Free book coverKatharine Hibbert had a comfortable lifestyle in London and a good job as a journalist. But she lost her job when the banks collapsed and her landlord subsequently raised her rent. Katharine took this misfortune as an opportunity and decided to shed the materialistic burdens we normally take for granted and put her ideals to the test. She became a squatter and ‘skipaholic’, scavenging food – and everything from egg slicers to duvets to bicycles – from the trash of other people and businesses. Though it was rough going at first, Hibbert found it satisfying and liberating to make use of other’s waste for her own food, goods and shelter – and she’s still living that way.

Going for a walk turned into going “skipping”. In any residential street, I’d pass houses that had been having a clearout. Every day would bring some minor triumph. A duvet, good as new! A little radio! A mock crocodile-skin fifties-style suitcase! I became very acquisitive.

–Katharine Hibbert in the Guardian

Now just to be clear: stories of idealists who live their lives in extreme ways are not necessarily meant to be models for how everyone should live their life. But such people can demonstrate, via their extraordinary experiences, some things we may otherwise never consider or envision, such as how much we needlessly waste or even our entire conception of what is important in life. They may inspire small or large positive changes in our own lifestyle and also make us question what we consider to be ‘acceptable’ behavior.

Case in point: lots of people survive on reusing, recycling or scavenging in poor countries like Brazil – not for lofty ethical reasons, but because they have to. There is no shame in that. It is somewhat ironic that a vastly unequal society might make better use of its resources than one where everyone has enough, or sometimes even too much. While living in Sweden I was often shocked at how much perfectly good stuff was thrown away – everyone always seemed to have new things of a very high standard and chuck away some other pretty nice articles, simply because they weren’t new or cool enough. I got my first bed and some rudimentary furniture there from a disused mental hospital, where it was all destined for the dump. Nothing fancy, but perfectly reasonable stuff and nothing shameful about it. In fact, it ought to be quite the opposite: it should be shameful to throw these things away.

Read an extract from Katharine Hibbert’s forthcoming book Free: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society in the Guardian.

Additional resources:

Free: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society facebook page

Freeconomist lives off the grid, without cash and eats vegan ‘waste grub’