A three part series has just come to an end on BBC2. The series was presented by Peter Owen Jones, an Anglican vicar who tried to reduce his dependence on money and ‘stuff’. During this time he tried self sufficiency, managing without money and making his way from his Sussex parish to North Devon depending on the benevolence of complete strangers for food and shelter. His inspiration in this was St Francis of Assisi, his quest was to find out if living a more simple life would make him happier.
There have been some criticisms of this, many justified; is it easier to live without money if you have some, the presence of a camera crew may have made people more generous etc. But, to me, the central messages of the series are pertinent to modern day life.
Firstly, the acquisition of money seems to be a way of reducing reliance on others, building up barriers so we can separate ourselves from other people – we can just buy things or services from anonymous people and anonymous companies. There is no need to bother building a relationship with people, having a relationship with money is easier.
Money is also self-defeating to some extent, or, rather the pursuit of money is. Once we get past a certain point where we have enough to live comfortably; put food on the table, pay the bills, what do we want more money for? In part it is (hopefully) for insurance for old age, but, more often it is to buy more. Buy more cars, buy more things, buy a bigger house to put them in etc. Then, we need more money, because there are other things we need more of. When do we stop and ask whether we need these things, or even really want them. There are very few people who do not have things in their house that they don’t use or wear, or that someone else bought for them, because they had to get them something, but ‘they already had everything they needed’.
Finally, by working to pay ever increasing bills, we are rushing round, not stopping to see what is there, all around us, and, more importantly, getting stuck in a rut, not finding out what we are really capable of. Whether this is painting, gardening or even just listening, there are many of us who don’t take the time to find out what we can do.
So, did Peter Owen Jones successfully live without money, did a simple life make him happier? I think the answer to both is yes. In the end, the system beat him, he has to have a car due to the fact that he is vicar to three rural parishes, and car insurance is not something he can trade his time for. But, admitting that in modern times it will be necessary to have some money, then I think he did quite well. However, when he finally did get his wallet back I was surprised to see him struggling to not make spontaneous purchases of stuff! Oh, and he did seem to have found a way to make his life more meaningful, and consequently happier – by spending time with parishioners, swapping his time for whatever they wanted to give – surely that is the way it should be if they value the service he offers?
So, what are my thoughts about Peter Owen Jones’ experiment? I think it was an admirable experiment, that, whilst it would not work completely for everyone, certainly has something to offer to all. It’s message certainly resonates with me. We can all live with less, without the hankering for more. Over the last few years I have bought less and less, Waitrose and books from Amazon being my main indulgence. Not only does this give me more financial security, it means I throw less away, and, I have more time. In that time I have discovered new hobbies – blogging for one, made new friends – at Tai Chi and a local camera club, and learned a lot more – through distance learning, internet resources and good, old fashioned reading.
I am at the point now where I don’t want more stuff, only more time. As the saying goes, the best things in life are free (written whilst listening to bird song and watching the sun go down). Maybe if we all tried to slow down and live a more simple life we could reduce society’s dependence on outside addictions including anti-depressants?