Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Minimalism and moneyless living

I’ve been thinking about money a lot. It’s a favourite subject for me – I’m very interested in money.

A few years back when we (my family) were playing around with different poetic forms, some of us were writing haiku: 17 syllables in a 5-7-5 sequence. Hebe wrote this:
Money is currency, not a static thing. It is – is intended as – a flow. Stagnant (hoarded) money does not bless. Not to say that we shouldn’t save, but our savings should be like a reservoir with an overflow. There is (though our society seems to have a hard time grasping this concept) such a thing as ‘enough’. Once our savings goal, which should be moderate, just enough to cover needs and contingencies, has been met, then it should be allowed to flow out again, because it’s the flow that enables the blessing.

The question is, to what extent is its flow congruent with the flow of grace? If it is, it will bring blessing; if not it will set up contra-flows and eddies that threaten our wellbeing.

My thinking about money is always intertwined with thoughts about holy simplicity. How to follow a minimalist path wisely and realistically.

So this summer I’ve thought and read and researched a lot about living without money. There’s more on that topic than there used to be. Daniel Suelo, Peace Pilgrim, Heidemarie Schwermer, Mark Boyle – these are familiar names, but the numbers of people experimenting with moneyless practice have increased, and their findings make interesting reading.

I thought hard about moneyless living, wondered if I could do it. You have to have no home, really – because of council tax and other maintenance overheads; and you have to think about sourcing food. Most moneyless people rely heavily on dumpster-diving, and I feel uncomfortable with that. It’s not eating thrown-out food that bothers me but getting into trouble – going where I’m not welcome and being chased off, people being angry with me. That happens with authority figures anyway; I make people angry quite a lot, unwittingly, and I’m nervous of triggering rage. So while I’m happy to forage wild food and eat thrown-out food, I’m leery of instigating conflict/antagonism.

Also, I love the Buddhist monastic precept, that you should not take what is not given. That refines further the Judeo-Christian precept that you should not steal – you actually wait to be offered before you take. This precept seems to me to greatly enhance the chances of harmony in human society.

While I was pondering this, I came upon a moneyless blogger’s article on transport, in which he said he’d been much encouraged by a remark Daniel Suelo made that I either hadn’t read or had forgotten (I’ve read most of what Suelo has to say). This was to do with entitlement – that Suelo reportedly identified as a problem moneyless individuals sense that they couldn’t avail themselves of what was normally paid for. The particular matter in focus was riding on the subway. The blogger felt unentitled to ride on the subway with no bought ticket. But Suelo had said the subway (this is in America – I think they mean a train – underground?) was going in any case, so what was the harm in riding on it? The blogger embraced this argument gladly and thus solved his problem.

Now, while I am not greatly disturbed by the notion of people fare-hopping, I don’t want to do it myself. This time (unlike the dumpster diving) the issue for me is not just about getting into trouble.

Moneyless living should offer a practical and coherent philosophy, if one is to propose it as a way of living; and this business of riding the subway with no ticket exposes a big hole in it. Because the subway didn’t get there by itself, it was created within the money system. In order to have something as complex and sophisticated, drawing on that many disparate disciplines and commodities (sourcing, engineering manufacturing, operational) if you didn’t have a common currency like money you’d have to invent one. You couldn’t create something like a subway bartering pigs or apples or even iron ore. So really, if you are in favour of everyone (not just yourself) living without money – if you have embraced and are proposing it as a workable philosophy for human community – then you should model ways to live it that don’t depend on the money system. That’s what I think, though I well know that those who live without money disagree, because they go into this subject carefully. I am not interested in pursuing a philosophy of life that depends for its survival on a contrary philosophy. What I’ve seen so far of moneyless living in the Western world relies on a parasite-host arrangement which doesn’t attract me.

But because growth economics has an arising angel of certain death for the Earth and all of us who are part of the Earth, I am very interested in living as simply as possible – walking lightly, living frugally and sustainably, sharing as much as possible, owning as little as possible.

 Minimalism and sharing form the most effective symbiosis for the good of the Earth and the wellbeing of people. Because this blog post is long now, I’ll write about that next time.


Jen KnowingTheLight said...

Loved this, thank you.

Getting into 'trouble', even the thought of it makes me anxious.....so I understand what you mean, and yes, I too like the concept of not taking the not given. I take it you have heard of the positive forms of the precepts too?

One thing about money, that you have mentioned before and has shaped how I do things is.... I buy beautiful handmade soaps and salves. Even though I can do it myself and I have the equipment to do so. This is because I make them practical, where as the sellers make them beautiful. I want to support people who are doing this as part of their income, whereas I was doing it to avoid nasties and to save money.

I am in the process of getting rid of my stuff around this, although keeping the plain almond oil and some essential oils so I can quickly whip up what I need (soothing stuff for bites and stings at the moment, but often a bath oil for pain, or a scented water for headaches).

So, this is minimal, it gets rid of STUFF needed to make these things, it is supporting small, English makers. It is NOT the cheapest option, but it is the 'cleanest' in terms of packaging and 'chemicals'.

