What do you do when you have more of something than you need? You organize a swap, of course!
I’ve never organized a swap before, but there’s a first time for everything. In this case, I had some excess plants from my propagation experiments and, as always, a ton of extra seeds. While I’m not always a very social person, my work uses Slack and has a channel set up just for folks to talk about gardening. And why not? Gardening is the perfect hobby for anyone who stares at a computer screen for 8 hours a day. One of my coworkers said he’d have a bunch of extra tomato and pepper starts at the end of February, so the timing for the swap was pretty obvious. I booked a conference room and let everyone in the chat know to look forward to this swap for sharing any extra plants and/or seeds.
For over a month, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this day, wondering which of my plants would be likely to find a new adoptive home. In the end I chose 10 pots, including a couple of aloe, a couple of spearmint, a dwarf barbados cherry, and a few others.
We only had three folks bring in plants and seeds, but it was more than enough to go around. Once word got out, various folks dropped by to check out our offerings, a few of them sharing regrets that they did have extra seed or plants at home that they missed out on bringing in. With this interest, we went ahead and scheduled another swap for a month out. If I’m lucky, this will turn into a regular thing.
I ended up going home with two plants. No one else wanted the yaupon holly, which is fine because I do have a place for it to go eventually. And I nabbed one of the few small tomato plants left at the end of the event–a yellow pear.
(I asked folks to return the plant pots to be washed and reused, but we’ll see how many actually make their way back.)
Oh, and tons of seeds. I have plenty of seeds of nigella, various melons, carrot, sunflower, shelling pea, mizuna, and more. Now I just need to figure out when and where to plant them all!
Overall, it was pretty awesome, especially hearing gardening stories from other folks with whom I’d never discussed anything other than work. The new treasures don’t hurt either. I’m already looking forward to the next swap.
I first experimented with a Buy Nothing month several years ago, and it wasn’t as hard as I expected. Many of the habits have just stuck without having to make resolutions. But it may be time to start back up with a regular review of how I’m doing on this front.
One thing I purchased this month not on the list below (because it’s not an item) was a WordPress subscription. I intend to look into other options for hosting someday, but as much as I hate advertisements it only makes sense that for now I would spare anyone from seeing them when reading my blog posts.
My resolution to buy no more than 12 plants (seeds are OK) this year has definitely helped with temptation when I visited my local nursery this month and also while browsing the internet encouraged by other folks’ seed orders. I did order 2 plants, but that’s pretty reasonable.
2 black chokeberry plants (to be delivered in March) – This was one of the plants on my wishlist, so I shouldn’t regret it. One would have been enough but they came as a pair. At least I still have a month to figure out if I want to plant both or share one with someone else who wants it.
Onion starts – I’m not counting these against my 12-plant quota because the pack contained dozens of baby onions, and they were already fully edible when planted (although small) so they’re pretty much just food. 🙂
Cucumber seed – Because, yum.
Butternut squash – Once we had a butternut squash that just appeared out of the compost, so apparently they do grow well here.
Edamame seed – I’ve been thinking about growing this the past couple of years, but this is the year.
Borage – Attracts pollinators, edible leaves and flowers, what’s not to like? The last time I planted this I expected some self-seeding so I’d never have to buy more seed. Let’s see if it happens this year.
Not New Stuff
And it’s mostly Not New stuff that I got for free, so all the merrier for me.
Porch light fixture – This is one of the few things I purchased. We made a trip to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore just to get it, and this week we were able to turn on the porch lights for the first time since buying the house.
Bricks – Although this was a good month for scoring free bricks, I also purchased about a dozen more while at the ReStore. I may love bricks a bit too much.
Punching bag – As mentioned in a previous post, this is a way more functional replacement for the punching bag I found during bulk pickup week some time ago. It’s great for exercise.
Bricks and pavers – These came from many sources – by the dumpster, set out for bulk pickup, and posted on Craigslist. It doesn’t look like a lot in my unfinished garden path, but they were plenty heavy to lug around.
