Life: Let’s make bartering the new black; my mission to live with less

I’m on a mission. A mission to make my life as money free as possible.

In the last few years, I have been fortunate I would now say, to have found myself living on the poverty line.  Though my unemployment has been punctuated by short periods of influxes of cash through the odd contract here or there, my accounts last year showed that I made a profit of £4000 and I took in a total of £10,000.  In London, that makes living tough and there have been moments where I have been living in serious fear.  How can I feed myself and how am I going to get to my friend’s house have been questions shrouded in a fog of panic. However, in being forced to face that fear, I have discovered an ability to trust in the universe, freedom to do what I want, say want I want, dress how I want and be ME. When I lost my flat, a friend put me up, when my tiny bit of extra cash to top up my dole ran out, a job came in and then a yoga teacher training course landed in my lap for free.

During this time, I’ve had plenty of thinking space and I recently came to the realisation that in giving up our willingness to do our survival work ourselves and expect others to do the jobs we consider ourselves too intelligent for (growing our own food, baking our bread, taking away our waste and other such menial tasks, we gave up our connection with nature and our freedom to be who or what we want and have space in our lives.  We became slaves to money as we’ve reached a point where, if we don’t have money, not only can we not expect to have a home we can call ours but more often than not, we are expected to live in shoe box sized dwellings that even the Borrowers would have scoffed at and even smaller gardens – if at all.

I realise now that if I had my own space, perhaps as part of a similar, like minded community, I could live in harmony with the environment and without having such reliance on money. I could live in a building far more beautiful than one of the ex-council flats I’d be paying through the nose to stay in and be surrounded by beautiful countryside.

Because as soon as we free ourselves from the drive to earn money, we become ‘outlaws’ from society.  We don’t have to pay ridiculous council taxes for services we don’t use because we do them ourselves.  We don’t have to answer to our bosses demands because we don’t have one (and trust me I’ve had plenty of nasty ones which you’ll know if you’ve read any of Who is Petite Nicole?). We don’t have to spend a fortune on travel because we are not commuting. We wouldn’t be upset that we are stuck in the office on a beautiful sunny day because we would be working our vegetable plot or building a green house or feeding the chickens or repairing a chair instead of throwing it away or, if we’ve got all our basic survival jobs done for the day, maybe we’d even be in the garden painting with the paints and paper we bartered for the week before or helping out the old person who lives next door.

We wouldn’t be desperate to fly to another country for a holiday because we wouldn’t feel so stressed out with life and we’d have lapped up every beautiful sunny day we’d had that year.  This may all sound rather hippy-fied and idealistic but the fact is that people have made successful and are making successful, new ways of living that lower our impact on the environment and remove our complete reliance on money and therefore the state, to keep ourselves alive and more than that, it’s making them incredibly happy.  Our entire way of life in this ‘modern world’ rapes the ground we walk on and rely on for food and water – our beautiful mother earth and on top of that, we spend all our time trying to make enough money to buy and do the things that make us happy.

When I began my yoga teacher training this year, I was inspired by Patanjali’s sutra to live on only what we need, to see giving as receiving and not to accept money. Though I am not in a position to be able to ‘give’ very much myself at this point in time as I barely have my basic needs met, I can certainly exchange and I have increased my portfolio of skills to exchange significantly in the last few month with the addition of yoga teacher training.

I would grow my own vegetables, keep chickens,  barter my yoga teaching, beauty products and other skills and the great thing is that with the increase in the availability of every day products locally and from independent sellers, so the ability to barter increases.  I can’t really see the local manager of sainsbury’s agreeing to give me a box of vegetables in return for a yoga class but a local farmer might. These thoughts germinated a few months ago when reading the sutras and penetrated the earth crust sprouting and growing branches when recently, the possibility that a friend will undertake one to one yoga lessons with me in exchange for her covering the moving costs and deposit and first month’s rent if we move to Devon together was placed in front of me.  It opened my eyes to the fact that, skill bartering may be my route out of a living situation I detest (living in a grotty flat with no garden) in South East London.

You see, there is no guarantee that my indecisive friend will actually go through with moving out of London – a scary thought for any Londoner and even more so for someone in her position (diagnosed with multiple sclerosis).  This means that my challenge is to go from no money for a deposit, zero income and the possibility of a £1000 loan to running a yoga, reiki and natural beauty business from an eco friendly home.  I’m dreaming about a wood burning stove warmed, mongolian yurt filled with sheepskin rugs and candle light.  Ok, the pink one’s probably a bit posh but something like this at least.  They cost around £5000 plus stove etc. of course.  How difficult can it be?

In order to make this happen, I will have to let go of some of the things I’m attached to. Given that I have naturally begun this process of attrition having realised that I’ve spent the first half of my life subscribing to the patriarchal view of achievement, displaying all the books I read as part of my English degree as some kind of homage to my knowledge; a kind of safety net in case the integrity of my intelligence were ever challenged. I’m quite happy to say hello to a much earthier and more fulfilling way of life punctuated with painting and writing as an outlet for creativity.

I would probably also have to give up a large section of my wardrobe – well, my high heels rarely ever make it out of most of their boxes anyway and when they do I usually regret it so at least half of them could be ditched.

Lots of my pictures and paintings would have to go or be stored – well, who needs pictures when you’ve got country views anyway?

I’ll probably be spending a lot of time in yoga pants and wellies – fine by me.  I love my yoga pants and have had more than a few comments of admiration over my bright pink, pearlised, riding boot shaped wellies. I’ll have to get used to using an open fire/barbecue/stove to cook on – what a shame, chargrill? Really?

I probably won’t have such amazing internet connection – damn, does that mean no more nights slaving over the laptop? And I’ll have to go without TV – well I did that the year I lived in Paris so…

My point is that none of us needs as much stuff as we think we do and we don’t have to give up everything to live the simple life.  I’m certainly not going to start wearing forest greens and browns, braiding my hair and showering once a week but I won’t be staring down the designer clothing filled pages of Stylist Magazine on a daily basis in scummy London town.

Neither am I going to give up my phone nor my individuality. Every one of us has needs and there is always someone somewhere, who can fulfil that need.  Whether it be a couple of leeks to throw in the casserole or a new pair of shoes, someone will not only be making or growing them but enjoying it too and the likelihood is, there’s something I can offer of equal value in return.  I know that there will be many out there who read articles like this and think, “Why should I give up my beautiful home?” or, “I hate gardening and can’t think of anything worse than spending all day digging.” No one is forcing you to change your ways, to give up anything nor start doing things you hate but perhaps you could look at adopting some of the practices that move you closer to a way of life that is kinder to the planet and your fellow humans. I hate all that plastic wrapping in the supermarket and what it’s doing to environment and we can shop elsewhere believe it or not.

A friend of mine who’s very clued up on the world of money once said to me, “Nicola, the coin came about because it simply wasn’t practical to carry the ten sheep you wanted to barter in exchange for 40 bags of corn into the shop.” Well I say, why the bloody hell not.

So this here is the start of my journey into living autonomously, providing as much stuff for myself as possible without money exchanging hands.  Anyone offering to swap my yoga teaching/marketing/pr/beauty product making skills for a yurt and somewhere to put it fairly close to Exeter, please do get in contact and here on this blog I’ll be updating you from time to time on my bartering journey, hopefully inspiring some of you to start doing the same. You’re probably thinking – yeah, right, sure, are you mad?  Well, we will see. Oh, and this dude backs up my view apparently.  Handy. Have a read if you’re interested: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2009/oct/28/live-without-money

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