What’s your idea of freedom?
I’ll tell you what mine is and if it sounds like something you want to achieve…read on, if not I’ll have saved you a bit of reading.
Freedom~ the ability to choose my own path on a daily basis, every day of my life.
It’s a very simple definition, but if you re-read it, you will start to have questions about how it can ever be possible. These will almost certainly include questions around the subjects of money and work.
In this article I will discuss my take on money and work and also a few other related and non-related issues that you might or might not have considered in your own quest for, or thoughts about freedom. These include your attitude to government (with either a small or a capital “G”), debt, state dependence, self dependence, independence, lifestyle, worry, guilt, life, time, death and creativity.
So if that’s not for you; see you and thanks for reading this far.
If you’re still here that’s great and I hope you get something for this time you are investing in reading this.
My quest for freedom started when I was very young, but wasn’t realised until I was in my mid forties, which was very recently. I thought I had made the breakthrough when I was 36 when I started my own business and took charge of my own destiny as I saw it. The truth was that I had simply created another job for myself and it took me 8 years to finally realise that I still wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. I was spending my time doing things I didn’t like doing and with people that I didn’t want to be with.
So this is the first key point for me in defining myself as free. It must be a style of living that does not include a job in the traditional sense and that is because jobs, careers and all that goes with them are simply constructs of the capitalist system and the majority of us are unwittingly born into slavery to serve the continuation of that system. We are raised to believe that the system is the only way to live and that earning money in order to buy stuff from other people to keep them in a job is the right thing to do. This is drummed into us from an early age by parents who have been swept up in the system and then by school curricula that are designed by the capitalist state in order to perpetuate the capitalist ideal, and this all conspires to steal all of our time away from us. It essentially takes away our freedom to live the way we want to.
As an aside; if this model was applied to an actual business it would contravene the trading laws of most western countries because it is essentially a Pyramid selling scheme with no end product of any real value. It’s kind of like one of those chain letters that prevailed among the get rich quick pedlars before the internet took off. You know the one; you add your name to the letter, send £1 to each of the five names on the letter and then send the same letter to 500 more people. The idea is that at least some of the 500 are gullible enough to send you £1 and pass on the chain letter to another 500.
We are seeing this in action right now every night on the news. Because people are anxious about their jobs, they are not spending as much, so retailers are going bust and prices are going up. You can almost hear the power brokers screaming about the “bloody peasants” not spending any money. They aren’t playing ball and sending their £1 to the other names on the chain letter; the chain has slipped off the cog, people are wakening up to the futility of the quest for an ever bigger house, car, washing machine etc. More and more real people are getting the message that they were sold a pup and that the system isn’t the only way!
There is a bitter taste in a lot of mouths right now, because pressing your nose to the grindstone was only just bearable if there was an ever growing housing market, a shinier BMW every 3 years and meat on the table every night. What’s the point in spending a third or more of your best hours on earth doing things you don’t like doing, in a place you don’t want to be and with people who don’t mean anything to you? And now the final nail in the capitalist coffin is the world-wide pension’s crisis. Now the dream of retiring in comfort is gone also and a lot of workers in the latter years of their careers are well and truly stuffed and the “leaders” don’t give a damn.
So…key point number one for me anyway: No Job = Freedom.
What about money then?
Of course the obvious question after that is “how do you pay the rent?”
Good point of course, and I am not saying that a life of complete idleness is something you should strive for, or even that such a life would be better even if you could achieve it.
It is also probably not desirable for most people to return to an agrarian, barter driven lifestyle even if such a goal was achievable. So, we need to get money from somewhere; capitalism isn’t going away any time soon and we should hold onto the good stuff we humans have created like plentiful food supplies, clean water and the like.
However, making your own money doesn’t have to become a drudgery laden existence and there are plenty of things you can do to make money and ensure that it comes in regularly. This brings me to key point number two: making money come in regularly; but not necessarily in huge wads. If you can break away from the idea of just one pay day per month, you are well on the way to freedom. So what would be a more interesting number of pay days per month? For me it’s got to be 28, but that’s only in February; at the outset of my quest for real freedom I set myself a target of making every day a pay day and by that I mean 365 days a year. How much better would you feel if you received money into your bank account (or hand) every day of the year? It sounds wrong doesn’t it? Every waking moment since you could walk, you’ve been led to believe that it’s supposed to happen the other way around; that the money is designed to leave your hand, wallet and bank account every day of the year except for the 12 red letter days called pay days! That’s all wrong, leave it behind today and start your own quest for 365 pay days a year.
