Recently I have been thinking about the Gift Economy. It is one of those ideas that seems completely daft, but it simmers away in the back of your mind until it becomes normalised, then suddenly it starts to make sense. The Gift Economy is a way to live interdependantly within a community by sharing what you have and what you make with others without money being exchanged. If they do the same with you, theoretically we could all live without money. Our tribal forebears did it. People around the world experiment with it, but mostly don't live entirely in the gift economy, because in our society that would be very, very difficult. But taking an idea to its extreme is always exciting, so let's do it. Let's ban money and see what happens. Let's do it tomorrow.
Imagine that for a minute. It is such a fascinating thought experiment. Tomorrow we wake up and money has been abolished. Outright barter is also banned, due to it being a money-like contract. How would we live our day tomorrow without money? Would you go to work? Would you stay home and watch the telly or play on the internet instead? Oh, whoops, the people who run the TV station, keep the internet servers running and fire up the coal power stations also decided to stay home from work. The garbage collectors are really, really happy not to have to get up at four in the morning, so they won't be round to pick up the bins. Oh, oh. No electricity. No internet. No garbage collection. The whole fabric of society is falling apart! Aargh! What to do?
But wait. Some things are continuing without cease. Children are still being cared for. Animals are still being fed. Neighbours are sharing food, gardens are being tended. There are people playing musical instruments. Of course, there are other people looting and causing mayhem. Loose coalitions of neighbours and friends get together to work out a plan of defence. Ex-army and police officers who decided they weren't going into work if they weren't going to be paid are more than happy to volunteer to defend their families and neighbours, and train others to do the same.
Within a few days people are working out what kind of tasks they willing to do without money being exchanged, and for whom. People will generally be responsible for their own shit. And for their kids' shit. That is about the extent of their willingness to be responsible for that unpleasant task. Disseminating information is a much more rewarding task though, so many knowledgeable people are happy to write up posters detailing how to make composting toilets and how to safely dispose of humanure. An artist offers her hand-cranked linotype printer because this is an important community service. Posters go up all over town. It turns out that many farmers love their land and love to farm. Most of them have had extra off-farm jobs for years to support their addictive but unprofitable farm habit, and many people offer to join them, as food is a very motivating factor for, let's see, everyone. Private land-ownership also being abolished, owner-built houses pop up all over the place, especially on large tracts of farmland. Little villages begin to form.
No-one, it appears, wants to work in a factory producing endless consumer goods for no monetary reward. But plenty of craftspeople continue filling their days making all sorts of beautiful and useful objects from anything they can find, and have plenty of apprentices eager to learn their skills. Big hospitals don't work any more because all the service personnel discovered that they no longer wanted to mop floors or wipe up other people's bodily fluids. Plus, there is no electricity grid any more. The doctors and medical personnel are still mostly passionately devoted to making people well. They just do it on a much more local scale, and many of them also train up bright young offsiders. Doctors are very much valued, and fed and sheltered by the community they work for. Engineers and scientists never stop being fascinated by problems that need to be solved. They get together and tinker away in sheds between hauling their own shit and working in the garden. They find ingenious solutions for the many problems of this new society. I am imagining there would be many people volunteering to put some community hours in on learning how to manufacture anaesthetics and insulin under the tutelage of an enthusiastic chemist, and to get some local forms of electricity working again..
Gardens and small holdings are everywhere, in all the green spaces, and built over much of the road space in cities, because of course there are no cars or oil refineries any more. If you have to garden to eat, you learn to garden. And hunt. And look after animals. There are so many people whose jobs are completely redundant in this new world with no money. I bet you can think of twenty job titles without even trying, which wouldn't exist in this new society. All those people will need to learn to feed themselves and those they love. Maybe they will fall in love with plants and animals and teach their kids and other people's kids how to garden. Many of them will feed far more people than just their own families, and will enjoy being useful members of their small communities.
Here is where my thought experiment has led me so far - if there was no money in our world, and if we depended on ourselves and each other for everything we needed to live, very little of our modern society would survive. This means that almost all of the things we think are indispensable to us - sanitation, electricity, the internet, modern medicine, education, transport, all the things - are only produced reluctantly by an unhappy workforce which has to be coerced to produce them.
Our society denies us food and shelter unless we participate in its programme. If we agree to do unpleasant things like like haul garbage, mop floors or work in factories, then we get to eat and have a place to live. More or less. Other people get to do much less useful things, like moving pieces of paper around in an office, and bothering other people a lot. They get to swap that labour for a much nicer place to live and better food. But it is all the same programme. And we acquiesce in it everyday. We expect others to look after our shit, to feed us, to clean up after us, to move pieces of paper around for us and tell us what to do. Not because they value us as people and want to be part of an interdependent community with us, but because they have to, to live. We have to, to live.