Cardboard – It should surprise no one that it’s easy to find used cardboard for free. 😛
Tomato cages – These were posted on Craigslist by someone getting rid of a bunch of gardening stuff. I got up early on a chilly morning to grab them before work.
Young yaupon hollies – I “weeded” these from my mom’s garden bed and planted them in my own yard.
Snakeplant – One of my coworkers had a plant just sitting somewhere being neglected (although they do thrive with neglect), and just by asking it is now mine to admire every day.
Sweet pepper seeds – That same coworker shared seeds of several different types of sweet peppers. (We’ll be doing a seed swap event at work at the end of Feb to share more.)
Various seeds – I attended the seed swap for the Central Texas seed library last weekend and got so many seeds — carrots, native milkweed, zinnias, melons, basils, and more. A few of these will end up getting swapped again at the work seed swap.
Plant cuttings – There will be many Mexican Honeysuckles to plant out in the spring for sure. They root amazingly well even just in water. I’m hoping many of the others pull through. The mints definitely should.
Lightbulbs – They’re LED bulbs so they should last a while.
Potting soil – The soil itself isn’t quite new, but it’s all packaged up in a plastic sack so I’ll count it.
Things I didn’t buy
A dragonfruit plant – This was in the seed catalog next to the black chokeberry and I really would like to have a dragonfruit plant someday, but it doesn’t grow as easily in this area and I’ll hold off until I have more time to devote to it.
A baker’s rack – Just one of the items I’ve seen posted to Craigslist which might be a good fit for replacing worn-out cabinets in our kitchen which will be taken out someday. I will be buying something in this line at some point though.
More seeds – Just because there were so many more awesome options for planting. It was hard to resist, but I have enough for this year.
Seed starting containers – I’m a bit low on reused small containers right now, but there are plenty of food containers to make do with.
Gutters – This was part of my plan for January. And maybe I should have gotten these. We have regular flash floods in Austin that would be much less impactful if more water was stored close to where it landed instead of all being directed into our waterways. However, I wound up with analysis paralysis on whether I should get gutter covers or not. For now, I’ve started digging out some earthworks to hold the water. I can go for the larger scale option later when I’m more confident about the purchase.
We’ve had a fairly long todo list since buying this house a few years ago, and we’ve been slowly picking one thing at a time to improve. I have no idea which of these will come first:
New back steps or ramp to replace the unused deck area that has rotting wood
Gutters, as mentioned above
A real bathtub (not a plastic surround) and a sink faucet that doesn’t have rust holes
New kitchen sink cabinet configured so the sink comes up near the edge of the countertop instead of making me stretch to wash dishes
Other new bottom cabinets or something like a baker’s rack as mentioned above or even a buffet, because one day I’m going to rip out this gross bottom cabinets. I’m a pretty accepting person, but these cabinets are sitting there unused because they’re really not in good shape.
Hallway runner – It’s a 20ft hallway with some of the last old carpet in this house that hasn’t yet been pulled up. If a runner that length pops up on Craigslist for a reasonable price, I’d get it.
More bricks or pavers – There’s only a path in one part of the garden so far, but I’m going back to taking it slow and only collecting free bricks.
When I first got into zero waste a couple of years ago, I quickly discovered the baking soda method for hair washing, sometimes called “no poo”. It involves mixing a small amount of baking soda with warm water and then using that to cleanse your hair, followed by a rinse of very diluted apple cider vinegar (ACV).
The thing that intrigued me was the suggestion that using convential shampoo regularly actually causes your hair to get oily more quickly. As someone who couldn’t go more than a couple of days without washing due to oil buildup in my hair, I was totally onboard with trying this out.
Initial attempts left my hair very dried out, but that was resolved by using less baking soda. And then immediately out of the shower my hair would sometimes already feel greasy, but that I discovered by experimentation was the result of too much apple cider vinegar. Other than these lessons learned, my hair didn’t go through the adjustment period that I heard about everywhere else. Then again, maybe I just had lower expectations for my hair. As long as my hair wasn’t brittle or really greasy, I was happy.
