If you don’t want to build a house, or can’t because of any of the obstacles we looked at in chapter four, there are a number of choices available to you, depending on whether you want to live in an urban or rural setting.
Depending on your political and social viewpoints, this is a mildly controversial subject. Squatting usually involves occupying a particular space which the squatter doesn’t rent, own or generally have permission to use. Reoccupying the ghost towns I mentioned in the previous chapter would technically be one rather unusual and positive method of squatting. The most common version occurs when people take over residential or commercial buildings in cities that have been left unused for a long period of time, turning them into social centres or homes for people who aim to live outside the political and economic systems that they’ve been born into.
What Transition Heathrow,(134) through its Grow Heathrow project, have managed to do on an old and abandoned market garden site in Sipson – one of the villages that had been earmarked to be concreted over to pave the runway for ever more flights at Heathrow airport – is widely regarded as one of the many really positive examples of squatting. First, they have they set themselves up to be self-reliant, by growing their own food (chapter eight), using a rocket stove to heat their water, utilising greenhouse roofs to collect water for the plants, producing their energy using both solar and wind and creating four compost toilets – they are completely off-grid. Yet, just as importantly, they’ve become an integral part of the already established community there, as both locals and the ‘blow-in’ environmental activists have worked hard together to “return the Berkeley Nurseries site back to its intended purpose – a thriving market garden that will provide [their] community with locally produced, organic fruit and veg as well as a venue for new and interesting projects and workshops.”(135)
During their first two years they have hosted many skill-sharing sessions, some big events, and cleared up 30 tonnes of rubbish from the site. Also, according to a statement from the Metropolitan Police, “there is evidence to show that crime has reduced since the Grow Heathrow Group has occupied the neglected Berkeley Nurseries. Possibly the presence of the group acts as a deterrent for crime in the surrounding area. Positive feedback has been received from local residents regarding the group, and the local residents feel safer knowing that there are people staying there. The evidence shows a reduction in motor vehicle crime in the area by 50 per cent, and a general reduction in crime of 25 per cent.” Grow Heathrow is a perfect example of one of the many ways with which we can take back control of our land for the benefit of the people who live there.
The subject of squatting, and its history and legalities, is a book in itself, and for anyone who is considering this as an option, whether temporarily or long-term, I would recommend contacting the Advisory Service for Squatters,(136) and reading their book, The Squatters Handbook. At the time of writing, laws around squatting are looking likely to change, and this advisory service is best placed to give you the most up to date information on how to go about it at any point in time.
Squatting, in combination with other activities such as volunteering for your local community allotment, guerrilla gardening, foraging, skipping and other methods of utilising urban soil and waste, can easily provide you with an opportunity to live completely without money in the city, especially if you incorporate enough of the other ideas on how to demonetise your life described in this book. This is not a model that could work en masse without the complete collapse of society as we know it.
Yet it has definite value as a transition strategy as it presents those who are ready for moneyless living, and who want to test how it feels on every level, with an immediate route through which they can begin. Macro factors, along with our own efforts, will eventually merge to create the moneyless solutions of the future.
This urban approach also allows those involved to then devote their time to the causes – whether they be rape crisis centres, soup kitchens or campaign groups – they really want to support and help, projects that in many cases have no means to pay people by their very nature. While we work to proactively change the stories of the future, and the economic models we live within, it is important that we fully utilise what we have now in order to bring it about with optimum speed and efficiency.
House- and boat-sitting
House sitting is always a mutually beneficial arrangement. What usually happens is this: somebody who owns or rents their home needs to go away for a few days, weeks or months, leaving a cat or a dog or some plants behind that require looking after. The period they want to go away for generally isn’t long enough to justify getting a tenant in, yet they still need something in the house looked after. Some like to have people in their house because they’re afraid they’ll have a higher risk of being burgled if not.
Because of these commonplace occurrences, there is a high demand for trustworthy house-sitters. I’ve spent the majority of my time writing this book house-sitting for various people around Bristol, including a stint on a houseboat along a beautiful stretch of canal near Bath. I spent two months looking after one large house where all I had to do was feed a gorgeous cat called Treacle twice a day. Daniel Suelo, who lives moneylessly in the US, spends half of his year doing this also.
