Around 2009/2010, I was introduced to minimalism. Having spent my mid to late teen years on Tumblr, I became increasingly drawn towards particular clothing styles, interior design, architecture and lifestyles that were all somehow branded as simple or clean living. Although my interest at the time was rather hollow, I’ve recently returned to the idea of fully embodying it again.
Like any other teen interested in literature, my room and house for that matter, was filled with books. Coming from a relatively arty family, each room contained a stack or a pile of something; if it could take up space, it was there. Although I’d been used to this, as I delved more into simple living, I became all too aware of the space I inhabited and became increasingly uncomfortable with it.
It was around this time also, that I noticed physical and emotional changes within myself. I ate less, stopped speaking, and spent most of my time venting online or seeking solace in books, pictures and music. I stopped trusting myself and my space; instead I became spiteful and hurtful, feeling disconnected with my body.
Two years on, I’d cut my hair, lost interest in sex, stopped identifying as a woman, emptied my wardrobe, but began taking pictures. Because I felt this unease within myself, I thought it best to try and look at myself in a way that reaffirmed my existence. I started a self discovery project, documenting my physical attributes in the hopes I wouldn’t feel so negative about myself. I wouldn’t exactly call it groundbreaking, nor would I say the photographs are well shot; but for me, it filled the gap between the person I was and the person I wanted to be.
It was only when I discontinued taking these pictures that I realised, I was obsessed with arbitrary details that I had the power to change. In the end, I was fortunate enough to receive help and move beyond my own self-imposed boundaries. Although I respected minimalism, I had to leave behind the Tumblr-perfect depiction that did not benefit me in any way.
In the next few months as I prepare for a really exciting chapter of my life, I’ve been looking at my understanding of minimalism and what’s changed since my teen days. Back in my childhood room, I am reminded of the ways in which I tried to decorate my personality in design without first knowing who I was as a person.
In a time where I was moving from rental to rental, I couldn’t afford to carry too much weight with me, physical and emotional. Looking back at my university career, I am thankful that I was surrounded by positive, bold and sensitive people who always encouraged me to think and live for myself. I learnt how to make do with what I had and save up for what I wanted; travelling to a few countries with one backpack.
Without consciously making the effort, I was decluttering my life. I let go of people that were not enriching me, I curated my own magazine, ran talk shmalk, and started connecting with people. I was slowly getting comfortable with my activism, my voice and my image.
For a black woman, that’s a huge accomplishment considering the adversity against natural hair, black led movements and black entrepreneurship. I grew my hair, stopped buying fast fashion, embraced a vegetarian lifestyle – seven years strong now, wrote more poetry and started looking into my future and where my activism can lie within that.
Now that I’ve returned to my cluttered space, I want to turn a new leaf. As someone who regularly watches TEDx talks and natural hair videos, I’ve noticed myself looking more towards vegan and simple living videos. Kicki Yang Zhang, Jenny Mustard, and Rachel Nguyen are a few favourites I constantly return to. Whereas I’m grateful for their content, I can’t help but notice how little I encounter black women discussing minimalism.
That’s not to say they aren’t there- they are and I do engage with their content. Despite that, it does little to quench my concern over the homogeneity that comes with minimalism. As I look for more black minimalists that match my style and sensibilities, I’m wondering if the space for Afro-minimalism will grow.
Afro-minimalism has so much potential, especially as more black women are going natural, buying organic, working for themselves and travelling. I cannot wait for the day I am filled with black creative content aside from fitness and beauty. There is a truly a gap in the market and slowly it is being filled. For black people, I think minimalism is something that has sub-consciously been ingrained within us.
As a child of immigrants, I truly believe minimalism wasn’t a lifestyle choice for my grandmothers; it was simply their life. They both lived on farms, woke early, washed clothes, sold animals at markets and picked fruit from trees – no internet, no mobile phone, no mod cons. Their homes are neat, possessions are well looked after and there’s always a spare seat with a hot plate of food ready for guests. This kind of living; kind and gentle is what I hope to embody. Smiles at front doors, bodies strong and well lived in knowing that once you cross the threshold, you are safe.
I briefly considered becoming a visual content creator – be the change you wish to see and all that jazz, but I’m not sure if that’s for me. I still want to learn more about myself before I share my way of living with others, but the more my frustration grows in not seeing myself reflected, I may just have to dust off the camera again.