I had been diluting the mixtures more gradually. A year after moving to this BS/ACV method, I was finally ready to get rid of the ACV rinse entirely. After a couple of experiments, this change turned out to be totally fine!
A few more months down the road, I ditched the baking soda. Again, no big difference because I was just moving from a super diluted solution to pure water. The baking soda has to be mixed fresh with the warm water to be effective, so I was super glad to simplify this part of my hair washing routine.
At this point, my hair washing routine involves massaging my scalp with warm water at the start of my shower. Then at the end of the shower I switch to cold water and massage my scalp under the water with my head upside down. I read somewhere that this gives your hair more body, but I’m not sure that’s effective. My hair looks the same either way.
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably ready to see the results.
My hair one day after washing with water.
My hair at the end of the week (right before washing again).
Pretty consistent, huh?
Unfortunately, we already have highs in the 80s here in central Texas. And since one of my hobbies is gardening, that means I’ll be sweating a lot more very soon. So my once-a-week hair washing routine is about to become a twice-a-week hair washing routine. Still, it feels really good to be free from store-bought shampoo and conditioner. It’s one less thing to worry about.
March wasn’t so bad. I’ve enjoyed spending time in the garden rather than at the shops. I bought a couple of items from my wishlist and bought fewer plants than in February, but did acquire more free stuff than expected. And my wishlist is getting longer with big ticket home improvement purchases coming up. Maybe someday we’ll get a boarder for the extra bedroom so at least these costs wouldn’t be for just the two of us.
The days have already been starting to feel hot, so my plant purchases are finally dwindling down a bit. (Maybe next month they won’t require they’re own category?) I did buy yet another citrus tree as a splurge purchase. After all, the kumquat is the one tree that I really wanted to buy but hadn’t been available in the nurseries every other time I checked. Other than that, just a couple of small potted plants and a couple of seed packs. Unfortunately, I’m almost out of seed starting mix (it goes fast once you realize that using fresh mix every time really does prevent damping off) and may have to get some next month.
Meiwa Kumquat tree – yay! kumquats!
Chili pequin – because what could be better than a perennial pepper plant
English thyme – to see how well it spreads for groundcover potential
Lemon balm seed (already sprouted)
Lemon grass seed (sprouted in under a week although the pack said 3 to 5 weeks) – because lemon grass is reputed to repel mosquitoes
Succulent pieces (orphaned pieces that I hope to propagate into full plants)
Not New Stuff
Wow, this list is fairly long this month. I went to Goodwill and found exactly what I was looking for early in the month, but the other things just happened.
Rain boots – I now have no fear when trolloping around the poison ivy-infested side yard (from Goodwill).
Mini-blinds for the front window for extra privacy. These were kind of new but I found them at Goodwill so close enough.
3 Shirts – Swapping out shirts I like less at the Really, Really Free Market. I know it’s meant to be free stuff but I participate like it’s a swapping party.
Patio chairs – I didn’t even ask for these but my mom dropped off a couple of old patio chairs one morning. They’ve actually been quiet convenient as a sort of shelf in the garden.
Plants – I’ve been doing some research online, and of the plants already in my yard, I may just have wild onions, wild blackberries, wild Muscadine grape vines, and a Mulberry tree. I’ll definitely be paying close attention to see if my identifications are correct!
Soil – From a neighbor doing some landscaping.
Mulch – well, grass clippings and leaves collected from sidewalks, as well as a few lawn bags set out on the street that I furtively made off with.
A book – one of the other book club members gave me an extra copy of the book for next month, so I don’t even need to wait for it at the library.
Lawn bags – I’m not sure if these count because I bought them at my mom’s request (I don’t count the tons of stuff my husband chooses to buy), but I did buy them before helping her rake up some oak leaves in early March. (My mom’s composts many things but the oak leaves just don’t seem to be breaking down.)
Line for the weed eater – The lawn (and weeds) that are already wide awake. My husband is happy to help out as long as it gets a clean trim, so weed eater it is.
