to me like there was such a glaring exclusion about why your friend might have been upset that it was worth throwing up as an answer. Do with it as you feel is appropriate from other answers once you decide what course of action you want to take.

  • Yeah I figured that's where I screwed up! ;) very valuable answer for helping to clarify that though. There probably was a little quid-pro-quo thought loitering at the back of my mind gribbling around when I said that part, but I'm reflective enough to recognise that for the nasty little bugger it is once I've had a think about it. I'll have to keep a watch out for that one... Aug 16, 2018 at 15:46

I think that "makes me feel hurt" is not a relevant or appropriate complaint, and that it's likely to further inflame the issue. He is not responsible for your feelings. He has every right to keep his tools for his exclusive use, and your implication that his doing so is a cruelty against you is not likely to help the situation.

I would approach this as a cooperative businesslike arrangement with rules. I would suggest that you:

  • Pay him back for everything you have lost or broken. And I'd pay generously--for example, if there's a choice between replacement value or some sort of depreciated value, I'd go with replacement value.

  • Apologize for past delays in paying him back.

  • Make it clear that you will pay for any future loss or damage within, say, three days.

  • Ask him what would make him feel more comfortable about returning to the policy of mutual borrowing of tools. Perhaps a binder where you enter a note of what you've removed and note again when you return the item? An agreement that you will not touch specific tools?

  • If he is simply not comfortable with you entering his space and borrowing tools without him, but is willing to loan you tools when he's there, accept that gratefully.

  • Wish you'd mentioned that previously as I've already said it. I agree with you that it's probably not going to help the issue, but I disagree that he's not responsible for behaviour that hurts my feelings. It's his prerogative as a free person to do it, but as a friend (and hell, as a decent human being), he's responsible for how his actions affect others. Just as I am with mine. Aug 17, 2018 at 9:01
  • He's responsible if he insults you, throws tools at you, breaks your tools, and so on. But he's not responsible for every action that might hurt your feelings. For example, if he declines to loan you his car, or decides to go to a movie alone, or chooses not to split his sandwich with you, that might hurt your feelings. But those hurt-feelings are not his responsibility. His tools are his tools. His choice not to loan them is his choice. I think that your hurt feelings from that choice are not his responsibility. Aug 17, 2018 at 9:03
  • Ah I think I understand. Coincidentally he's mentioned before that he's a person that tries to make everyone else happy, so it'd probably be a bit of a relief for him to feel like he can say no to something like that and have the other person sort out their own feelings. Aug 17, 2018 at 9:34
  • Yep. Refusing to take responsibility for others' feelings is a healthy boundary. His taking control over his tools, if he's not happy with how borrowing has been going, is a healthy boundary. You're regarding his healthy boundaries as childish, but I really don't see them that way. Edited to add: And in fact, I think that what you refer to as "counting"--being aware of whether a relationship has approximate equity in give and take, or not--is also part of healthy boundaries. Aug 17, 2018 at 9:38
  • Yeah I do think you're right. I am a little disappointed that I'm not being treated as I'm treating others, but I get that that's my thoughts and emotions to deal with. Aug 17, 2018 at 10:07

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