‘Instead of monetary gain or bartering for something in return, gift economies rely on rewards like a sense of contribution, community, honour or prestige. The idea is that people give according to their abilities and receive according to their needs. A sense of community grows along with the knowledge that if you give, you will be known as a giver, and people will desire to give to you in turn.’
I have been learning more about alternative economies since leaving my full time job to move into the tiny. I’m excited to hear more and more people talk about the ways we can live and share and flourish with less money. Given that Tammy covers the basic ideas of gift economies so eloquently in her post (link above), I wanted to instead share my own tips and experiences of learning to move towards more of a gift/sharing/trade economy.
Here are my top tips for getting started:
- Do it in person or with people you know, to start with at least. I’ve tried offering swaps on Gumtree or Facebook groups a few times and had little success. People seem more willing to swap or trade with you when they know you’re genuine and feel a sense of trust in what you’re suggesting.
- Give first! Give willingly and give without expectations. The joy in giving comes when we give for pleasure and we see people appreciating the gifts we have to share. Giving out of obligation or giving only to get in return takes away from the whole sentiment.
- It’s ok to ask people if you can share what they have (depending on the context, obviously!). We’re used to living in an individualistic society where it’s not very common to share belongings, property, food, or labour. This is unique to Western society and in many cultures the idea of one person ‘owning’ something to the exclusion of others is unfamiliar. Many of us own tools, equipment, items, clothes, that we don’t use as often as we think. Where we can own less and swap/share more, we’re creating less and getting more out of each item that is created – especially big ticket items. It’s just sensible!
- Refuse money in return for things. Suggest things of value that someone can give or share with you instead – like their skills or time! Recently my neighbour offered me some casual paid work helping out with her photography business. She needed an assistant on a busy night and someone she could rely on to do the job. The money she offered was generous, but the timing was even better – I needed some photos taken! The deal worked perfectly for both of us, both of our skills were more valuable to the other than the money was worth.
- Give what you have in abundance and don’t undervalue your gifts. Be conscious of what you’re sharing and do it when you have time or produce or something you can happily share. Don’t give to the point that you have nothing left and end up feeling bitter or under appreciated. Giving can be a bit like dating – when it rains it pours and then sometimes you need to take a break. Give to the right people with right intention and people will learn to give to you too. And if you really get stuck, give Tinder a go.
- Keep an eye out for opportunities to avoid purchasing goods and make a note of your local options. The other day I was out of time and options and had to duck down to the supermarket to buy a few last items on the shopping list. I had previously noticed a neighbour offering bags of lemons for $1 each so even though I was already at the supermarket I skipped the fruit section and drove home past their house to grab some lemons. A bag of home grown lemons for $1 sounds like a gift to me! Baby steps.
- Try, try, and try again! This is where I’m currently at in my bartering stage. Giving, swapping and bartering still make up only a small share of own economy – purchasing is still the key method for me to accumulate goods. But the more small successes I have, the more ideas I have for new things to try. I also know that most of the food (if not the items) that I do have to purchase are coming from local businesses and producers. This means my dollars are getting the biggest bang for their buck in our local economy and at least I’m supporting people I believe in.
- Recognise that often your time or skills are more valuable to other people than money. The best example I have of sharing in my life, is living on my family’s property without paying rent. Rather than pay a small amount of money that would probably be fairly negligible in the scheme of things, I contribute with time and care for my family. Practically speaking, in a family of three small children and two full time working parents, my presence means an extra person available for school pick up, early morning starts, late work meetings and school night bedtimes. In return, I have been given a space to build my dream life and share it with you all. How can either of these things be reduced down to a financial sum?
There are many ways to dip a toe into these alternative economies and the return on investment is so rewarding. Here are some small examples of my most recent swap/trade/gift exchanges to get you started:
- Swapping eggs with excess fruit and vegetables
- Receiving eggs from friends and sharing home brewed ginger beer, lending a pair of earrings and lipstick for a wedding
- Received a brand new pack of eco re-useable sanitary pads from a friend who just found out she was pregnant. I gifted her hand knitted booties for the new baby!
- Reusing polystyrene boxes as worm farms and receiving a batch of worms from the local gardening group instead of buying a starter kit
- Help from friends building or gardening in exchange for home cooked food and company
- Lending musical instruments to loving homes when I don’t have room for them, instruments were made to be played!
- I quizzed a lot of people about their tiny houses before I built mine, everyone was always generous with answers, advice, and encouragement. Now I can pay it forward by sharing lessons learnt and information from my own tiny build. Visitors continue to share all sorts of wonderful gifts with me – I’ve received eggs, fair trade coffee, hand picked flowers, warm hugs, inspiring stories and new friendships. Everything is appreciated.
Thanks for the kick start Tammy – I can’t wait to hear more stories from other people too!