Simply Living is a new column by Christine Platt, aka the Afrominimalist. Each month, Christine shares her refreshing approach to living with less, with clever tips for decluttering, making eco-friendly swaps, and creating a more mindful living space that's all you.
I remember the day I began my journey towards minimalism. I had considered the lifestyle for quite a while—each time I had the nagging feeling that I owned too much stuff. To prepare myself, I’d look for inspiration online, and although I was mesmerized by the beautiful, serene spaces I was seeing, I had real concerns about how I’d whittle down my belongings to a hundred items or less. Still, one day in June 2016, I decided the time had come for me to do more than just acknowledge my overconsumption, and actually do something about it.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, but instead of enjoying the blue skies and sunshine, I was preparing to spend yet another weekend trying to “get the house in order.” At the time, decluttering seemed like another neverending challenge in my life, which also was in the early throes of marital turmoil (that would soon lead to divorce). Those weren’t the only changes. I’d recently resigned from a lucrative career to pursue my dream of being a novelist, and had discovered quickly that creativity didn’t conform to my (former) structured work life—I couldn’t just schedule a time to write and expect the words to show up. Despite having the freedom to “write all day,” I’d barely made a dent in my manuscript. Realizing that I probably wouldn’t become the next great American novelist, it seemed getting our home under control was the least I could do.
Yet, as anyone who has embarked on a journey to live with less knows, looking at images of minimalist homes is easier than trying to curate your own. For a family of three, we had so much stuff! My closet was filled with too many clothes and shoes; every room had too many knickknacks; and our preteen had more toys, books, and whatnots than any child needed. Sadly, the internet offered little guidance on where to start. The more I pulled things out of their respective hiding places, the more frustrated I got. Soon, I was standing in front of sorted piles of our belongings—labeled “keep,” “trash,” and “donate”—and very soon after, I was in tears.
No one warned me of the guilt, shame, and anger that came with pursuing a minimalist lifestyle, so I was unprepared. As morning transitioned to afternoon and early evening, I realized the only thing I could do was forgive myself, and replace my frustration with determination. The days, months, and years that followed taught me many valuable lessons, and I came to understand that minimalism is a journey of self-discovery.
I learned one of the main reasons behind my overconsumption was a penchant for bargain shopping with my mother that started in my childhood. I learned about my attachments to things that I didn’t need and use—the dozens of candles I owned with unlit wicks, the home goods that were hidden in drawers instead of being on display, and too many pairs of heels that remained unworn. I learned to let go of things that no longer served me as well and to be intentional with what remained. Because although I admired the way minimalism lived in beautifully curated photos, I learned it just didn’t work for me. After trying to conform to a neutral, slightly barren decor, I learned that my version of minimalism wouldn’t look like anyone else’s.
Although I never did finish that novel I hoped would lead to literary success, I did end up writing about the life-altering experience that led me to live with less. My upcoming book, The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living with Less is equal parts memoir and manual. Here are the most valuable lessons I’ve learned through my journey, that I hope will be useful to you:
After trying (and failing) to replicate enviable (and often expensive!) minimalist decor, I realized that I was more focused on mirroring what I believed my home and wardrobe should look like rather than committing to the practice. I thought I had to paint my walls white (I did, but I didn’t have to). I thought I could only have a neutral color palette—also, not true because I’m not the only minimalist who loves colors, prints, and patterns. The pillows on my bed might not be Pinterest-worthy but they support my back when I write in bed. And there’s no way I could live without my beloved book collection.
Minimalism is less about the unofficial rules we often encounter in mainstream media, of trying to make our homes more hygge or challenging ourselves to live with one fork, one knife, and one spoon. Rather, it is more about choosing authenticity over aesthetics, of learning to live more simply on our own terms. As I like to say, “Take a little, keep a little.” There’s no color palette one has to adopt or Scandinavian furniture one has to acquire. Reimagine what minimalism should look like—and more specifically, reimagine and redefine what it should look and feel like to you.
For me, living with less means having a home and wardrobe that reflect the core of my life’s work and what I value most: the history and beauty of the African diaspora. For example, I nixed the neutrals on linens and pillows in favor of mud cloths and wax print fabric from my first homegoing to West Africa. Although I have a capsule wardrobe, it’s full of bright colorful pieces including my favorite orange jumpsuit that I wore to give my first TEDx Talk. And instead of having trinkets and home goods on display, one of my favorite keepsakes takes center stage: a jar of raw cotton that reminds me of my ancestors’ strength and resiliency. All of these elements are authentic representations of me.
Choose Authenticity Over Aesthetics
Learning to choose authenticity over aesthetics takes the idea of reimaging minimalism a step further. Embracing authenticity means that sometimes, actually most times, you’ll be going against the status quo. It means that some people might question whether you are a "real" minimalist. Which is all the more reason why you have to define and embrace your personal practice with reckless abandon.
Instead of trying to conform to the beautiful simplicity that we so often covet, consider taking a moment to reflect on what aspects of your home decor and wardrobe are working for you. Usually, after a good decluttering or tidying up session, what remains are those things that are most meaningful to you. Don’t lose sight of their significance and value. Allow others’ minimalist spaces to serve as inspiration but remember to stay true to you.
It’s Not a Race, So Don’t Rush
I often reflect on that summer’s day when I foolishly thought that I could declutter our entire house in one weekend. I mean, that’s how smoothly the process went on television, right? Of course, it is natural to want to reach your destination of minimalist nirvana sooner rather than later. Except, it is unrealistic and there is no destination. So, take your time. Because you will need time. To honor the feelings that come with acknowledging your overconsumption. To forgive yourself. To understand why you have more than you need and why it’s so hard to let go. To decide what no longer serves you and how to pay it forward.
Consider starting small, say working through your pantry or spices (hello, hardened lumps in nearly empty jars!) Or, if you feel incredibly overwhelmed, consider joining a daily or monthly decluttering challenge. I started the #1thing1day1year challenge in response to so many people saying they didn’t know where to start. Each month is themed (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) and the rules are simple: you must commit to letting go of at least one thing per day in that respective area. Of course, if you feel inspired to let go of more, you absolutely can (and most people do!) But at a minimum, you know you’ll at least let go of 365 things by the year’s end. My words of encouragement are: Start with just one thing a day and see where it leads you.
Have you recently embarked on a journey of living with less? Share what you've learned with us.
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