I live without cash – and I manage just fine

In six years of studying economics, not once did I hear the word “ecology”. So if it hadn’t have been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi in the final term of my degree, I’d probably have ended up earning a fine living in a very respectable job persuading Indian farmers to go GM, or something useful like that. The little chap in the loincloth taught me one huge lesson – to be the change I wanted to see in the world. Trouble was, I had no idea back then what that change was.
Mark Boyle outside his off-grid caravan.

After managing a couple of organic food companies made me realise that even “ethical business” would never be quite enough, an afternoon’s philosophising with a mate changed everything. We were looking at the world’s issues – environmental destruction, sweatshops, factory farms, wars over resources – and wondering which of them we should dedicate our lives to. But I realised that I was looking at the world in the same way a western medical practitioner looks at a patient, seeing symptoms and wondering how to firefight them, without any thought for their root cause. So I decided instead to become a social homeopath, a pro-activist, and to investigate the root cause of these symptoms.

One of the critical causes of those symptoms is the fact we no longer have to see the direct repercussions our purchases have on the people, environment and animals they affect. The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that we’re completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the stuff we buy. The tool that has enabled this separation is money.

If we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today. If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn’t contaminate it.

So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up cash, which I initially decided to do for a year. I got myself a caravan, parked it up on an organic farm where I was volunteering and kitted it out to be off-grid. Cooking would now be outside – rain or shine – on a rocket stove; mobile and laptop would be run off solar; I’d use wood I either coppiced or scavenged to heat my humble abode, and a compost loo for humanure.

Food was the next essential. There are four legs to the food-for-free table: foraging wild food, growing your own, bartering, and using waste grub, of which there is loads. On my first day, I fed 150 people a three-course meal with waste and foraged food. Most of the year, though, I ate my own crops.

To get around, I had a bike and trailer, and the 34-mile commute to the city doubled up as my gym subscription. For loo roll I’d relieve the local newsagents of its papers (I once wiped my arse with a story about myself); it’s not double-quilted, but I quickly got used to it. For toothpaste I used washed-up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan.

What have I learned? That friendship, not money, is real security. That most western poverty is of the spiritual kind. That independence is really interdependence. And that if you don’t own a plasma screen TV, people think you’re an extremist.

People often ask me what I miss about my old world of lucre and business. Stress. Traffic jams. Bank statements. Utility bills.

Well, there was the odd pint of organic ale with my mates down the local.

• Mark Boyle is the founder of The Freeconomy Community

[Via Guardian.co.uk]

About The Author

Survival Spot is dedicated to helping everyone learn philosophy and fundamentals of preparedness and survival.

5 Responses

  1. Living Off The Grid

    After 15 years living off the grid and growing most of our own food during that time, we have come to realize that it is not money that is the problem, but the human interactions with money… how many people can appreciate a pesticide free tomato that you grew yourself, the warmth of wood heat in January (we live in Canada), or the smell of supper that was produced entirely by your own efforts.
    Working just for the money, and then exchanging it for all the amenities is definitely a recipe for being disconnected from the real world and money is a huge contributing factor. It becomes an end in and of itself…
    I too have an economics degree, so I can understand a bit more about the economic systems than some do, but a chance meeting many years ago (just like yourself) with Helen and Scott Nearing brought sense back into my world. It has made it upside down for the rest of my family, as they do not understand when I use terms like self-sufficient and barter, long forgotten concepts it seems that have worked fine for thousands of years… making the human interactions of work and buying products in the marketplace both understandable and appreciated.
    All the best with your endeavor of living off the grid.

  2. LadyTerri

    I once wiped my arse with a story about myself! Dude your awsome! hehehe

  3. razr

    I loved this blog and you are right!!!!! I am 68 and not in the shape you are but there is still a lot I can do if I put my mind to it things have become so easy for us we do not think!!! Well I have lived in Montana for 20 years not after reading PreparednesPro fo a month or so decided to be be much more prepared and I am!!! I live about 6,000 feet up on a mt so growing is about 3 monthes (in nothing but rocks)….but am doing my sprouts next think I will turn my big usless livingroom into a growing room and storage for what I really need …I have started bartering with some and is fun and helps us all….my biggest obstacle is people they think that you are a little touched if you you are a prepper and they do not know how to deal with someone who wants to barter…..how do you deal? any suggestions?? razr

  4. anonymous_coward

    You sound like a bum. The reason you have waste grub to eat is because the capitalistic system has been so effective in creating wealth that we have excess food. You would not have "waste grub" to steal 100 years ago. It is ironic that the system you reject allows you to live your half-assed fantasy. Create something and be productive ather than being a parasite on this world.

    You should see if the Obama administration needs a new Czar.

    "I’d relieve the local newsagents of its papers"
    Does this mean you stole it?

    "mobile and laptop would be run off solar;"
    You would not have the mobile, laptop or the solar technology without our evil capitalistic system. Either live your life according to principles and be consistent or shut up and get a job.

  5. Wind Generator Plans

    Dude you are my hero. Your life sounds very calm and serene and I am envious. Keep it up as the rest of chase the rat race!


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