This last year I have made a conscious choice to live well below the poverty line. I am lucky, for me it is a choice. Why in the hell would anyone choose to be poor? I think "Poor" is a relative term. I have enough money, mostly, to make it through the month. I admit, I couldn't do it without a little support. I am making less than half of what I was making a year ago, but it is enough to pay my mortgage and put food on the table. I am not telling this to garner any kind of sympathy or pity, but because it has been a revelation (or revolution, more like it).
I lost my job about a year ago, and it took time to find new employment. In that time I discovered just how little money I need to be happy, and how much more I value my time. To be able to spend time with my grandchildren has been a wonder. To hear the happy cry, "Oma's here!" Followed by the thunder of little footsteps never ceases to lift my heart. That is something that is so far beyond monetary value there are no words. I will never be the grandparent that showers them with gifts, but with a little clever thought I manage to be the one that gives them gifts that they remember. And I give my time. As much of it as I can.
Having time has given me a freedom that I have never had. Freedom to write, build, create, salvage, and sometimes just to sit and do nothing. Okay, that last bit does not happen very often, I am not good at sitting still. But I can do it if I want to.
Choosing to live below the poverty line has given me an appreciation for my life that I think most people are too busy, and too worried about material gain to see for themselves. How many people in the world do not have basic comforts? I think about how many millions of people in the world head into the night with no bed to go to, hungry, cold, frightened, and with no prospects on the horizon. I have a solid little house that keeps me warm and dry. I am buying it, so there is never the fear that my rent will rise, or the landlord will decide to sell. It is mine, and mine alone to do with what I want. Yes, it has a few issues that could be easily remedied if I could hire a contractor to just come in and fix them. But I can do the work, I have a list, and I will get it done, eventually. I have wood to burn in my little woodstove, running water, a beautiful view, a comfortable bed, food packed into the cupboards (and the skill and means to make delicious meals). Here I sit, at a computer, a cellphone at my elbow, with electric lights, heat, running water, a cup of hot coffee, a hearty breakfast as soon as I choose to make it. In the next room I have a huge, comfortable bed, with clean, soft bedding, and an electric blanket to prewarm it for me. I have dressers, closets, and baskets full of clothes for all kinds of weather, and all kinds of situations. I have shelves full of books. I have dogs and cats to keep me company. I have a car that runs, and money to fill the tank. I have a job to go to that I enjoy, and where I am appreciated. I have all the tools I need to build my Fort, repair my house, create a garden, care for my property. I have piles of salvaged building materials, nearly enough to build a small house. How can I not be thought of as rich beyond measure?
Add to my overwhelming abundance of material wealth the love and friendship of family and friends and it is more than anyone should ever aspire to. I know that if I do hit a bump in the road I have people in the world who love me, care for me, and will happily lend assistance if I need it. All I have to do is ask. How many millions of people in the world have no one. No One. It makes my heart ache to think of it. And how many people in the world have spent their life so focused on climbing the corporate ladder, amassing wealth, only to reach a pinnacle and realize that they are miserable and alone? Material wealth will not fill that aching void.
Yes, sometimes I find myself fretting about having enough money to make it to the end of the month. Or a bit of the "robbing Peter to pay Paul," but every month it works out. I set my worries alongside a mother who has no money, no food, and hungry children, and it makes me ashamed that I was upset because I was low on coffee. Money is not the answer, my friends. It never was, and never will be. Accumulation of material wealth is nothing more than an illusion of happiness, a spiritual void, a promise of something intangible that will always remain just out of reach.
I sit in my snug little house, surrounded by so much wealth I feel like a dragon in his cave full of hoarded gold. By choosing to be "the starving artist" what I have really done is open my eyes to just how wealthy I am. Love, friendship, comfort, food, heat, contentment, sanity. I am Rich Beyond Measure.