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Freeganism – Definition and Overview of the Movement

I’ve been considering strategies for saving money recently, in an attempt to retire early, and got a bit carried away researching/ reading about freeganism – fascinating subculture/ network/ however your want to characterise it…

Freeganism – A Basic Definition

‘Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.’ (freegan.info – the first Google return for ‘freegan’ besides Wikipedia).

Pure freeganism involves meeting one’s needs without money, which is typically achieved through a combination of a number of strategies such as:

  • Renunciation – Simply doing without

  • Scavenging – Living of food and goods which have been thrown away, dumpster diving being a practice closely associated with freeganism

  • Recycling and ‘Upcycling’ – re-purposing other people’s waste

  • Repairing – Making goods last longer

  • Foraging – making use of what nature provides for free

  • Skilling up – Growing your own and making goods – here the movement links to city farms.

  • Bartering – exchanging goods or skills

  • Sharing – sharing resources, and space – It’s important to emphasise that many freegans don’t perceive themselves as free-loaders – Some freegans are part of organisations such as Food not Bombs and do unpaid work to salvage thrown away food and cook it in order to give it away.

  • Squatting – is often the preferred housing strategy

According to Michelle Coyne (2008) freeganism emerged from a complex social history, having its roots in anarcho-punk culture of the 1970s which challenged Corporate Capitalism, and today there still seems to be strong links between the few visible aspects of freeganism and an anti-capitalism, anti-corporate and especially anti-consumption ethic. Most freegans seem to eschew the idea of spending 40+ hours a week working for money in order to consume hard and then waste hard and prefer to engage in more meaningful unpaid labour in order to meet their needs in a more environmentally conscious way and reduce their impact on the planet. There are thus strong links between freeganism, anarchism and the modern environmental movement.

In the absence of money freegans rely heavily on social networks, and either other people’s generosity or superfluity in order to get by. They also have to invest a considerable amount of time meeting their basic needs through scavenging and networking, which is something they have more of than the average in-work person. NB – It is important to emphasise again that most freegans do not see themselves as freeloaders, although this is often a critique leveled at the movement, rather they perceive themselves as re-framing and re-balancing the concept of work as something which should be more diverse, more humanly connected and less dehumanising than something you just do for money.

What’s So Different about Freeganism?

While I do so love my typologies, I think it’s more useful to focus on the commonalities of these freegans – It’s not just the commitment to money-free living which distinguishes them from the mainstream, the following are recurring themes within the freeganism/ money free living movement

  1. Lamenting the de-personalising effects of money exchange – freegans prefer either gift-economics or barter and reliance of personalised networks to meet their needs.

  2. Co-creation within social networks – being money free means meeting needs through reliance of social networks, which can mean closer connections with people.

  3. Freedom from money as promoting individual freedom – being free of money obviously frees you from the need to engage in paid work, and many freegans also seem to relish the freedom to set their own day to day timetables and to travel as they please. There is the potential for this to contradict the point above.

  4. Ecologism – An essential aspect of many money-free strategies is meeting your own needs from the natural environment – through foraging and grow your own, freegans thus tend to be green-leaning.

  5. Anti-Consumption and anti-waste – freeganism is very much the anti-thesis of the rapid turnover of goods within a consumer culture, and dumpster diving to reclaim (mainly food) waste is a recurring theme in freeganism videos on YouTube.

  6. A critique of the exploitative logic of corporate capitalism. I don’t think it would be appropriate to label freeganism anti-capitalist, because so many of its practices seem to depend on it, but there is an undercurrent of critique of global corporations and a distinct preference for localism.

I include the ‘antis’ at the end because I get the impression that freeganism and money-free living are more about positive social change rather than protesting unjust economic systems.

How Many Freegans are there in the UK?

It’s hard to say for certain. Given the links between freeganism and left-green politics it is possible that there are thousands of freegans living off-grid in both urban and rural areas.

There certainly aren’t that many examples of freeganism in the UK online. A Google search for ‘Freeganism + UK’ suggests that there are a lot more people writing about freeganism, and/ or writing about their short-term experiments with freeganism then there are actual committed freegans writing about themselves. (Searched February 13 2016).

