The Man Who Lives Without Money

Irishman Mark Boyle tried to live life with no income, no bank balance and no spending. Here’s how he finds it.

If someone told me seven years ago, in my final year of a business and economics degree, that I’d now be living without money, I’d have probably choked on my microwaved ready meal. The plan back then was to get a ‘good’ job, make as much money as possible, and buy the stuff that would show society I was successful.

For a while I did it – I had a fantastic job managing a big organic food company; had myself a yacht on the harbour. If it hadn’t been for the chance purchase of a video called Gandhi, I’d still be doing it today. Instead, for the last fifteen months, I haven’t spent or received a single penny. Zilch.

The change in life path came one evening on the yacht whilst philosophising with a friend over a glass of merlot. Whilst I had been significantly influenced by the Mahatma’s quote “be the change you want to see in the world”, I had no idea what that change was up until then. We began talking about all major issues in the world – environmental destruction, resource wars, factory farms, sweatshop labour – and wondering which of these we would be best devoting our time to. Not that we felt we could make any difference, being two small drops in a highly polluted ocean.

But that evening I had a realisation. These issues weren’t as unrelated as I had previously thought – they had a common root cause. I believe the fact that we no longer see the direct repercussions our purchases have on the people, environment and animals they affect is the factor that unites these problems.

The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that it now means we’re completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the ‘stuff’ we buy.

Very few people actually want to cause suffering to others; most just don’t have any idea that they directly are. The tool that has enabled this separation is money, especially in its globalised format.

Take this for an example: if we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today.

If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior décor.

If we had to clean our own drinking water, we probably wouldn’t shit in it.

709px-MarkBoyle(tea)Cropped

So to be the change I wanted to see in the world, it unfortunately meant I was going to have to give up money, which I decided to do for a year initially. So I made a list of the basics I’d need to survive. I adore food, so it was at the top. There are four legs to the food-for-free table: foraging wild food, growing your own, bartering and using waste grub, of which there far too much.

On my first day I fed 150 people a three course meal with waste and foraged food. Most of the year I ate my own crops though and waste only made up about five per cent my diet. I cooked outside – rain or shine – on a rocket stove.

Next up was shelter. So I got myself a caravan from Freecycle, parked it on an organic farm I was volunteering with, and kitted it out to be off the electricity grid. I’d use wood I either coppiced or scavenged to heat my humble abode in a wood burner made from an old gas bottle, and I had a compost loo to make ‘humanure’ for my veggies.

I bathed in a river, and for toothpaste I used washed up cuttlefish bone with wild fennel seeds, an oddity for a vegan. For loo roll I’d relieve the local newsagents of its papers (I once wiped my arse with a story about myself); it wasn’t double quilted but it quickly became normal. To get around I had a bike and trailer, and the 55 km commute to the city doubled up as my gym subscription. For lighting I’d use beeswax candles.

Many people label me an anti-capitalist. Whilst I do believe capitalism is fundamentally flawed, requiring infinite growth on a finite planet, I am not anti anything. I am pro-nature, pro-community and pro-happiness. And that’s the thing I don’t get – if all this consumerism and environmental destruction brought happiness, it would make some sense. But all the key indicators of unhappiness – depression, crime, mental illness, obesity, suicide and so on are on the increase. More money it seems, does not equate to more happiness.

Ironically, I have found this year to be the happiest of my life. I’ve more friends in my community than ever, I haven’t been ill since I began, and I’ve never been fitter. I’ve found that friendship, not money, is real security. That most western poverty is spiritual. And that independence is really interdependence.

Could we all live like this tomorrow? No. It would be a catastrophe, we are too addicted to both it and cheap energy, and have managed to build an entire global infrastructure around the abundance of both. But if we devolved decision making and re-localised down to communities of no larger than 150 people, then why not? For over 90 per cent of our time on this planet, a period when we lived much more ecologically, we lived without money. Now we are the only species to use it, probably because we are the species most out of touch with nature.

