And then, as often happens in life, one day it all disappeared. How it disappeared is not the issue. We are usually curious about downturns in other people’s luck because we think if we uncover the ‘mistake’ the other made, we can safeguard ourselves from the same fate. But safeguarding isn’t the point here. Because what we’re so often safeguarding against is the best thing that could happen to us. So I’ll say it again. I was prosperous before. It was fun. And now I’m skint. And do you know what? It’s better than being flush.
Poverty is a scourge that has little to do with your bank balance. There is cultural poverty, emotional poverty, material poverty, intellectual poverty and perhaps most detrimental of all, poverty of the imagination. It’s a state of privation and a mindset of neediness, dark and thwarting in its suffocation.
Losing money made me realize that I could never really be poor, for the simple fact I am already inherently rich. We all are.The idea that we desperately need money has created a deep poverty of spirit, and the advertising industry, with its empty obsessions, has turned our imaginations and self confidence to slush.
I earn on average less than 200 pounds a month from editing and stone painting. I have no car, no iphone, no Dolce and Gabbana handbag. I live in a mud hut up a mountain. Well . . . only when it rains. Apart from that I sleep under the stars, and recline on second-hand armchairs in the forest. This isn't a stance of moral or ecological one upmanship. It's a preference. It’s true I have worked for money, and that money has bought me my land. But by peeling away the layers and layers of the unnecessary, I have somehow, almost inadvertently stumbled into the life of my dreams. I no longer experience the lurching dread of Monday mornings, there is no seven am panic, I take an hour or more to eat breakfast, I have no boss.
But let me get it straight. I’m not judging all that money can buy as bad. And to have no money at all, or to be deprived of the basic resources is a desperate state of affairs. But let's be honest, those necessities are things like clean water, air, food and shelter, not a car or a new pair of shoes. Not that I'm exhorting the world to suddenly give up their cars. I've spent years loving driving and only sold mine last month. I'm merely pointing out, the car is a preference, not a need. And the moment you no longer have one, that becomes obvious.
Money, when it works, is a useful exchange system (though there are others that are fairer and don’t involve banks), and there is a certain pleasure to be derived from some of the merchandise it can procure. Even so, money is not all that it’s cracked up to be, and acquiring the stuff can prove far more painful than the experience of living without it. Which brings me back to why I actually prefer being skint. Because I've woken up (a little late some might say) to the severely unadvertised fact that there are many things that only moneylessness can buy.
1. You don't get ripped off when you’re skint. Fraudsters know you're an empty vessel, so they steer well clear. Burglars are apathetic as well. You can leave your door unlocked, because there’s naff all to lock up.
2. You soon learn who your friends are. And believe me you DO have friends who like you for more than what they can squeeze out of you. It’s comforting to know you are worth more than your status symbols and the 'prestige' of your career.
3. You have nothing to lose. That’s liberating.
4. You become extremely creative as your imagination starts to burn on all thrusters.
5. You stop throwing things away. This is both good for your soul and the environment.
6. You make ‘downgrades’ which often prove to be upgrades. I sold my car and bought a motorbike instead. I cannot tell you how much I love the feel of the wind in my hair as I roar along the country lanes.
7. You engage in bank free, money free exchanges. I scuba dive as often as I want all summer long thanks to an exchange deal with my local dive centre. Everybody wins. They get a free helping hand for the busiest three weeks of the year and I get free dives.
8. You slow down and watch the flowers grow. Money and earning it often seems to involve a lot of haste. Things take longer without heaps of cash . . . but who cares? It’s not a race, is it?
9. The best bit about being skint is that soon enough you learn to live on very little, which means you no longer have to work all the hours to 'survive'. With all that free time you can explore any number of hobbies that don’t require money, things like: Creating your own blog and waffling to your heart's content on it, tree climbing, philosophizing on the meaning of life, Armenian reed flute playing, Oolong tea drinking, Stargazing, Anatolian lace making, wine distillery, playing chess, Ludo or I spy, trainspotting, planning revolutions, ricotta cheese making, Bagua zhang or Indian stick fighting, squirrel and tortoise watching, potion creation from wild herbs, and a whole host of other things the morons on TV think are ‘uncool’ (YAWN), but those of us who actually have a personality and more than a breadcrumb of intelligence can find deeply engaging.
10. You can even create a kitchen spending almost no money at all. If you're wondering about that take a look at Building for Free.