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Have you ever heard of freegans?
These are people who refuse to buy anything whatsoever.
They do this because they’re tired of rampant consumerism, which they believe is a cancer on society. They also don’t want to do anything to harm the earth. Because of this, freegans live on the fringes of our capitalistic society, relatively free from the insidious influence of evil corporations.
They get what they need by borrowing, sharing, bartering, and scavenging. Modern freegans are the ancestors of the Diggers, an anarchist group that flourished in San Francisco in the 60s.
This utopian collective had a vision of a world where money was a thing of the past, and everything was freely given. They embarked on ambitious projects to give things away. All of these undertakings didn’t cost participants a cent.
The term “freegan” first appeared in the 90s. It’s a portmanteau of “vegan” and “free.” If you’re a person who proudly wears the badge of frugality, you can learn a lot from these intrepid social experimenters.
Even if you don’t actually want to become one. Here’s what to know:
1. Be a Scavenger of Wild Plants
Prehistoric hunter-gatherers ate plants they harvested from the wild. This included berries from bushes, parsley and mint from the fields, and mushrooms from the forest.
They learned to quickly figure out which plants were safe to eat. Otherwise, they died.
Today we grow food far away from where it’s actually eaten. The sacred connection that our forebears had to the earth was lost in the process. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There’re lots of plants that grow in the wild that aren’t only delicious, but nutritious as well.
Plants from the wild cost nothing except the time it takes to harvest them. Some even cost a pretty penny if you had to buy them in a supermarket, so perhaps you sell your surplus harvest on the side.
Others cannot be bought for any price. For these delicacies, the only way to taste them is foraging.
But you have to be careful out there. It takes considerable skill and knowledge to identify those that are safe to eat. It’s best to learn from the experts.
2. Participate in Community Gardens
There’re so many vacant lots in cities sitting there, all forgotten and forlorn. Community gardens are a welcome antidote to all this blight.
In cities all over America, community gardeners are turning ugly and forgotten spaces into green and beautiful places. This way, city dwellers who don’t have any space of their own to garden in can enjoy the singular pleasure of growing food with their own hands.
And, they can do it for free, if they use the strategies for snagging zero-cost plants talked about elsewhere in this article.
3. Do Guerilla Gardening
Ever hear of Johnny Appleseed?
Legend has it he was the very first guerilla gardener. That legend is wrong. He didn’t throw seeds all over the bare ground as he traversed the nation. He started nurseries instead.
Even if the legend happens to not be true, there’s something incredibly romantic about a lone figure singlehandedly transforming barren spaces into thriving gardens. And there are modern day crusaders who have taken up the mantle.
Guerilla gardeners grow crops on land that they don’t own. And they do it without getting permission to do so. They do their cultivating on abandoned property, or plots of land not being properly cared for. The movement (and it is a movement) encompasses a wide range of people with all sorts of motivations.
Some of these people are gardeners who just don’t want to be fenced in, so they spill their planting over their legal boundaries. Or, activists who seek change by using guerilla gardening as a way to provoke political action.
Often guerilla gardeners believe land is going to waste or is being misused, so they want to reclaim it.
Some guerilla gardeners tend to their gardens under the cover of night. And some do it in the light of day to draw attention to what they feel is a political statement.
The earliest recorded use of the term guerilla gardening was by Liz Christy and her Green Guerilla Group in 1973 in the Bowery Houston section of New York. They transformed an ugly, litter-infested lot into a place of breathtaking beauty.
The garden is still cared for by volunteers but now flourishes under the protection of the city’s park department.
Here are some ways to do it responsibly:
- PROJECT GENESIS. Be like Carol Marcus from Star Trek II and bring life from lifelessness. You can transform a desolate vacant lot into an oasis of beauty with just a little attention. Choose one to bless with your life-giving ministrations and it will reward you with a bounteous harvest. Hopefully, predators both human and nonhuman won’t steal all your precious veggies before you have a chance to harvest your fill.
- ZERO DARK THIRTY. Do your gardening at night or very early in the morning. This way, there’ll be fewer prying eyes spying on you.
- FREE PLANTS ARE THE BOMB. To make this project more aligned with the freegan philosophy, try to get free plants. You can sometimes get these from garden centers with an overabundance of stock. Or, you might have a friend who can hook you up.
- CHOOSE WISELY. You need hardier varieties that can thrive in inhospitable urban environments. Pumpkins are a great choice as they require little watering or cultivation. Or, try onions, potatoes, or squash. Try to figure out how much attention you’re actually going to be able to devote to your project and choose plants based on this.
- PLANT GRENADES. Seed bombs are a powerful weapon for any guerilla gardener worth his salt. These biodegradable capsules allow you to seed difficult to reach spaces in urban environments. It’s incredibly easy to make them at home, too. First, soak your seeds overnight. Then, mix together 5-parts clay with 1-part compost and seeds. Knead the mixture with a little water and then roll it up into balls. Let the balls dry overnight. The next, lob your botanical Molotov cocktails in vacant lots all over your city.
