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A Minimalist Experiment

October 4, 2013

What would life be like if you set completely different priorities? Here’s one answer:

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 calledGandhi, 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.

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.

This guy is no doubt busy, but in a good way. I don’t know what our culture and economy would look like if everyone tried to live like this. But I do know that there is probably a hybrid somewhere in between a system of consumerist capitalism and this sort of minimalism. And I think it mostly could be catalyzed if the costs of everything reflected their environmental and social costs as well as their production costs. We’d produce less, earn less, consume less. And production and marketing would be completely transformed.

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