Money-free – well not quite;-)

A recent book has been published by a person whose story I came across in Permaculture magazine. The Moneyless Manifesto is an experience I followed in the magazine, but haven’t gotten around to reading the full book yet.

What Mark Boyle has done, and continues to do, brings to mind Henry David Thoreau (author of Walden), who has a passage in the beginning of Mark’s book. What these men and so many others have done and are doing is questioning the status quo of a money-based society.

“… to say that I live without money isn’t saying anything, really. That’s like saying I live without belief in Santa Claus. Now, if we lived in a world where everyone believed in Santa Claus, you might think I am stepping out on a limb to live without Santa Claus.” – Daniel Suelo (Living moneyless in U.S.A. for over 12 years)

The most interesting part of a book like this or Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics (whose short film gives a quick explanation of the money-less ideal) is their implications in our current world’s state of affairs.

My life experiment being far from money-less was inspired by the people of the planet. When I returned from my travels after visiting the lesser developed countries of the world I felt so much connection with those societies that I wanted to try and live with less. Our lives’ journeys always continue to confront us with personal challenges that we either take or sidestep.

After becoming intrigued by the fact that so many others can live with less and be alive well and rich in many other ways I started to question modern economic systems.

Barter became a part of my life early on and it seemed to be such an easy part of the puzzle to find. Money I came to realize was just another form of barter used correctly. When money becomes the end result rather than just the means for trade is where the problem lies.

Many of my childhood friends grew up in houses with their parents and grandparents and talk of mortgages or re-mortgaging a house was basically unheard of in our neck of the woods. Houses were where we lived, and in our parent’s lifetimes, many of the people on our block owned their houses outright while still having young children. Of course this wasn’t the norm in The Bronx everywhere, and just as the microcosm of the macrocosm exist all around us, life not far away in the apartment buildings of The Grand Concourse or a few blocks away told a different story from ours.

Without any deep realization at the time of my childhood these small economic truths I was raised with shaped and formed my life’s path. I was able to return home after my travels and have a place to stay and find work in a field that enticed me, rather than just rushing into a job to pay my bills and get food to the table.

When I returned from my first long world journey craving my own space to live in I was fortunately able to reside in the basement of our house as a few of the children of the two families who had grown up there had done before. It was the apartment where my paternal grandparents lived out their lives after my dad and Aunt Mary (their two children) occupied the upper two houses or apartments. My grandparents had gifted their two children a life where many financial pressures were immediately taken away.

That first longer journey saw me leave NYC on a motorcycle and return by bicycle. Coming back from that first multi-year journey I also amazingly returned with more money than I left with because of a lucrative stint of teaching English in Japan.

By creatively spending (or not) the few extra thousand I had in my bank account I was able to explore more of the planet after a year of working for a modest wage in a bicycle shop. That year of work taught me skills and deepened my knowledge of repairing bicycles. All these skills were conspiring to form an unknown future for me in the bike world.

As life was getting more complicated all around me amongst my peers I was oblivious to the financial draw to buy my first house or have a new car. When I returned home from my second longish journey – a year and a half in Europe, North Africa and Turkey – the basement apartment I previously occupied was being used by my cousin, so two friends made the kind offer of living in their unfinished basement.

Charlie and I finished off the basement and even put up a stud wall for more privacy in exchange for my living quarters. Charlie and Andrea were both keen cyclists so I kept their steeds happily tuned up and gave them the occasional cycle part in exchange for a place to sleep.

After another year of working in the field of bicycles I was now a better bike mechanic and understood the business side of the industry as well.

My political and environmental head had also grown and over the years I had witnessed too much devastation which helped change my world view forever. Although modest, my living conditions in those basements seemed to me absolute luxury. I was now seeing the bigger picture more clearly and my childhood was also coming into focus. I lived in a house surrounded by family and friends, I graduated university (CUNY Lehman) with no debt hanging over my head. This spelled freedom for me, and in view of the world I had been out exploring, it also spelled Privilege with a capital ‘P’.

My path since then has been in search of that much less rather than so much more. Authors like E.F. Schumacher spoke directly to my inner being in books like Small is Beautiful, or his forward in Less is More. My sort-of apprenticeship while working helped me open two debt-free bicycle shops which I recount in a different blog.

Has my life been money-less? By no means, but my life has led me to realize that we in the west are privileged, and because of my travels and rubbing shoulders with the world’s poor, I consider myself even moreso enriched.

My time rich/cash poor existence as a young explorer has segued into my adult life as parent and partner. We want for nothing and much like the parental help my parent’s received I see the time we get to spend with our children and living simply as a gifts handed down to us. With due respect to our grandparents’ and parents’ sacrifices and all the friends we have bartered with in so many different ways over the years those gifts go a long way. I feel it would be disrespectful to treat those gifts any other way.

When I look back on the creativity I learned from the world’s poorest countries I also thank them as well. All the rental fleets in youth hostels I tuned for lodging, police bikes I fixed for tacos in Mexico, or side of the road punctures for smiles and waves have not gone unappreciated.

A year ago I was embarking on a trip to the unknown in Sub-Saharan Africa for a three month journey to continue to give back to the abundant world I learned from. Another wake-up call and humbling experience that I thank the people of Sierra Leone and the Village Bicycle Project for allowing me in to do what I could to help.

For my ex-colleagues who now own their own bicycle shops serving the local needs in Ireland and England I say glad to have helped.  I give thanks to Jim, Danny and Steve for the years of apprenticeship I received in New York. For the apartments, the plane tickets, the loaned cars, the meals, the love and the friendship I also give thanks. I need to apologize unfortunately to those who continue to suffer from a badly mismanaged world. Hopefully the future will one day brighten for all of us.

To everyone in the world I say we are unknowingly all living in a gift economy. It’s just that the realization hasn’t fully manifested yet. Oh boy, when it does;-)!!!

I leave you with this – What a Wonderful World!

About thebikeguy61

I was born in The Bronx, in NYC. I traveled a fair bit of the world by bicycle for many years. In more recent years I have moved around Europe with my wife and 2 children. My first book was published in 2010, "Cycles of a Traveler". Back living in France after a fantastic voyage across America with my family. Next book on its way, and always more interviews to look forward to.
This entry was posted in Cycling, Education, Life on planet earth., Money & Economics, Recycle - Reuse - Rethink and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Money-free – well not quite;-)

  1. Majella says:

    Just last night I was at a talk and group discussion with Mark Boyle here in Eco Village as part of Farm Camp and also heard him last week at electric picnic. he’s a great guy. His central message is in simplifying our needs, very easy to understand but more difficult to implement. Lots small steps for me I think. Lv m


    • thebikeguy61 says:

      Yes it always comes around to simplifying our needs. When thinking about the state of the world the best way to help developing countries out of their seemingly unending swirl of political, and the myriad of other problems they face, is for those of us in the consumer orientated west sorting ourselves out, hence lessening our dependency on the natural resources supplied to us from them at huge human, environmental and social cost. Then we’ll start to see real deep-seated change take hold and a brighter future start to shine through for us all.


  2. Nice piece Joe. What is also true is that our generation – that’s the balding, middle-aged ones, are lucky for the advantages that we enjoy over the next ones. All the more reason to think deeply about what you say and to try to practise it.


  3. thebikeguy61 says:

    Walking the talk easier said than done, but well worth the exercise!


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