People now often ask me what is missing compared to my old world of lucre and business. Stress. Traffic-jams. Bank statements. Utility bills. Oh yeah, and the odd pint of organic ale with my mates down the local.

Source: Worldobserveronline

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Comments
  1. Keith Laufenberg

    This is a man with backbone, courage and character. If only … if only we could give up these things. Blessed is the man who can sell all his worldly goods (a.k.a. junk) and live on whatever the Lord provides. Of course you’re gonna have to help the Lord cause as we all know: “the Lord helps those who help themselves,” so…. I don’t know if I got enough guts left to do it. Give up all your stuff: your house(s), car(s), bank account(s) money, possessions? Hmmmmm. I dunno, I really don’t but I do know we should all try, at least a little bit of it.

    • Your mom

      Theres groups and communities that study/learn this type of stuff (you can easily find them on facebook or just google a bit, like “living in the wilderness”).

      • Tadas

        What are they doing on Facebook though?

  2. Julian

    Simple lifestyle brings simple thoughts. The biggest issue I have with this is it facilitates nothing in terms of intellectual stimulation. The problems that are present are simple, and easily solvable (as this article proves). Fascination with incredibly imaginative creations is important for happiness, in my opinion. This process is a fascination for this man, sure, but not forever. It will not be eternally interesting for him, or at the very least, most other people that try it. Eventually he will need something else to make him get out of bed to be excited about. Life as we know it, with the Internet and many other things, is a result of this fact. He can try and bring things back to bronze age levels, but a human mind will still want to strive forward to a more fulfilling existence which guarantees surprises and new journeys. This outlook only tramples on what we have achieved.

    • Thomas

      Who said local farming is not challenging? Who said he isn’t reading and making art in his spare time? Who said he doesn’t play an intricate, delicate, and well-crafted social role in his local community?

      • Julian

        Reading what though? Nomadic lifestyle doesn’t have a printing press. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool idea, but it’s not sustainable in terms of humanity’s advancement. Subsistence farming is not difficult in the right environment, and to be honest, foraging is probably all one would need to do. What local community? What causes are they supporting? What needs do they have? All theoretical questions and thus solutions for a set of problems that don’t exist with this way of life. You’re giving way too much credit to what society would be capable of if everyone lived like this and refused technology.

        • Grace

          You are a typical example of what we have become. Narrow-minded. If you can’t open your mind to the endless possibilities about what you could be doing to keep your mind busy in that situation, then you’ve been working in an office for too long and it has sapped out every last bit of your creativity.

          • Julian

            Well I think narrow minded is a bit harsh, given you know nothing about me. But I spend plenty of time outdoors and grew up very much as an outdoor child, so I suspect you give me less credit than I deserve. My point is that there ARE endless possibilities, and following through with them has made man as we are now. Staying nomadic would involve denying what we are capable of – if you can’t see that then you are the narrow minded one.

          • Brad

            Good for you, Man. Im 100% in agreement with you. While farming and eco-logistics is all well and good for stimulating the mind, none of you guys can honestly say you can stop progress by regressing. People as a society always want progress and that won’t ever stop. Its not necessarily greed or consumerist addiction that has brought this on, but they basic need to improve. With improvements to technology, we become interested in what we can do and create with that technology, which is a good thing. While i agree that currency is dangerous and has done irreparable damage, there’s no stopping global economics. Thing is, its safe for one man or a small community here and there to go off the grid, because even they know that the developed, techno age civilization is still there. But would those same people be so ready to have the whole world regress as they did? Its a pretty scary proposition offering a cash free existence at the expense of any safety net our cash and tech give.

          • Jon

            I like all the comments here. I think you all have really good points. I realised (only after reading your comments) that he isn’t living completely without technology but has only decided not to use money. That limits him in what he can do in our particular society but if money was not a factor there would be no limits. The scale of his philosophy isn’t obvious at first but it can be universal. It can extend from the simplicity of planting vegetables to the challenges of space exploration.