Chances are, you’ve got a ton of unwanted and unused items laying around your house.
What to do with them?
You could put them out curbside and hope someone has a use for them and picks them up. You could bring them to a thrift store. Or, you could upcycle them.
Upcycling is the process of transforming tired old objects into something useful or beautiful. Upcycling gives clothing and old household items a new lease on life. But it’s different from recycling. Recycling takes consumer materials and breaks them down so their constituent materials can be remade into new consumer products.
When you upcycle something, you’re not breaking it down into its base materials. You may be refashioning it, but it’s still made of the same materials it was when you started. And most of the time, the original article is vastly improved.
Upcycling is better than recycling.
Recycling something takes less energy than making something from new material. Making an aluminum can from recycled material involves 95% less energy than making one from newly mined bauxite ore. But with upcycling, the only energy expended is your own.
Upcycling isn’t a new concept.
People have been doing it for decades. In the 1930s, families would often repurpose an item because it made economic sense to do so—especially if they were poor. These families upcycled everything in one way or another because they couldn’t afford to do otherwise.
Upcycling is now trendy and done by influential Instagrammers.
Some people relish the artistic challenge of transforming a banal household object into something unexpectedly beautiful. There’s something eminently satisfying about creating a window cover using old slides from a Kodak 4200 Projector that don’t have the same sentimental value for you as they did for Don Draper.
Lots of people throw out their clothes when they’re stained, ripped, or out-of-style. Don’t be guilty of this.
Learn to think like a freegan by creatively upcycling your clothes.
5. Participate in a Clothing Swap
Freegans buy little-to-no clothing.
They rarely throw out anything that isn’t beyond threadbare, so they like to participate in something called a “clothing swap.” A clothing swap is a soiree where you and each of your attendees trade with each other.
You can snag some new stuff while giving your old stuff to your friends. You can even swap personal care items like shampoo and body wash that you don’t use anymore. Household items like vases and chairs also make for good exchanges.
You could have swaps for kids’ toys, books, or even beer.
Here are the things you need to do to make your clothing swap a smashing success:
- GATHER THE MERCHANDISE. Ask each participant to go through her closet and pull out any unwanted clothing that’s still in good condition. If it’s stained, torn, or otherwise not in the best of shape, ask them to leave it at home. Tell each participant how many articles each has to bring. It’s not fair if some bring a lot and others only a few. Set up a lottery to see who gets to choose first to make it fun.
- SHOWCASE THE WARES. Create space on a couple of tables where each participant can arrange her items.
- QUE LA FÊTE COMMENCE. Once you explain the rules, start the party. Encourage everyone to enjoy themselves while they barter. Clear out a space for an impromptu “fitting room.” Set a fixed time for the swap and afterward, socialize and party some more.
6. Participate in Curb Alerts
A curb alert is an announcement via a list host or website (like Craigslist) signaling the presence of stuff left outside a residence and therefore free for the taking.
Be on the lookout for these alerts, because you can score some pretty good stuff for free. Also, cruise around neighborhoods after tag sales to see if the stuff that didn’t sell is left out at the curb.
7. Learn Repair Skills on YouTube
There are a lot of free resources to learn repair skills. YouTube has lots of tutorials to teach you how to fix things yourself. Here are just a few:
- DIY HIP CHICKS. This is a channel that empowers women to unleash their inner handyman. Beth Allen, the host of the channel, has a lofty ambition: to be the Rachel Ray of the DIY world. She specializes in catering to abject beginners—those who are intimidated by even minor repairs. While her specialty is empowering women, men can also learn a lot.
- HOME REPAIR TUTOR AND BATHROOM REPAIR TUTOR. These are two channels created by Jeff Patterson and Steve White. They specialize in bathroom repairs on both of their channels. Topics of their videos include how to build a walk-in shower, how to tile a shower with subway tile, and how to waterproof a shower bench. They have a pet peeve about home improvement shows that dole out erroneous advice. But they’re the real deal and accept no paid sponsors of their video content.
- FIXIT HOME IMPROVEMENT CHANNEL. This channel was created by a former hardware store owner by the name of JC. He has a burning desire to help homeowners do everyday repairs. Plumbing projects are a particular passion of his. I particularly enjoyed his tutorial on fixing drafty windows and doors.
- WOODWORKING FOR MERE MORTALS. This whimsically named channel is run by Steve Ramsey. It’s dedicated to the weekend woodworker who doesn’t have expensive tools and a ton of space. He has loads of informative content that’s wildly entertaining. There are tutorials for such things as how to make games for kids, things you can do with a jigsaw, and making a Santa’s mailbox.
- THE SPARKY CHANNEL. This one will teach you how to do your own electrical repairs. Bill is your amiable host, and he does a fantastic job explaining everything. Check out his stuff before calling an electrician next time.