The top 17 of the top 20 search returns are for newspaper articles from either local, national or special interest sites and only 3 are links to actual freegan sites – one of which (search return number 1) seems to be the major info source for freeganism globally – ‘Freegan.info’. The second specific site is ‘Freegan.org.uk’ – and this only has limited information, with no information under any its main site headings, and the third return is for a blog called Dumpster Dinners which was last updated in February 2013.

In addition to the above – the following site (http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/) was founded November 2014 and has 229 members (Accessed 13/02/15), with 8 meet ups to date (although the most recent was in Calais). However, there is very little discussion, and as with the Google search – 3/5 posts on the discussion board are asking for people to be the subjects of journalistic investigations.

The UK Hippy Forum further suggests a dearth of online discussion – this thread is mainly devoted to dumpster diving and mostly seems to point to the limited opportunities for doing it.

http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Freegans are a little more active on Facebook – the Dumpster Dive group has 133 members and some photos of successful raids – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts – b

Finally I’ve managed to source 11 videos on YouTube (playlist) which focus on Freeganism between 2008-2015 – which I think each cover different groups around the UK. NB the streamed-interview with Mark Boyle is very interesting.

The most visible manifestation of freeganism online is the Freecycle Network – which currently consists of 604 Groups spread across the UK, with 4,439,508 members. Unfortunately this tells us next to nothing about the actual number of moneyless or nearly moneyless Freegans in the country.

Freeganism’s connections to other movements

The practice of freeganism is common to a broad range of philosophies and movements, such as various forms of religious asceticism, monastic orders, various forms of anarchism, radical ecologism, and the homesteading/ Permaculture and off-grid living networks.

It’s likely that all of these will have some members who are living with very little money, and any true attempt to assess the scope of moneyless living in the UK would include an analysis of these. Such related networks include. Unfortunately this kind of breadth analysis isn’t something I’m in a position to do at the moment.

Criticisms and Limitations of Freeganism

The waste-reclamation aspect of freeganism has been rightly criticised for being dependent on the surpluses of Capitalism, but this is something of a moot criticism given that two of the above examples at least are actively involved in creating alternative gift-economies to meet human needs through a totally different paradigm. Whether these are realistic or not I’m not in a position to comment on.

A second criticism is that free-economics might work for basic needs such as food and clothes, but Freecycle’s not exactly inundated with skilled trades and professional people offering their services for free, which raises the question of how generalisable it is across different sectors of the economy.

A third criticism is the fact that freeganism is too radical a lifestyle for it to ever have mass appeal, so it’s potential for social change is limited, but this is at least partly countered by the breadth of the movement allowing for small-steps to be taken for those who can’t go through with total commitment.

A final criticism is that this does seem to be a very white, middle class movement – engaged in by people in developed societies, many of whom have the safety net of social welfare to fall back on. It’s a very romantic vision of ‘not poverty’, the reality of moneyless living around the globe, where the state isn’t paying for the roads or other infrastructure, isn’t so pretty.

Useful Sources of Information on Freeganism and Moneyless Living

General Info Web Sites

http://freegan.info/ (strategies for sustainable living beyond capitalism)

http://freegan.org.uk/

https://dustbindinners.wordpress.com/

YouTube playlist – UK focus – in chronological order, more or less

Groups active in the UK

Meetups – http://www.meetup.com/London-Freegans/

The UK Hippy Forum – http://www.ukhippy.com/stuff/showthread.php/60741-freeganism

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKDumpsterDive/?fref=ts

Individuals – Links above:

  • Mark Boyle
  • Dan Suelo
  • Elf Pavlik
  • Carolienne Hoogland

Academic articles and Books

Victoria C More (2011) Dumpster Diners: An Ethnographic Study of Freeganism

Alex V. Barnard (2011) ‘Waving the banana’ at capitalism: Political theater and social movement strategy among New York’s ‘freegan’ dumpster divers

Michelle Coyne (20008) From Production to Destruction to Recovery: Freeganism’s Redefinition of Food Value and Circulation

http://www.uiowa.edu/ijcs/production-destruction-recovery-freeganisms-redefinition-food-value-and-circulation

Jeff Ferrell (2006) Empire of Scrounge: Inside the Urban Underground of Dumpster Diving, Trash Picking, and Street Scavenging (Alternative Criminology)

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Alternative lifestyles – or how to avoid working for a living

So you’ve just finished your A  levels and you don’t fancy doing or a degree or getting a job, what other options are there?

