Living with Intentional Poverty

My corner of the slum, squinting from the morning sun, 2011

My corner of the slum, squinting from the morning sun, 2011

I recently came across an article that wrote about America’s “intentional poor”, intentionally living on $5,000 a year on purpose. The shift towards a minimalistic “simple” life is a new trend brought upon by the ever increasing demands of an unsustainable world. More and more people are consciously rejecting the status-quo, choosing to live off the land, off the grid, or find ways in which to live with much less in the realization that our current world and system needs a new way of doing things in order to thrive.

When poverty becomes privilege, though, is when you can deliberately opt out of the system in favor of “poverty” but just as inadvertently opt back in. Education, family/friends/networks and social status can always help you back into the norm. The demographics of people who intentionally choose poverty, therefore, are strongly white/Caucasian with little outliers here and there like a short Filipina-American woman who decided to move back to Asia and live in a Manila slum for two years on $3,000-7,000 a year.

That woman is me.

When I started this journey, I never did it to make a statement. I was simply broke on my last dollar and needed to figure out a cheap solution towards navigating a new and foreign city whilst trying to live on a meager start to self-employment with next to zero experience, let alone business skill. I was trying to reinvent myself; like a pheonix rising from its ashes.

This part of my history was never something I was proud of. In fact, it was a pain point that I was embarrassed of and tried not to talk much about. I used the self-pity angle here and there on my blog, and always felt worse for wear afterwards. I made myself as my own personal laughing joke. I cried a lot, curled in the fetal position. I felt like scum. I battled my demons. I prayed a lot. I faced my shadows. I noted the irony, having just gotten out of a longterm relationship, house and mortgage with a fairly comfortable life to this meager existence. How did I get here?

There came a point when I realized all of the whining and crying wasn’t going to help the situation and that the only way out was through. I tried to shift my perspective and look for ways the slums could teach me. What lesson did I need to learn? I got by just knowing that this was temporary. That, like the American’s intentionally choosing poverty, I had the resources to opt out if I really wanted to. I knew that this was “just a phase”. I never saw it as my permanent reality, only something that I was enduring. Eventually, I opted out two years later, but still live with an income under the American poverty line.

When I was a teen, I was into punk rock. Gutterpunks and squatting and counterculture was always something that interested me, but not something I seriously tried. I was a ‘poseur’ by most standards, but I loved punk rock ethos. This is another reason why the slums became my home. It became an adventure and a little bit ‘punkrock’. I tried to convince myself it would be fun.

Weakness turned into a strength slowly but surely when I began to own up to my alternative decisions. Maybe it was no accident that things turned out the way that they did. Maybe it was a statement from the get go. I’ve always been unconventional, and into eco-consciousness and sustainability… maybe from my Oregon upbringing. Here was a way to challenge normal ways of living, be minimalistic, reject status-quo and consumerism, make a smaller carbon foot print and learn to live with less. My very being is exactly this. While I wouldn’t live in the slums again, I definitely plan on living in alternative or minimal spaces in the future.

Lessons

I experienced firsthand how poverty is a state of mind, and how some of the happiest people don’t have much material wealth, yet live rich, full and thriving lives. It’s true when they say money can’t buy happiness.

The Philippines are resilient people, and they’ve made up their own systems and economies within communities to help survive.

I learned that I was living with poverty consciousness in my own life, whether as part of my collective cultural psyche or past experiences, or both. I had to consciously try to work on an abundance mindset, and I still am.

Even though I lived in the slum for two years, it became comfortable. I came to enjoy it, in its own way. I had standards too and chose a decent space. It wasn’t the worse slum on the block, and it was behind the “shadow of commerce”, a 10 minute walk to the big mall, where I ended up spending most my time. My spending habits didn’t quite transition to a “local” and my American habits of frequent Starbucks, eating out everyday, and the occasional shopping stuck out like a sore thumb. It made me really aware of how I spend and how I budget, or lack there of.

Intentional poverty is a journey I don’t regret. It’s the choice I made when I quit my dayjob, in an unfulfilling office, and decided to strike out on my own. First, it was a career sabbatical with less than $7,000 to my name, and then it was the bumpy ride of self-employment and aspiring entrepreneurship.

I broke free from the cubicle. I moved and lived abroad. It’s been a bumpy ride but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’m still here. On my own path. What’s next?

I’ll be living in Thailand for at least a month, and then onwards to Europe and new adventures.

I will be offering a new coaching service for people interested in selling their crap, moving abroad, living intentionally and starting an online business. If you’re interested in a pay what you can basis, please contact me.

Janet Brent

Janet is a graphic/web designer for indies in the holistic and creative arts. She is passionate about working with creative world changers and showing people how to march to their own beats. You can email her at janet@byjanet.net to introduce yourself or work with her. If you enjoyed this, sign up for more updates. TwitterFacebookGoogle Plus

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  • transpiral

    Wow! This is refreshing! thanks for being so true to who you are! I leave you with a quote by my ultimate favorite Helen Keller “The women who started the race is much more different than the one who ended it”

    • Janet

      thanks for reading. yes, we’re always evolving and changing. i love it 🙂

  • weRsolesisters

    So proud of you Janet! Few people out there have your courage. I look forward to collaborating with you!

    • Janet

      really excited to collaborate too, finally!! 😀

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Kind of interesting huh – what you gave up (consumerism, materialism, unconscious spending) and what you gained in returned? (family, travel, adventure, insight, growth, consciousness, financial awareness and overall brilliance!!)

    You’re the sun J – get us some sunglasses!!

    We don’t need as much money as we all think we need. We don’t need x amount of dollars to be happy. Let’s focus on our being, instead of our bank account. There’s a number for the bank account but no price for our being or happiness.

    • Janet

      lol weren’t you the one trying to get me to focus on a bank account tho!? ;P

      • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

        i think i’m more of give up consumerism and unconscious spending in return for conscious spending and having money for the things that matter in life.

        The money we think we need usually goes to crap that we don’t need.

  • eyenie

    What an amazing story and beautifully raw and open piece, Janet! I adore the way you think, and admire your OY! rebel spirit! 🙂 So honored to be on your radar!!!! And, here’s to your GLORIOUS prosperity in all of its forms!!!