At first I didn’t want to pressurise myself so I didn’t define a cash amount that had to come in every day. I just stipulated (to myself) that money had to come in from some source every day. However, I did dictate that this should be “extra money”, in other words not from an existing source of income which at that time would be my salary and eventually my redundancy payment from my business when I left it behind. Counting existing pay days is cheating in my book.
After a while though, I started putting minimum values on this and I started with just £10; yes just £10 extra every day of the year and then I moved it up to £25 and then £50…still with no real pressure. Getting into this way of thinking was a revelation for me and a real life changer. If you’re struggling with the mental arithmetic, every £10 per day is equal to £3650 per year so £50 a day extra income is equal to £18,250 per year…interesting isn’t it?
So, key point number two is to make new money every day from activities you enjoy.
Now, of course you want to keep it legal, but you also want to send as little of this lovely new cash to the government as possible and that brings me to my 3rd key point:
Don’t make work your life; make your life your work!
Let me explain.
You will have noticed how happy successful artists, musicians and artisans always seem to be. That’s because they are living the way they want to and just by coincidence it also pays the bills; but it isn’t a coincidence that it happens this way, the key is that they are doing what they love; something they would do for free if it came to it and therefore making money doesn’t even enter their consciousness; not much anyway and the work they turn out as a result is of a very high quality. They also have a very clear idea of what their customers want so they find it relatively easy to build a very enjoyable business.
For me it was difficult to define what it was I had been stopping myself from doing all those years. The conditioning we get, the indoctrination into the ways of the system can be powerful forces and it is sometimes difficult to uncover your true passions.
So, what I did was throw a whole lot of irons in the fire at the same time. I started taking my guitar playing more seriously and loved it, I started painting for the first time since secondary school and loved it, I started buying and selling old books and loved it, I joined a meditation group and loved it (this is a real mind opener which I will discuss more in future articles), I learned how to make websites, create Kindle books and I went to the far opposite place from that and learned how to make, repair and restore books; real leather-bound books. I acquired a telescope and finally spent time stargazing and photographing the night sky after a lifetime of unrequited love for the subject. I moved to a rented small-holding in the countryside with my wife and kids, we got donkeys, some orphan lambs, chickens and a veggie patch. I now spend 10 times more time with my kids than I could before and it’s fantastic. I started writing which was something I always wanted to do and I took up bee-keeping and sought out a mentor to help me learn that ancient art.
What I want you to understand here is two-fold: first is that I am not one of those annoying, over enthusiastic, overly energetic dynamo like people that you sometimes bump into; no I am actually one of those annoying, lazy bastards who can’t be bothered getting up to get the telly remote sometimes, so looking back and revealing all of the things I have started in a very short space of time is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you!
Secondly, I want to define this lifestyle for you and my chosen name for it (you can probably think of a better one if you spend a second or two) is “Patchwork”. In other words, I think of my life, my day, my lack of routine as being like a patchwork made up of all sorts of different and unrelated elements and it struck me early in this process that to be truly free, I would have to make sure that all of my income came from one, some or all of these activities…and that’s why I encourage you to make your life your work, and not the other way round.
One very good, practical reason for this is the avoidance of tax. Of course the other poor peasants out there with their little noses to the grindstone still need you to contribute to the pyramid scheme so its only fair that you do so, but you can be clever about this and minimise your outgoings in that direction by making as much of your life’s enjoyable, freedom defining activities as tax deductible as possible and that means making even just a little money from as many of your activities as possible, thus ensuring that at least some if not all of your expenditure on these activities is considered business expenditure. A good accountant is the one nod to the establishment I would heartily recommend for this, with the possible addition of a part time, free lance book keeper if things get interesting enough to warrant this. Please don’t piss about with book keeping if it’s not your bag, its too stressful and eats into your freedom.
Of course I didn’t start all of these potential income producing activities on day one or even in the first few months of my freedom quest. No, I actually started a lot of them before I started; quite a bit before in some cases and that brings me to key point number four. You should start digging a tunnel today.
I stole the phrase “tunnel digging” from an ex colleague who was always using it to describe what he claimed to be doing whilst working for our then employer. You can read more about this here.
I encourage you to start digging your own escape tunnel by getting one or two potential new income streams up and running whilst you are still thinking about your bigger goal of complete freedom. Working 5-9 has become a widely used description of this type of effort as people like you and me get busy around their kitchen table in the evenings after work to set up small businesses and/or cottage industries.
By following a system like this, you don’t have to take any big financial risks or leaps of faith in any one business venture. If you want to go deeper on this, I’ve written a longer article on tunnel digging here.
