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September 14, 2022

My attempt to live without money

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

Money doesn’t buy happiness— so goes the saying. But it surely buys things that can make you happy or the absence of it can cause you quite a lot of headache.

In our modern society the role and worth of money is changing in an increasing pace. The economic model has created huge wealth gaps and tremendous environmental degradation. It also leaves many people tethered to unfulfilling jobs just so they can afford to live without much time left to experience life. Especially with the pandemic and ongoing wars, lost jobs, increasing food and fuel prices and more and more people awakening to the reality of the failures of capitalism, it’s necessary to rethink our believes about money and our monetary systems.

Money is not a physical substance, but a man made concept. It is a medium of exchange that can be used to facilitate transactions for goods and services. Money is credit, and credit literally means belief (credibility). The piece of paper or coin on it’s own doesn’t have much value unless we give a value to it based on a system we created.

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by the character of Christopher McCandless, a.k.a Alexander Supertramp, who inspired both the movie and the book called Into the Wild. Chris sought a nomadic lifestyle, traveled across North America and hitchhiked to Alaska in April 1992. Eventually he entered the Alaskan bush with minimal supplies, hoping to live simply off the land. One of my all-time favorite scenes is when Chris burns all of his money. It always felt so rebellious and freeing, yet if you said to that younger version of me that one day I will consider actually living a similar life, I am sure I’d have burst out in laughter. Yet here I was, 32 years old, considered —not burning all my money but—going completely money-free.

After reading Into the Wild, I got inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond.

The first time I really considered going money-free was on my pilgrimage on the El Camino in 2021, where I realized how little I need to be happy. In fact the less I owned, the happier I was. The less money I had, the richer I felt. Once I got a tent too, I felt like I could go anywhere. I had my shelter and I needed way less food than I thought I did. A very simple but balanced diet actually made me satisfied despite the daily 6-8 (sometimes 11 ) hours of walk.

Later on, I met people who walked their whole Camino with as little money as 200 euros. Or nothing at all, in case of a Belgian guy I met, who was living by donations. Some stayed at pilgrim hostels as work exchange, doing a small amount of work in exchange for bed and food. These people couldn’t be more different but one thing was the same: they felt more alive and happier than ever before. They also often described their life as more rich, creative and intentional. They developed stronger and deeper relationships with those around them and live in synergy. Of course, it doesn’t mean all sort of problems magically disappeared from their life once they ditched money. By directing their focus to more meaningful things, they are able to live mindfully and work more calmly through issues as they arise.

After meeting all these people, I was amazed that they could live a whole and complete life in ways I never really thought about before. I was inspired but never actually believed that I could live like that, until I met a girl called Emma. She was living in her van that’s fully packed with objects, trying to come out at the end of each month with a little more money. Every day she asked me the same question: How can we make more money?

First I joined in the brainstorming but after a few days, I found it a waste of time. In the end, she had everything covered: fuel, food, new clothes, dog food, dining out… I couldn’t understand why she still needed more and more money when she had everything? She didn’t have a goal which se saved for, nor did she think of future hard times but just to accumulate more money and buy more stuff.

Back then, I stayed at a hostel for free in exchange for daily help in the kitchen, where we worked for donations. I had a roof above my head and food in my belly twice a day. I had nice clothes to cover my body. I didn’t lack anything, then why was I sitting in a crowded van with somebody who only thinks of collecting money? It felt insane.

From Spain, I traveled to Scotland where I worked with my friends tree planting company. I met the same kind of thinking there. My planter colleagues cared more about the money they made than the trees we were planting. Often they threw away trees or dig them in a hole, cheated with their numbers to come out with a few more pounds in the end of the day. They spent loads of money on expensive clothes for work (think of planting in North Face and Nike), dining out and alcohol.

Then, I traveled home and the reality of our world hit me once again. I felt more insane then ever before with all my belongings, piles of office clothes I didn’t use anymore, the unreasonable price of rent, how much I had to work for my little salary and the prices in the supermarkets. I knew this was not the right way of living for me, so I searched for other ways.

