gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

All kinds of exchanges have been taking place in my little community in the last few weeks.

  • Anne babysat for Dan and I, which allowed us to have our first date night since our daughter was born six months ago.
  • I taught spinning yarn to a group of kids at the local community center.
  • Emily did some photography work for me.
  • I helped Michael get hold of a food dehydrator so he could dry massive amounts of apple slices and Red Thai roselle herbal tea.
  • Jerry lent me his belt sander and showed me how to use it so I can sand a little table with peeling red paint that needs a fresh new start.

None of us paid a dime for any of these services. That’s because we did it all through the recently launched First Time Bank of Columbia, our local branch of TimeBanks USA.



Time banking is a way of giving and receiving services and support within a community that does not involve monetary transactions. Instead, it uses time and skills as the currency, operating on the principle that everyone’s time is equal. I give one hour of my time to provide a service and earn one time credit. I can then use that time credit to receive an hour of help from someone else to meet a need that I have. It might be plumbing, or arts and crafts instruction, or elder care, or a ride to the airport, or garden work, or language instruction, or home organization, or helping with doing taxes. The TimeBank’s website tracks the hours, so we don’t have to.

As you’ll see in this ABC News Report — an episode that caused the website to crash — time banking is a way of both saving money and getting things done. It also promotes equality, since everyone’s time is equal: an hour equals an hour, whether it’s dentistry or raking leaves. Time banking reminds us that we all have something to contribute: our time, our energies, our talents and resources.

Yet it’s about something even more than that. These exchanges start to bring back something we’ve lost in our cities and suburbs: the village. Not in the sense of a place, but a collective sensibility — the knowledge that we can turn to our neighbors for help with simple daily tasks rather than outsourcing them to strangers for monetary compensation. Already, I’ve started noticing how the time bank is beginning to change the way I view my community and what’s possible. For example, I don’t know Jerry that well. I probably wouldn’t have contacted him about borrowing his belt sander if it wasn’t for the time bank. Why? Because I’ve been acculturated to be independent and buy the services I need… because I wouldn’t want to bother him… because borrowing such an expensive tool would have meant asking him to put his trust in me that I would care for it properly and return it in good condition. It is that sense of mutual trust that we’ve lost, so much so that we’d rather turn to the anonymity that the commodity market, and the monetary exchange, grants us.

I happen to be currently reading Ben Hewitt’s book Saved: How I Quit Worrying About Money and Became the Richest Guy in the World, and thinking a lot about time and money — the value we assign to each of them. I was struck by a quote from Lewis Hyde in the book:

I go into a hardware store, pay the man for a hacksaw blade and walk out. I may never see him again. The disconnectedness is, in fact, a virtue of the commodity mode. We don’t want to be bothered.

We don’t want to be bothered. That’s exactly it. Can we bring back a world in which we dare to bother one another?

Incidentally, if the title of Hewitt’s book may get you curious — spoiler alert! — the secret to feeling like the richest guy in the world, for him too, lies in community, interdependence, having those networks that only trust and mutual help and paying it forward can build. So there. Investing in a TimeBank could make you rich!

Do you have a TimeBank in your community? Here‘s how to find out and join.

No TimeBank in your area? Consider starting one.

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