It’s no secret that the cost of buying or renting a property has reached knee-buckling proportions.
But what if you could sidestep the whole shebang and ditch not only mortgage or rent payments, but the need to spend any money, ever?
To most of us, living without cash or cards sounds like an impossible dream. But for Jo Nemeth, who documents her journey under the name of Jo LowImpact, it’s the new norm.
More than two years ago, Nemeth ditched her job, rental house, car and bank account and built a shack from discarded building materials on a friend’s farm in Koonorigan, in northern NSW.
“We [her former partner, and her now-adult daughter] had a pretty idyllic life but I was working and I was stressed, and I was seeing all the damage that I was doing to the planet, and that I was doing to other people and it got to me so much,” says Nemeth, 48.
“I thought at least if I stop buying stuff I will reduce my own impact, I won’t be adding to the burden on the planet,” says the former community development officer.
Nemeth was also deeply concerned about the social impact of her purchases – particularly the damage large supply chains were causing.
“You know we have child slavery, we have people being pushed off their land, we have people working in factories in developing countries in dangerous situations.”
Her first step to going money-free was striking a laidback arrangement with friends, who agreed to let her live on their land for a year in exchange for help growing vegetables.
She swapped a hot shower for a cold bucket wash, a modern toilet for a compost bucket toilet, a washing machine for hand washing and a kitchen for a hand-built rocket stove.
Before closing her bank account (she still has a small amount of superannuation), Nemeth bought one solar panel, a battery and an inverter, saying goodbye to electricity bills for good.
“It’s a very, very small system that’s just enough to charge my laptop and my phone and to run a light,” she says.
After the recent floods in Lismore forced her to move, Nemeth has parked a wagon handmade by her father in a friend’s backyard in North Lismore. In exchange, she’s transforming the yard into an oasis of free food.
Without heating, the depths of winter may prove chilly. But Nemeth can always snuggle under her blankets with her laptop and a DVD from the library.
Using Wi-Fi at home is off the cards – she accesses it at the library or at friends’ houses – as is making phone calls.
As she establishes the latest vegie garden, Nemeth says she gets food by helping out a stallholder at a local organic farmer’s market, and hitchhiking back to her friend’s farm weekly to help out.
She also happily accepts any food her friends or family are throwing out. “If they’ve got flour that’s got weevils in it I’ll take that and sift the weevils out.”
Nemeth has more swapped or donated clothes than she knows what to do with. And holidays aren’t a big deal. “I don’t think about holidays now as my life is pretty cruisy and interesting,” she says.
Before leaving the rat race, Nemeth set up a fund with her dentist, now down to $700.
There have been definite challenges along the way, such as a lack of hot showers. Then there’s the impact this life choice has had on her personal life.
“The one thing that I’ve realised recently that I sacrificed, that I gave up to do this, was my relationship with a man that I loved,” she says.
Challenges aside, the change has been overwhelmingly positive, she says.
Nemeth dreads the thought of “ever going back to that kind of moneyed life where I have to get a job and live a normal life”.
“The way that I’m living, very simply, was actually a very common thing to do not that long ago. We’ve really lost touch with that.”
“I have this incredible sense of freedom – I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what I’m going to be doing for the day, I don’t know what friends I’m going to be hanging out with, who’s going to come and visit me, what I’m going to build or create.
“You know it’s just exciting, I feel filled with this sense of freedom and excitement.”