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 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.
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:
- “Oh, you want to squat somewhere illegally?” No.
- “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?
- “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.
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…
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.