How To Be Free


Modern life is absurd. How can we be free?

Many years ago I read this book and found it charming but slightly mad. Subsequent readings have convinced me that, no, actually, this is some of the most sensible advice I have ever encountered. You can imagine how compelling I found the chapter titled Death to Shopping, or Fleeing the Prison of Consumer Desire, let alone the seditious temptation of No More Housework, or the Power of the Candle.

Tom Hodgkinson believes the modern world to be unnecessarily ugly, rude, wasteful and bureaucratic. His solution? Step away from the whole unpleasant system, and create you own small, pleasant world quite apart from the dreadful modern institutions that plague us. He has many practical suggestions (throw away your watch, smash usury, play the ukelele, embrace poverty, bake bread), and in the spirit of his earlier book How to be Idle, he encourages his readers to renounce ambition, career and getting ahead, and instead to pursue freedom, merriment and responsibility. To be truly free we must take back responsibility for our own lives instead of turning them over to the many-headed hydra of modern institutions. And having recovered our freedom, we can be merry and free of care at last. 

Wanting more money removes us from enjoying the present; we should celebrate what we have. Wanting to be rich is actually the first desire that must be cast off in the pursuit of freedom.. Learning to live within limited means gives a great sense of security, because you become free of wanting more and therefore free of struggle.
Ch 27 Depose the Tyrant Wealth

The chairmen of the board think it absolutely hilarious that their staff will work their guts out and compete with one another for low wages and with minimum supervision. It leaves them so much time for playing golf and chuckling together in boardrooms.
Ch 8 Stop Competing

Above all, to be free of debt, we need to abandon our fear of poverty. I don't advocate pauperism, in other words, being homeless and starving. But genteel poverty, having enough for wants and needs and the bare necessities but limiting yourself when it comes to wants and desires, is a laudable state.
Ch 9 Escape Debt

Life can be different, according to the Gospel of Tom. We can throw off the 'mind-forg'd manacles' (William Blake). We can refuse to get entangled in the wily coils of banks, supermarkets, the media, the swings and roundabouts of careerism, the mindlessness of television, the dreariness of 'fun' that is bought with dollars. There is a better way. It involves living better with less. It offers the joy and hilarity that ensues when you free yourself from needing to be busy/important/wealthy. It is a little bit anarchist, a little bit punk, a little bit back-to-the-land, a little bit make-your-own-fun. 

It is a little bit of a blueprint for the life I am trying to create for myself here in the cottage on the hill.
I am up to Chapter 29: Stop Working, Start Living..


Meg said…
This sounds like the book for me ... as I feel that I am about to be sucked right back in to the vortex of one of our society's big machines. I am not sure that change from within it is possible though it's important for those whom it shapes to have different influences that provide alternatives to commonly accepted "wisdoms". Meg:)
simplelife said…
I read this book ages ago too, when I went to put it on hold at the library, it wasn't there anymore. I've ordered myself a copy, hope I don't regret buying it.
Your posts lately have really been making me think and again this one has shown me a different perspective. Thank you .
Cheers Kate
GretchenJoanna said…
Sounds so appealing and encouraging!
Jo said…
Meg, that sounds concerning! I think it is important to provide an alternate voice to accepted wisdom wherever we are, and I am sure you are well capable of doing that. Here's to maintaining your voice from within The Machine..

Kate, I bought this book a decade ago, and have read it at least twice a year since. I think it is a good investment for a life of living differently:)

Gretchen Joanna, it is so rare to find a truly different voice in the wilderness of manuals of advice for living. This one is surprising, hilarious, and yes, encouraging.
Anonymous said…
Sounds like a good read, and one that will reinforce much of what I am thinking and feeling. I see so much life force wasted working, working, working to live a life that we are "marketed" to believe we want.
Thank you for another great post.
Patricia Fl/USA
Deborah said…
My new mantra is "Live well with less." but it has proved unpopular with the family as my birthday and Christmas are so close together and a Bunnings gift card apparently doesn't seem right to anyone except me.
I don't want books unless I've read them, usually from the library and then feel I don't want to live without them (so far this applies to two books I've bought and one on order)and my kitchen is overly well equipped in every sense. My father called my decorating style "windswept" because I don't want stuff but I do love what I have and take care of it. It's good to consider what we need to be relaxed, well nourished and happy!
Jo said…
Patricia, yes, life force wasted.. exactly.

Deborah, I am with you, and am happy to note that I have persuaded my family that I don't want any more birthday and Christmas presents. I have enough stuff!! I love your statement that what you do have, you take good care of. That is the key to living a thrifty and satisfying life - being happy with what you have, and taking care of it so you don't need anything more:)
Hazel said…
It is easy to get sucked back in. I suddenly realise I've been going to the supermarket instead of the farm shop for vegetables and watching more TV because it's dark and wintry and husband has it on. It's all relative- I don't think any of my friends would think I'd suddenly turned into a celebrity watching consumer- but more than I'd like.
Anonymous said…
Jo, you might want to check out a this post Excellent read. Hope you have a great week.
Patricia Fl/USA
Jo said…
Hazel, sometimes I stop and think about the kind of world I really want to live in, and how to facilitate that. Swinging in a hammock really helps that thought process. Like you, I find myself opting for the sheer convenience of modern absurdity, and then pull myself up eventually, when I realise, that, hey, no, this is not what I want.. it's quite insidious though, isn't it?

Patricia, wow, that was a lovely rant, thank you! Yes, it says everything about Christmas that I want to hear:)
Gregg Koep said…
Linda and I chose to live with less so we could be as free as possible, and it has worked out for us, so far. Life should be a "choose your own adventure" book of your own making. To us, nothing is more important than our freedom to create our own story.

"Better to sleep in an uncomfortable bed free, than sleep in a comfortable bed unfree."

- Jack Kerouac
Jo said…
Gregg, I like the choose your own adventure version of life. I wonder if there could be a third option regarding the bed though.. free AND comfortable? I am ever the optimist..
Amen to this. I read both HTBF and HTBI years ago and I'm a regular subscriber now to the Idler, the magazine/jounral that Tom Hodgkinson is the editor of There's so much peace to be found in this kind of simplicity.
Jo said…
Jonathan, ooh, a fellow idler! I get Tom's emails from The Idler. It's actually impossible to get the print version in Oz and I am not a fan of digital mags.. sad, but one can't have everything in life!
Jo... Impossible, really? That's most unfortunate. Maybe something could be arranged. I don't know what postage from the UK to Australia is like but if you're interested I'd be happy to send on some back issues? It's such a good read.
Jo said…
Jonathan, yes, they only do digital subscriptions to the Antipodes. That is an outrageously kind offer, but I expect the postage would also be outrageously prohibitive.. I could just get over myself and get a digital subscription:)
OK, well the offer stands if you change your mind.

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