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Zeroth Living

A young friend of mine just told me he is skint and doesn’t know what to do. He has free board and lodging from his parents but is unwilling to get a job as he is working on a film project of his own. I told him to join the zeroth community.

Zeroth living- a term I just coined- means living for zero, nada, no money, zilch. Yep. We’re not talking low budget we’re talking no-budget. You buy NOTHING. After looking at me in a non-plussed kind of way my friend started to get a big grin. “OK, I get it,” he said.

A week later he had:

Taken some old novels and replaced some other books in a communal library (an old phone box). The books replaced including a book about the art of Hornby Trains- on amazon it’s £8, he managed to get £2 for it from a second hand bookshop. Kerching! 

Persuaded a friend to let him use his high end sound gear for one month. Instant save of a thousand he needed to buy the gear.

Went on a picnic with friends in the nearby hills. Brewed up coffee on a stove. Much nicer than Costa.

Had a barbecue using wood found on the beach. You don’t need charcoal. The guests brought the food too.

The thing is, it’s catching. Once you start you see the possibilities. That's the great thing about it. When you are low budget it's all a series of glum choices (do I have one coffee or two and walk instead of taking the bus...) but when it's no budget it's now a challenge that's all about being inventive. And lucky. In Japan I fitted out an entire apartment from the gomi(Japanese word for garbage on the street). I found (with some help from pals) a CD player, a TV, a microwave and a chair (the apartment was so small it only needed one, guests took turns for the privilege of sitting). But over the years you get sluggish. You become like every other sucker- looking for money in a generalised way to solve highly specific problems.

You need a sound recorder- a specific problem. You need to make money to get it- now that’s a vague and highly general problem. Humans are designed to solve VERY specific problems. Indeed one of the mantras of the engineering business is that if you can define a problem accurately enough you’ve solved it. Yet all us poor fools are out there ‘trying to make money’- a very flabby and unhuman thing to be doing.

Zeroth living turns this on its head, it makes life specific again.

The most highly successful beggar I met had an intriguing method. He didn’t ask for a pound or even 10p. He asked for very specific amounts to satisfy very specific needs. He’d write on a sign “I need £3.32”. People would stop and ask why. “To send a parcel to a friend (true)”. Or he’d ask for a chocolate bunny and stand outside a shop selling chocolate bunnies. Once he asked for a Thesaurus when he was begging in Sydney. An outraged man shouted at him- “The fuck you need a thesaurus for – you’re fuckin’ homeless- you need money.”. He calmly replied, “Right now I need a thesaurus as I am writing something that needs more words than I know”. He had a journal which was part of his act- people who helped him got to sign it and look at it. I told you he was a clever fella. Ten minutes later the outraged man brought him a thesaurus, brand new.

Get specific.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this a bit desperate, a bit parasitic? Well, it doesn’t have to be. I just looked through the local free magazine for things that are free. A set of encyclopedias (complete edition), an Epson DX4000 printer, even a greenhouse if you can move it. We live in a world where everyone has too much stuff. To recycle it and make a little en route is doing everyone a favour. 

And the second thing is that money has changed its nature, rather subtly, over the last fifty years. Money used to be money. Now it has bifurcated into street money and property money. Since property has replaced gold as the new backing of all currencies we are slowly seeing a slide back into the feudal economies of yore where land was everything. Of course there are a few differences, but it’s the similarities that we should take note of. The vast difference between the value of a house and what an average year’s salary is should be some indication that street and property backed money are very different things. If you have property money you can convert it into street value and live like a king. In fact you ARE a king in the feudal scheme of things. But street money won’t buy you a hill of beans…

So get a bit feudal. Barter with your pals. Team up with them. Use the power of people and networks and the fact that you are only two degrees away from anyone who owns what you need to borrow. Borrow is the key. People have too much stuff and yet they don’t always want to give it away…just quite yet.

Join the zeroth community. Do it for a week just for a change. Use only the food that you have built up in your house, food you might otherwise waste. I’ve just run out of milk. Instead of buying some I’ll use that coffeemate I’ve had for a month or more. I’ll make some chappattis with that special flour I bought a while back instead of running out to get yet more supermarket bread. Want something fresh? Try a nettle soup or even risk a daring rummage in the freebie section of the supermarket. Yes I know it’s meant for people really in need but they won’t miss a tin or two. It’s only an experiment. You can replace those cans when its over. The point is to get into the spirit of ligging, zeroth living.

And you’ll be amazed at how many money making schemes come to you. Not vague ones, no complex operations, just quick ideas that use what you already have to hand, what you already know but were too befuddled to employ. It may even be as simple as sending out invoices you’d overlooked. Or trying an idea out on someone you were ‘too busy’ to ask before. But you have plenty of time now. None of it wasted in pubs and coffee shops and taking taxis and trains.

Oh yes, a bit of zeroth living never hurt anyone…

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