Speaking of financial risks, the one biggest thing that many people cite as their main reason for not making the jump isn’t that they don’t have another income stream to rely on or that they lack ideas for new income streams…no its that they have too much debt and can’t get their heads around making a start on a new life until its all paid off. And key point number 5 is all about how you deal with debt and how it impacts on you making progress.
I understand of course that debt is a real mental hurdle for many people, but even huge debts should not hold you back from doing this. In fact the more debt you are in, the more you really need to start changing your life around quickly.
Einstein said something along the lines of “if you keep doing what you’ve always done; don’t be surprised when you keep getting what you’ve always had”…wise words indeed.
Most people who are in big debt have always been that way and another 20 years waiting won’t change that unless you do something different in order to instigate change in your life.
There are basically two ways to be rid of large debts. The approach you opt for is dependent on a few things:
1. the amount of debt you are in
2. the type of debt (e.g. mortgage, credit card, payday loans, the mafia etc)
3. your attitude to money and debt
4. your relationship with the lender
5. your moral grounding
6. the lender’s public persona (dumping on the greedy high street banks is an easy one to justify)
If you have a major amount of debt on loans, credit cards, car payments and high interest pay day loans and no mortgage debt (i.e. the roof over your head), you could consider bankruptcy for a quick fix but refer to the list above to see if that sounds ok for you to do. Of course if you can arrange a suitable rented place, you can dump the mortgage too, but you will lose the property. Now aren’t those a couple of weird concepts that we’ve invented for ourselves; property and the mortgage. What most people in the UK call their property isn’t in their ownership (mortgaged houses primarily) and won’t be for a long time or maybe ever. Such a long time in fact that the banks decided a while back to use a French word for it, probably so we didn’t realise what we were really getting into! After all, the proposition might not seem quite so attractive if they translated it to DeathPledge!
If you are a bit more rational than me and you feel compelled to re-pay all of the banks who stupidly lent you all of this money and definitely if you have a mortgage on your main residence you need a plan to pay down your debts more quickly than you are at present; but that plan should include your new freedom activities, don’t wait until its all paid off first or you will never do this.
In his brilliant book “Automatic Millionaire”, David Bach describes a technique known as DOLP for credit cards and other high interest loans. This term means Dead on Last Payment. In other words the cards get cut up at the outset, not after the event, so that there is no way back when you see a shiny new piece of “essential” stuff in some shop window or other.
I can’t possibly recommend any particular method of debt release over another as I don’t know your situation and I am not a financial adviser, but I went for the former and dumped a huge amount in one short-lived and relatively pain-free bankruptcy. If you need more background on this, I ranted a bit on it here.
Again though, that’s only feasible if you are already taking a different direction in life to the one that got you in debt in the first place, because you certainly don’t want to be going back there afterwards and that means you need to look closely at your attitude to stuff, material possessions, keeping up appearances or whatever you want to call it.
So for me, key point number 6 is all about stuff and I’m going to get quite deep here. You see, its my belief that the hugely materialistic way in which we live our lives isn’t actually about stuff at all, its about much more ethereal and psychological things than mere houses, range cookers and BMW’s; its essentially about being fucked up in the head…and I mean that in the nicest possible way. We are all essentially damaged by our up-bringing to some extent and I’ve come to realise that this is a biological necessity for the human race to keep moving forward.
Imagine how much progress would have been made if we all skipped home to Mummy’s home baked cream cakes and milk after school everyday, while Daddy smoked his pipe and read the newspaper in the rose garden with a nice cup of tea; tousling our hair as we skipped past him, into the sun filled kitchen! We would get precisely no-where as we would all be too bloody comfortable with what we’ve got. So an element of fuckedupedness is essential in that respect and a good job too because I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t have some level of resentment about the way their life has panned out so far.
So, the reaction that most of us mere mortals take to this is to try to make it better this time around, for our kids; but somehow it doesn’t quite work out perfectly in most cases, although there might be an improvement in our minds. If we can give our kids more toys than we had, make better cakes, buy a bigger house and have a better car than, not only our parents, but also the neighbours and the parents of the other kids at school. To do all of that of course we have to get into debt, work more hours and basically make ourselves physically and mentally sick.
The actual accumulation of stuff makes our houses and eventually our minds cluttered and we find it hard to operate properly. How many times have you longed for your place to be tidy and relaxed but just couldn’t summon the energy to clean it up because it just seemed too big a task and would take forever. Even if you made a start now, where would you put it all?
