Take Two #81: Time Banking


By Kyra-lin Hom

When writing a column, I strive to keep with issues I feel strongly about. After all, if I'm to write an opinion column, it helps me to actually have that opinion. The downside is that I often feel like a one-woman doom and gloom. I spout off random findings such as walking in the grass next to the Georgetown airport turns your feet black and then proceed to illustrate why that means the world is broken. For the record, let me just say that I don't think the world is inherently broken.

This is, however, why the news is depressing. We don't report every awesome thing that goes right, but we do our best to report every awful thing that goes wrong or is going wrong. I can't speak for the motives of the news. I do this because I want to raise awareness. There are things that people desperately need to pay more attention to. If I can do anything by spotlighting a previously murky corner, I feel compelled.

But every once in a while, I also feel compelled to shift gears and talk about something really cool – like the US Supreme Court ruling that human genes cannot be patented or the rising popularity of time banks. What is a time bank, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

A time bank is literally a bank that manages time spent and time owed. These are non-monetary, privately or community-run organizations that are kept afloat by the sheer dedication of their members. Technically you only need a pencil and paper, but normally time banks are run online. It's simpler to let a computer keep track of all of those transactions.

The unit of exchange is called a 'time dollar.' It is worth exactly one hour of service. It doesn't matter what kind. All services be they legal, labor, art or as simple as giving someone a ride to the doctor's office are rendered equal in a time bank. For example, Mary paints Joe's house for two hours and earns two time dollars. She's been wanting to give yoga a try but can't afford it. So she searches her time bank for 'yoga.' Turns out that time bank member Kyle is a yoga instructor. Mary then spends her two time dollars for two hours of yoga instruction from Kyle. Kyle can then spend those two time dollars wherever he wants within the time bank community. More to the point, though, someone does you a service and then you pay it forward.

For practical reasons, time banks are loosely neighborhood-based. All members need to live relatively close to one another. This helps foster a sense of community and trust, reestablishing that neighborly feeling we seem to have lost along the way. A lot of time banks even host regular member socials to promote friendly networking.

I'm not part of one of these yet, but I'm already excited by the idea. I've collected a lot of random skills. I can sew. I can make and repair jewelry. I have an obscure degree in screen writing. I teach self-defense. I don't necessarily want to pursue any of these as a career, but these make me perfect for a time bank. Besides, it's just a really cool feeling to be tangibly worth more than you previously gave yourself credit.

Time banks are flourishing because people have a lot of skills but right now not a lot of money. I can't afford, for instance, regular therapeutic massages. But I would bet the good money that I don't have that I could find a masseuse in a time bank. My favorite story so far is about an engaged (now married) couple. Unable to fund a wedding, they turned to a time bank. Instead of spending $2,000 they spent 200 time dollars, and the wedding went off beautifully.

As far as I know, we don't yet have a time bank in West Seattle. There have been murmurs of starting one but no follow through. I think that's partially because not enough people know what time banks are and what they can potentially be. So here I am, letting you know. Now let's get it started.

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