Aside from labour, the second major component of any economy – monetary or otherwise – is materials. How much you need depends on a number of factors: your unique situation, whether you have children or not, and how simple or complex a life you want to live. In our world of mass consumerism, living moneylessly doesn’t have to mean a life of austerity, as there are so many waste materials to mine before producing anything else. Despite this, a life of voluntary simplicity can have far more rewards than drawbacks. I found that once I overcame my addiction to stuff I realised how much it had been stunting my happiness and adding very little meaning.
Therefore, whilst I am about to list an overall menu of ways in which you can meet your wildest desires without the need for money, I am in no way encouraging you to fill your life with pointless clutter just because you can. The things we own only end up owning us, eroding our sense of freedom and over time conning us into thinking that we could never live without them.
Considering the amount of ‘things’ in the world, and that this book is limited in size, it is impossible for me to list how to get every single material in the world without money. The best I can advise is to first decide what you need – and really question if you actually need it – and then find a book or internet resource that specialises on that material. There are many free resources out there that will be of significant use in helping you get whatever materials it is you need, all with their own merits; I’ll briefly outline them here. There are also some common items, such as nappies, paper and books, which I will describe my solutions for. If you can come up with your own innovative creations, even better.
Freecycle and Freegle
Both of these projects do exactly the same thing. In fact, Freegle(93) was set up by a bunch of ex-Freecycle(94) moderators out of a long-term frustration with the US-based administration of Freecycle.
So what do they do and how do they work? Both are very intelligent logistical systems which match people who have things they don’t need with people who don’t have things they do need, and vice versa.
Take an example. Your child has grown too big for her bike and no longer needs it. If you don’t have a friend who wants it, you can sign up to your local Freegle or Freecycle email list. You post an offer to everyone on the list by sending one normal email, simply stating the offer and postcode in the subject line (OFFER: Child’s Bike BS2), which everyone else on the list has an opportunity to see. Anyone interested will be able to email you in private, and you then choose who you want to give it to. First come, first served is my preferred policy, unless someone badly in need gets in touch. From there you can both arrange a time for collection, which is normally, but not necessarily, down to the recipient to do. If there is something you need, you can also make a simple request (WANTED: Kettle SW19). And that’s it. Much more simple than making a trip to the tip. It’s a system in which everyone wins, not least our over-burdened planet.
The first UK Freecycle group was set up in 2003; the country now has 540 groups holding 2.5 million members (there are over 8 million members worldwide), at the time of writing. Freegle, only formed in 2009, has already over 1.2 million members across 320 groups. Meaning that, no matter where you are, there will be a group near you with enough critical mass to meet your needs. The rise in the popularity of such projects also shows just how far the gift economy has come in the last decade, and how much potential it has at a time when the deep flaws of the dominant economic model are becoming increasingly exposed. Between Freegle and Freecycle alone, millions of tonnes of usable stuff are kept out of landfill every year.
One problem is that both of these projects are based online. Luckily, there are now many offline versions of Freecycle – the Freeshop and street freecycling are two well established examples of this.
Bristol, and a growing number of other areas of the UK, has now got its own Freeshop. This concept varies from a regular stall organised by a local group, to the standard format of a High Street shop. The latter works in much the same way as a normal shop, except that there are no cash registers, CCTV or security guards watching your every move. You are both supplier and customer, bringing in the things you no longer need and taking the things you do. Think of it as an offline Freecycle, one not reliant on the internet, and one with a greater sense of real community about it. Freeshops also have the benefit of allowing you to be able to look at something, and test it if need be, before you take it.
Healthy Planet,(95) a UK charity, runs a national network of free book (and DVD) shops from empty premises on High Streets across the country. Cara Sandys, who is behind the Southampton branch, says it is a win-win situation for everyone: landlords get reduced rates for having a charity in premises they can’t let; the council have one less unoccupied shop to think about; the volunteers get a community space for free; and the customers get books for free. She adds that she sees no reason why the same free shop model couldn’t be used ‘for furniture or children’s clothes’.(96)
Another recent version of the Freeshop has been The Really Really Free Market(97) (RRFM) that grew out of the anti-globalisation protests of the last decade. Whilst no two RRFMs are the same – thankfully – they often involve the sharing of both materials and labour.
Contradicting what our culture would have us believe, nobody comes along and cleans out everything from a Freeshop. Empirical evidence has shown that when people know that they can take whatever they need, when they need it, they have little or no tendency to take more than they need at any given time. Thomas More’s fictional island Utopia was based upon such a philosophy; maybe Utopia isn’t as utopian as monetary economists would like us to believe.
