The average person encounters an estimated 6,000-10,000 ads in a single day. Think about that for a second. That means, we’re bombarded with thousands of messages trying to get us to part with our money in order to get the latest cars, clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc. every day.
We live in a society that pushes us to purchase, and tells us that the more stuff we buy, the happier we’ll be. But what if instead of accumulating more stuff, you could actually have more time, more money, and more happiness by owning less? That’s the idea behind minimalism.
At its core, minimalism means breaking free from the cycle of consumerism and the need to buy or have more things. It means letting go of attachment to material possessions. It means getting rid of clutter and focusing on only buying things that truly add value and meaning to your life. It means making a conscious effort to stop seeking validation and self-worth through the things you own. Essentially, minimalism means getting rid of excess things in exchange for more happiness, more fulfillment, and more freedom.
Are Black Culture and Black Minimalism Mutually Exclusive?
Now when I was first introduced to minimalism, I didn’t really see a ton of Black people in the space. Do a simple Google search and it’s clear that the movement is largely dominated by white influencers and it isn’t exactly a huge talking point in the Black community. And turns out, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. The comments below on a minimalist blog shed some light on the conflict facing the black community around minimalism:
“If you were African American could you live a minimalist life, a life of simplicity and still be respected and treated well? Could it be that society would see you as inferior pandering to stereotypes if you don’t have wealth and material sign posts to validate your standing? For many minorities, having an outward display of abundance is the only way to gain respect and a foothold in a very unequal society. Therefore, is minimalism, much like golf, a white man’s philosophy?”
“I go to a predominantly black church where Michael Kors and Coach purses and Lexus cars abound. …We congratulate ourselves and other congregants for having attained what our ancestors only dreamed of having — large houses, enviable neighborhoods, name-brand goods and the best of schools for our children. Minimalism for the African-American man or woman may be perceived as a step backwards. After all, we’re encouraged to get an education so that we can have a “better life” (i.e. greater material possessions, more monetary stability, fewer economic worries) than our grandparents had.”
When I thought back to my own experiences growing up, it was easy to see what contributed to the conflict. Did your parents or family members ever tell you not to leave the house “looking crazy?” Did they make sure that you had brand new clothes and shoes before the first day of school? Did they reward you with name-brand products when you made a big accomplishment? What lies behind those actions is likely an underlying fear of appearing poor, and aspirations to live “the good life” that seems to be constantly promoted to us.
The Rocky Road of Conspicuous Consumption
Historically, Black people have had to be more vigilant with how we show up to the outside world, in order to dispel negative narratives and stereotypes about our race. We see people who own lots of possessions and assume they must have more money, more status, or more success, and so we often unconsciously give them more respect or praise.
So for many of us as black people, owning physical possessions is considered a tool to gain more social capital and belonging, get access to spaces we might otherwise be excluded from, or even to celebrate our hard work and success.
Conspicuous consumption is deeply ingrained in many of us and it’s often encouraged and applauded. With that in mind, is it possible to experience the promise of bliss and freedom as a Black minimalist?
My Walk with Minimalism
The reality is that choosing to reject a culture of consumerism runs counter to everything we’ve been taught and how most people aspire to live. So it’s no surprise that a decision to do so may often be misunderstood, judged, or even ridiculed.
I saw glimpses of this first-hand when my friends and family slowly started to notice my minimalist choices. Some people would come to my apartment and ask why I didn’t have more artwork on the walls. Or they would wonder when I was going to finally upgrade to the latest iPhone. Or they would ask why I wasn’t “treating myself” when I got a bonus. Some would even flat out ask why I was “acting like I was broke.”
But what most don’t understand is that making those micro-decisions actually freed me to have the experiences that were most valuable to me. They allowed me to save up nine months of living expenses so that I could comfortably quit my corporate 9-5 job and pursue entrepreneurship. They allowed me to spend some of the best weeks of my life on vacation in Morocco (and have extra funds to pay for three emergency international flights home when I almost got trapped overseas during the onset of the pandemic—another story for another time).
It’s tough at first to ignore the opinions of those close to you and not cave into the buying binge cycle when it’s become so normalized. But when you choose to stop living according to other people’s perceptions and expectations and instead focus on what truly matters to you, you experience way more fulfillment, happiness, and joy.
Could Black Minimalism Be for You?
Despite what many people think, minimalism isn’t about depriving yourself or living like you’re poor. There are people of all classes and backgrounds who choose to live as minimalists. Instead, minimalism is really about using your money to prioritize the things that create long-term meaning for you. And the beauty of minimalism is that it looks different for everyone.
For one person, it might mean investing in a gym membership instead of a luxury car. For another, it could mean building a capsule wardrobe with five high-quality pieces of clothing that you can wear again and again without wear and tear instead of buying 10-12 cheap pieces at the start of every season. And for someone else, it might mean downsizing to a smaller apartment or home so that they can have more money to travel.
One of the biggest benefits of minimalist living is that when you spend less on material things that you don’t really need, you have more money for the important stuff. That could mean more money to chip away at debt faster, extra funds to support yourself while you look for your dream job, or even more savings for your retirement. By choosing to save more and spend less, you can get to financial freedom faster.
Having fewer possessions also means you have less things to find or clean. I found that by purging clothes I rarely wore, I spent less time sifting through piles of clothes deciding what to wear each day. That also meant that I was way more productive and could spend more of my weekend relaxing instead of doing tons of laundry. When you don’t have to search through clutter and have fewer decisions to make throughout the day, you get more time back to dedicate to the things you actually enjoy doing or that create more wellbeing for you.
Another plus to the minimalist lifestyle is that you free yourself from the comparison game. When you prioritize possessions, you start to become hyper-aware of what others own. You see the trendy outfit someone is wearing on Instagram, or the new iPhone they’re carrying around, or the big house they just bought and it’s easy to start to compare your stuff (or even your life) to theirs. Naturally, you start to feel pressured to always buy the latest and greatest in order to keep up with or even impress others around you.
The relentless focus on attaining more possessions is what often keeps people trapped in jobs they hate, stuck with crippling debt, or working well into old age. But when you adopt a minimalist mindset, you become less phased by what you see around you and stop wanting what everyone else has.
When I stopped making decisions based on what I wanted to own and instead on how I wanted to live, I was able to more easily create a life that’s more aligned with my passions and interests. And the bliss that comes from that is unexplainable.
If you’re considering minimalism, know that it doesn’t look the same for everyone. You can live simply, however you define it. But when you break free from the “buy, buy, buy” cycle and choose to pare down your possessions, you create more time, more money, more fulfillment, and more freedom. Think about all the things you could have when you stop trying to have it all.
Chelsea Bonner is an Instagram Strategist & Consultant currently living in Atlanta, GA. Her experience includes public relations, data analysis, and social media management. Her interests are introversion, entrepreneurship, personal development, and black culture.