There is actually enough food in the world for everyone. There is enough spare stuff lying around that everyone could build a shelter and be clothed. There are creative people everywhere who can invent stuff and make stuff and make our hearts soar with their stories and songs. Our access to what we need is artificially restricted by society so that some people can have more than others. This seems clinically insane to me, but all the same, I am one of those who benefit from the unpleasant work of other people. In my imaginary thought experiment I would not be tapping out words on a computer right now. I would be working in the garden and making sauerkraut and in this season eating more zucchinis and less chocolate chips. Well, no chocolate chips actually. I can understand why people like me choose not to tear down the fabric of society and institute a fairer order, because that new order would cause everyone like me to do an awful lot more gardening. We would return to an age more like our tribal ancestors, who all lived in the Gift Economy. Everything they did was for the good of their family and neighbours. Mind you, it wouldn't be all hard graft. Hunter and gatherer cultures like the Australian aboriginal people had a two and a half day work week. And we think we are the 'civilised' ones. Ha.
And obviously, if the money economy collapsed tomorrow an awful lot of people would die before society reorganised itself into loose little tribal coalitions of people who were willing to contribute all they worked for to the common weal. And learnt how to feed themselves. So maybe when I am benevolent dictator of the world I won't banish money quite overnight. But don't get me wrong, I will insist on it happening..
In the meantime I am experimenting with the gift economy in my own life, and so are many, many other people, without even realising it. We share our home grown vegies with neighbours, we babysit each other's kids, we dog-sit their puppies when they go away for the weekend, we bake cakes for the school fair and join community gardens and volunteer to clean up our community or feed those who cannot feed themselves. We make things and mend things and play music round the campfire and have pot luck dinners. Every time we do anything for someone out of a sense of love or kindness and fairness instead of for money, then we are continuing the human-long tradition of connection through care. It is worth doing, because we are better than money..
I stopped cleaning the house! I thought you would be pleased to hear this, as yes, it does mean I am writing. I thought that I might be going to write magazine articles but it turns out I am writing a novel. It is a pretty terrible novel, but it might get better. I started it once, but it wasn't right at all, so now I have started it again from a completely different point of view and it is much better. I am writing every day, but I stare out the window more than write, and sometimes I only manage a paragraph a day. I feel like I should maybe just write and come back and make it perfect later, but it really is difficult not to perfect it now. Although it is going to take some time if I can only manage a paragraph a day. For the first few days I managed to sabotage myself beautifully by doing the housework and gardening every day before I sat down to write. Then I had a four day weekend with the girls because private school reasons, then I had one day to write before going back to work, and I wrote for a day and fit in all the housework and errands after my writing work day like people with jobs have to do anyway. For a single day now I have treated writing like a real job, and it felt good. Now I have to make it pay like a real job. Today as I was chasing a four year old kindergarten escapee up the street in the rain I was thinking that writing as a job sounded pretty good really.. drier anyway..
We are dog-sitting our neighbour's beautiful cocker spaniel puppy. Beautiful, but just as brain-dead as our own beloved hound. Every time I sweep the floor she comes to investigate and sweeps her long black ears through the pile of dirt. She has long elegant black ears permanently edged with a fringe of grey fluff. Today she ate my gardening shoes, which clearly tired her out.
I made salsa! Out of chilies and green capsicums and tomatoes that I grew myself! I made passata! Now I just have to find something to do with approximately seventy five zucchinis.. this time of year the garden often makes me panic, but then I realise that I don't have to do it all myself - the world is full of hungry people to share with. And only some of them have gardens full of zucchini. So the rest will be pleased to see a zucchini (or two) coming up the garden path.. won't they?
It is the first week of Autumn here in the southern hemisphere. We had a mini heatwave, but now the crisp mornings and deep clear blue skies of autumn are here. The garden has turned into a feral jungle, due to me ignoring it completely all summer except to water. I am nothing if not an inconsistent gardener. However, it is a gloriously productive feral jungle, with food bursting out all over the place. The first whisperings of autumn always call me back to the garden, as I suddenly wake up from my summer haze and think, "Oh, my goodness, what has been going on here? Order! I must have order! And a plan." And probably the garden is laughing at me, because I believe I am in charge of the garden..
Rocket, chard and chilli jungle
Garden mystery. Is it a cape gooseberry or a ground cherry? It popped up out of nowhere.
This morning I imposed a patch of order on the chaos. The garden is still laughing at me..