Things I didn’t buy
More tomato seeds – Even though I have only two tomato plants that survived this year, it’s already getting hot out and may be late for Spring planting. I may consider starting fresh tomato plants for the fall garden, though.
Machete – I was looking at these on Etsy but it’s too soon to determine if it’s worth purchasing. It’s on my wishlist below though.
Fast food – I gave up fast food for Lent as well as eating out in general for the most part, but I’m ready to have pizza again. 😛
Seed starting containers – In addition to the plant pots I’ve saved from previous nursery visits, working in an office means I have access to plenty of food to-go containers. It’s not hard to find on the perfect size and even with an already vented lid.
Esperanza – The one I bought last year is definitely dead, but I’m going to give seed starting another try for this one. There are plenty of Esperanza bushes in the neighborhood to grab a few seeds from later this year.
Super long wishlist too! Fortunately, I know I won’t be indulging in all of these things in April.
A new roof! I finally got around to mucking out the gutters, and those shingles don’t look like they’re protecting our home that much anymore. Time to start checking out the roofers in this area. My goal is to get this done in the next month if possible.
Rain catchment system — gutters around the rest of the house and rain tanks. This is less about saving water than it is about saving my soil and preventing further erosion. (This has always been part of the post-new-roof master plan, but now it feels close enough to put on the list.)
Machete – My favorite lawn tool so far is definitely my scythe. It’s one of the most effective tools, the easiest, and hardly requires any storage space. With no lack of weeds, I’ve been considering a machete, grass hook, or other implement for the smaller spaces where I just can’t control a scythe with enough precision.
New tub? I’ve sealed up the crack again for now and caulked around the edges since the roof is first, but someday…
Bricks/pavers – Am still collecting the rogue brick for use in the garden whenever I come across it.
Seed starting mix – As I mentioned above, I’m almost out and I’m trying to reduce how many seeds I’m starting inside but will probably need more before long.
I managed to stay away from the thrift shops all of February, so this shouldn’t be as long a list as last month.
However, one of the things I noticed was that last month I was eating out regularly — three or even four times a week. It’s hard to resist. Therefore, I’m giving up eating out for lent. All the food I purchase will be basics (maybe a jar or two of spaghetti sauce in there though), and I’ll be doing more cooking next month. That should get me back on the right track.
My plant-buying spree continued this month–a couple of fruit trees, some onion transplants, and a handful of small (perennial) plants to experiment with and see what grows well/easily here (I’m hoping for some of these to expand quite a bit). Fortunately, it’s already getting fairly warm out, with highs frequently in the 80s, so from this point out it’s mostly about keeping these alive. No more plant spurges until fall.
Fig tree, Texas Everlasting
Satsuma mandarin tree
Not New Stuff
Toward the end of the month, I stopped at the Really, Really Free Market again to drop off a few items and scored some great finds.
Shirt – I’m slowly refining my style, replacing one shirt at a time.
Pair of jeans – Not needed yet, but I’ll stash these as a backup pair. They’ll need hemming before I wear them anyhow.
Couple of bras – This is the first time I’ve found a bra secondhand which actually fits well, and there were two of them. So excited! Don’t worry, I did wash them.
Lentils & spices – Another rare find. Someone apparently cleaned out their panty, and I grabbed what I expected to use. Very glad to get some marjoram as I’m out of oregano, and marjoram will do in a pinch.
Kitchen lights – These are the long tubes and I’d like to switch to smaller LED lights at some point but that can wait a while longer
Things I didn’t buy
A new mailbox – Early in the month ours was hit by a car and it doesn’t quite close properly anymore. But after being re-erected, it’s functioning well enough.
Mulch – I can always use more mulch, but I stole a couple of leaf bags and an xmas tree left on the curb on lawn-waste pickup day. We’re rich with organic matter now.
Even more plants – Yes, I could have gone much further.
A new umbrella – I left my umbrella one day and got rained on slightly. It wasn’t horrible.
Shampoo – I’ve been doing water-only hair washing for several months now and am never going back.