If there isn’t a Freeshop already in your local area, then why not organise a core group of people to set one up (contacting existing Freeshops or Healthy Planet for advice)? This could be anything from a weekly or monthly stall to begin with, to premises that are open seven days a week.(98)
This idea is widespread in a number of suburbs of Bristol. It is very similar to the ideas above, except you put whatever it is you don’t want outside your house with a sign saying something like ‘Please take everything outside the front wall for free’. Be careful to clarify what exactly you are giving away, otherwise you may come out to see your garden gnome or recycling bin gone by mistake!
I could almost give a guarantee to anyone looking to furnish a house that they could do so by spending a day or two travelling around three suburbs of Bristol alone. If such a culture doesn’t exist in your area yet, then be a pioneer and start it yourself. You’ll be surprised how quickly the idea takes off. Putting out a sign advertising free stuff causes people to take notice – before you know it, all the neighbours will be doing it. Ideas can spread fast with just one simple action.
If someone has a skip outside their house, full of stuff they are evidently wanting to get rid of, have a look to see if there is anything in it you need that is salvageable. If there is, it is polite to knock on its user’s door and ask first, but you will almost always get permission, due in part to the fact that few people like to dump stuff and partially because it will free up space in the skip for them, potentially saving them money into the bargain. Ask nicely – if you’re friendly, you tend to find that other people will be too.
Sharing – not giving away – your stuff
If you have stuff you would still like to make use of, but only use irregularly, you may be up for sharing it with others instead of giving it away completely. To this end, there are a host of sharing websites willing to fill the breach, and all in slightly different ways. Out of the lot, my favourite is a project called Streetbank(.com),(99) which they describe as “a giant attic, garden shed, toolkit, fancy dress chest, library and DVD collection for you and anyone living within one mile of your home”. If for some reason that doesn’t fit the bill, you could also try FavorTree(.com),(100) LetsAllShare(.com),(101) or Ecomodo(.com).(102) The latter two websites do include functionality that allows you to rent and hire stuff too, but I’d highly recommend taking a leap of faith and just sharing your stuff for free – you’ll be much more likely to create a new friendship that way, something that many of us have realised is impossible to put a financial value on.
I should add that I see all these online schemes as transitional strategies. In my ideal world, we’d all know our neighbours well enough to not be dependent on such high technology. But in reality, we don’t. People today have become apprehensive about asking to borrow things from the people they live beside, which perfectly summarises the bizarre culture we live in today. Projects that utilise high technology software such as these can help us bridge the gap between reality and the ideal, until external issues transform the former into the latter.
That said, there is nothing to stop you organising your street, town or village to do something very similar to these websites but in a way that isn’t online (which can often exclude older people). Why not knock on your neighbours door and organise a meeting (maybe at the pub) to see what system would work best for your community, enabling you to address any concerns people have about lending and borrowing each others stuff? It may be as simple as creating a photocopied list of stuff that each interested member in the area is willing to share with others in the scheme.
One thing you probably don’t want to share, or get off Freegle, are your child’s nappies. Most parents are aware that you can make reusable, washable cloth nappies. If these were used by everyone it would save 8 million nappies from being dumped in landfill every day (3 billion annually) in the UK alone,(103) saving parents an average of £500 a year into the bargain.
Yet there is an option that saves you both the bother and expense of making and using washable nappies. It is called Elimination Communication (EC), also known as Nappy Free Baby.(104) This is a toilet training technique where a parent uses methods such as signals, cues and intuition to cope with a child’s toileting needs. This method’s ideal is to use no nappies whatsoever, but you may combine it with washable nappies when the situation requires it. Not only would the widespread use of EC take a big chunk out of our landfill sites, save all the energy and materials involved in producing nappies in the first place, and reduce the workload of parents who use washable ones, it also empowers parents to be more attuned to their kids. EC was initially inspired by the traditional methods of preindustrial times, so it is nothing new.
Having no children myself I do not speak from personal experience on this. Close friends of mine have used this method, however, and do speak very highly of it, in terms of their relationship with their children, the money it saves them, and their ecological impact.
Books and paper
ReaditSwapit(.co.uk)(105) is a website that utilises some very smart software and functionality to enable you to, first, find people who already have the books you want and, subsequently, swap them for any of your books that they want. You simply sign up, enter the ISBN numbers of the books you’re willing to pass on (the website finds all other information on the book, including author, edition and an image of the cover), before beginning to search for the books you want. If no member currently has a copy, you can add it to your wishlist and the website will automatically let you know once it is added. Once you request a book that is available, your book list will be sent to the current owner, from which he or she can pick one of your titles. If they find one they like, they accept the swap and the website forwards you each other’s postal addresses so that you can post your books to one another (or hand deliver it if you are in the same area, meaning no money on postage). And unlike the library, you don’t have to give it back, which is great for books that take longer to read and for people who are too busy to read them in the allotted time.