I am a person who always likes to keep something in reserve. I like to listen more than I like to talk. I come from a long line of introverts, all of whom tend to keep their thoughts to themselves, unless pushed. I grew up in a nice, stable extended family where everyone went to church, had a job, got married, brought up children and grew old together. No-one had fights or major dramas. There were no black sheep or skeletons in the closet. Everyone was just... nice. This is not a bad thing, by the way. Growing up loved and cared for by a bunch of genuinely kind people? Priceless. The problem with that is - I have a 'nice' filter. It is very hard for me to get beyond the superficial, or publicly explore the area outside the white picket fence that defines suitable topics for discussion for those descended from respectable evangelical Christians.
Our family are all introverts. And life-long conflict avoiders. And we believe in a Stiff Upper Lip and Just Getting On With Things. In our family we resolve tensions by a)pretending that nothing is wrong, b)smiling and c)talking about something 'nice' instead. The best way to resolve conflict as an introvert is not to have any. The best way not to have conflict is to decide that your problems/issues/tensions/emotions/needs etc, aren't really that important after all and to bury them deep inside while getting on with the much simpler task of being 'nice' in public, while being terribly sad, anxious, angry or resentful in private.
I found a man to marry who had the same kind of family and upbringing that I had, so we both brought our non-existent communication skills to the table. Then we broke the script, because no matter how hard we tried we could neither of us bear to live a life of emotions swept under the rug. But we couldn't express them in a productive way either, because we didn't know how. So we sulked. For twenty three years. Well, not the whole twenty three years. When it was good it was very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid.
Ironically, during this time we did what all the child raising manuals suggested, and taught our children how to use their 'I feel' words, and tried hard to listen and reflect back their feelings. I have a dear friend, Jane, who is especially good at this and I learned most of what I know about conflict resolution by listening to her working through conflict with and between her children over the many hundreds of hours we have spent together as parents. I was astounded. Conflict apparently isn't a bad thing. Sometimes it is a helpful tool to come to new understandings about each other. Who knew?
While nowhere near perfect I think I have done a reasonably good job of talking with my kids about difficult subjects, and helping them to unpack conflict. Unfortunately that did not translate to managing to be vulnerable and honest in my marriage, and so for that, and a multitude of other miserable reasons, we decided to part. There are only so many instances of sweeping problems under the rug and pretending nothing happened that a relationship can withstand. Interestingly, as soon as the worst had happened in our relationship, we were able to talk. I think we figured that since nothing worse could happen we could finally afford to tell the truth. While it didn't save our marriage, I think it was the saving grace of our relationship. We managed to part as friends and colleagues, and can continue to parent our kids while keeping communication open and honest.
That experience encouraged me to open up a little more to my parents. Over the last couple of years we have been able to have more conversations about difficult things. I don't find this easy, and neither do they, but we are trying. To give my parents all due credit, no matter what terrible thing I have done my life, whether it be leaving the Church or getting a divorce, they have shown nothing but love and kindness. We don't necessarily talk about it, but whenever I have asked for help, they have been there, every single time. I have never doubted that they loved me, we just find it difficult to have a conversation that isn't about "What we did this week that was Nice." We are slowly getting to be able to go beyond that, and I am very thankful, if slightly spooked sometimes. When my brother's marriage fell apart I reached out and we started talking about our feelings for the first time in.. well, really for the first time ever. I am so sorry that it took his marriage breaking up as the trigger for us to start talking, but I'm glad that we can. We are both a bit broken, and having each other to talk to just helps.
Three years ago I started to go to the gym with my lovely friend Carla. I didn't know her well before that, other than that she is lovely. Turns out when you spend three hours a week with a friend in the gym, you really have to talk about something, or end up staring awkwardly at the wall while doing leg lifts. Carla talks about everything, from why her kids are driving her crazy today, to how naughty the dog is, to the frustrations of her latest medical appointment, to tensions in her extended family. "I love the gym." she says happily, "It's such good therapy!"
And it is. Sometimes I would quietly wonder why Carla told me everything about everything that was going on in her life. Not because it was boring - I absolutely adore to hear the stories of people's lives. Interesting people are like the best books and Carla is a born storyteller. But I wondered why Carla would make herself so vulnerable, telling me things that I would never dare to admit out loud. But her willingness to be vulnerable encouraged me to do the same. I started to tentatively share the small difficulties of my life, all the while feeling like a complete doofus. Then the larger ones. The day to day worries and anxieties that we all have. And what do you know, when you talk about your worries, they aren't so worrying. You know that old granny adage, 'A problem shared is a problem halved'? Well, those grannies were onto something. I had previously never bothered people with my problems, because there was no point - they couldn't fix them for me... but der, that's not the reason you share. The problem doesn't get halved because it gets fixed, it's halved because there is someone to sympathise, to laugh with over your silly troubles, to tell you that you are doing a great job.
