As a child, I wanted to live My Side of the Mountain, Johnny Appleseed, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables. I loved reading stories about living off the land in a log cabin, under a hill, making lean-tos, and having the ability to survive alone.
I love the idea of minimalism, traveling light, self reliance, and freedom from being trapped by debt or lifestyle. As student, I could move all my worldly belongings in a few boxes and a suitcase. I was the happiest I’d been in a long time when all my fixed expenses (phone, rent, utilities) were under $600.
But instead of thoughtfulness, I just said no to everything. I ate cheaply, and didn’t socialize because I couldn’t afford it. And I didn’t discover the wonders of the natural world or a wonderful life by escaping the shadow network of people and businesses creating everything I used (clothing, coffee, booze) like Thoreau did.
And I was so poor that my minimalism wasn’t a meaningful choice, even though I was trying to pretend that it was a meaningful choice. Being poor means having to make lots of choices, but not ones that matter. (Buy milk or walk to 4 miles to work and back?) My anxious thoughts filled up the space left empty by my fridge, clean counter tops, not having friends.
I used to think people who bought stuff to offset their anxiety about being poor as weirdo consumer slaves. But I now understand trying to fend off feelings of deprivation by surrounding yourself with things. Having money is the same as having choices, and being able to make meaningful choices about life is freedom.