My Year of Living Without Money by Carolien Hoogland (Full Transcript)

This is the full transcript of action researcher Carolien Hoogland’s TEDx Talk: My Year of Living Without Money at TEDxErasmusUniversity conference.


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Carolien Hoogland – Action researcher

When I was about this small, I decided that I wanted to help save the planet. I was one of those kids that would tear off the label of the tea bag and then put it in the waste paper and then think where I put the staple. So I also really liked the idea of becoming a comedian. But I ignored that and I went to university to learn how to help save the environment. Save the planet. And about 10 years later in a master’s degree, many classes, books, a PhD degree, I became an environmental psychologist. Several research projects, I found myself sitting in a room at a computer. And I felt that I wasn’t really helping to save the planet.

And then something happened. In a farm north of Amsterdam I took part in a master class for transition management that was organized, by the way, by an ex-colleague from the DRIFT Institute which is right here at Erasmus University. And in the master class it was January 2009 over dinner we discussed the crisis and are shock when talented people around us and friends lost jobs. And one of us — one participant [Liang Fu], she said, “Imagine. Imagine all of us would lose their jobs and we’d simply live”. And something happened inside me, I felt these happy hormones and I thought, oh, oh, oh, oh, I want to do that. I want to do that. I like the idea of getting up in the morning and going out and doing what I’m good at, doing what I enjoy doing and then society takes care of me too.

So she appealed to a very personal longing inside of me and the next day I wrote out a promise to myself and I said I’m going to do this. I am going to simply live without a job. And all these ideas came to me and I can work for him and do that with her and help her with the project. And so I was all inspired and I went home and told my boyfriend, and he said, “Oh great. That’s quite decadent. You’re going to live off your savings for a year”. But I said, “Well, I’m not going to let you pop my balloon, this is not about money. You know anyone can do this with or without money and, well, I’ll do without them. I will prove it to you”.

So let’s observe what happened. We have the pre-boyfriend conversation, sabbatical, you know that we’re all kind of familiar with. And then we have the post-conversation, crazy idea. And I knew it was a crazy idea. So I said to myself, calm down. Take a couple of months to see if the idea sticks, and it did. After half a year it was mid 2009 I was still thrilled, I had found my Mount Everest that I wanted to climb. So I went ahead and within half a year I arranged to set up seven barter deals for food and for staying in my apartment, for going out to dance, for having a work space. And throughout 2010 my bank balance remained stable without an income coming in.

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I love adventure. I love adventure. I’m also very thorough person and I enjoy my projects most if I get to prepare them meticulously. So I drafted a letter, I had approved it by three of my friends whose creative writings I very much appreciate. It was a letter to my project with barter partners. I got my favorite stationery and I invented a whole new concept of the CV, added it to the letter and I sent it out to the barter partners and then I would call them up and see if they were willing to see me and have a discussion with me. And to my great surprise, most of them said yes. Even a big company like [Nickel], energy supplier said, “OK we’ll supply you with a year’s gas and electricity, and you will do a research project for us that will help us market our green products”.

And then there was Mika with her organic store at my local organic store and I asked her if we could barter something and she was a bit taken aback, and said I’m sorry — she’s really nice, so when she said no, I thought what’s going on. And she said I have to operate in such a tight budget, I can’t afford this. And then I thought oh, I have to do some extra explaining, so I baked a cake, went over, we sat down for coffee and I explained to her that I was not interested in what would me be fair in the world out there, that I was only interested in what she and I would want to share with the job and which she would be interested in. And so in fairness we, the two of us, had to decide on that and we ended doing was this. We installed a coffee corner every Saturday morning in her store and that’s something that I’d been sort of dreaming about for a couple of years, so I was super happy that we could do that.

I made one big exception and that was with health care. I had at that time a three-year old son and I did approach an insurance company — a health insurance company, and they turned me down and I decided I’m not going to put my health at risk or my son’s health so that that is one point where money is going to flow from my account to the health insurance.

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And the last letter I sent out was to the tango school because I thought you know I need more than just food and shelter. I need to be able to dance and they also said you know we’ll think of something, just keep coming to the milongas, we love to have you there. And so that was it. And then it was New Year’s Eve. And I had a wonderful day because the Dutch Financial Times had printed a letter that I’d sent into them in response to a call and what is your career opportunity in crisis year 2009, write a letter about working without money for one year, and I was very proud and obviously I wasn’t going to write text messages for a year. So in the afternoon I splurged out this long text message to all my friends.

And then when it was midnight, I wrapped up my wallet in the newspaper and sealed it with gaffer tape. And then it was 2010. So what is life like people ask me, what is it like to live without money? I thought — at first I thought oh, I would be lonely and feel excluded and where can I still go if I don’t have money to spend. And then I found out that because I was working together in all these small projects, with all these people that my life was more social than ever before or after that year. And for instance to make up for not going to restaurants I would cook every Thursday for friends and you know, every week a different set of people would show up and they’d bring the drinks and this, that and you know my kitchen transformed into a salon like place where people like to come and eat and drink and discuss. And if I ever needed, this was [inaudible] on the roof. If I even needed anything in particular I’d send out an email to my network in Rotterdam explaining my requests, for instance, Max was three and he was learning how to cycle. So I wanted to get him a bike. And I would always get what I needed.

The tango and salons were important by the way in the social aspects because I now work for them, I fly it around town to market their classes and their milongas and I felt almost like a special guest coming to the milongas and I became more loyal to them than ever.