So it has taken a lot of years to get to this point that I can (sometimes) share (some of) the details of my life with family, some friends, some colleagues. I have challenged myself this year to put more of myself out there into the light of day. Last year I forced myself to tell some colleagues that the reason I was taking an extra day off work this year was to do some writing. Then the first day into work this year I sat down in the staffroom for lunch and the first comment I heard was, "I hear you are writing a book?" I felt so exposed, like an ant crawling on a plate. I wanted to hide under the table, put my hands over my ears and rock. Which is, frankly, behaviour that this particular staff member sees all the time, and I am sure she would have taken it in her stride and been very kind. However, I took a deep breath and had a conversation instead, and it was fine and I didn't actually even get squashed, which is kind of what you expect when you are an ant on a plate.
Last week when I published my post about wanting to write I felt the exact same terror. After a couple of days I couldn't bear it any longer and didn't even get on the internet there for a few days, but of course I came back, and there you all were, being so kind to my exposed self, and telling me about your own secret desires as well. The best part about being a little vulnerable is the connection to the vulnerable spot in other souls.
I think I have come a little way along the the road away from Niceville. Not very far really. I am still terrified of potential conflict, and flee it on a regular basis no matter how good it may be for me. But with a little help from my friends I think I am heading along the rocky path to... where? Maybe a place where Nice isn't so important as Honest and Kind. I'll see you there. I might even write about it..
Yesterday I had a cartoonish accident where I walked into my dark garden shed and stepped on a hoe whereupon its handle flipped up and whacked me in the eyeball. I now have a freakish red-veined eye with which to scare small children. That will be handy as I start work for the year later this week.. with all the five year olds.
I have taken an extra day off my work week this year as I want to do some writing - you know, the sort that is published, and someone pays you for it.. the trouble is, it is very hard to begin. Every day since they started school the girls have been coming home and asking, "Did you do any writing today?" and I have answered, "Well, not exactly. But look, I cleaned the bathroom!" The house is looking remarkably clean, and I have tidied some cupboards and done some gardening and walked the dog extensively.. but no writing. I made yoghurt and sunscreen. And invited some friends over. And stewed a whole bunch of plums that a friend invited me to pick from her tree. And I picked some flowers and hosted afternoon tea for some old friends who are visiting Tasmania and staying with my parents. And now I have all these tomatoes I have to do something with..
Writing is the only thing I have ever really wanted to do since I was a child when I read and wrote all the time. I don't know when I lost that creative confidence, but I think I am terrified of failing at the one thing I really want to do so I never really threw myself into it in order to avoid the possibility of failure. I think it might be something I could have done while I was young and thought everything was possible but even then I found excuses. I got pregnant approximately fifteen minutes after graduating with an Honours degree in English Literature, I homeschooled my numerous children, I started on on-line children's book shop, and now I teach five and six year olds to write.. and in my spare time coach my own and friends' kids through their highschool writing and literature courses, and help friends with their writing and editing projects. It's like I have danced around writing my whole life without actually doing any.
Except here. This blog has been my lifeline to writing, my place to connect with other people via words. The most exciting moment in many of my days is finding that something that I have written has resonated with someone out there enough to have them write back to me. Thanks you guys.
Now I need you to tell me to stop cleaning the house and go and write some words already..
Most of my semi-regular Green and Thrifty posts aren't full of any extraordinary green or thrifty adventures - just the day-to-day bits and bobs that make our lives just a little bit easier on earth. But it is exactly those things that add up from day to day and week to week and year to year that save so much money and make a small but enduring environmental impact.
Early this month I did all the shopping at a small independent supermarket and the whole foods shop where I buy most of my dry goods from the bulk bins. Now I shouldn't have to go shopping with the car again until March. So far this week I have spent $16 at the green grocer's, and today I will send The Girl out to walk the dog and buy milk to make yoghurt. That should last us until next week for grocery spending.
This week we have been eating and cooking from the fridge. It is quite a small fridge, and what with it being shopping day last week, and the garden suddenly bursting with food, we have been very busy eating so as to have room in the fridge to store more. I am thinking it is time to start doing some preserving so I can store the garden produce somewhere other than the fridge!
We have been making zoodles (zucchini noodles) with our spiraliser, which is fun, and delicious.
I made three jars of sauerkraut, which is also delicious, and full of incredibly prolific probiotics at a fraction of the price of probiotics from the health food shop..
