Mark Boyle is a hard guy to get in touch with. Living out of a yellowed trailer permanently cinder-blocked on a patch of farmland somewhere between Bath and Bristol, the thirty-one-year-old Brit rarely turns on his mobile phone. He doesn’t frequently answer email, either. His communication devices—which he sees as lifestyle compromises that serve the greater good of his mission—are powered by an old solar cell and the shy English sun that only occasionally shines upon it.
If Boyle’s off-the-grid lifestyle isn’t totally unique among today’s Burning Man fanatics and Freecyclers, his background and level of commitment are one in a million. The author of a popular book and founder of the Freeconomy, an online social network with nearly twenty-five thousand members, Boyle hasn’t spent a dime for more than a year and a half.
He doesn’t hate money, he says, but he definitely doesn’t like it. “I’m completely neutral,” Boyle says when asked if the sight of money makes his insides churn.
If someone left £10,000 ($15,440) at his feet? “I’d probably recognize it for what it is, which is a big lump of paper.”
The seed for his aversion to cash was planted during the six years he spent studying economics, followed by a brief career managing organic food companies—a half measure toward a better world, Boyle says. “Freeconomics” sprouted into a passion one day at the local pub in 2007. It was then, chatting with a friend, that Boyle made a commitment to abandon currency.
“Money keeps us separated from the consequences of what we consume,” he says. Because of cash, “we don’t see factory farms, we don’t see the sweatshops where clothes are made, we don’t see the pesticides that we spray all over our food,” Boyle says over the phone, as a faint beeping indicates the device is about to die. “All money does is disconnect us.”
Going totally moneyless and spreading the word came in fits and starts for Boyle. His cause first gained widespread attention in early 2008 during a failed attempt to trek without money from Britain to India. Intended as a nine-thousand-mile journey that would take two-and-a-half years, the trek ended after less than a month when misunderstanding and natural human distrust scuttled Boyle’s dream in northern France.
“Not only did no one not [sic] speak the language,” Boyle wrote in a Feb. 24, 2008, blog entry about the residents of Calais, “they also seen [sic] us as just a bunch of freeloading backpackers, which is the opposite of what the pilgrimage is really about.”
Freezing, starving, and emotionally downtrodden, Boyle decided to return home. Boyle announced his decision online to the “Freeconomists” following his journey. “I have touched money to get back [to the UK] and I want you all to know that,” he wrote. “But that has happened and I can’t change that now. All I can do is make a resolution to not be so weak in the future.”
The resolution became real in November 2008, as Boyle embarked upon a “Buy Nothing Year” just two days after a Walmart employee was killed in a stampede of customers on the first day of the Christmas shopping season. That “Buy Nothing Year” is now just a few months away from becoming a “Buy Nothing Two Years.” Boyle suggests it will go on even longer.
“I’ve never been happier. Never been fitter. Never been healthier,” he says. A vegan for six years, Boyle scavenges for and grows his own food, and volunteers several days a week at the organic farm where his trailer is parked. He brushes his teeth using a mixture of washed-ashore cuttlefish bone and fennel seeds, and he rarely, if ever enters a major cosmopolitan area.
In previous interviews, he’s suggested a pint at the pub is what he misses most about his old life. “I don’t miss beer that much,” he says, clearing the record. “Women are always the biggest temptation.” Not that mates are off-limits, provided, of course, that they don’t ask for a dime.
“This is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” Boyle says, suggesting money-free family life may be in his future. “I’d be very happy to have a partner, given the right time and right place.”
That time and place may soon materialize. Boyle is currently laying the groundwork for a moneyless village, built upon the proceeds earned through sales of his book and kept locked away in a charitable trust. His blog and the Freeconomy do not host ads or generate revenue otherwise.
There’s plenty of interest in what Boyle preaches. “I’ve been inundated by people who want to live without money and be a part of this project,” Boyle says. “I can’t even stop the demand for it.
“When you lose your addictions to all the crap, all the bullshit that we’re sold, then you’re on the road to true liberation, true freedom.”
Boyle often cites a quote by Epicurus to convey the timelessness and credibility of his message: “If you want to make a man rich, do not add to his wealth but subtract from his desires.”
“I’ve made small sacrifices,” Boyle says of his lifestyle. “But I’ve gained so much more.”
Originally published on Tonic