Communal Sufficiency

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Before I started my year without money, I was worried  about what would happen if I didn’t get enough food, what would happen if someone else stole my bicycle, what would happen if I got ill and what would happen if what I thought would happen didn’t happen! Given the fact that most of us are taught from the moment we are born that money – not community – is our primary source of personal security, these concerns would generally be perfectly understandable. But one of the first, and most important, lessons I was gifted from living without money was to learn to trust again. I now firmly believe that if you live each day in the spirit of ‘how much I can give?’ instead of ‘how much I can take?’ your needs will always be met.

The best example of this, in my life, was when I decided to create The Freeconomy Community. I sold my houseboat to finance the setting up of the website. Eighteen months later, when I needed an off-grid home to begin my year without money, a complete stranger offered me a caravan for free, giving me a place to rest my head again. This is an example of the little things that happen to me on a daily basis. My experience has been that when you give freely, with no thought of what you’ll get in return, you will receive freely, without fail. It’s simply an organic flow of giving and receiving, a magical dance that our entire ecosystem is based upon.

When people first learn that I live without money, most assume that I live almost self-sufficiently. That originally was the plan, but I quickly learned that independence is one of the biggest myths sold to us by modern society. At the very least we are dependent on bees, earthworms and micro-organisms. But not only did I realize that I couldn’t be completely self-sufficient even if I want to be, I also realize that I had no desire to be: some of the greatest joy in my life comes from relationships with my extended human family. What I believe works best, and is most desirable on a number of levels, is for small numbers of people to work interdependently, together building what I term ‘communal-sufficiency’.

Research suggests that 150 people is the optimum size for communal sufficiency. At this scale, people can still benefit from economies of scale without causing ‘ecologies of industrialization’. Because I lived this year in relative isolation, I’ve had to do most of the things myself – for example, to cook dinner I’d have to gather and chop the wood, gather and chop food, feed the rocket stove for thirty minutes, serve the food and wash the dishes. If this had happened interdependently, I would only have to do one or two parts of the process, therefore having more time to relax or be creative in other ways. And the beautiful thing is that you certainly don’t need money when you live within a community of this size – you bring what you can to the community, and your skills become your currency.

One of my few frustrations has been the fact that most people see my experiment as being ‘extreme’, but hand-washing your clothes, growing and foraging you own food, and using local products and services seems far less extreme to me than getting into debt buying plasma TVs, dishwashers and new clothes that you don’t actually need. I always have just what I need and I trust that tomorrow will bring me the same.

This year also got me thinking about the extent to which society uses money to assign value and status to almost everything. This subsequently got me thinking about poverty and how we assess it solely in financial terms. In the UK, for example, I am technically the most poverty-stricken man in the country! Yet, as I sit around a campfire with my friends, eating organically grown and wild produce, listening to local, acoustic music and drinking apple juice – fermented or otherwise – that was made using apples that were picked forty meters from my caravan in the most peaceful surroundings, no one can tell me I am poor. Contrary to this economic classification, I believe myself to be one of the top 20% ‘financially’ rich people in the UK; this is down to the fact that the debts of the other 80% of the population outweigh their asset, so as I am financially neutral, I am much better off than most!

In the West the most ‘abundant’ type of poverty, I believe, is actually spiritual poverty, for if you always want more, regardless of how much you already have, then you will always feel impoverished. Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable?”

That was meant to be a one-year experiment. However, as I have genuinely never been healthier and happier, I thought, why not walk further down the path, I have started upon? My vision is to create an intentional community that lives completely without money, one that involves very low-impact living with high-impact education and experience; work on this begins immediately. I am only one year into a lifetime’s work. I will strive to live as gently, and with as much integrity, as I can for my time on the planet, and do it to the best of my ability. The only advice I can really offer is for you to do the same, regardless of what your vision is. Make the discrepancies between your heart, your head and your hands be as minimal as possible. And remember, we once lived without money.

This article is published with permission from Resurgence Magazine, UK.