There are a few new items on the wishlist. I may be hitting the thrift stores in March for those first two.
Rain boots or other tall sturdy boots for gardening by the creek, now that the poison ivy is starting to spring back to life.
Mini-blinds for the dining room window, for more privacy than the current curtains offer. (We’re right on street with high pedestrian traffic to look in.)
Fresh tomato seeds if I keep killing off my tomato attempts 😦
New tub? I don’t know who invented these cheap plastic tub-like shells. Not sure if this one can be saved.
Bricks/pavers – This one is difficult to score second-hand without a car, but I’ve been very slowly collecting the rogue abandoned brick for the garden and would like to pick up the pace a bit.
I’ve read several books about not buying things, but this was the first time I’ve read one that was just beautiful. Sarah Lazarovic’s A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buyis the illustrated story of the author’s own experiences with consumerism, how she spent a year painting the things she wanted instead of buying them, and some advice on how anyone can improve their life by shopping less.
I saw this book at the library several times before and never took it seriously. After all, artists may be known for being poor but they’re not known for their great economic sensibilities. But I’m glad I finally gave it a shot. The stories about disposable goods were thoroughly humorous and entertaining. The compulsions to buy minimalist goods (“I have too much crap. I need more of less.”) are something I’ve experienced myself. And I could absolutely have used some of the rules she shares here rather than learn them myself the hard way.
As pretty as this book is, I borrowed instead of buying it. But it’s really tempting. It’s so easy to read that I kind of want to shove it at everyone I know so they can all finally understand how I feel about shopping. I’ve gotten so used to not buying crap most of the time that it’s just normal now and explanations fail me when the topic comes up unexpectedly. Who knows? Maybe I still will buy it one day. But I at least have to follow Rule #3: “Don’t buy anything the first time you see it…”
Now, I just need someone to write an illustrated book about why I don’t want the free tshirts that keep being pushed on me.
One of my favorite vendors at the farmers market had a wide selection of goodies this week–plums, cucumbers, soft persimmons, hard persimmons, figs, and more. On the one hand it’s awesome to have so much good food to choose from, and on the other hand it takes me a couple of minutes each time I go just to make a decision. Barry Shwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less offers some insights into the problems that can come from having too much choice and some ways that we can simplify our lives reducing the number of choices we have to deal with each day.
One of the most striking things I learned is that I’m naturally a maximizer:
“Imagine going shopping for a sweater. You go to a couple of department stores or boutiques, and after an hour or so, you find a sweater that you like. The color is striking, the fit is flattering, and the wool feels soft against your skin. The sweater costs $89. You’re all set to take it to the salesperson when you think about the store down the street that has a reputation for low prices. You take the sweater back to its display table, hide it under a pile of other sweaters of a different size (so that no one will buy it out from under you), and leave to check out the other store…. Maximizers need to be assured that every purchase or decision was the best that could be made.”
Ahh, comparison shopping. I have on occasion spent more time researching vacation options than I would spend on the actual vacation. 😦
“Maximizers are more likely to experience regret after a purchase.”
Yup, one of my main reasons for getting involved in the Buy Nothing New project was because I was sick of buyer’s remorse. (Is that really not normal?)
“Maximizers savor positive events less that satisficers and do not cope as well (by their own admission) with negative events.”
Hrm, that sounds really bad. I’ve been working on it already though before even reading this book. Dealing with negative events will always be hard, but with gratitude journaling and enjoying the critters run around the garden it’s a lot easier to be happy.
“[P]erfectionists have very high standards that they don’t expect to meet, whereas maximizers have very high standards that they do expect to meet.”
😦 This is just getting worse, but it’s crazy how well this explains my character. I do have high standards and I really do get disappointed when I fail to meet them.
I have been on my own path to being less of a maximizer and more of a satisficer, though. That is, someone who will take the sweater if it meets all of her requirements and then, not sweat it. No second guessing. I chose the hard persimmons this week. They’re sweet and very refreshing when frozen and sliced. I don’t know how any of the other options would have turned out, but No Regrets.
