Jim Fleming: Imagine living an entire year without money? And I mean no money. No cash, no credit cards, nothing. Where do you live? What do you eat? How do you wash? Mark Boyle did it and he found out it wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, he loved it. He tells his heartwarming and funny story in the book The Moneyless Man. Steve Paulson spoke with Boyle about the transition from a life with money to one without it.
Mark Boyle: What I done was, I made a list. About three months, three-four months beforehand I broke down every aspect of life. So you think of things like food and shelter and communications and transport first. I made a list of all those things that I currently consumed, and then, obviously, right away I had to stroke a few things off the list. Like you can’t make ipods, for example, from rose hips and nettles. So they completely went. It left a list of stuff that I actually could, I could achieve. From that point onwards I started to build either a relationship with the Earth and with nature and or a relationship with somebody in my local community so there was never any more than one degree of separation between me and what I consumed. It gave me such an appreciation for what went into the stuff that I bought or in the stuff that I actually used from that point onwards.
Steve Paulson: You say that you developed a fairly strict set of rules about what was allowed and what was not allowed, what you call your â€œrules of engagementâ€. I mean obviously, no money or no checks, no credit cards, but what were some of your other rules?
Boyle: I think the most important rule for me was the rule of normality in a way, because you know, I got inundated with questions even before I started about; what would you do in this situation or that situation, like if I went to have friends, you know, have dinner with some friends, would I barter for dinner? And I was like, no, you know, my friends never charged me five quid for dinner before, five dollars. We just cooked dinner for friends, and they come to me and I cook dinner for them.
Paulson: Another thing you did is you swore off fossil fuels, so you didn’t have a car and you also had some pretty strict rule about whether it was okay to even get a lift in a car. How did you work that out?
Boyle: Yeah so, for me to take a lift off of people, you’re still in the whole kind of game of living off, you know, somebody’s buying the fuel in a way. I did hitch one time to Ireland for Christmas just because it was very important for my family for me to come home for Christmas and there wasn’t any real option given kind of the extent of my life and how time consuming it was back then.
Paulson: And you were living just outside of Bristol, England, so I mean this was quite a trek getting from there over to Ireland.
Boyle: Yeah, it took me two days. The flight to Dublin takes, I think, thirty minutes from Bristol Airport, so it was a huge difference than what I was used to before. But it was, for me, it was all about an adventure. You know, I’ve seen parts of my own country I’d never seen before. I had such amazing experiences with people including one guy who told me that, you know, he’d spent two years in prison for beating up somebody. And he’d given me a lift and I left my water bottle in his car by mistake, my only water bottle and about an hour after getting out of his car he speeds up, about thirty or forty miles from where I left him, and he’d spent the last hour looking for me so he could give me back my bottle, and this is a guy who’d just come out of prison for two years. So it was some really amazing experiences just from being on the road and actually talking to people.
Paulson: And I suppose that’s part of the lesson here, or what you get out of this is you have to trust people more.
Boyle: Exactly. What money has become, in some respects, is a substitute for trust. It’s now become a primary source of security in the world. What I’m trying to do personally is to find my primary source of security in the friendships I have and in my local community and with my relationship with the Earth because with countries such as Argentina and Indonesia and currently Zimbabwe have experienced just hyperinflation. You know, you can have a million dollars in the bank one day and with a devaluation it can be almost worthless. Often, no matter how badly I behave, my friends don’t devalue me that quickly. I think real security comes in our relationships, whether they be with the planet or whether they be with our local community. I think what we all can do is build a bit more diversity in how we meet our needs, to not be so reliant on cash.
Paulson: Now, let’s talk about how you got your food for a moment. You mentioned that you grew some of it yourself, but that’s not the only food that you ate, was it? What you grew yourself?
Boyle: Yeah, I do, I suppose you consider the Earth four legs to the food for free table. The first two are my favorite which is growing my own and I supplement that sometimes with wild forage food and so I hit the hedgerows and I hit the forests and I get things, like a lot of leaves and berries and nuts. And then, but then I also, I do do some bartering, which for me isn’t ideal, but it’s kind of part of the world I’m in right now and I haven’t got to the stage yet where I can grow my own grains such as oats, and I love oats. I live off oats in the morning, so it’s quite important for me to get my oats.
Paulson: So when you when you say you would barter, what would you give in return for getting certain foods?
Boyle: Yeah so, mostly labor, so mostly I’d work for it. Sometimes if I had a glut of something, I’d have already a kind of informal relationship where I just go around a few other people who’ve got food and just chuck them in some stuff and when they had gluts they’d chuck me in some. So it was more, it wasn’t so much bartering, more just a kind of giving away of what you didn’t need and then and receiving when you did need something.