Bookmooch(.com)(106) is another very similar website that uses a slightly different system based on points. It also allows you to easily donate books to charities, and, unlike ReaditSwapit, its functionality permits international sharing. If you can’t immediately find the book that you want on either of these, then why not give others, such as Bookhopper(.com),(107) a try?
One step better than a booksharing website is a real-life booksharing club, as it doesn’t require a money dependent internet to exist. It could work exactly as above (or, better still, by people just giving their books away with no condition on getting one in return), except it has the benefits of real life interaction – local residents getting to meet their neighbours, the opportunity to talk about the books which you may consider sharing, and an exposure to titles and subjects that you wouldn’t even have thought of searching for if you were using a website. Because it is fully local, no postage expenses apply. If you love books and you would like to meet new people locally, why not organise your own book club and promote it on Freeconomy and other local networks.
A really fun alternative to the websites above is Bookcrossing,(108) a project more aligned to the ideals of the gift economy which incorporates the pay-itforward philosophy. It works like this – you register a book on their website, which then allows you to print off a label for it containing a unique identification number (if you are completely moneyless and printerless you can write this number on the inside of the cover using a mushroom ink feather pen). All that you then need to do is leave it somewhere random, such as a park bench, bus, or on a coffee shop table. The lucky recipient can then go online, see where it has been in the past and mark its new destination. At any point in the future you can use your unique online identification number to see where in the world your book has got to – members often find it has made its way around the planet to all sorts of unimagined places, inspiring and informing many people along the way and uplifting them through the spirit of the unconditional gift.
If you don’t use the internet then why not just leave a book lying around anyway, with a nice little note on it saying why you wanted to pass it on and that you hope the lucky finder enjoys it. Some pubs, cafés and community centres have little book corners that allow for this also – you bring in a pre-loved book you’re happy to pass on, and if you happen to see one you like then you can take it with you.
This is one of the few moneyless tools that is obvious to everyone, despite the fact that it is only free in its delivery and not in its operation. Yet libraries are under-utilised, when you consider the size of the market for new books. This is in part due to the fact that none of our political leaders encourage us to share resources. As we have seen in chapter one, sharing is the enemy of a high technology, globalised economy. We’re told that more economic growth, and not the efficient use of all the resources we already have, is the answer to economic austerity.
As much as I love the idea of libraries, they are a classic example of why the moneyless economy has to be one that is based on simple technologies. If everyone stopped buying books today, and got them instead from the library, the book industry would collapse overnight. Why? Because sharing is the enemy of a high technology, globalised economy. I can’t say it enough. And today’s mass produced books are a form of high technology, like it or not.
If you need a source of paper for lighting your woodburner (as tinder or for making paper logs), then approach your local newsagents and ask them if you can utilise the waste newspapers they normally have to recycle. The bins of newsagents are often full of papers, as they only have to send the newspaper’s title back to the wholesaler in order to get a credit for it. You can help them reduce their waste and make use of it yourself for free by simply going and asking them, a gift economy relationship they are often more than happy to enter into.
This is also a good resource to mine if you want to make papier-mâché. Or, as we’ll see in chapter nine, for cleaning your bum in combination with a compost toilet.
Paper and pens
High up on my own POP model for paper and pens would be to make your own, which you can do using a combination of inkcap mushrooms for the ink and a molted wing feather from a large bird to make a quill pen, and some birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus) or Dryad’s Saddle fungus (Polyporus squamosus) along with a mesh and deckle to make the paper.(109) I find that when you have to find the materials for doing so, and then actually make it yourself, you’re less likely to waste it than you are some cheap A4 slabs that you can pick up for a couple of quid from the stationary shop.
Unless you want to connect with Nature to that extent, there are easier ways to acquire paper without it costing. Using the backs of envelopes is good, and especially satisfying if it is letterbox spam. If you have friends who work in an office, ask them to save you some of the printed paper that has only been used on one side and that they don’t shred. Like with everything regarding moneyless living, looking at all waste as a potential resource will usually help you come up with your own creative solutions, which is the way it ought to be. Homogenisation and uniformity have no place in the moneyless economy I envisage.
