Joy in Nothing
Those of us aiming to articulate the joy of a simple life might like stories about moneyless living.
In 2008 Mark Boyle, a 29-year-old business man, decided to live for a year without money. Home was a caravan on a farm near Bristol where he worked in lieu of rent. He grew his own vegetables and foraged in woods, fields and supermarket skips for food. For cooking he used a rocket stove and for heating, a woodburner. Both stoves were made from scrap materials. A solar panel produced electricity for his phone and laptop. A windup torch gave him light at night. A compost loo and make-shift shower using river water constituted his bathroom.
Living without money changed Mark’s way of being. In the first few months, he worried about having nothing to fall back on should disaster strike. But, to his surprise, he gradually started to worry less, not more. He found himself voluntarily surrendering to life and living for the moment. Each new day brought its wonders, and he felt more alive than he had done in his monetarised life. In spite of living on his own, he did not feel isolated. A sharpened awareness of his dependence on the natural world and on other people intensified his relationship with both. While our monetarised culture pre-supposes self-interest as the chief motivator of human behaviour, Mark discovered the generosity that is a core principle of human nature and the trust that as I give, so shall I receive.
Mark’s experience could be seen as a young man’s adventure – very interesting but out of the question for older people. Stories from around the world, however, show that men and women of all ages have lived part or all of their lives without money.
In Germany, Heidemarie Schwermer, a retired teacher, gave up her belongings, including her flat and her pension and, at a time of life when most of us seek comfort and shelter, experienced the joy of letting go. She lived by exchanging her skills and labour for food and shelter, not so much in the spirit of barter as in the spirit of gifts freely given. She developed a strong confidence that what she needed would be provided. Hoping that society as a whole would move away from competition and towards togetherness, she founded Give and Take Central, Germany’s first Exchange Circle, where people bring unwanted items and collect things they need.
A common factor in the stories of Mark, Heidemarie and others who live without money is light-heartedness. For Heidemarie, living without owning is joyful while, in spite of the challenges, Mark so enjoyed his moneyless life that he extended his year for a further 18 months.
Sources: The Moneyless Man. A Year of Freeconomic Living. Mark Boyle pub: oneworld-publications
The Moneyless Manifesto. Mark Boyle. Permanent Publications.
by Daphne Tomlinson