Paulson: Now did you also sort of scour for food that had been thrown out, dumpster diving?
Boyle: Yeah, it’s the fourth leg of that table, effectively I guess, is dumpster diving. And to be honest, right now probably it makes up almost zero percent of my diet. I still go dumpster diving but there’s a lot of homeless shelters around Bristol, which is where I live and what we do is, we just give most of the food to them. Sometimes we keep a little bit for ourselves if I’m a bit short one week, but yeah, like ninety five, ninety nine percent of the food we find in the bins goes to people who effectively need it much more than me.
Paulson: You mentioned that you use a compost toilet and you say that the conventional toilet that we have in our society is sort of symbolizing everything that’s wrong with out lifestyle. Can you explain that?
Boyle: Yeah, I was, you know, if you look at the Indian flag there’s a spinning wheel in the middle, which was Gandhi’s thing about Swadeshi, about, you know, getting back to producing his own clothing and that’s what represented independence for him. And for me, if I had an environmental flag, there’d be a compost loo in the middle of the flag because I do feel it’s symbolic of the movement. I think the way we go to the loo now is very symptomatic of how we live. We do what we do, you know, we pee and we poo into our water supply and then we blast it full of chemicals and then we pee and we poo again and blast it full of chemicals. So eventually we’re drinking water that’s got, you know, maybe thousands of revolutions of pee and poo and chemicals in it. And then we’re shipping pesticides from different parts of the world to fertilize our crops. And what a compost toilet is about is getting sanity back, it’s about not peeing and pooing in our water supply and keeping that fresh and clean and doing it in the earth where we can actually make what we call humanure over here which can actually go to fertilizing your crops and means you effectively also don’t need pesticides and fertilizers.
Paulson: What comes out of this whole experiment for me as I was reading your book was how time consuming a lot of this was. I mean, for toothpaste you concocted a mixture of cuttlefish bone and wild fennel seeds. To do your laundry you would wash by hand your clothes in cold water, you made your own laundry liquid by boiling up nuts which would take hours. Was this all worth it?
Boyle: Yeah, well it does. I think you’re exactly correct, everything did take longer and that was quite challenging. Especially at the very start when I hadn’t really found my routines, but everything in life consumes time. I’m even consuming time talking to you right now, which is quite a pleasurable way to consume time. But yeah, so I think I felt that what was important to me in life, I was quite asking myself, was it to continue watching, kind of, the mind numbing programs I was watching beforehand or was it, you know. I felt that there was a really beautiful way to live, a really gentle way to live and actually really start to enjoy my time out in nature, whether it be growing the food or cycling or washing the clothes outdoors or cooking outdoors. I started to really enjoy those moments, you know, where it’s really dark at six o’clock in the evening in the winter and all you can see is the moon coming up over the horizon and the birds starting to go quiet and the breeze on your face and sometimes the rain. Like, I really started to embrace that. And at the start I really thought I would hate it to be honest. You know, it was a million miles away from where I came from. But I think, I think it’s just about where your priorities are and now my priorities in life aren’t, obviously aren’t the same as what they were before. They’re now about living with nature, about working as gently as possible.
Paulson: What’s been that hardest part of this whole enterprise of living without money?
Boyle: I think you struck on one of them, which is the time, the time constraints. I think I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t the odd time where I thought it would be nice to come into the trailer and have the central heating already on, you know, instead of having to do half an hours work before it even got remotely warm. But I think probably the other aspect is the world around me and the social aspect. I’m, you know, where I live and work with my friends and family, always money. And so they’re socialized using money and I guess it would probably be a lot of legal issues for me. I grew up in Ireland and you’re almost fighting at the bar to be the first person to buy a round. And, you know, it’s that kind of culture. And I got to the point where I actually couldn’t even buy myself a drink, let alone my friends. That was really difficult for me at the start. You know, it kind of grated at who I was, at what my identity was at that point. But I think you work through that stuff eventually. And now I’m at a point where, you know, I make my own beer now, I make my own cider. My friends come out far too regularly to me, I can’t get stuff done sometimes because they enjoy it so much and they drink all my beer and cider. So I’m quite happy. Not that I’m, sometimes it just takes, ease off it guys, ease of it here, this has got to last me three months, and they’re necking through it in two hours. So it’s, but it’s really, that’s kind of solved some of my issues is starting to produce all my own stuff. And to be able to give, to be able to give again is quite important.
Paulson: Well, I wish you the best of luck. I find this very inspiring, your story.
Boyle: thank you so much and thank you for having me on. It’s been great.
Fleming: Mark Boyle chronicled his experiment in the book The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living, but he didn’t stop there. Two years later, he still doing it.