The girls started school again this week, all kitted out in their hand-me-down and second-hand uniforms.. I managed to find a second-hand school bag for Posy (from my neighbour, actually. I had forgotten her daughter was leaving school). Whenever one of my children leaves school I offer to buy school uniform items from any of their friends who want to get rid of them. This way I have accumulated a nice collection of second-hand uniform, which is a real help, as it is unbelievably expensive when new.
We also covered all of Posy's school books with plain brown paper again. I discovered this excellent solution two years ago, and have been doing it ever since. The brown paper lasts all year which surprises me enormously, but not even any tears or rips, and then it is easy to recycle the whole book at the end of the year. So apparently it is not necessary to wrap school books in acres of plastic foil or bought plastic covers to keep them looking nice. And a roll of brown paper is much cheaper as well:)
This week I also took two bags of Posy's primary school uniform to a refugee family I know, and had a cup of tea with them. They have furnished the house Afghani style, with carpets and rugs and lots of large floor cushions. The floor cushions are beautiful, and I discovered (our conversations are mostly translated via the children) that the mother had sewn them herself with fabric she had brought from Iran (the family are from Afghanistan but had spent many years in a refugee camp in Iran). The cushions had that wonderful bulk and heaviness of old-fashioned down and feather cushions, and I asked what they were stuffed with - cut up old clothes! This is such an elegant solution for old t-shirts, I will have to remember it.
I have been washing my hair in the sink and taking very short showers, so must be saving on hot water, surely? Next week I am going to keep a record of daily electricity readings to see how we are doing.
This week from our garden we have been eating potatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, warrigal greens, spinach, lettuce, lemons, rhubarb, beetroot and herbs.
Tell me about your green and thrifty wins this week.
We have had some marvellous second hand finds this week. First, The Girl wanted a blender to take back to her cupboard-sized kitchen in her apartment in Melbourne so she can make yummy smoothies and dips whilst studying Chemistry and Microbiology. We found one in the op-shop, still in its box and plastic bags, never used. Brilliant!
Then in a new op shop I had never visited before I found an ironing board. A few months ago my 25 year old ironing board broke, because I had stored it next to my fifteen year old washing machine. The washing machine had a fit, jumped across the floor and jammed the ironing board against the wall, crushing all its wheels and delicate bits. I tell you, the appliances in my house are scary. My drive to eliminate appliances from my house is not all about saving electricity and living the simple life - it is also about self-defence. For a few months now I have been ironing on a towel on the end of the dining room table. Don't feel terribly sorry for me though. I have all but eliminated ironing from my life. I do it by a)not caring and b)hanging shirts, school uniforms and my work clothes on the line on their hangers. They mostly dry mostly wrinkle-free. Well, wrinkle-free enough for me anyway! Still, ironing on a towel on the table is really not that efficient, so I am very grateful for my new board. I will transfer over the intact cover from the old board, and take the old board to the metal recycling bin at the tip. It has done much honourable work in its time:)
I decided I wanted a hand-held vacuum. And I hear you asking why Ms Vowed-and-Declared Anti-Consumer wants another appliance? Well, it is to replace my standard vacuum cleaner. Since I moved to a house with wooden floors I have used my vacuum cleaner about twice in nine months. I just sweep instead. And the vacuum cleaner doesn't have a home and I trip over it constantly in the back porch. Last week I spent some time trying to work out where to store it and wondering if I needed to build a cupboard, and then I thought, "Why not get rid of it?".. but then, how to vacuum the car? Anyone who knows me will be laughing their heads off right now, because I rarely if ever vacuum the car, and this is principally because I live in a house with no off-street parking, and I would have to drag the vacuum cleaner out to the street. Who am I kidding? It is mostly because I hate vacuuming the car. BUT with a hand-held vacuum cleaner I could bribe the children to do it. And then I could store it in a cupboard.
This is the most space age vacuum cleaner I have ever seen. I am worried it may actually take off..
So I hunted for one on Gumtree, and found one, also new, never been taken out of the box. It is clearly a theme this week. I negotiated a price with the seller, which was very brave of me, because really I find the whole process very scary, and went and picked it up today, and now I have an actual new vacuum cleaner, because its previous owner bought it, then moved house and decided she needed a stick vacuum instead, without ever actually having used this one.. people are odd, but I must say, it works out well for me.
I also bought some nice clothes and some more of my favourite drinking glasses, so I think I am done with the second-hand shopping for a while. I might stay home and read a (second-hand) book instead..
I feel good to have found what I need second hand, reduced the enormous inventory of unwanted goods, contributed to charity, kept money local, and spent very little, but I also feel a bit appalled at the amount of stuff that is out there, abandoned because someone wants something newer, better, different.
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (16) and Posy (11). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..