Interview by Lily Cole, co founder of impossible.com
Lily Cole: What was your upbringing like — did your parents have much money and what was their relationship to money like?
Mark Boyle: My formative years were Eighties pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland, where no one — my parents included — had two dimes to rub together. We lived week to week, with no car or phone or any of the trappings that today’s youth would consider to be life’s essentials. But I had the best of parents and the happiest of childhoods, and there was a real sense of authentic community on the street where we lived. Everyone mucked in together, everyone had each other’s back. Only one house out of eighty had a phone, and if you wanted to use it you simply left 20p beside it once you were done. Doors were always open, children’s clothes were passed from one family’s toddlers to the next, and if some one was ever stuck for a few bob others came together and helped them out. The streets and fields were full of kids playing and getting up to no good, and we always had food. I go back there now and everyone is much better off financially, but the doors are closed as no one needs each other any more. People meet their needs through money and the technologies it facilitates, and not through intimate human relationships.
LC: What was the moment you had the idea to try living without money — was it a specific moment, or a growing feeling? And when was it?
MB: Studying economics, we were obviously well versed in the benefits of money — a medium of exchange to facilitate the specialised division of labour required for an industrialised society, a store of value and so on. But no one ever explained to us the social, ecological and personal consequences of monetising our lives. It was as if money were the only technology in the world without unintended consequences. So I began speaking out about those for about a year, around 2007, at which point a friend said to me, “if you think money is so problematic, why don’t you give it up yourself?” So I did. Within about 30 minutes of the challenge I had put a “For Sale” sign on my old houseboat, the proceeds of which I used to set up a gift economy website called Freeconomy.
LC: How did you deal with living without money initially? Where did you live? How did you manage for food/drink? How did you manage for heating, clothes, soap, washing, other necessities..?
MB: The practicalities of living without money are almost infinite, many of which I’ve detailed in The Moneyless Manifesto. But some of these were more critical than others. I lived in a caravan I found on Freecycle, and I kitted this out with a wood-burner made from an old gas bottle, which I fuelled using wood I’d gather from the land around me. I cooked my simple fare outside, 365 days of the year, on a rocket stove, and dinner usually consisted of veggies and, being Irish, a pot of potatoes. I gathered up the unused apples from the surrounding area to make cider, and the campfire became my pub, around which friends would sing and dance and make music together. We became participants in life, not only consumers of it. To wash my clothes I used a plant called soapwort which I grow, and washed clothes in either an old sink or the river, where I also bathed. I brushed my teeth with toothpaste made from wild fennel seed and cuttlefish bone. I had a composting toilet and used discarded editions of The Daily Mail for toilet roll — a fine use for it. Sometimes, as I would go to wipe my backside with a newspaper, I would notice a picture of myself staring back — and proceed ahead anyway.
LC: You say you enjoyed the experience so much in the first year, you decided to do it for longer. Can you explain what you enjoyed so much about the experience?
MB: Like no other period in my life, I felt fully alive. Having spent most of my life worrying about the future or regretting the past, I was living in the moment, day to day — like wild animals do, I suspect. I had a strong sense of connection to the land and waterways around me, on whose health I realised my own depended. Instead of consuming food, music, booze and so on, I was producing them with people who I was in a full relationship with. Life was rich, intimate and diverse — every day I learned something new, often about things that had never even entered my awareness before. I was fitter, happier and healthier than ever before. Most of all, I felt liberated.
LC: Do you think our society has got it really wrong?
MB: I think the human experiment took a wrong turn over 10,000 years ago. Agriculture, as Jared Diamond once said, is a catastrophe from which we’ve never recovered. Most of us don’t even know what we’ve lost, because we’ve never experienced it. We’ve designed human societies around toxic technologies that are driving a mass extinction of species, and an ecological meltdown that our generation has no real understanding of — we’re an ecologically illiterate people. We’re laying waste to majesty and splendour of the Earth, and have created a world where belongings are more important than belonging. Yet one can still look around and see so much beauty, in the wild landscapes that still exist and within the most intimate parts of human relationship that have yet to be monetised. I think it’s important to be honest about what we are doing to the Earth, and still love all the wonders that continue to resist the invasion of The Machine.
You can find out more about Mark Boyle at moneylessmanifesto.org
Full interview here.