Note: This is a guest post from Kara Stevens of The Frugal Feminista.
I was raised by a strong, no-nonsense woman that immigrated from Antigua to make a way for her two children in the busy yet lonely streets of New York City.
My mom never expected to be a single mother in a strange land, but that was her lot when my dad up and left us, making her the chief financial caregiver and the financial breadwinner in one fell swoop.
It also made her depressed, though she never admitted it. It also made her fearful and distrusting of the world, especially a world where an abundance of anything flowed, notably, love or money.
As her only daughter and youngest child, she taught me that life wasn’t about taking chances, pressing your luck, or living by faith. None of that foolishness.
If you couldn’t make it or hold it, or if it wasn’t guaranteed, then you weren’t to waste your time with dreams or the pursuit of joy or happiness. There was no room for error and life was about the ability to endure (not overcome). There was no space for second chances.
This scarcity worldview made me a compulsive overachiever (I currently hold three degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in this country). And just like my mom, I soon became unwilling to open myself to opportunities that required too much of an investment of the heart or the wallet.
To ensure that I could control my surroundings, I saved all of the money that I could when I started working. And if I couldn’t find more to save, I would find another job just so I could hold on to more.
My measure of self-worth soon became synonymous with how much sacrifice and deprivation I could endure. It also became aligned with how much money I had in my account and didn’t touch.
To ensure that no one could get close to me (or I to them), I kept things casual and at a distance with friends and potential lovers, though a part of me craved connection and intimacy.
The irony about my decision to embrace minimalism, was that I was at the height of living on the margins of my life. I had grown accustomed to an ethos of withholding, denying, and delaying fun, connection, and material from my life for the sake of financial security, which I had objectively obtained years before.
Learning to live without didn’t necessarily mean that I knew how to live with less. What I mean by this is that minimalism asks you to be present with the real you. It asks you to curate a life that is marked by meaning and value, which can only come from a deep understanding of your personal desires and honoring them.
From the outside, it would seem that I was a minimalist, when the truth was that I was one step away from being a miser.
Minimalism helped me bust my world and life wide open by giving me a front seat to a world of truth, authenticity, and abundance—the exact opposite of the world in which I was born into and inhabited.
When I started to embrace minimalism, I got rid of items that I purchased solely because they were on sale or acquired them because they were free and invested in the few things that I really wanted.
I transformed my living (and by extension my emotional) spaces with beauty, expression, and possibility.
Minimalism helped me focus on the quality of my relationships and how I wanted to develop deeper, lasting relationships with those that I cared for. It helped me learn to make time to share energy, journeys, stories, and love. I started calling my friends more, opening up about my dreams and challenges, planning get-togethers, sharing my talents and gifts.
Minimalism introduced me to a level of spirituality that I wasn’t expecting. It guided me to a bigger purpose in life; beyond working and hoarding money to building a life that revolved around creating bonds to principles and people that improve the world, offer hope, and create positive change.
Minimalism has made life robust, hearty, and satisfying.
It’s made life worth living.
Kara Stevens is a speaker, author, and founder of The Frugal Feminista, a financial wellness platform committed to helping women heal their relationship with money so they experience endless joy and possibility. You can also find her book, Heal Your Relationship with Money, here.
Ruth Greto Dennis says
Living a life of minimalism is different than living a life with not having what you need. Growing up poor taught me this difference and I only ever wanted to be able to pay my bills, afford some travel, afford my pets and art supplies. So when I had to leave my job for surgery and medical treatments, the adjustment to living on my savings helped me realize that I had really done well in sticking to these goals. I started minimizing as a way to simplify things for my husband if I did not survive. I have made it so far (obviously) and letting paring down my possessions has led me to a deeper sense of experiencing life on a daily basis. We still travel, can still pay our bills because we have fewer bills, and my pets are still taken care of. Art supplies are enjoyed and not wasted. But the most important thing is time. Time for family, friends, nature, helping others and enjoying a really good cup of coffee at home!
Thank you for introducing me to Kara! This article really resonated with me.
Success Triangles says
I love this:
“Minimalism introduced me to a level of spirituality that I wasn’t expecting. It guided me to a bigger purpose in life; beyond working and hoarding money to building a life that revolved around creating bonds to principles and people that improve the world, offer hope, and create positive change.”
Shedding unneeded possessions is a life-changing experience, especially when they are donated to those less fortunate. Our family just completed a purge challenge for the month of March – each family member was required to part with one item per day – and we liked it so much that we are going to continue doing it for the rest of 2021.
Thank you. Some great truths here.
Sue Ellen Scheppke says
I so understand what Ms. Stevens says. Our family of seven (5 kids) never wanted for much, but every time something was “free” or “on sale” it was a big deal. In my 60s now, I still have to remind myself that I don’t need every free thing or bargain that is advertised. So much of my parents’ later lives was about shopping for what was on sale here or there. They drove all the heck over for a so-called bargain. I don’t want to have “shopping” be such a big dang deal in my life! How about family, friends, books, music – so much more than STUFF.
Lynn Magoulis says
This is an amazing story & I was deeply moved by it! Thanks for sharing it!
What an amazing story! Such a different perspective and truly an eye-opener! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for sharing, Kara. There really is a difference between intentional minimalism and being a “miser” which you articulated so well in your writing. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed!
Joshua – would love to see you feature more writers like Kara in this space. A diversity of backgrounds, cultural and perspectives is refreshing!
Very interesting ways of looking at minimalism. I appreciate what you said about “one step away from being a miser” and being able to recognize the difference. I find myself needing to learn about these nuances & differences everyday; I make mistakes along the way! It seems to be, in the end, about finding balance.