Tools, gadgets and equipment
I want to let you into a little secret – I hate lawnmowers. It is not just the fact that they ruin the peace and tranquillity of an otherwise glorious summer afternoon; they’re also tamers of potentially wild gardens everywhere. Letting your garden go the way it wants to has become a social faux pas, and a neatly trimmed patch has somehow become some bizarre ideal to strive for. The perfectly tended lawn has become the most illuminating symbol of how deeply the story of our separation from Nature has affected us.
I have something to thank lawnmowers for though: they stimulated me into embedding a world-wide (but localised) toolsharing scheme (this includes over 2,000 pre-listed ‘tools’ such as digital cameras, scythes, drills of all sorts and printers) into the Freeconomy movement. In the summer of 2007 I was living on a street of 45 houses. In all of my three years there, not once did I ever hear more than one lawnmower going at the same time. Despite this observation, one out of every two people on the street had one. It was blatantly obvious to even a fool such as myself that this was not a good use of local residents’ hard-earned cash (or time), nor the planet’s dwindling resources. The solution wasn’t very complex – a piece of software that we had already developed for the skill-sharing side of Freeconomy. All it would involve was applying the same principles and methods for the tool-sharing scheme.
Despite its origins as a skill-sharing project, Freeconomy is also the world’s largest toolsharing website. It works in the same way as its skill-sharing department. You simply sign up, choose whatever tools you are willing to share with other members in your local area, and search for whatever ones you need whenever you need them. The terms on which members share is up to the individuals involved; again, the only requirement is that no money changes hands.
As I argued in chapter one, it is important to remember that even sharing our high technology tools is not a long-term sustainable solution. The lawnmower can only be produced (especially at anything near the prices they are today) if every second person on a street has one. If there really only was one lanwmower for every forty five houses, the industry would collapse from not being able to benefit from the required economies of scale. So I wouldn’t go feeling too smug about sharing your lawnmower – the only long term solution is to simplify our technologies so that they can be made on a local scale. That said, schemes like Toolshare remain potent transitional strategies, which we should fully utilise as an interim step to reducing our ecological footprint until external forces conspire to help us construct the economies of the future.
Freeconomy’s Toolshare system is just a poor man’s alternative to actually knowing your neighbour well enough to know that they have a lawnmower, and being on good enough terms to ask to borrow it (or to show them how to use a scythe!). I would love Freeconomy to become obsolete in ten years time, on the basis that such a technological solution is no longer necessary.
Five things to do with a pallet
Dave Hamilton, author of Grow your food for free … well almost and co-author (he wrote the best bits apparently) of The Self-Sufficient-ish Bible
Famously, prisoners in the notorious Guantanamo Bay made their own veg patch with nothing more than the seeds from their lunches and the plastic spoons they were given to eat them with.
This goes to show that growing your own food does not have to be expensive and that it doesn’t even have to cost anything at all. If they can do it with as little resources as that, then anyone can.
Pallets have become a universal part of modern life. Necessary for shipping and flying around all the crap that many seem to find essential for existence, they can turn up in the most unlikely of places. I think they have become so ubiquitous that if we ever colonised the stars the pallet would go with us.
Unlike a lot of the debris of life in the 21st century the pallet does at least have some uses and many of those are of a horticultural nature.
Compost bay – Compost bays are one of the easiest and most practical things you can make with discarded pallets. Simply screw or nail three together into a ‘U’ shape before submerging it to a planks depth to keep it from falling over. Then use another pallet lashed to the front as the door. It is best to have three: one to brew, one to add to and one to use. However, if you don’t have room you can get away with one.
Planter – Prize some planks off a pallet with a crow bar. Using four as uprights/corner posts, screw three planks lengthways and three widthways to the uprights before cutting the uprights down to size. Fill with a mix of compost and soil and feed any sick looking or fruiting plants with homemade comfrey feed.
Seat – Have a look online for a template to make a seat. Failing that, if you have a futon look at how it is put together and use it as an outline.
Shed – Sheds are a little more complicated but very possible. I found it best to make a framework from discarded posts used for old internal stud walls, then use pallets which did not have holes between the planks as the outer façade. Other methods involve screwing two pallets together for the back of the shed and four (two high) for the sides. The walls won’t be rainproof unless you cover them but it should make for a sturdy frame. The roof in both cases can be made from discarded plywood.
Fence – Use the pallets intact as fencing panels, or just leave one side intact, removing the blocks and lower supports and screw to fence posts, shaping the top to a point.
Things only become rubbish or trash when we can no longer find a use for them. Pallets are just the tip of the trash filled iceberg. There is a world of discarded items waiting for a use – horticultural or otherwise.