Adventure, Business, Travel

How to Live for Free

Those of you who are regulars know that I decided to inject some adventure into my life. (Well, even more adventure, I guess.) In January I sold my house and by April 30 I need to be out the door. But the idea of getting just another apartment chafes at my Rogue Priest ways, so I decided to mix things up.

Initially I focused on two different options: staying at a Buddhist monastery, or moving into a vacant warehouse space. After a lot of thought and several cool options, I’ve decided to go with the monastery.

My room probably will not look like this.

Well Shave My Head and Pluck Me a Lotus

So what does this mean? People ask me a lot of fun questions when I tell them this news. Here are a few answers.

  • No, I’m not Buddhist, and they’re fine with that. (You can read about my beliefs here.)
  • I will not have to shave my head or wear orange robes. I’m not a monk.
  • They don’t all keep vegetarian at this monastery (that is an optional vow) nor do they abstain from alcohol. I can eat and drink what I see fit.
  • It is pretty normal for people to stay at the monastery. They have rooms for guests, retreatants, visiting teachers, etc.
  • Yes, I intend to high-five the head lama every day.

All in all I’m super excited. As a priest and a philosopher it brings me great joy to speak with wise people. The fact that I will be able to hang around with a lama for late-night conversation over wine is pretty wonderful.

However, I didn’t immediately settle on the monastery option. Even when I was offered a place there I kept up my search. I put out a call to arms to find a vacant building, which had some fantastic results.

How to Get the Most Leads

I got many responses both from good friends and strangers. Most of them completely missed the point of what I was asking for. Which is exactly what I wanted.

I had intentionally cast a wide net, putting the word out to everyone in my network. Obviously that meant I would need to filter the results, and I was prepared for that. It meant I would end up with more options.

The responses I got mostly fell into three categories:

  1. “Oh, you want to squat somewhere illegally?” No.
  2. “Are you poor? Why do you want to live somewhere for free?” This was often implied rather than directly said. I have a great job at one of the best museums in the world. But really, who wouldn’t want to live somewhere for free, if that’s an option?
  3. “Isn’t it unsafe to live in an abandoned building?” Potentially, but that’s why I would be choosey about my building.

My patience paid off: I got interesting options ranging from a vacant Church of Christ Scientist, a natural limestone cave (!), a house-share with a retired nun, and a guest room on a farm.

This kid never stops following me.

Making the Ask

However, that’s not the process I used to secure my place at the monastery.

Instead, I sent a simple letter to the lama. I explained my hope of staying there for a summer. I referenced  my social media experience, and offered to act as the monastery’s Social Media Consultant.

Then I waited.

Within a week she had called me and set up a meeting for us to talk details. It was as simple as that.

This process was similar for my other leads. When I found a former ballroom, now vacant, I simply tracked down the owner’s phone number and offered to act as groundskeeper. In that case it didn’t work out (they are in the middle of renovating it into apartments), and that’ll happen. People will say no.

But think of all the people out there who have an empty building or spare room. Now think of the skills you have, whatever they may be.

Don’t you think there could be a chance for barter?

The only way to find out is to ask. Compared to just telling friends to spread the word, I found asking property owners to be more daunting. I also found it to be more effective, with better results. I chose to use both tactics side-by-side to maximize my chances, but if I look for another unusual living space after the monastery I will forego the wide net. I’ll focus on targeted asks to the owners of specific properties that intrigue me.

The barter I ended up offering the monastery is this:

  • Complete a three-month strategic social media plan (that I drafted) focusing on Facebook and the lama’s blog.
  • Assist the monastery with selling some antiques online as a fundraiser.
  • Spend one evening per week helping in the monastery garden.
  • Contribute $50/month toward utilities.

That’s a pretty sweet deal. “But Drew,” you’re saying, “You said this was how to live somewhere for free. What’s up with the $50?”

That’s fair. I could have stayed totally free of charge if I was willing to spend more time in the garden. I love gardening, but I place a premium on my time, and I spend most of it writing. I decided to contribute some money in order to duck out of chores. Other people might have chosen differently.

Almost Criminally Easy

Finding a place to stay for (almost) free was almost painfully easy. The extra work I have to do adds up to a few hours a week, and I save $900/month on rent. There’s a word for that here in the dictionary, it’s…

WIN.

Remember, this is a clean, safe living arrangement in good company and a reputable part of town… and I had to turn down other offers. If you want to live rent-free, it doesn’t require sacrifice. All you have to do is identify something you can provide and approach property owners.