As tutors we generally package post-18 options into two camps: degree versus apprenticeships/ training towards a particular career, with the possible ‘adventurous’ option of a gap year.

But what if, like me when I was 18*, you don’t find the idea of either doing a degree or getting a job particularly appealing, what if you don’t want to be normal and spend almost 100 000 hour over the course of your adult-life working to just earn money, what are the alternatives?

Below are six strategies that some people are currently employing (excuse the pun) to ‘earn money’ or simply get by in life which don’t involve doing paid-work for someone else, let alone requiring a degree. 

Disclaimer – NB I don’t in any way recommend that you do any of these things, they are merely examples of things some people do, which should prompt discussion about whether doing a degree or an apprenticeship is worth it, relative to these alternative options.

1 – Learn to live without money

Two good examples include Mark Boyle: The Moneyless Man and Dan Suelo: The Man who Lived Without Money

2 – Perpetual travelling

The most obvious way to travel perpetually, at least in Europe, is to buy a van. It’s not that difficult – for inspiration have a look at Mike Hudson’s blog Van Dog Traveller – he quit his job in 2013, spent five months converting a van (for cheap) and has been travelling around Europe, including a quick jaunt to Morocco, ever since.

van dog traveller

For advice on how to convert vans, check out Campervan Life which has lots of examples of people who have converted vans, and live in vans full-time. If you’re worried about how to earn money or live cheaply, all of that is covered on the above two sites, it’s generally part of the whole perpetual-traveller scene.

Incidentally, living in a van may sound like it’s an extreme strategy for saving money, and possibly only for top-knot sporting, fire-juggling, surfing dudes like Mike above,  and you’d be forgiven for making this mistake given that one of the first search returns for ‘living in a van uk’ takes you to a forum called ‘UK HIPPY‘, but there are even members of the relatively conservative caravan club who have lived in their caravans long-term, combining this with either owning a small no-frills apartment, or house-sitting.

If the above example’s a bit too local and not adventurous enough for you, then why not try sailing around the world and documenting it on YouTube like one Australian couple’s currently doing on ‘La Vagabonde’

alternative careers

Somehow they’ve managed to convince almost 1000 people to subscribe to them through Patreon (see below) and are currently earning $6790 per video uploaded, and they post one a week, which gives them a cool $20K a month to sail on, or around $250 000 a year.

They even take this piss a bit – one of her videos is of her on a week’s yoga retreat in Bali, while the boat’s in dry dock somewhere in Australia.

Downsides to perpetual travelling 

  • It does require some initial seed money to buy your van or boat.
  • Most ordinary people will have to find some way of making money as they travel – see below for ideas
  • Making money through documenting your travels may only be an option if you’re insanely attractive. Research has revealed that approximately 80% of people who follow travel blogs do so because they want to perv on the authors, not because they’re interested in their travels, although there’s no actual evidence to back this up.

 

3 – POOSHing and WWOOFing

ThePOOSH is an exchange site through which you can volunteer your labour to help people self-build their eco-projects around the globe, in exchange for free lodging (which will probably be camping) and food. Many of these projects are ‘low-impact’ design and don’t take a lot of skill to build – so you shouldn’t be any more out of your depth than the people building them.

Expect to be cutting, sawing, pounding (earth into tyres), stirring, plastering, and probably doing a lot of lugging about too. You’ll probably find thePOOSH Facebook page easier to browse rather than the web-site, which is a bit ‘not very professional’, but that’s forgiveable given that this is such a niche DIY exchange.

 

How to avoid getting a job
The beginnings of a rammed-earth tyre home

If the hard-labour involved with physical construction is too much for you, then ThePOOSH’s big sister network WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) Might be more your cup of tea. WWOOF says of itself….

