On Christmas Eve, pretty late at night, I took my phone out to send good wishes to my family and friends back in Argentina and I was surprised to see that we had received a pretty angry comment on Alex’s blog. I was not shocked by the negative energy at that particular time (we all know Christmas can be a tough time for some) but I did feel surprise to see that this reader felt that the bartering system belonged to the “would it not be nice” realm when bartering is a very, very common practice around the world. It’s the simplest way to exchange things you do not need anymore for things you do need with others. Most people do it in one way or another. People who, like us, do not enjoy money, or going to work everyday, use it a lot more often of course. But it is not fantasy, it’s simple and frequent, it took me by surprise that he would think of it that way.
There was another comment in which another reader felt uncomfortable with our dislike for the “matrix” and the monetary system. I thought it would be a good idea to try and explain, once more, what we mean when we talk about minimalism.
Alex’s blog title was “living on a micro income” as opposed to “living on no income” and we speak of “minimalism” (minimal consumption) as opposed to “no consumption”. We have never said we do not earn, use or enjoy a little bit of money to buy the things we need. We show our boats and equipment through pictures and words of love, you see that we wear regular clothes, travel to visit family, watch movies, we do not pretend to live on a hand-made raft, wear rags and navigate relying solely on celestial navigation. I really do not see where the anger or discomfort could be coming from; what we say apparently makes them see something they do not like in their own lives. Once again, that is why we are here, for all those people who need a change.
I feel that this is a great opportunity to talk about what we feel is important. We keep writing about these things, trying to encourage others to come join us, even though it actually goes against our own interests and comfort: the more people take to the sea, the more rules and obstacles our lifestyle will encounter. We only keep insisting on it out of the love we feel for humanity and the need to share this beautiful life of freedom we have found with others.
For those skeptical ones out there, let me explain once more that Alex’s (now our) website has been running for over ten years with free access for anyone who was interested in reading. Alex spends the time and energy to answer, literally, a couple thousand emails and comments a year, if you have ever written to him, you already know that you always receive a response in a matter of hours, every single time.
These two men mentioned the “contradiction” of speaking of minimalism, or being against the matrix, when we have sponsors on our website. And that a bartering system belonged to the “would it not be nice” crowd. I understand most people have not had the chance to travel somewhere away from their own communities but the bartering system is very much alive and exists in every country in the world. Bartering is not a childish concept out of a cartoon or a fantasy land. Bartering simply refers to the exchange of one thing for another without the use of currency, and it is a system we have all used numerous times throughout our lives and since the beginning of time.
Children always exchange food or toys they are bored with for different, new, more interesting food or toys other children bring to school. As you move away from the bigger, more crowded and organized urban centers toward the outskirts or more rural areas you will see that thousands of people prefer this type of exchange with neighbors to buying or selling things for money. If one farmer produces eggs, they will sell some of them but more often than not they will also bring some to other farmers or neighbors and exchange them for meat, dairy products, wool, firewood, clothes, crafts, etc.
When we talk about preferring the bartering system this is all we are saying. We constantly find opportunities in our environment to exchange construction materials, boat parts, or groceries for work, supplies, art, you name it. Nobody is talking about a fantasy land in which money or manufactured goods do not exist. If you have been reading our blog for long enough you know I row a Dyer Midget dinghy. We got it in exchange for an old Kubota engine we had lying around and $200 cash. We’ve invested many days’ work on it, fixed it up and now it is worth $1,500. Which doesn’t mean that if we do not need it anymore we would be salivating to see fifteen $100 bills.
I don’t want fifteen $100 dollar bills for my dinghy if I don’t need it anymore. I would much rather give it away to another sailor who really needs a dinghy and see their smile. Giving things away at the right time is the most wonderful feeling in the world. This is how we got our amazing 10 foot Trinka. Someone we did not know saw the opportunity and gave it to Alex and rocked our world. Now we both have a rowing dinghy and can row to different places at the same time.
Now, say that instead of giving it away at the time I really wanted something material, like for example now we would love to learn how to kite surf. We’ve been interested in it for a couple of years but still haven’t had money to buy the gear. This is a good example. Say a neighbor from another boat had some kiting gear they do not use anymore and they really loved our Dyer Midget. It’d be a great opportunity to do a swap. Everyone’s happy, nobody spent a dime. It is that simple. This is the bartering system.
