I made the decision – one of the biggest of my life – in the midst of stretched conversations, planning our future over a whiteboard and black marker, with ‘Special K’ (the man in my life at the time). He had been living with me and my girl, Amy, for four years in the beautiful countryside of northern New South Wales enjoying the relative laid-back-ness and some creative outlets, all the while waiting for his time to move back into his real life. He wanted to earn the big bucks again and move back home to the UK to spend time with his ageing parents. And he wanted a kid of his own.
Late in the night, a few years earlier, we had roughly (naively) fashioned an unwritten agreement: he would follow me to the hills ’till Amy finished school, then I would follow him to wherever. I was dutifully keeping my end of the bargain and working towards his reality. I started studying social work as a likely lead into employment on the other side of the world. I was, for the most part, prepared to try for my second child even though I was in my 40s. While our plans, very responsibly, spun off the end of her schooling in a year or so, I don’t remember, in hindsight, what on earth was supposed to happen with Amy. Maybe I expected she would come visit whenever she wanted and we would just fly back and forth between continents as needed. This seems completely insane to me now.
So here we were, planning and strategising, and a niggling sensation was blooming in the pit of my stomach. I had started, quite incongruently, looking into community living. How wonderful it would be to live on a big farm with Special K, kids running around the gardens, deep conversations with like-minded souls under the heavy hanging fruit trees, flowers and butterflies everywhere – that sort of thing. In this fantastical vein, I was spending most Saturday mornings working with a bunch of local communards in their huge veggie patch at Dharmananda intentional community just down the road.
Sprinkled in among those weeks and months of serious forward planning, I managed to bring Special K along to Dharmananda a couple of times. He suited this fantasy of mine well. Easy and charming with new people, very useful with his hands and machinery, strong and young and not afraid to share with strangers. They liked him and he liked them. But this was not his fantasy. He humoured me, to a point, but he wanted his life back – the life he had traded in to follow me to the hills.
We drifted toward his version of a life and the sensation in my stomach grew more acute, turning to pain of a blurry moral kind, burning in my soul.
And then the switch went off.
The doubt, the creature inside, rose up one day, overtook all of me and broke us apart. How could I continue on with life-as-we-know-it when I knew all life was being destroyed? I was a destroyer of life and if I continued this way or entered fully into these plans with Special K I would be consciously, knowingly, stupendously saying “I’m OK with that”! It grabbed me and shook me.
Once I let the veil of modernity slip from my eyes, I was not OK with any of it. Ecosystem meltdown, human slavery, rising temperatures, farmers killing themselves over seeds in India, slaughter in our oceans, children dying in far-off precious metal mines. What about any of this was OK? The weight of realisation turned me 180 degrees. I chose life.
It was February 2014 and I made the decision to, literally, no longer buy into our system of violence that continues to drive all humanity over a cliff, bringing the rest of life with it. The creature inside, burning a hole in my privileged white girl soul, was my moral compass. With eyes wide open, what else was to be done.
This was a decision for the times in which we live.
No Special K, no England, no baby, no social work.
Instead there would be Amy, and love for the greater – for life itself.
And, to really force my hand, there would be no money.
For five years this April I have lived and thrived in this wealthy Western country without money. I have built rich social connections, consumed waste resources, grown food for myself and others, and built a tiny piece of a new world. Without money, I have forced myself into creative territory, found emotionally and mentally fulfilling ways to meet my basic needs and formed many win-wins with people, both friends and strangers.
For the first 3 and a half years I wound myself through the fringes of society living in paddocks and backyards in tiny houses. Now, living in Sharon’s house in relative comfort with family (both blood and chosen), life seems almost ‘normal’.
It’s been a wonderful adventure so far and I am glad I made the decision of a lifetime way back then.
Now it’s Sharon’s turn.
Sharon, one of my oldest and dearest friends, is as horrified as I am by the inherent violence in our industrial system. Her house, Montague House (in honour of her late husband Monty), is our beautiful shared home now. She, like me, gets that this is the sanest decision to be made when humanity teeters on the cliff-face of oblivion and so many suffer. Sharon is not choosing to live without money. She is choosing to live without fossil fuels. Montague House is aiming to be fossil fuel free by 2023.
My isolated moneyless journey could only bring me so far. In this wonderful new collaboration, built on our solid friendship and thankful ability to work through the tough stuff, Sharon is effectively giving up her home and life-as-she-knew-it for something bigger. Together we are reaching into a future of deindustrialisation, radical relocalisation, degrowth, sharing and regeneration. We are changing our world.
Our scenario looks like this: Sharon is the home provider and I am the home maker. Keeping the roof over our heads, working in the domestic violence field, keeping the bills paid for now, is Sharon’s role. The chooks, the worms and compost, the vegetables, the yard, keeping us in clean clothes, some meal prep and ensuring the household is mostly clean and functional without having to spend much money, is my area of expertise. Our skills, preferences and personalities are used to our mutual benefit and our long term vision.
I am still moneyless in this new stage of my journey, but I am using more of someone else’s resources than I was before. I am very conscious of this and take care not to take too much. In the process of aligning to a low-impact lifestyle together, we are happily mutually reliant. The household as a whole is using fewer resources and less money than it normally would and Sharon’s regular expenditures are on a downward trajectory.
‘Montague House 2023’ dreams of being a fruitful example of climate action at a micro level. Trial and error are our friends as we navigate the deep rabbit warren of fossil fuel addiction that we know our world is built on. Can we, as a regular household, get off fossil fuels altogether? How far can we go?
Our paths are crossed and our decisions tie us together as we embark on this radical, low-impact, living experiment. For us it’s a no-brainer. What other decision could we justifiably make in times like these.