‘WWOOF UK holds a list of organic farms, gardens and smallholdings, all offering food and accommodation in exchange for practical help on their land.  WWOOF is an exchange – you volunteer your help in exchange for food, accommodation and an opportunity to learn about organic agriculture. As a WWOOFer, you can expect to work a reasonable number of hours – between 20 and 35 hours in a week is suggested. In order to volunteer on WWOOF host farms in the UK you must become a member of WWOOF UK.  Membership lasts for 1 year.’

how to avoid getting a job
WWOOFers sharing their love of compost and polytunnels

Downsides to POOSHing and WWOOFing 

  • You need to be reasonably fit. I did have this down as an option for when I finish my current 20 year career break from life and resume living in a few years, but the older I get, the less-appealing the idea of hard physical labour seems.
  • Of course you don’t actually earn any money from this, you’re just working for board, and you’re reliant on your hosts to actually feed and house you properly.
  • From a leftist (Marxist) perspective, this voluntary work is somewhere on the softer side of the slave-labour spectrum, but that doesn’t seem to bother most members of the green movement – especially couples in their late 40s who have managed to accumulate sufficient capital to buy a small holding or some land and go and ‘live the dream’, but if you can put up with that, this does offer you a free way of life, assuming you get fed enough. 

 

4 – Lifestyle Vlogging

Vanilla Vloggers Zoella and Alfie
Vanilla vloggers Zoella and Alfie

LIfestyle vloggers Zoella and Alfie come across as a painfully ordinary **, and neither of them have anything of value to say about anything important. Thankfully for them there are millions of people around the world who are similarly shallow and lacking in imagination, and so they’ve managed to make a fortune by simply documenting their vacuous lives as consumers, which their similar-vanilla-fans seem to enjoy.

Case in point – in the video below (posted less than a week ago from time of writing and with over 600, 000 views already – which represents some serious coin in YouTube terms) Zoella and Alfie go and do some watersports.

The point here however is not to criticise the lack of content, the point is to point out that if this pair of completely average vanilla vloggers can make a living through not really doing anything very much, why not give it a go yourself before you try actually earning your money?

If the idea of making money by exposing your vacuousness makes you uncomfortable, then you could always develop a vlog or blog as a marketing tool and produce a series of blogs or vlogs which have an actual, worthwhile focus, by providing useful information to people and/ or selling goods and services. Of course here we’re moving away from ‘alternatives’ to careers, and more into the ordinary realms of setting up your own business – but I thought it’s worth including, because it’s still not the same as working for someone else.

Look on YouTube – there are plenty of people who have set up as personal trainers, or food writers, or life-coaches who are making money out of blogging about something they’re interested in.

make money vlogging

One of my favourite ‘alternative lifestyle’ vloggers that does have something worthwhile to say is Jesse Grimes – who is currently building his own house, and ‘Permaculturing’ an acre of land in Montana. If you want to get into vlogging, maybe think about doing something of some value like he does….?

Downsides (of vacuous Zoella style) lifestyle vlogging

  • It’s very unlikely you’ll earn enough money survive by producing a Zoella lifestyle vlog in which you simply document yourself playing at life.
  • If you do become successful, not only are you exposing your vacuousness to the world, you’ll also attract haters and sufficient numbers of people will think you’ve forgone your right to privacy to make your life a misery.
  • When you hit 30 there’s a chance you’ll have a crisis when you realise you’ve contributed nothing whatsoever of value to society.
  • As with travel blogging, you probably have to be insanely attractive, or insanely unattractive, or extreme in some sort of way to ‘earn’ a living through vlogging.

 

5. Matched betting

Matched betting is legal, tax-free and not actually gambling. It takes a while to get your head around it, but it is possible to make £500 risk-free in a month, although you do need a few hundred quid ‘seed money’ to start out. You might end up making less than that, but with a little bit of time each day (20 mins is sufficient) you should be able to earn at least £100 a month, and with practice more.

with a matched betting strategy you can keep about £25 of the free £30 risk free
with a matched betting strategy you can keep about £25 of the free £30 risk free

The Matched Betting Blog (run by a guy who is making around £8K a year doing this) defines ‘Matched betting as ‘a simple betting strategy that enables us to take advantage of bookmaker’s offers and incentives. We simply place a bet at a bookmaker and then bet against the same outcome at a betting exchange. By covering all possible outcomes, we make guaranteed risk-free profits regardless of the result.’