Knowing about Maximizers may not be relevant to you, but one thing that is relevant to everyone is adaptation. It could be adapting to positive experiences (like when your office starts providing fresh fruit for employees) or for negative experiences (like visiting a different city where that tap water tastes kind of weird). Whether positive or negative, it gradually becomes a new normal. And that’s worth factoring in when making a big decision worth busting out your pros/cons list.
“In 1973, 13 percent of Americans thought of air-conditioning in their cars as a necessity. Today, 41 percent do. I know the earth is getting warmer, but the climate hasn’t changed that much in thirty years. What has changed is our standard of comfort.”
If you take a job in a different city, sure it’ll be interesting for a while. But crazily enough, eventually you’ll get used to it. And it often doesn’t take as long as you might think.
“Because of adaptation, enthusiasm about positive experiences doesn’t sustain itself.”
When my office runs out of fresh fruit, it’s just *grumble, grumble*. It’s no longer special. It’s something that I expect.
The same is true of folks who upgrade to a larger house with so much space that they think it’ll be the last house they’ll ever need. The empty space even requires buying more things to fill it up. Until at some point the house doesn’t feel so spacious anymore and they start dreaming bigger.
“Factoring in adaptation to the decision-making process may make differences that seem large at the moment of choice feel much smaller. Factoring in adaptation may help us be satisfied with choices that are good enough rather than ‘the best,’ and this in turn will reduce the time and effort that we devote to making those choices.”
What happens when adaptation goes to far? You keep expecting more and more, and you can never find happiness.
“We probably can do more to affect the quality of our lives by controlling our expectations than we can by doing virtually anything else. The blessing of modest expectations is that they leave room for many experiences to be a pleasant surprise, a hedonic plus. The challenge is to find a way to keep expectations modest, even as actual experiences keep getting better…. One way of achieving this goal is by keeping wonderful experiences rare.”
Or as I prefer to call them, fake choices.
“One high-end catalog seller of mostly kitchen equipment and gourmet foods offered an automatic bread maker for $279. Sometime later, the catalog began to offer a larger capacity, deluxe version for $429. They didn’t sell too many of these expensive bread makers, but sales of the less expensive one almost doubled! With the expensive bread maker serving as an anchor, the $279 machine had become a bargain.”
This is ridiculous! But after seeing it, I realize how common it is. It doesn’t always need to be a different product. Sometimes the anchor is the “list” price, which is then slashed by 10% or even steeper to make me think I’m getting such a good deal that I can’t not buy something.
Beware of price comparisons, and think of the true value to you.
Someone should have statistics on this but I’m not familiar with any so I’ll just make something up. If you’re anything like the average American, you’ll spend 892 hours in supermarkets during your lifetime just staring at shelves full of soups or something like that and trying to decide which to get.
Schwartz described an experiment done with jam-tastings at a supermarket. In one scenario, shoppers had 24 different choices of jam and after sampling 3% bought some. In the other scenario, shoppers had 6 different choices of jam and 30% of shoppers bought some.
Nope, choice doesn’t always make things better.
How to Deal With Too Much Choice
Almost everyone wants more choice, and in general more choice is a good thing. But just because a choice exists doesn’t mean you need to worry about always making the best choice. Schwartz states that it’s okay to just choose the soup that’s on sale or to choose the one that just happens to be directly in front of you. Hey, you have better things to be making decisions about.
“This is a very good thing. The burden of having every activity be a matter of deliberate and conscious choice would be too much for any of us to bear.”
Use your power of choice where it really matters and the rest of the time accept any choice that satisfies your base requirements.
Manage your expectations. It’s natural to want new and shiny things, but take some time to realize that what you have is pretty darn awesome too.
Likewise, factor adaptation into your decisions. Something that seems shiny and new now probably won’t feel that shiny and new for very long. And thought a routine may seem tough now, you can probably get used to it. Recognize those things that will really matter in the long term.