I’m really excited that this worked out, and I want others to be able to do it too. What would you like to know about how to offer barter or live for free? Are there any questions you have that I left unanswered? Are you thinking of trying it?

Please let me know, and please be a good internet citizen and tweet the hell out of this post. Thank you. 

Update: Do you want to live in a monastery? I get emails every month asking me how I did it. It’s easy if you plan carefully and approach the monastery the right way. Here is the complete how-to guide.

Also:

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

I’m launching a group bicycle ride across Mexico with some of the most fascinating adventurers in the world—including beginners and experts, 20 year olds and 60 year olds, women and men. You can help out & join us from home every step of the way: The Fellowship of the Wheel

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Business, Personal Development

Say No to Fogeys

Most of my friends are in their 30s. In a year I’ll be there too. As I said to one of them recently, this means we are in constant danger of becoming irrelevant to our own interests.

Really, this is true of anyone over the age of 24.

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

Coming Up and Coming Down

I came of age during the 90′s, a time when technology was changed forever. For perhaps the first time in history, children knew more than their elders about things that actually mattered. Communication, commerce, and the economy itself were changed irrevocably. I even met my first serious girlfriend online, at a time when that was a stigma.

And we, the teenagers of the 1990′s, were told that we were the key to the future.

Silly us. Every generation is told that. It’s part of the schpiel. Fast forward 15 years and the future is a strange place that doesn’t really require e-mail, IMs or a smattering of HTML.

And it really doesn’t need people who are unwilling to learn.

I always try to avoid being a fogey. I remember being 24 and working with people who didn’t “get” email (even one person who didn’t get how to use a mouse). They seemed to think they could get by without, or have someone else do it. They even wore it as a badge of pride, wryly joking that they’re “too old” for that in order to pass the buck. This is the very height of arrogance.

I try not to be that person.

Top 5 Reasons Not to Be a Fogey

  1. Leadership. Every time I go to a conference, seminar or networking event the hot topic is social media, web 2.0 and technology. And every time, what I see is a sea of adults with questions struggling to fit the new internet into their existing ideas of business. If you make a point of using new technology routinely, you will be the one giving casual, easy answers whether you are 20 or 45.
  2. Marketability. If you can confidently say you know the latest version of Word, that’s good for your marketability. Even better if employers or clients can easily find you on Facebook and your blog. Gold star if you have Twitter and use it correctly.
  3. Respect. If you are not savvy on the latest tech, you are not pulling your weight no matter what anyone tells you. By making the effort to teach yourself new tech (by using tutorials and forums, not by pestering young co-workers) you show that you respect those you work with.
  4. Manners. At this point, not having a Facebook page is like turning off the lights and hiding when someone knocks on your door. Sure, it’s your right to do it, but it’s downright antisocial. If you use more evolved social media like Twitter, even better.
  5. Because you love your brain. The number one temptation that rears its head as you age past 25 is to avoid new things that are uncomfortable or different from what you knew as a youngster. But challenging yourself with new mental activities has a whole host of health benefits, that cannot be replicated by familiar challenges. In other words, a harder crossword puzzle will not save you from Alzheimer’s, but your first sudoku will. Assuming you’re not going to teach yourself a new language or go back to college at 40, learning new tech is a damn fine way to get the challenges that will keep your mind sharp.
Photo credit: "We Were Both So Young" by Brandon Christopher Warren

This related to the topic, if you think about it.

But It’s Hard

“But Drew,” you’re saying. “It hurts my head to look at Twitter. It’s not like email, and I don’t like things that’re diff’rent.” (Unless you’re <25 in which case you’ve stopped reading, but your time will come.)

The point is, nothing awesome is easy. Well, a mojito made with Hendrick’s gin instead of rum is the height of awesome, and it’s easy, but still. In general, if you want to win life, you have to be prepared to do some legwork.

To me there are two keys to this: I try not to complain about new stuff (at least not just because it’s new), and I try things that are uncomfortable, even after they become uncomfortable. Trying something once really won’t help you understand it. But it’s amazing how a week of continuous usage of some complicated, annoying, useless thing makes it easy, intuitive and useful.

This is my approach to the fast pace of technology, and 4 times out of 5 I find that new stuff is better than I thought. I’m curious to hear your own approach, and how you deal with a new app, device or program.

So, how long do you fiddle with something new before you give up on it?

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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