Oddsmonkey is a good place to get started  – there are five free guides which will show you how to make an estimated £45 in under an hour, and after that, you will need to pay £15 a month in a subscription fee.

 

The 'oddsmatcher' on oddsmonkey - it does help if you're mathematically inclined!
The ‘oddsmatcher’ on oddsmonkey – it does help if you’re mathematically inclined!

 

Matched-betting isn’t for everyone – some of the downsides are:

  • You need to double-check every bet you make and lay – one small slip could cost you tens or hundreds of pounds and wipe out your ‘earnings for a whole week’
  • You need a few hundred quid to start off – you need to open several betting accounts – maybe dozens to make the most of every offer, and because so much money is floating around, you need hundreds in ‘betting capital’ to make things tick over smoothly.
  • There is the risk of ‘gubbing’ – having your account frozen by bookmakers – they keep tabs on people – and if all you’re betting on is the special free bet offers, they’ll close you down – hence you need to make ‘mug bets’ to cover your trail (all of this is covered on the two web sites above)
  • It’s little bit seedy!

6 – Create something and crowdsource funding through Kickstarter or Patreon

Kickstarter is basically about selling your project to people before it’s completed.

As a creator, you outline what your project is, put together a short promotional video and some blurb illustrating what the project is about, decide how much funding you require to see your project through, and offer rewards to backers who will pledge different amounts of money to get various levels of reward which they’ll receive when your project is completed.

kickstarter

In the example above, the creator’s rewards (which are listed further down his Kickstarter page include a ‘Facebook’ shout-out for $5, a download of the movie for $10 and then upwards. As you can see, at almost $40K he hasn’t done too badly…

Patreon is similar to Kickstarter, but rather than people paying you once you’ve finished one massive project, with Patreon, people agree to provide ongoing funding for the smaller-scale things you’re already creating (so Patreon’s funding per song, Kickstarter, funding by album)

Patreon says of itself… 

For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs).  Fans pledge a few bucks per month OR per thing you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new (whether it’s on SoundCloud, YouTube, your own website, or anywhere).

For patrons, Patreon is a way to pay your favorite creators for making the stuff you love.  Instead of literally throwing money at your screen (trust us, that doesn’t work), you can now pledge a few bucks per thing that a creator makes.  For example, if you pledge $2 per video, and the creator releases 3 videos in February, then your card gets charged a total of $6 that month.  This means the creator gets paid regularly (every time she releases something new), and you become a bonafide, real-life patron of the arts

Conclusions – Should you do a degree and/ or pursue a regular career, or do something different instead?

I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of pursuing a career (I’ve actually found my own personal career in teaching A level Sociology quite rewarding), or doing a degree (I’ve got 3 of them), in fact I’d recommend either, when and if the time’s right for you. If that time isn’t now, why not leave it a while and pursue one or more of the above alternatives for a while?

There are of course various other alternatives to a regular career which you could consider, and if I’ve got time I’ll bash out another post covering the pros and cons of options such as becoming a monk or marrying the money/ becoming a prostitute. 

Appendices 

*When I were a lad things were easy: after I’d finished my A levels and my Dad justifiably booted me out the house shortly afterwards, I spent 3 months doing farm-work, 3 months homeless and begging and then a further 18 months in a house but on the doll, mostly tossing about chilling, juggling (I got quite good) and reading, before starting a degree in Anthropology and American Studies a full 2 years and 3 months after my A levels had finished.

The problem these days is that you’ll never compete with agricultural workers from Eastern Europe for fruit picking jobs (and fruit-picking sucks); and the state and people in general aren’t quite as generous, which rules out the doll and begging as viable alternatives, so you’d need to be more somewhat more creative to avoid doing either a degree or getting a job for a couple of years or more.

** In fact they’re not normal – Zoella at least was privately educated, which means she comes from the wealthiest 7% of households – which probably goes some way to explaining why she had the confidence and time to start vlogging in the first place – the private school gave her the confidence, and daddy (probably, more likely than mummy) would have paid for the stuff crucial to her style of vlogging. If she’d have been poorer, she would have had to have spend more time working for a living, and less time making pointless videos. I don’t know about Alfie’s background, I can’t be bothered to research it.