            Sure it is a utopia idea that requires everyone if not the majority of people to be selfless but he is demonstrating that it works. The only limitation is how many people accept the same way of life. That is what determines the scale. That will dictate whether we are scavenging for berries or terraforming other planets.

            In a way he’s found a niche by exploiting a weakness in our economy.

            Money was invented 600BC in Cyprus. The horse and sword has been the height of technology for millennia since and only in the last 200 years has our technology accelerated. Clearly money isn’t the factor but what is?

          • shane carroll

            its a very interesting thing that he is doing and i wonder is he doing it because he cares about his impact on the planet and is trying to reduce it or is it just to prove to himself that he can break the bonds of modern convenience and survive without dependence on others.

            If so i believe the greatest impact he and like minded people ( i would consider myself like minded, as in i agree with a lot said in this article but i doubt i could go to the extremes he has gone) could have on this planet is to try take charge of the human population and try move it in a more earth friendly direction.This would be obviously easier said than done but with the advances in technology, communication has never been easier or more accessible, it isnt impossible or inconceivable.

            The human population of the earth has boomed in the last few decades but there is evidence to suggest that it will level off as third world countries develop and become more educated.This boom obviously means increased demand on food,resources etc.but it also means the gap in the distribution of wealth widens.

            in a round about way what im trying to say is,the trick for humans to prosper on a healthy planet in future is:equality for all people,the concept of monetary wealth will have to be removed or changed dramatically and education will have to be prioritised for all.Getting all nations to co-operate in the best interests of the planet is the key.The only problem is it will probably take something drastic to happen for any of these ideas to happen.

            what a rant!
            Anyway fair play Mark.you have great motivation and initiative to do this much!

          • John

            Reminds me of a certain revelation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Na9-jV_OJI

          • Bharat

            Bro I think exactly the same… We need a cure, but not someone like Agent smith or the machines. ;)

        • VALI

          Actually I believe that the internet’s only function should be a faster comunication between people,other than that it’s just restricting our natural capability to imagine new things for our selves.Most of the time we only come in contact with new information that confuses most of us, because not everybody can select useful things from the internet without a guide.So yes I believe that the internet is mostly doing harm for the majority that come in contact with it.But anyway it’s just an opinion.This is just exactly as I said above.

    • Tina Stepan

      lol….”intellectual stimulation”?? Free computers. libraries, learning new skills, time to visit friends and family, travel…..I think he’s smarter than most of us because he’s given up the “crap that sits in an empty house while we work to pay for it” mentality!! This is awesome!

  3. Sadie Rowe

    I think I am in love with this guy. Wow. Kudos to you sir.

    • Ritesh Jain

      You should contact him….

      • Sadie Rowe

        I would love to… He is amazing.

        • Ritesh Jain

          Have you met that person…?
          ;)

          • Sadie Rowe

            No. Sadly.

          • Carolina Patiño

            Where Does he live? I want to meet him

      • Bradyn Allison

        hahaha

  4. emily indigo

    Read the monograph (book) by David Graeber entitled “Debt: The First 5000 Years” for the most completely researched history of money and debt ever compiled. It will blow your mind. Read anything by Wendell Berry for what really constitutes “progress” and the importance of local economies.

  5. Allan Rosen

    Sorry, not giving up my iDEVICES. I’ll take the rat race

  6. Nicholas Crimaldi

    You would be shocked at how many people actually live and think like this man. There are plenty.

    • Keith Laufenberg

      you’re right there are but we are all afraid. The young are afraid to get old, the old are afraid to get sick and the sick are afraid to die.

  7. Debbie Vena

    Economics is the study of scare resources, to achieve desired ends. Seems to me, you realized that some of these things are NOT scarce and therefore found alternative ways of managing without man made money. No?

  8. ui

    I really wish a day when each one is like this but ..what happens when something unexpected happen? like some disease/accident/some emergency/a drought/natural calamity .. because everyone needs money they even evaluate people with the money in ones hand ..and what do you use for clothes.., have to buy …

  9. William Ebbett

    This is freedom.

