Today is ‘Buy Nothing Day’, a chance for the wealthy to ease the pressure on their conscience – but pretty galling for anyone in genuine poverty.
We are all encouraged to take a “global holiday from consumerism” and have a 24-hour break from any kind of shopping. It certainly has an added resonance in the credit crunch.
It’s quite another thing to go without spending any money for a whole year.
That’s what Mark Boyle (29) says he planning to do. Starting today Boyle, living in Bristol, South West England,aims to “put his potatoes where his mouth is” and become the ultimate “freeconomist”, living entirely off the land and the waste products of society. Fuelled by his conviction that money really is the root of all evil, or at least the root cause of the profligate wastefulness of society, Boyle has a track record of failing to finish what he started.
Freegan or Freeloader?
Earlier this year he set of on a walk from London to India with no money. But he gave up at Calais when he discovered that no-one could understand him. He set out with only T-shirts, a bandage and sandals, hoped to rely on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging.
But, because he couldn’t speak French, people mistook him for a freeloader or an asylum seeker.
In his online diary at the start of his journey to Porbander, Gandhi’s birthplace, he said: “…not only did no one not speak the language, they had also seen us as just a bunch of freeloading backpackers.”
Now the betting is that Boyle will give up once he had milked the publicity from his latest venture. But that doesn’t make his words any less true when he says: “It’s the disconnection we have with what we consume that is the primary cause of the wasteful culture we live in today,” he says. “If we all had to grow our own food, we wouldn’t waste one third of it. If we had to clean our own drinking water, we sure as hell wouldn’t s**t in it. We’ve absolutely no respect for the energy that goes into the things we consume and buy today, so we think nothing of throwing them ‘away’.”
Boyle has admitted that he appears a ” hypocrite” but says he will now “start living what I believe”. It’s going to be tough: his caravan is heated only by a wood-burner made from an old gas bottle and a few bicycle parts, on which he will also cook his foraged or skip-salvaged meals.
What’s more, there will be “no pre-payment of bills, no storing up of food, no using the plug socket in the library”. Boyle says he will be completely off-grid, using “transitional tools” such as the laptop and phone only in as much as the sun can power them.
Lighting will be provided by his own home-made beeswax candles and a solar panel on the caravan’s roof.
For transport, there’s his trusty bike, equipped with waterproof panniers and a trailer, which he will be using to scavenge waste and dead wood for the stove. If he needs to journey further afield, he will avail of the Liftshare scheme – a worldwide initiative where members share car journeys – or, failing that, hitchhike.
While Boyle’s set-up sounds rather grim and spartan, the man himself is full of irrepressible enthusiasm, and he’s refreshingly free of any kind of hectoring eco-piety. “The wood-burner is placed facing my bed, so I can watch the embers glow as I read a book on those cold winter evenings,” he says happily. “This is not about sacrifice. It’s about appreciating the beautiful simplicity of life.”
As the founder of the alternative “Freeconomy” community – a trust-based, money-free online group, where members share tools and skills instead of paying for them – Boyle is already further along the road of self-sufficiency than most of us. But he’s realistic enough to know that there will be many tricky moments ahead.
“I’ve been preparing a lot over the last couple of months, but the challenge will be the things I can’t plan for: a broken arm, exhaustion or – the worst case scenario – a family bereavement. I suspect the most difficult thing will be socialising in a world that revolves around money. I’ll be living on a day-to-day basis, hand to mouth, which means I’ll never really know where my next meal comes from.”
Boyle’s plans have already come in for some criticism from those who see the experiment as little more than a self-serving and rather grandiose publicity stunt. Is he the ultimate freeconomist – or the ultimate freeloader? And, if the scheme really is a personal journey of self-sufficiency, why not keep it private?
Boyle acknowledges that he is in a privileged position to be able to attempt the experiment in the first place. He says the reason he is going to document it and talk about it is not to inflate his ego.
He may be a steadfastly sunny optimist, but Mark Boyle is no fool. He knows that his year without cash is an infinitesimally small riposte to the excesses of global capitalism.
“This is not a revolution,” he says. “We’re not going to get a world without money tomorrow. But even if everyone thinks I have completely lost my mind, at least it may have made them question the role money plays in their own lives.”
How to survive 24 hours without splashing out
That daily cappuccino-and-croissant habit is costing you thousands: transform last night’s leftovers into a healthy breakfast hash instead.
Forget the bus (or the train) and bike it to work.
Join freecycle.org, the online recycling network, and find treasure in other people’s trash.
Invite yourself to a friend’s house for lunch – good conversation and home-made food are better than a pre-packed sandwich on the hoof.
Replace your gym session with a refreshing run around the park – and don’t forget to keep an eye out for wild mushrooms for supper.
Perk up your hair-do with a free trim at a hairdressing training college.
Browse the latest bestsellers at your local library.
Nothing for dinner? Make like a freegan and have a hoke in a supermarket skip for discarded but perfectly edible ready-meals.
Attend a book launch or art opening – you can fill up on tasty canapés, and there’s always plenty of free booze.