Living the Dream on a Shoestring

Image for Living the Dream on a Shoestring

by Atulya Bingham

I don’t envy the mega rich; CEOs of multi-nationals, celebrities, every single person on the Forbes list, or any of the people that television has us believe we should aspire to become. No, I don’t envy them at all, because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, not one of them lives as well as I do. And I don’t even have a car. In fact, I don’t go to work at all. Even so, I rise with the sun, not because an alarm clock wrenches me from my slumber, but because there’s nothing quite like watching a day being born. First, the sky lifts its black hood, and its face turns silver. Then the sun edges up behind the mountains, a golden bud waiting to bloom. After that, things just get better. Having walked the dog, I take out my yoga mat and stretch until the brisk forest air has swept away sleep’s dust. Steep slopes of pine and pomegranate trees roll away from me in green-gold torrents that culminate in the Mediterranean in the distance.

Next, I put on the coffee. I pull a fresh pepper out of my garden and a sprig of basil, too. It’s breakfast time. Birds rain songs onto me. I watch lizards, butterflies and bees explore my garden. The rest of the day is mine. I might go for a swim, or finish the mosaic I’ve been working on, or write some more of my novel. I could visit friends or simply read a book in my hammock. Yes, this is my life. Every single day. No bosses or clients. No job I hate. No rushed breakfasts or interminable business meetings. The state of the economy has nothing to do with me at all.

What! you cry. How can this be your life? What did you do, rob a bank?

Well, no. In fact, I have an income of less than 200 dollars a month and no savings to speak of. Anyone can have my life. There are only two requirements: a square of land, and an intention to listen to the Earth. The rest is given to us on a plate. How strange then that we push it away and scrabble after a higher bank balance instead.

But how can you survive on 200 dollars a month? It’s impossible!

Not if you grow your own food and recycle; if you power your house with the sun or the wind, and if your home is designed so that it hardly needs heating. Two hundred dollars can be ample if you don’t work in a corporate job that leaves you so depleted of inspiration at the end of the day you have to turn to café lattés, alcohol, television, shopping or eating to drown out the dissatisfaction. It’s fascinating how expensive going to work actually is when you look at it. Transportation costs, work clothes and pricey lunches are just a few of the expenses I don’t have.

But wait, you say. What about your house? You need a large chunk of money to build a home.

I built my earthbag house for about 4,000 dollars, and it’s warm, earthquake-proof and cozy.

Oh, that sounds like hard work, you say. You have to be a professional. You need lots of expertise. Not everyone can build a house.

They can. In fact, until very recently, they always did. I hadn’t so much as put a shelf up before I moved onto my land. Within six months I’d constructed a small home. It’s definitely not rocket science. And the pleasure of sitting in a space you have designed, just for you, that incorporates all your quirks, is simply indescribable.

So why, when happiness is so close, is the world running off in search of fame and fortune, fast cars and upward mobility? It is because we are trained to aim for gratification, instead of deeper satisfaction. Gratification is a short-lived buzz, a high that always becomes a low. Be it status, sex, shopping or chocolate, the excitement soon wears off. And then all we are left with is emptiness, aloneness and a crumbling facade.

True satisfaction is much quieter than gratification, and that is why we keep missing it. It’s the deep and beautiful peace of a soul connected to both heaven and Earth. The sunrise awakens that soul, exercise in nature breathes life into it, home-grown food nourishes it, art and the natural world inspire it. And then, when that soul is full, it wants to speak, be it in words, actions, or creations. When we live within this rhythm, a deep contentment pervades all. And life becomes so rich we can’t wait for the next day to begin.

That’s why I don’t envy the moneyed and powerful, because if I did, I’d be aiming too low. Everything we’ve ever wanted is so close, we could start living our dreams right away.

Atulya K Bingham is a writer and natural builder. She lives off-the-grid in the Turkish mountains in her beloved earthbag house. For more stories of one woman’s life in the hills, or for a free guide to building an earthbag house see