When I moved back to Scotland, the idea of money-less life occurred to me again. I started to travel the country while doing work-exchange with my boyfriend, working for a few hours a day in a garden in exchange for food and accommodation. Yet it seemed, on the weekends or when we planned traveling in the future, the question of money came up quite a lot and caused some unwanted headaches. So we spend most of our free time researching ways of how living life without money could work out for us.

We started to look for new ways of living, especially ones that are more close to nature and living with intention and love, we joined few communities and met many people on our journey. I was lucky to encounter some amazing souls who moved to the country side, completely off-grid, and now live off what the land provides for them, raising their children in abundance and love. The more people we met who live like this, the more this lifestyle resonated with us.

So how is it possible to transition to money-free life?

Throughout our life we accumulate unnecessary possessions, and the more we own, the more they end up owning us. We put a price tag on everything and de-value those which show a smaller price, without knowing the real worth of it. Yet it is still possible to have all your needs met while not being part of the monetary world. Many cultures did not use money and still lived in a much quieter, more sustainable and peaceful environment.

Minimalism has been on the rise for years and so has gift economy, which takes us back to the good old days. A gift economy is a money-less way of exchange in which items are given without expectation of receiving anything back. Though participating in the gift economy isn’t limited to those completely forgoing money. These economies have been modeled throughout history for us by Indigenous cultures.

Many people merely rely on the kindness of other people, while offering their services in return for necessities, like food, clothes or shelter. Giving up your career or sharing a house might sound way too radical at first, but if you’d like to give it a go, try by exchanging small things to start out with. What you’ll need most of all is a great shift of mindset. One thing I really liked in Scotland is the community food sheds, where people could leave food they didn’t need and those who needed any of the left items could take them. There were other things left there too, such as diapers, lady products or baby oil.

When you start to live without money, you also start to see the value of things others (even you before) would discard. One of my favorite tricks is to turn oversized restaurant napkins into tissues. I wouldn’t use 90% of the material anyways, so why not take it home, cut it into smaller pieces and use it as tissues? The former version of me wouldn’t even consider keeping a napkin from a restaurant.

A big key to go money free is to grow your own food, if you have a garden but you can even start to experiment in your window sill. I used to regrow my veggies in my windows in jars and margarine boxes, mainly carrot tops, green onions, lettuce and other kind of greens or sprouted beans, lentils, etc.

There’s so much to learn from our grandparents’ way of life as well. Someone referred to it as nanna technology, which is a cute name to cover how our grannies used to live—repairing, reusing, repurposing everything instead of throwing it away and buying new stuff. Your torn shirt can be made unique by sewing up a colorful patch from another torn piece of clothing which can’t be used anymore. Socks can be sewn and worn t-shirts can be used as cleaning rags.

I stayed at an off grid place in the forest where basically, nothing was new. Everything they used from building their homes to the water system was either found, repurposed or given by someone who didn’t need it. And they were given a new life in such ways you’d never be able to tell that item is not brand new. The garden was built in a natural way, wherever the plants seemed to enjoy themselves, animals kept free and their waste used to make compost. Even the toilet was compost toilet built on a tree!

Many countries have now useful systems, which allows people to sign up for free food from supermarkets, which would be tossed away as they are on their due date. It doesn’t mean the food is bad or must be thrown out, simply the expiration date is passed and can’t be kept on the shelves of the store—but they are still perfectly edible. Look for these apps, websites in your country to get some goodies for yourself too.

There are plenty of ways to money free in every area of your life. You can forage food for yourself and find many free events around you where you can be social.

While entirely money-less life doesn’t feel in reach for me in the close future, I’m pretty sure one day I’ll arrive to it (and hopefully we all will). But until then I recommend you to try this lifestyle out and see for yourself how it impacts your life—because I’m 100% positive you’ll benefit from it in many ways. There is vastly more to live for than monetary, material or superficial gain. I believe we will be an enlightened global society.

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