And if you’re a little crazy like me, make a decision to not buy new stuff unless you really need it. Or resolve to only make planned purchases and wait a day before making a decision if you get the urge to buy something on impulse. Sure, there are a lot of choices to make besides purchasing decisions, but if you have the option to stop paying attention to advertisements it sure gives your brain a lot of extra space to think.
I’ve read that within a given day the average American will see several thousand brand logos and advertisements. And while thinking about how ridiculous that is, I also realized that I was wearing a tshirt with a logo on it. I thought it was awesome to find a shirt with a Wheatsville Co-Op logo on it at the last Really, Really Free Market, but am I actually contributing to the problem of ad fatigue?
Fortunately, using billboards to display art instead of advertising is gaining popularity. And there are even a few instances like this bus stop bench which serve as a good reminder that it’s okay to ignore all of the other advertisements out there. Maybe I could make my own “you don’t need it” shirt and see what happens.
Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten pretty good at not buying things. But what if I couldn’t buy internet service? Bus tickets? FOOD? That’s exactly what Mark Boyle tries to do in his book The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard of money-free living, but it’s the first time I really listened.
“Money is a bit like love. We spend our entire lives chasing it, yet few of us understand what it actually is.”
Boyle begins with the story of money being introduced into society which he leads naturally led to banks and the practice of lending out money that wasn’t theirs. Let’s say five people each put $50 in the bank. Then the bank would loan out $50 to someone else even if none of the money they had was their own. (It sounds great at first. The bank and its customers get some interest as the borrower pays back the $50, and the borrower was able to get the cash when he really needed it.)
“For most of us, money represents security. As long as we have money in the bank, we’ll be safe.”
What I had never considered before reading this book is that banks are strongly incentivized to loan out as much money as possible, making the foundation not only shaky but also pushing loans on people and encouraging them to buy things that they could otherwise do without for a while. This process leads to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer buying things they can’t afford and paying interest on it all the while. Taken in that perspective, money-free living finally makes some sense.
So Boyle decides to see what it would be like to live without even touching money for a year. He spends months in preparation figuring out how to live without money. Oddly enough, he starts by buying some supplies like solar panels. Other things he acquires for free, like a caravan that someone didn’t want. He finds a place where he can put the caravan and live in exchange for his labor, and learns about humanure and rocket stoves for moneyfree defecation and cooking respectively. And finally, it’s time. He sells his houseboat, gives the proceeds to a charity he set up, and embarks on his new life.
Boyle recognized from the start that to live without money, he’d also have to rely on community. His charity is all about skill-sharing so he can have more skills to barter with. He performs odd jobs in exchange for foodstuffs or other goods. He relies on strangers to give him a lift while hitchhiking to visit his folks for the holidays. He goes dumpster diving with acquaintances, and even brings in the whole community a couple of times to throw and enjoy feasts created from food that would otherwise have been disposed of.
One of the common complaints about this book was that Boyle is still using money fairly regularly, just not his own. Using a phone line that someone else paid for. Living on land that someone else is paying for. Relying on someone else’s trash to eat. It wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone were to suddenly embrace his way of life.
But I’ve got to give him credit for purifying his water, doing manual labor when he could have opted for a lazier option, rescuing food from going to landfill. There are some ideas in this book that anyone interested in green living can learn from. And most of all, it promotes the idea of thrift.
“When you produce anything of your own, you don’t waste a drop.”
While I’m still not sold (ha!) on the idea that money is inherently bad, I may do a bit more research into what banks I do business with. Perhaps I should also donate more instead of aggressively planning for solitary retirement?
As for Boyle, what’s he up to these days? Well, he’s still living mostly “moneyless”, but not quite. If you’re really interested, you can find out more from his articles for The Guardian.
I’ll leave you with one final thought, though, because it’s something I at times need to be reminded of myself:
“Activists often talk like they ‘want to save the earth’. The earth will be fine, in time; it’s humanity that may need saving. But who do they want to ‘save’ it for? Only other activists? Only for activists and the working classes? Or for everyone: executive bankers, environmentalists, police officers, human rights activists, and politicians alike?”