  10. davdal

    “because we are the species most out of touch with nature” ha. Or we are the only species that can grasp the idea of currency. If we were to go by this mans epiphany we would all still be living in caves picking insects out of each others hair. Well done mate but im pretty happy not wiping my arse with a news paper

  11. Tracey Wodnisky

    My family and I discuss this very topic all the time – abolishing the monetary system. So many issues would be solved. Poverty – no such thing. It is money that creates division between, and thus defines rich and poor. No poverty? No issues that go along with it..crime (committed as a result of not having enough money) disease, depression (usually a result of not feeling good enough based on monetary success) anxiety, which comes from worrying about the future (the myths we buy into about having enough money to retire, etc.) No war – mostly caused by corruption and money-hungry, power loving politicians. War is a multi-billion dollar industry. And progress? We would still have it. How? By having a resource based society instead of a monetary one. Everyone would have something to give toward society and and all would think beyond their own four walls. If I am a doctor, I provide that service to you and in turn, you provide me with your area of expertise as “payment” The old trading/bartering system resurrected. We could still power everything…solar power, tidal power, wind power – just eliminate the greedy corporations in between and do it ourselves. Then, the internet could still be here as a communication tool – we would have to abolish the communication companies that charge for it! Not through violence of course, but through forward, innovative thinking. This would take time….a LOOONG time, but I do believe it is possible, attainable and would eventually become the “norm.” Oh yeah….and kids would play outside again! Open your mind people – the simplest solutions are often the best ones!

  12. Mike

    How many people would starve or die from a lack of medical care if we all lived like this? Mankind once lived this way thousands of years ago. We gave it up for a reason.

  13. Jomar Matamorosa

    i want this to have a movie to make everybody know that this is possible.

  14. Jp Ogena

    IMO I think this guy missed the point, the regulators(money) consumers & suppliers are not the cause of problem in society… The problem starts with greed.. Its basic human nature… To control greed and teach people not to be greedy is the key.. The Greed of 1 person affects all that is around him..

  15. Jennifer Du Toit

    All very good..but a lot of what he does would not be possible if it weren’t for certain elements. The caravan he lives in was bought with money and is a product of industry..the clothes he wears were initially bought with money..and could be from sweatshops..the newspaper he wipes with is a product of society. I don’t think that the average person is a victim of the modern world, we still have it in our power to work 9-5 and be blissfully happy. It’s about how you balance your life and about how you take responsibility for your own happiness. He was obviously not happy and adjusted his life, which was the correct thing to do. However I am perfectly happy to take my hot showers and buy my socks from a supermarket without feeling the least bit ashamed.

    • Dignitas ZeNeo

      Ignorance is bliss for a lot of the people, but we live in essentially a slave society which is perpetuated by the slaves. Life in the Western World is certainly better than in 3rd World Countries but our societies are by majority fragmented and people are serving themself rather than as a collective. Also we live vicariously through corporations and Governments to sustain our lifestyles which only serve themselves which is ultimately stripping the planet of life.

  16. Tim Pong

    Im curious to know where he lived. Did he buy land? If so hes already rich by poverty standards.

    Also im curious to know whether he thinks he could live for more than just a year on subsistence. Does he think he can raise a family with such a life?

    There are people out there in the world who live everyday hand to mouth, but unlike this man dont have the option to choose it. I think if you asked those people whether theyd rather have material wealth they would unequivocably say yes

  17. The Cocreator Coach

    Some great thoughts and commentary here. The value here, or the perception of what it is, seems to be concerned with materialism/consumerism and whether he is doing it properly or authentically or not doing it and why etc…I think it goes beyond that thinking and those paradigms. Clearly he needs ‘things’ and I don’t think he is hiding that. The title of the article spells it out really – he is a man living without money. He is being opportunistic, creative, resourceful, pragmatic and interdependent. The value here for this man appears to be measured in his experience by the spiritual and community connections he has been able to develop living this lifestyle. This seems to be in direct contrast to his experience living the life he lived before this. Inspirational story in my book.

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