There are plenty of projects out there designed to match house-sitters with house-owners. Many of these projects charge a small membership fee to join their list and access their databases, so I’ve always used the Freeconomy network to find my sits. After a few jobs you’ll often find that word-ofmouth spreads and friends of those you have house-sat for ask you to come and do the same for them. Some people even offer to pay a house-sitter, but I would strongly recommend declining such offers and just doing it for free, as introducing money into the equation changes the entire feeling around the relationship, in the exact same way it does in other realms of life.
Like squatting, this isn’t possible for more than a fraction of the population to do at any one time, and so it’s obviously not a long-term housing strategy for society. However, if you’re spending all your time volunteering for organisations who do work that you really believe in and want to support, this can be a very useful transitional strategy in the same way that squatting can be. Moneyless living doesn’t have to be puritanical. Like a pigeon living in a church steeple eating food from the ground below, we could do worse than to live freely using what is at hand until a time when we’re so surrounded by the abundance of Nature that we no longer have to.
This most original of human homes is both land and dwelling all-in-one. If you do decide to go and live in a cave, the caveman name-calling of anti-Luddites will refreshingly have some literal truth in it for once. Empty caves exist in all countries – I even know one on the outskirts of Bristol, a medium sized UK city – but not all countries have climates that are conducive to living in a cave, unless you’re what is commonly referred to as a double hard bastard.
The good news on this front is that there seem to be more of them in countries where it is hot enough to live. The even better news is that due to the stigma Fred Flintstone and his family and friends have helped attach to cave dwelling, they’re not much in demand either. If you fancy it, all I can say is go off on an adventure and find one. A good place to start, for beginners, would be Cappadocia in Turkey, where caves are rather unique and plentiful. Hitching or cycling there, before finding one once you arrive, is the challenge I put up to you.
There are a couple of things to consider if you do go living in caves:
a) Wild animals who see you as a nice tasty piece of meat, and an even scarier prospect,
b) Local authorities.
In order to avoid run ins with either, do plenty of local research before you set up camp. Preparation is also crucial, so don’t just go in as some arrogant Westerner thinking you’re Crocodile Dundee because you went camping one night in Dartmoor with a bag full of supermarket food.
Cave dwelling can be a long- or short-term moneyless living option, depending on what path your life is taking and what you want most out of it. Daniel Suelo spends the other half of his year in a cave amongst the canyonlands of Utah, and he speaks very highly of it. Others I’ve known have done it for a couple of years here and there, but I have yet to meet anyone who has done it all year round over a long period of time. Except for our ancestors, for whom it was the norm.
This was a house traditional to many of the Celtic nations, most commonly in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland and its surrounding islands. The reason for this was simple: they were made from materials the locals could source from their land, they required no money and, with the right skills, they were reasonably simple to construct and maintain. Blackhouses usually consisted of an earth or flagstone floor, drystone walls rammed with earth, wooden rafters covered in thatch (reed or straw) and a fire place.
Without adaptation (they generally didn’t have chimneys, instead leaving the smoke to escape through the roof, for example) there is no way they’d pass modern building regulations and most people would see it as a definite step backwards in terms of comfort. My personal opinion is that, because of fossils fuels and the subsequent economic model that they have helped mould, our expectations around levels of comfort have risen to a point that is highly unsustainable in the long-term. As unpopular as it is to actually say this out loud, I believe that an adapted blackhouse could offer us a fine balance between comfort and true sustainability and the non-exploitation of the rest of Nature. That said, I’m not sure I’m up for sharing my house with a couple of sheep and pigs, which is what many people did in the days when the blackhouse was a commonplace structure.
This dwelling is one which I believe complements a landscape. I could never look at a blackhouse and consider it a blot. There is something about them that is just very aesthetically attractive. It is partially the skill, the art, the craft involved, but I feel it is in no small part due to the fact that the house has emerged from that particular landscape, and therefore is naturally a part of it, as opposed to being imported from a hundred other far-flung countries and their quarries and factories. The understanding of what it represents – simplicity, a care and respect for the land – also adds to its appeal, as the beauty of a thing lies as much in what it represents as it does in its physical qualities.