Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Okay, maybe it's time we sat down and talked about the birds and the bees. Just because I am suggesting you sleep for free doesn't mean I think you can get by without money. Unfortunately, money is essential in life, and you have to find a way to generate it. Otherwise, your life is going to be difficult and painful no matter how you cut corners.

I propose Free Sleeping merely as a tool in your arsenal to help you control your costs, so you can live comfortably and do the things you want to do within the income you have. You still need an income, though.

What I mean to say -- and you understand this is as hard for me as it is for you -- the thing is, what I want to say is....

You have to get a job!

This doesn't roll easily off my tongue: j-j-j-job. Nonetheless, I have to say it or some of you will get the wrong impression, that you can just live off the land, or off the discards from society, without any filthy lucre in your pocket. Sooner or later, you have to make a deal with the devil. You have to provide a service to someone else that they are willing to pay you for.

It isn't easy. One of the major challenges in life is finding work that will make you enough money to survive while at the same time allowing you to pursue your own goals and maintain your own morals. If you are willing to sacrifice your principles, there is plenty of work out there. It is just a matter of how low you are willing to sink.

For the things you most want to do -- like pursuing some creative art or directly helping people in need -- it unlikely that anyone will pay you for it. That's when you have to be willing to make sacrifices and compromises, and one of them might mean doing without formal lodging.

Generally speaking, the higher paying jobs require more commitment. Most "careers" require turning your life over to them. If you are an engineer or computer programmer, for example, you're going to have to devote your brain to other people's projects during most of your working day. If you feel that your brain time is more valuable than that, then you will have to take more of a "caretaking" job, like security guard, factory worker or airline ramp worker, where your body is working for your employer but your mind is still your own. Unfortunately, these jobs tend to pay far less than those that demand your full brain and full commitment.

The main idea of Free Sleeping is that it lowers your cost of living and thereby increases your options for finding the kind of work that works for you. It means you don't have to make a huge salary to survive.

Likewise, learning to sleep cheaply when traveling means that you'll be able do more of it. Most Americans, for example, never travel overseas, in part because the cost is so daunting. There's airfare, of course but also a hotel bill that often dwarfs it. In Hawaii, the cheapest hotels can set you back $200 a night -- or you can rent a car for $200 a week, sleep in it, and never pay a cent for lodging. In Paris, you can stay at the Sheraton for $200 a night, or you could stay in a youth hostel for a whole week for the same price. The only barrier is you getting your mind around the concept -- of sleeping in a way that may not meet your preconceptions.

And ultimately, you still need the $200, which has to come from somewhere.

If you are out of work now, I don't have any easy solution for you. I know times are tough, with the US unemployment rate over 10%, and most of the readily available jobs of a few years ago have evaporated. It used to be that every fast food restaurant was hiring; now, you may have to fight for even those jobs.

But there are still jobs out there. As I drive across the country (in my own temporary self-made job) I still see Help Wanted signs. They are usually in pockets of relative prosperity that have been little affected by the recession, like Nebraska, but they can be found in hard-hit areas as well. Last week on the Big Island of Hawaii, I saw that a McDonalds was hiring at $9/hour (photo). The only trouble, of course, is that you're not in Hawaii right now, and you probably couldn't afford to live there by any conventional means.

The burden for most people who have lost their jobs is not just the lack of opportunities but the huge infrastructure they built around themselves when times were good. Not only are they out of work, but they are trapped in a house that can't be sold with pets and possessions (and I dare say children) that can't be easily gotten rid of. A minimum-wage job may be heaven to someone with few expenses, but it's a humiliation to someone who has been making many times more and has built their life based on that assumption.

If there is anything worthwhile I can convey in this blog, it's the importance of keeping your life lean and simple regardless of your income. If your living expenses are only a fraction of your income and you are free to change course with minimal notice, then you are by any practical measure "wealthy", even if you are earning only minimum wage. Many who are making (or once made) $100,000/year are in far worst straits than you are, because their obligations and perceived "needs" crept upward with their income.

When you have the money, it's really hard to resist spending it. But spending beyond your basic needs almost always results in new obligations. If you buy a second car or second home, you've also bought a huge maintenance burden you don't really need. If the economic tide turns, all those obligations will come back to bite you. If your income drops from $100,000 down to $50,000, suddenly you could find yourself in dire straits, even if $50,000 once seemed like a lot of money.

What I am trying to do in this blog is explore some of the baseline conditions of life: the lowest point a which you can comfortably get by. If the weather is good, you might be able to buy a $10 sleeping bag at Acme™ and sleep just as comfortably in car as in a $100 hotel room.

Once, this lifestyle might have embarrassed me, but now I am more embarrassed by the people who are trapped in their huge, self-inflicted infrastructure who insist they can't sleep in a car because it would hurt their back. (Get a clue: Your back hurts because you've been sleeping in that cushy bed all your life!) I see no reason to be embarrassed by freedom.

Even at my advanced age, I would work at McDonalds. I'd rather be in the back flipping burgers than up front working the registers, but I could live comfortably on that income. To me, this is a reasonable sacrifice to protect my mind. You couldn't pay me anything to be an air traffic controller or any other job where they expect me to "think" for a living and constantly concentrate on a task that I don't thoroughly believe in.

That's how your life gets sucked away.


  1. That was brilliantly written. People are so concentrated on the idea that a large amount of money per year means wealth-- however,wealth is actually equal to the amount of money you can afford not to spend. I'm perfectly happy with the job I have right now, I'm making up to 400$ every two weeks, and I spend about 5$ every day on food (sometimes a little more, sometimes less).
    Thanks for the post-- I do want to ask, is there a good way to get around co-workers or any workers asking where you live and potentially getting you fired or treated differently because of a nomadic nature? Going without an address I mean.

  2. I got no easy answers to that. It's like admitting you're gay: Some people it won't matter to, and some will get uptight, but mostly it's just not relevant to work, so why does it even have to come up?

    If you sleep in a car, and someone asks you where you live, you can mention the name of the neighborhood where you commonly park the car. That will get you by in most cases.

  3. Some people seemed to actually get angry with me at my lifestyle choice. Once I tell people how I live my life, I often get a, quite negative reaction – but it’s because they envy my freedom.

    I choose to live a frugal lifestyle, but it grates with some people that, by their own choice get trapped in the system. It’s not my fault they’re trapped, we all have free will. But it is hard for some to get off the mouse wheel.