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.