I’ve just finished reading ‘Sacred Economics’ by Charles Eisenstein. What a powerful book! A look at the history of our current economic situation, our relationships with money and the living world and some real tangible ideas for ways we can start living a new economic story. I feel deeply inspired and moved by these writings. So I thought it might be a pertinent time to share some of my limited experiences in alternative economic living and the gift economy.
Before me and Rose started travelling I was getting more and more interested in the idea of living without money, in-fact it was a part of the motivation to go on the road, especially in the way we’ve chosen to do it. I had been reading about Daniel Suelo, a man in Moab, Colorado, who was living without using any money. The idea fascinated me. I probably should point out I’ve spent a good portion of my “working” life self-employed working mainly in music with various part time jobs, so I had a serious head start in moneyless life! I was really drawn to the life Daniel was living, or at least parts of it. I loved the idea of this strong web of relationships around him, both human and more than human, sustaining and supporting. The embodiment of the gift economy. It was difficult for me to fully relate though as he was living in a climate where he could live outside with abundant foraging opportunities year round. The idea of living in a cave in the north east of England or anywhere in Britain didn’t have quite the same appeal. But hearing about his experience really planted a seed in my mind.
Shortly after this I read a book called ‘My Moneyless Year’ by Mark Boyle. This was about a year long experiment in moneyless living, just outside Bristol, a city I had lived in for many years. This felt much more relatable. Again it was filled with ideas of strong community bonds and utilising waste, as well as isolation and loneliness at times. It’s clear this sort of extreme decoupling from the status quo is a real challenge. Unimaginable for a lot of people. It seems Mark had a very full year, full of joy, sadness, cold, dark, modesty, riches, loneliness and friendship, support and isolation, ups and downs. Sounds like any life worth living right? Mark actually made the choice to continue this way of life after the experiment. He went on to establish a moneyless community in Ireland using the profits from the book. We had the pleasure of visiting him there last year. It’s a beautiful place. Anyone interested I highly recommend you read this book and look into Mark’s story.
I know from my experience when I am able to worry less about money, usually coinciding with not having so much, I feel happier and freer. I’ve never been someone who has enjoyed thinking about making money. Don’t get me wrong that doesn’t mean I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed having money, spending money and indulging and I’m certain I haven’t partaken in these things for the last time. I am however becoming more aware and feeling the urge to address my relationship with money. When we set off on the road in the summer of 2017 I had these dreams of travelling without money, volunteering, exchanging, foraging and scavenging, the reality has been quite different. However as we have gone along we have had many experiences that have given us insight and brought awareness to areas of our lives where we can live the more beautiful story. Trying to imbue areas with true unique value.
I feel like there is one more influential person I need to mention here, someone else who inspired my visions of moneyless travel amongst many other things. We watched a documentary series called ‘Free Ride’, following a crazy journey from Brazil to Panama, with no money. This was the brainchild of Rob Greenfield. This guy is another truly beautiful human. In recent years he has basically dedicated his entire life to the community in one way or another. The projects he takes on are extreme but they are just showing what can be possible not suggesting that everyone should be doing it the same way. For instance he recently spent a year growing and foraging everything he needed, that’s food, medicine, hygiene products the lot, but it’s not to say you need to do that but perhaps just grow a few things you like to eat, learn a few plants in your locale that you can forage or make a few of your own herbal remedies. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing but to take back control of some of these things in your life can be very empowering. And that is a big part of the alternative economy story for me, taking back some of the valuable things in our lives that we’ve lost to the current money system. Connection, community, relationships, freedom.
Before setting off we saved up collectively, about £3000. For me that seemed like a real achievement, I have never been good at saving money. That was nearly 3 years ago from time of writing, since then we have been travelling almost continually and not earned more than a few thousand pounds between us, perhaps as much as £3,000 each. So perhaps we have lived on as much as £9,000 over the last three years, obviously we have also lived on the generosity and gratitude of countless people around us as well as Mother Earth herself. I am truly privileged to be in a position to be able to make this choice and for many it’s not even a possibility, but I guess I feel like there are worse things I could use my position of privilege for.
In order for our life to work in the way it does we have engaged with many networks and communities. We use hospitality networks like WarmShowers and Couchsurfing, where we have both hosted and been hosted. We spend time at Workaway and WWOOF projects, where we help out in return for food and a place to stay. So we have been hugely dependent on the help of others, the kindness of strangers. But are we not all interdependent beings anyway? We have also been free and had the space to give and develop our gifts and build many awesome relationships.
We had a lovely experience at a community housing project in Austria where we volunteered. We had been travelling for nearly a year by this point and there were various things we had with us that we weren’t using and several items and materials that we needed, so we initiated a little gift economy. We created a big poster for the common area with a list of our needs and our gifts. It was a really positive experience. We got a lot of the things we needed and strengthened some relationships. We also gave our gifts. We cooked food, helped people move in, told stories, exchanged and simply received. It is a touching experience to reach out for help and be accepted fully.
Whilst visiting family in the U.K. last year we got involved with a few markets, selling our handmade crafts. We decided use the “pay what you feel” model for our wares. We came to this decision for several reasons. Firstly as creatives we both find it extremely difficult to put a price on our gifts, as is very common among artist and crafters the world over. But more than this we were drawn to the idea of putting communication and relationship back into our transactions. Creating situations where people stop and think about how much they value certain things. I would love to say it was a roaring success and we felt a true sense of community and interconnection, however it wasn’t quite how it panned out. At some markets nothing moved, some people gave us nothing, some people gave us much more than we expected, some were interested in the concept, some didn’t understand it and some found it plain weird. The point is that in our current economic system it’s hard to grasp the idea of the gift economy, we have become so used to servicing all of our needs using money that we have relinquished a lot of rich relationships, lost our ability to see true value and broken off communication with our inherently generous spirit. So our experience running these stalls was a very mixed bag, some felt very rewarding and some felt like real hard work. But life is mainly a mix of both sides of the coin, nothing is all good or all bad.
We recently had a discussion about attempting this concept whilst on the road. I have had very mixed feelings about trying to sell our gifts on the roadside whilst travelling. There are a few contributing factors; firstly as a middle class white privileged person I do feel uneasy about asking for money on the street, specifically in less “affluent” countries. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it is that drives that and my reasoning is full of contradictions and hypocrisy but it essentially means I will possibly never do it. On top of that I don’t feel like money is something that I need in my life right now, obviously I’m not completely moneyless so it is something I do in fact need, let me rephrase that, I feel that money is quite low down on the list of things that I “actually” need. Yes it’s a great way of guaranteeing access to the things I need, so long as we all prescribe to its value, but it’s not directly meeting any of my needs. We decided that perhaps adopting a “pay it forward” or “pay what you feel” model whilst travel will alleviate these feelings but also sit perfectly amongst the other ideas and actions that play big parts in our current experience. In fact we already live off quite a lot of gifts, through the previously mentioned networks as well as foraging and scavenging, so would it not make more sense to try and further enrich the gift economy and our relationships through our roadside stall? It could also be a really great way of connecting and interacting with more people and communities as we move around. The idea has really excited me, I may be saying different after a few attempts! But we are going to give it a try, that’s all we can do. I guess we will write something about our experiences once we have some.
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