Consumerism is a huge part of American culture. In many ways it is at the center of the American Dream. We get good grades, so we can go to good schools, get good jobs, and buy things. Big houses, fancy cars, cool wardrobes—you know, stuff. But in recent years, there has been a movement running counter to this consumerist culture known as minimalism.
Minimalism is, in the simplest terms, owning less so you can live more. However, when you start looking into minimalism, something immediately stands out. Many of the minimalist pioneers, the people championing minimalism as a transformative way of life, are white. This is something Afro Minimalist—CP Patrick, the award-winning author and mother behind the blog—is looking to change.
“Minimalism looks different for everyone, but it especially looks different for our people,” Patrick says. “I wanted to show what [minimalism] would look like for people of the African Diaspora because we are associated with such a high level of consumerism. I felt that if we could see what it looks like—and see that it doesn’t look like a mattress on the floor [and using] one fork, one spoon—then folks might be more open to embracing the lifestyle.”
I sat down with CP Patrick to learn more about what minimalism looks like in practice, what the benefits are, and what she hopes to accomplish with The Afro Minimalist.
What made you decide to become a minimalist, and how did you begin your journey?
I read Essential: Essays by the Minimalists, and then took a very slow approach. The book doesn’t cause you to wake up one morning and throw everything away, but it does [make you think], What’s really going on here? Why do I have all this stuff? And why do I feel like purchasing stuff that I know I don’t need?
For me, I was in a very unhappy job. I made good money, so I would buy myself stuff. It would make me feel good to spend the money. So, after reading the book, I started with one picture off the wall, and then the next day one vase, and then from there I just really started to think about how many things I had that I wasn’t using, that I didn’t need.
What was the hardest thing for you to downsize?
Here’s what I learned: Everybody has their thing. My thing is books. I love my books. I did not get rid of a single book unless I had a duplicate, which was rare. I found a minimalist strategy for organizing my books, which is to have the books color coordinated on tall narrow bookshelves, but I was not giving them up.
For other people it will be their closet or toiletries. That would be my next thing after books. I love skin and hair products, body butters, all that stuff.
What percentage of the things you had when you first started this journey do you think you still have now?
Maybe 5%. Seriously.
How do you decide what to keep?
One of the things that I incorporated from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is you have to love it. When I buy new pieces, I have to love it. Because I am a bargain hunter, I will literally hold it up, look at it, and say “Do you love it?” If it’s not “Oh my God, yes, I have to have it,” I just put it back. It teaches you discipline.
How did your daughter feel about the minimalist shift?
I naturally thrive in a minimalist environment, when there’s not a whole lot of distractions, and I think that works for teenagers as well. They already have enough distractions with school and electronics.
I would watch my daughter look through a closet of clothes that she was never wearing. They do the same things we do, wear their favorite jeans, their favorite shirt. So, I said, “What are the favorite things?” And every few months you go through again. What are the favorite things? What are the favorite things that you’ve not worn? And you slowly whittle down.
There are things that she’ll never give away. My daughter has this bunny sweatshirt that she’s had for three years. It really doesn’t fit her anymore, but that’s her thing. She loves her bunny sweatshirt, so that’s something that she’s going to hold onto.
Overall, I think kids thrive in this environment. And I think it makes life easier for mothers. It’s easier to manage a less cluttered space. I think I was a bigger hurdle than my daughter; she jumped right in and embraced it.
What advice would you offer someone who wants to shift to the minimalist lifestyle, but doesn’t know where to begin?
I would tell them to start small, especially if you feel overwhelmed. Don’t say, “I’m tackling the kitchen,” say, “I’m tackling the kitchen cabinet with the glasses” or “I’m going to work on my closet—just the shirts or just the shoes.”
I think as you do an inventory and start the process, you also find a method that works for you. The method for me was very slow, one thing at a time. Once you get started and find a rhythm that works for you, the shedding feels so good, that you continue. One minute you look up and realize, “Wow, I have only what I need.” So, just start. One little thing at a time.
Minimalism can change your lifestyle, especially the hectic pace. Life is so much easier. Things are so much simpler. Our home is so peaceful. I am so much less stressed. I hope to one day do a piece on minimalism and mental health. Being in a space where you can literally manage and control everything can be life-changing.