If someone had told me seven years ago, in my final year of a business and economics degree, that I'd now be living without money, I'd have probably choked on my TV dinner. The plan back then was to get a 'good' job, make as much money as possible, and buy the stuff that would convince society (and me) that I was successful.
And for a while I did -- I had a fantastic job managing a big organic food company, a yacht on the harbor, and if it hadn't been for a massive change in perspective, I'd still be doing it today. Instead, for the last 20 months, I haven't spent or received a single penny. Zilch. My experience of this life-changing journey into the moneyless unknown, and the philosophy behind it, compose my book, "The Moneyless Man," to which my proceeds are going to a Charitable Trust, details of which are in the book.
The change in life path came one evening on the yacht whilst philosophizing with a friend over a glass of Merlot. I had always been intrigued by Mahatma Gandhi's quote 'Be the change you want to see in the world'. But until then, I had no idea what that change was. My friend and I began talking about major issues in the world -- environmental destruction, resource wars, factory farms, sweatshop labor -- and wondering which of these we would be best devoting our lives to. But that evening I had a realization.
These issues weren't as unrelated as I had previously thought -- they had a common root cause. Because of money, we no longer see the direct repercussions our purchases have on other people and the environment. The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have become so wide that we're now completely unaware of the destruction and suffering that is embodied in the 'stuff' we buy.
Take this for an example. 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 décor. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn't use it down our toilets.
To be the change I wanted to see in the world, I decided I was going to have to give up money. I committed to a year of cashless living. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, so I made a list of the basics I'd need to survive. I adore food, so it was at the top. 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 far too much). To launch my moneyless year, I fed a three course meal to 150 people, solely with waste and foraged food. However, most of the year, my food was mainly supplied by my own crops. I cooked outside -- rain or shine -- on a rocket stove I made.
Next up was shelter. I got myself a caravan from the website Freecycle, parked it up on an organic farm I was volunteering with, and kitted it out to be off-grid. I'd heat my abode with scavenged wood burned in a woodburner made from an old gas bottle and I had a compost toilet to make "humanure" for my veggies.
I bathed in a river and for toothpaste I used washed-up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan. For toilet roll, I'd relieve the local newsstand of its papers. To get around I had a bike and trailer, and the forty mile commute to the city doubled as my gym subscription. For lighting I'd use beeswax candles.
Ironically, I have found the past two years to be the most fulfilling of my life. I've more friends in my community than ever, I haven't been ill since I began, and I've never felt fitter. I've found that friendship, not money, is real security. Most western poverty is psychological. Real independence is interdependence.
Could we all live like this tomorrow? No. It would be a catastrophe. We are too addicted to money and cheap energy. We have built an entire global infrastructure around the abundance of both. However, if we devolved decision-making and focused on local communities, then why not? For over 90% of our time on this planet, we have lived without money. We are the only species on Earth to use it.
I'm often asked what I miss about my old world of lucre and business? Stress? Traffic-jams? Bank statements? Utility bills? No chance. But then again, there is the odd beer at the bar with my friends ...
WATCH Mark talk about his journey:
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