And for me, personally, that kite gear would be much more valuable if that sailor had made it him or herself, shaped the board with their own hands, decorated it, sewn the kite, etc, than if they had walked into some store and paid for it. This is what we mean as well. I don’t prefer O’Neill or Billabong to home-made if both are of similar quality. I prefer home-made because it has the love and magic of a human individual shaping their dreams with their time, effort, creativity and love. We are not driven by money or how much things cost. We don’t order the West Marine catalog and dream of spending thousands of dollars on new shit, we love finding opportunities with like-minded people in which the things we need come to us in magical ways, like Eleanor, or the Trinka.
A couple of months ago, a neighbor gave us his Lectrasan we would need if we went to Europe or the US and Alex and I agreed to paint his decks in exchange. Alex also fixed his rotten deck for an old 2-horse power outboard engine. Alex is going home in a few days and I’m staying for two more weeks because an old friend of his has a roller furling in storage, exactly the one we need for Eleanor and they need some canvaswork done (two sailcovers and a dinghy cover). We all agreed that it was a fair trade, all parties are happy, and nobody has had to go to work in the system to make pieces of smelly green paper, pay taxes that are used for things we don’t agree with, etc. The beauty of living minimally is that I do not have a job, bills, timetables. I can stay and do it.
Now, talking about our “evil sponsors” we also have a bartering arrangement with them. Whenever we really need some product or boat part, Alex contacts the company he feels he trusts the most. If you take the time to look at the companies there, some of them are family companies, not multinationals or mega enterprises. Some of them is just one guy. We choose companies run by one guy over the big ones whenever we can. Every single time Alex chooses a sponsor, he offers to advertise for them in exchange for that which he needs and nothing else. Sometimes it is something that costs $30 or $100. We like the idea of getting their product in exchange for some exposure so that their good products can reach other people who need it too. We have never received a dime from them, feel free to contact any of our sponsors through their links. But, on top of that, Alex always tells them that he will only recommend them if he feels the product or part is useful. If you’ve been reading for some time you’ll know that he has also criticized those same companies when something went wrong (like when our depth sounder stopped working and the company would not tell us their color code for us to fix it ourselves). We only exchange product for advertising, there is no money changing hands. This is bartering too.
Our main source of income for a long time were Alex’s movies. When he relaunched the website he had thought about charging for downloads but soon he thought it was time to share them for free and so he did.
Of course we need some cash every month to buy certain products at the supermarket, for painting supplies or to buy a couple gallons of gasoline to power our sander. Alex wants everyone to have access to his website and that is why there is a button for donations, sometimes we get $40 in a month, sometimes someone sends $100 and it’s like Christmas, you know, and sometimes we have the Google ads somewhere and that gets us another $50 or so dollars a month, which for our lifestyle it is a lot of money. Sometimes we charter, which is a beautiful way to get to know new amazing people and show them first hand what we do, and that also brings us money we need to fly to Argentina to see my family or to buy Sunbrella or something else which is out of our reach. We sometimes feel we should make longer instructional videos and charge a little so that we can start having a regular income to start saving for our old age or in case we have a medical emergency (we do not have boat or medical insurance).
But really, I don’t know why these guys got so offended. We do wear hoodies, rubber flip flops, eat gouda cheese, navigate with the aid of an autopilot so that we can read and enjoy the view, and watch movies. But most months we literally only have $200-400 in the bank and spend it on groceries and paint supplies and that is it. We have no car, properties, savings or credit cards. We always choose to eat the meat we catch, support local farmers and bartering with neighbors and friends when possible (you’d be surprised to see how often that happens, it’s really most of the time).
Do not feel attacked, we know some people dream of having piles of money it is just not our case and we speak up for all those people who are unhappy, in broken homes, and find they never have time to do the things they love to do and to see the people they love. Getting a boat, learning to do most of the maintenance yourself and dropping consumption to a minimum gives you the freedom to choose what you want to do when you wake up, to go where you wish, to choose when to work and when to rest. That is all we are saying. Nobody is talking about Gotham City or Little House on the Prairy. This is real. It’s out there for anyone to take it. That is why we go on and on about it. We have found it simpler than we thought and want to help every single person out there who needs guidance or support.
For anyone who is still skeptical, you’re welcome to keep asking if you need more information, and you are also welcome to come visit and see it for yourself: we do live on a “micro income” and consume as little as possible, which can be defined as “minimalism”, and we are healthy, inspired and as happy as the happiest clams.Published in