- GROWING YOUR GREENS. This channel is devoted to DIY gardeners. The style of this channel is fun and laid back, yet exceedingly informative. Would-be freegans will especially love his videos on building free alternatives to costly projects.
- HOUSEIMPROVEMENTS YOUTUBE CHANNEL. This channel covers a wide range of DIY projects including plumbing, carpentry, and electrical. Shannon, the owner of the site, hails from Canada. He’s been in the construction field for decades and has oodles of practical knowledge he’s just itching to share with everyone. Shannon does a bang-up job of explaining things in easy-to-understand fashion. The channel produces videos for budding DIYers of every skill level. Some of the topics covered are how to replace a toilet fill valve, how to convert a fluorescent light to LED, and how to install a dimmer switch.
I might have to check one of these channels on how to fix garbage disposal because I have one that’s leaking like a sieve.
8. Take Advantage of Free Classes at Home Improvement Stores
Many home improvement stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Menands all have free classes that teach you valuable DIY skills. This way, you can do work on your own home without paying an outside contractor. Home Depot has regularly scheduled workshops that’ll help you improve your repair skills.
These weekly workshops will show you how to do things like installing decorative molding, installing tile flooring, and properly paint interior walls.
Lowe’s has the UpSkill project.
This amazing project offers a bunch of free workshops all over the country. They focus on teaching community members how to accomplish some of the most common DIY projects.
This gives people the confidence to tackle home improvement tasks that once seemed daunting.
The workshops take place in the parking lots of Lowe’s stores. Experienced employees help participants complete various hands-on learning experiences and provide insight and advice.
9. Use Freecycle
Freecycle is a place where you can donate things you no longer want. Then, they’re up for the taking by anyone who needs them.
Freecycle describes itself this way: “Freecycle is a project of RISE Inc., a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission includes reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills and fostering cooperation between other nonprofit organizations and the public.”
To use Freecycle, join the list for your city. If you want to list something, make a post. Posts can either be something you need or something you want to get rid of.
You also need to add a short description and your approximate location.
Freecycle is completely free.
10. Sell Your Car and Buy a Bike
You’ll save so much money if you sell your car. There are other great advantages to giving up a fossil fuel burning vehicle too. Without one, you don’t have to worry about unexpected repair costs.
With the money you plunk down for two tires, you could get yourself an entire bike. You don’t have to pay for gasoline or car insurance. And you definitely will have a much smaller carbon footprint.
This gives you the opportunity to save for other things. Without a car, you’ll be less likely to be out there spending money. Besides, driving a car keeps you at arm’s length from the incredible beauty of the natural world.
When you’re hurtling down the road in a 4,000-pound hunk of iron and aluminum, you can’t savor the sensory delights of the world around you.
On a bike, you regain your connection. And save TONS of money.
11. Dumpster Diving
Well folks, we’ve come to the optional portion of our program. Opt out if you’d like.
This section is only for hardcore practitioners of the frugal lifestyle who want to take things to the next level. Dumpster diving, also known as urban foraging, isn’t for the squeamish.
Over one-third of the food tossed carelessly into dumpsters is edible, so I don’t blame anyone who wants to do this. Not only are you doing something for yourself, you’re doing a great service for humankind.
Some people who dumpster dive do it for moral reasons. Like fighting the travesty of needless waste. Others do it to save money. Whatever your motivation, it might behoove you to know the relevant laws. So do a little legal research.
Most of the time, dumpster diving is a gray area.
Don’t look suspicious and if you run across the cops, be respectful. If they ask you to leave, beat it. It’s best to go in the early morning, right after sunrise. Lots of stores throw out their day-old stuff at this time.
One place you can try is supermarkets. Supermarkets throw out truckloads of perfectly good stuff. All because it’s a little out of date.
You can try colleges at the end of an academic year. When students move out of their dorms, they throw a ton of stuff away.
Check out the online scavenger community while you’re at it. There’re lots of people who do the same thing and are dying to share their insider tricks with you.
And never eat opened food! Only eat sealed food. Also, perishable food that’s been sitting out above 40 degrees is probably not a good idea. If you find moldy bread, cut off the mold and you’re good to go.
You should wear thick work gloves during your dumpster excavations. After you’re done, make sure you clean up after yourself. It’s only good etiquette, and you won’t give dumpster diving a bad name.
Wrapping It All Up
I just told you about a bunch of ways to emulate freegans, those members of the extremist fringe who live totally outside the well-defined lines of consumerist society.
The freegan lifestyle is too extreme for most of us, and you might think dumpster diving is disgusting. But there’s so much we can learn from them about how to eliminate waste and save lots of money in the process.
There’re lots of ways to live life that cost ZERO amounts of money.
Are you dying to try any of the strategies? If so, sound off in the comments!