This applies to other things in my life - I try to support bloggers that I read a lot - e.g. I buy your books, I buy the products of bloggers, even if it is to give them away, I buy small UK made literary magazines - I want to be a writer, I need to support those who give new writers a space.

I focus on spending money where it blesses. I have also become more generous with tipping and giving generally (monthly charity giving, plus sponsoring friends) and somehow I don't seem to have less money as a result of that generosity.

Of course this sounds like I have got everything sorted and am living a life of money perfection HA HA HA HA HA HA HA, but I am making steps and trying to do so too.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Jen - yes, this is an aspect I'd like to come back to. Part of what some people call 'grace economy' is, in addition to giving and receiving freely, supporting worthwhile endeavours financially. The instance you give of buying books is the perfect example. If someone writes a book, and people are relying on free copies - whether from a library, borrowed from a friend, given by the author - or will only buy second-hand, that's fine. But it does mean they will never read another book by that author again, because publishers won't sign up material that doesn't sell (the numbers have to balance) and even self-publishing has to work out financially. Some moneyless writers offer freebie copies in PDF to download - but even they have some kind of overheads to cover. The key (it seems to me) is to regard money as blessing; you bless and increase anything to which you give money, and you ask others to bless and increase anything for which they give you money.

So looking forward to seeing you in September! x

Heidi said...

Oh, I remember that blogpost about supporting the authors you'd like to read more from. It changed how I shop. Not just books, but all kinds of things. I can't always afford to buy from small and/or local shops, but I do so when I can.

Ros said...

Yes, absolutely. I'm with you all the way on this.

A couple of years ago, we got to know a young couple who wanted to live off grid, but didn't have the means to set themselves up to do this. Being young and idealistic, they tried to do it anyway... and because we cared and because they were beautiful people, we did our best to help them where we could. But it wasn't working for precisely the reason you give - they were dependent on those who are themselves part of the monetary system.

We tried, very gently, to put this across to them, but they wouldn't hear it. The truth is that they were enjoying a life that was detached both from the systems they abhorred and also from the reality of having to feed and clothe themselves. So we removed most of our support... only for others to step in.

It's a difficult one. I appreciated their idealism. I understood exactly why they wanted to detach from the system, but the lifestyle they chose wasn't one that I was comfortable with.

As for living simply, years ago, when we moved house often, I used to say that it was a wonderful way of getting rid of excess baggage and reviewing one's priorities. So the possibility of moving on again in year or so looks to me like it can only be a good thing. 19 years on from our last move, it will force me to do what I already know needs to be done. In my present state of health, I'm not sure where I will find the energy for the physical act of decluttering, but since it must be done, I guess I will find a way.

Jen KnowingTheLight said...

I am a heavy user of the library, mainly to find and discover new authors. Once I love someone I get their books on Kindle. I do the same with Spotify - I pay to use the spotify service and if I find a new musician I love I buy the album. Because otherwise they will not continue to make music > iI blogged about that here. http://www.jenfarrant.com/music-spotify/

I'm looking forward to seeing you in September too!

Sandra Ann said...

Loved this! Looking forward to the next instalment X

Pen Wilcock said...


Hi friends! x

Nearly Martha said...

Hmm. This is a difficult one for me. When whoever gets on the subway for free, he can do so because everyone else in that carriage has perhaps spent their day in a job they would rather not be doing and given their time and skills to earn money to pay for their fare. Otherwise the train wouldn't be able to run. If a person is sick or needs support then that may be different but otherwise don't we all have a responsibility to contribute towards the things that we use in society? Is that peevish of me? Not sure. Also btw, I am also finding that spending towards things that I would like to see grow is very satisfying. You feel like you are taking a bit of choice back.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - that's the conclusion I came to as well. The moneyless people are focussing on too small an issue; the real thing is a community concern. x

Deborah said...

The sad thing is money is an illusion, it's just paper and only has a worth that the market dictates, one of the stupidest things the governments ever did was remove it from the gold standard and backed it against other currencies.

I also think building regulations are a sad thing. I mean I understand the need for them but if someone owns a piece of land and builds their own hobbit house and lives in it at their own risk, why shouldn't it be allowed? I love the idea of living off grid and moneyless but I think it's more difficult now, even in America where in some states it's becoming illegal to be detached from the local authorities amenities. I think it's worse here in the UK.

But I love decluttering (except for craft supplies ;-D lol )and passing things on.

Suze said...

I wonder about these issues too. I know I cost our economy more than I would like. There are times we need infrastructure be it transport, roads, health services etc and it is effficient to pay for it communally. However we have gone to far with the throw away attitudes and needing more and more. I am trying to be more mindful of my footprint. However reducing my costs etc should not cost another's income or rights etc. So if I read I will buy, use my Kindle or use the library. If I want to watch a movie I will either wait until it os on free to air television or pay for it etc.

On Monday night I was in a dilemma. Some young men in an impoverished area asked me for $1. Now at the moment my money is stretched. I then thought otherwise and threw them the requested dollar. I still wonder if I did the correct thing.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - the illusory nature of money doesn't bother me - it's just Monopoly money, just tokens allowing us to exchange goods. It's the social and political manipulation of it that makes me uneasy.