Stuff, then is in some cases required, but have you noticed how the asset rich, upper classes and minor aristocracy deal with stuff. First of all they get some kind of secret education about money that the lesser mortals don’t ever seem to grasp. This secret is of course very simple as it would have to be for some of those geezers to understand; I even met one recently who told me he thought he might have mistakenly filled up his car with green instead of black! This was the only way he could remember the difference between petrol and diesel as he was far too well bred to have to remember mundane things like the names of different fuels!
Anyway, the “secret” financial education the upper crust get goes something like this:
1. don’t spend any money unless its life threatening
2. don’t sell any assets…ever. Assets generate more cash!
3. don’t borrow money to buy anything that deteriorates or loses value over time.
4. buy quality stuff and keep it until it dies or disintegrates (check out the leather elbow pads on jackets, patched heavy tweeds, repaired cashmere sweaters, 30 year old Land Rovers etc that actually look good on these folk)
5. don’t tell anyone the secret or we’ll be overrun with well off socialists before we know it.
You can learn a lot from the toffs of this world; they almost never have anywhere near as much liquid cash as you would think they would, but then they almost never get themselves into a situation where they need any. You won’t see them down at McDonalds with the kids or in Argos buying cheap Christmas presents that will be forgotten by New Years day.
They get better off by the day; they start quality small diversification projects like cheese making, farm shops selling expensive food, quality rental properties and install cash generating wind turbines paid for by government grants; they are money savvy and we need to be too.
So armed with that, there are 3 things that we should strive to do:
1. get rid of stuff, especially stuff that you no longer need and even more especially if it is a mental crutch that you’ve been keeping in order to return to a better psychological place from the past. More on that later.
2. identify everything of value that you don’t need and sell it using eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist, car boot sale or the local paper; this is double whammy of relief and new cash!
3. only buy absolutely essential stuff in the future, but buy quality stuff that will outlast you and any fad that comes along.
The majority of clutter in our homes I would argue is not simply physical stuff, but also damaging to our mental health and that is what I mean by a “mental crutch”. Mental crutches or comfort blankets if you prefer, are usually physical things that transport us back to what we think of as a better place and/or time in our lives; and although they can seem innocuous and even helpful, they essentially instigate nostalgia which is I am afraid not a good thing for most of us. The word nostalgia was originally coined to describe a range of illnesses that are psychological in essence where we return in our heads to idealised versions of times, places and experiences from our past and from personal experience I now know that this is a mainly negative frame of mind to be in. I achieved huge relief from dumping, selling and giving away comfort blankets and mental crutches during my transition period; some of which I previously thought of as lifelong possessions…move on!
I have no doubt that the dumping, clearing and de-cluttering process will help you to feel better about yourself, to feel freer to make decisions about the next road you should take and that it will generally introduce a feeling of relaxation to your life.
However, the attachments we make to stuff can be quite strong for all sorts of reasons, most commonly the attachment is deeply psychological and emotional; certainly was for me anyway.
So, although this is a very positive process you might need help in understanding its relevance in your past, your future and most importantly your life right now…this minute.
The previous statement might have taken you by surprise, because most people have the unshakeable belief that it is the future that is most important, but always planning for the future, projecting your self and your life forward, is again I think, not a terribly positive way to look at things. The reason that I believe this is largely to do with my recent realisation that there is no past, it’s gone and is never coming back; there is no future…yet, so it doesn’t warrant worrying about. What we can categorically say is true is that there is a “now” right this very second is all there really is, that’s all we know for sure exists and the majority of us squander that moment, the here and now, every day.
Now here’s a deep piece of shit for you…I started meditating!
I saw an advert in my local paper and I joined an 8 week training class at a nearby Buddhist centre, where a really nice guy showed a group of us how to switch off our chattering minds and start living in the moment. Now I go along once a week just to sit quietly with a bunch of like minded people.
Just so you know, I am totally non-religious, I’m a novice at this but I have already changed my attitude to life hugely since starting; there is no pressure to become a Buddhist or anything; its not a weird cult, just a bunch of people who get a lot of help from just sitting quietly and observing their imagined “self” trying to screw up their lives and learning how to deal with that.
I’m not going to go any deeper with this topic here, because it might not be for everyone, but I will dedicate an entire article to the subject soon and it will be a real layman’s introduction to meditation for those of you who think you might get something from it.
So that’s my big splurge on Freedom for now. I will return to this over and over I am sure and I will most likely pull individual parts of it out for closer inspection. So, if you have anything to say or want to keep the discussion going on any part of this, please feel free to have your say by leaving a comment below.