He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal poverty level for a family of 4 living in the United States in 2013 is $23,550. If I define my family’s wealth by these “guidelines,” as a single mom of 3 without a full-time “paying” job, we fall into the extreme poverty level. If I choose to let the label and definition of monetary wealth define my own definition of wealth, then we are poor. However, I choose to think differently about wealth, and therefore, do not see myself as poor at all. Our lack of monetary wealth has blessed us with a richness in so many other areas of life. Sure, there are times when I wish we could win the lottery and fly to the beach for a week, etc., but I know that that would only give me a temporary sense of happiness and relaxation, and does not give a true lasting sense of fulfillment and richness to life. There are many areas of my life that have become more wealthy through not having a lot of money, and they really all tie in together, but here are the 5 that stand out the most to me:
I have always been creative, but raising 4 kids on a limited budget has forced me to delve into creativity and resourcefulness even more. I do not have much money to spend on entertainment activities, so I look for lots of fun, free activities that we can do in the area. This has led us on some fun adventures such as a candy factory tour, free concerts, fairs, ceremonies, etc. I think that we have actually gotten out and done more fun things when we didn’t have money than the few times we did have some cash (just seemed to get spent instantly on who-knows what…toys, food, etc.) I think that also we have created more memories this way, and have learned a lot more…Museum free-days are great! One cool website I have found for free things to do in the area is Colorado-For-Free.com.
Another way I have to get creative is how to afford clothes and other items necessary for 3 constantly growing and changing children. I sell all their old clothes and toys that are in good condition at local area consignment sales or stores, then take the money I make to buy more. I am glad that my children aren’t into “name brands,” though there are also a lot of great name brand items to be found at gently used sales and shops. I have been given almost all my furniture, or have bought it at thrift stores or found discarded (I suppose some would call this dumpster diving:) This also gives us a greater connection to consumerism, and how much “stuff” there is in the world, as well as how much goes into the landfill.
One of the things I used to love to do as a child was make my own beauty products. I was constantly doing facials on myself, trying out different herb combinations, etc. Not having much money for cosmetics and body products has allowed me to go back to that creative passion and try to make my own products. I have now experimented with making my own shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, laundry detergent, counter-top cleaner, bathroom cleaner, and personal care products for my monthly flow. This has been not only fun for me to do, but it is cheaper, and it has opened my eyes to what really goes into the products we use. I feel so much better about using all natural products I have made myself than some of the toxic chemicals that are used in most body products. This has also led to more awareness of the environment, which leads to my next category.
2. Environmental Awareness/Connection to Nature
When you have a lot of money, it is easy to fall into a habit of purchasing items without really thinking about where they came from or what impact they will have on the environment, as our society promotes convenience over connection. I have fallen into this habit, and for many years was a thoughtless consumer, even getting to the point of “stress shopping” when things weren’t going well for me, buying little things that I didn’t need. Not having the extra money to buy anything extra these days has forced me to look to other ways of de-stressing. I realized that I had really lost my (once strong) connection to nature. I would choose the immediate thrill of buying a new accessory or outfit to wear to work over the quiet contemplation of just sitting by a stream. I think losing this connection also led me towards losing a connection to myself. Now when we get stressed or bored we try to get out to the beautiful mountains or to one of our favorite spots by a river or stream and just play and be. I have found that almost always, we will head up there with one of us grumpy or irritated, but come back all feeling refreshed and happy. Connection to nature is a reconnection to self. We are part of nature and the whole cycle of life, yet as busy humans with busy minds we sometimes get lost and really forget this fact. I really hope that my children continue this connection to nature through their adult years.
Because I now have to think more about what I do purchase with the limited funds I have, it has also forced me to think about the items more, such as where they came from, how they are made, and what they are made from. Doing this has given me such a deeper connection and understanding of the massive amounts of waste and other environmentally devastating effects of our consumerism. As I said above, I am so much more aware of the amount of toxic chemicals in things and how they affect our bodies and the earth. I am very happy that I now use almost all natural and recycled products in my home. I am also empowered, having knowledge of what things are made of and how to make them myself , or acquire them in more environmentally friendly and less expensive way.
This section, and the following, were harder for me. As a single mom without a lot of money, I have felt quite alone, and without community. It is one of the things I find myself wishing I had more of. Yet when I step back and think about it, being in the position I am has forced me to seek out and rely on community support for myself and children, as well as re-define what I thought of as community in the first place. I do not have a lot of close friends or neighbors that I think of as community, however I have found that we are part of a much larger community. We rely on community support for our housing and food costs. I have had to seek out community programs for assistance, and have found community there. I have realized that in order for us to move beyond all the issues at hand in our country and world today, we are going to have to all come together as a community. Though I have tried, I can’t raise and support my kids completely on my own. I need help, and have realized that there is so much love and help out there. We just need to accept it and think of each other as a community support system.
I also have an amazing family that is my community. They have really stepped up as a supportive community for me and my children and really help provide for the things that we may need, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Through my lack of money, I have gained closeness to my family.
The internet is also an awesome community. As I can’t afford to get out a lot on my own and do things to meet people, I have connected with people all over the world with similar interests and beliefs, and have formed my own community of friends in this way. I think that this technology we have in our hands is changing the world in such a rapid way, and is bringing together so much more community throughout every country. We are slowly realizing more and more that we really are one.
Of course not having much money hasn’t given me more time, though some argue that time isn’t real and is all relative anyway (a discussion for another post maybe?) however it has changed the way I spend my time. When I was working full-time I would get up very early to take my son to daycare, work all day, go pick up my son, come home and tiredly make dinner, then try to be cheerful and spend just a few minutes with him before I put him to bed and did it all over again the next day. I felt like the people at the daycare were raising him and I was just there for the night-time duty. I felt like I was missing out on so many important learning and growing times with my children. My daughter went to daycare when she was a few months old, and now I barely remember her first year at all. Now I don’t have the stability of knowing I have a paycheck coming in, or how and when I will pay the bills, but I have the satisfaction of getting to truly be with my kids and spend time getting to know who and what they are. Not being wrapped up and stuck to a career or job has given me the opportunity to embark on a whole new educational journey with my daughters, and in turn has opened up and expanded my own self in so many ways. I get to be a part of their journey, which is a part of my own, and truly immerse myself in the joy of their being. I have time to play with them, read with them, or just sit with them. I get to see every milestone and learning moment and it is truly amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I still wish I had more time to myself, or time to do other things that are not kid related, etc. but the time I have been given with my children is priceless, and I do actually find that I have more time to pursue creative activities and things I enjoy that can be done at home or with the kids. No money in the world can give you quality time with your children.
The 5th, but certainly not final, thing that I feel I have grown more wealthy in through poverty of money is gratitude and appreciation. Through re-evaluating wealth, I am so much more connected now to life, myself and my true values, and in turn have so much thankfulness for all the little things that make this world amazing. I appreciate when we do have money to afford things we may be wanting. I appreciate all the good food that we eat. I appreciate all of the little things that people do for us. I appreciate things beyond the material that many take for granted. I appreciate small acts of kindness. I appreciate smiles. I appreciate a warm ray of sunshine coming through my window. I am truly grateful for all that life has given me and the opportunity I have been given through my choices and circumstance, good and bad, that have led me to this place of learning and appreciation for my creativity, my connection to earth, my beautiful community, time with my children, and love of life. I am so rich. ❤
What defines your wealth?