The term “minimalism” has quickly become a buzzword popping up everywhere from documentaries to casual dinner conversation. But before you dive in full-throttle, you truly have to ask yourself: “Am I really about that life?!” Yes, living with less has a ton of benefits, but figuring out where to start can be daunting.
In honor of minimalism month at Lonny, we decided to catch up with Roe Cummings, one half of the popular social media platform, @BrownKids, to hear about her six-year journey to embrace the philosophy. Hopefully, we can all pick up some tips along the way.
To Cummings, the first step of letting go of anything you own is understanding why you’re giving it away in the first place — and to make that a really good reason.
“To me, without a clear destination of who you want to be, letting go of anything without intention loops you into frustrating ‘purge-buy-purge-buy’ cycles that frankly doesn’t serve you, your space, your family, or mother nature,” she explains.
Start by setting aside a good chunk of time to truly think about the life you want to create. For example, if you want to travel more and manifest a more mobile lifestyle, your attention should now be focused on what will make that lightweight, comfortable, packable, and items that will reduce homesickness.
Want to spend more time with family? “Think about your children and dream of leaving memories of crafts with them," she adds. Then you’ll ask yourself what items really help you get there — instead of taking away all your time."
Cummings subscribes to one of organizing guru Marie Kondo’s lesser known quotes that accurately depicts the “why” portion of the journey toward minimalism: “The question of what you want to own is actually a question of how you want to live your life.”
To start, ask yourself questions like what objects are worthy enough to get you there? “When you give yourself permission to ask that, you’ll have everything you need to know when and what to let go of when it’s time,” explains Cummings.
After six years of embarking on her minimalist journey, Cummings still credits Fumio Sasaki as one of her biggest influences. “He gives one powerful paragraph on it in his small book Goodbye Things and I’ve summarized it over the years to, ‘Minimalism is the lifelong practice of deciding what matters to you and making your life.’ To me, what he was saying, is that so often, for cultural, socioeconomic, and personal reasons, we often leave what we like as the ‘spice’ of life," she says. "The little stuff of enjoyment at the edges of mountains of responsibility and expectations for ourselves."
"The flip is a revolutionary stance," shares Cummings. "Take family, exploration, learning, beauty, ease, peace, and balance — whatever is meaningful to you — and dare yourself to see what happens when you bring it to the center. Make it the focus. Let your objects follow.”
She also emphasizes that embracing a “minimal mindset” is not about cheapness or class —it's about clarity surrounding yourself. “Sometimes you'll spend a lot and sometimes you'll spend less and sometimes you won't spend at all,” Cummings explains.
For those looking to start their journey, Cummings has two simple exercises to start working on a minimalist space — starting with the kitchen.
First, curate how many dishes, glasses, and utensils you need based on how many people you feed daily. Ask yourself, which are your favorites? How many do you need to serve each person in the house? Once you figure it out, donate the extras.
“Once my best friend invited me to come over to her house and optimize her kitchen for her," shares Cummings. "When I noted she had multiple sets of dishes for three kids, she expressed how this was the first time in her whole life she ever had enough dishes to serve her whole extended family when they came to visit once a year. Instead of making her feel wrong, we celebrated this incredible achievement together (it was the toughest growth year of her life), selected four plates, bowls, and saucer plates, and stored the rest away in her dining room. So when her family came to visit, she could put them right out on the table.”
The second exercise is focusing on a single task for one week consistently. “Minimalism, in my point of view, is really about focus,” explains Cummings. “It’s zen in the way that it grows your power of mind. What am I focusing on and how can I gently nudge myself back into being the master of my attention?”
For example, if you are a book lover, Cummings recommends clearing your nightstand of all items but your lamp, a journal, a pen, and one book. Force yourself to finish the book you selected from cover to cover until you finish.
“Notice your inner experience — when do you have the urge to read multiple things?,” she continues. “When do you have the urge to pile a bunch of books or items on your night stand? When do you feel a little bit anxious and ready to skip onto the next task or tempted to not read at all? Allow each feeling and let them flow with non-judgement. Ask yourself, what are you learning about you right now? And what, if anything, would you like to do about that?"
If you have trouble purging, Cummings offers an impactful statement: “Keeping certain objects may help us feel like we can have direct connection with the person who was with us at that moment or the person we were at the time. But those people were never in that thing anyway. You were always with you.”
Another roadblock is thinking that minimalism is synonymous with black and white furniture. “I don’t know who made this rule but there’s this tacit norm out there we’ve been spinning like plates that minimalism is to beige as leaves are green.”
One of Cummings’ missions is to make minimalism more inclusive. “I’ve been meditating on this for a couple years now because so many people in my community never felt like they could ever be minimalists, really. They liked red," she adds. "And, after some thought, I had that laughing realization somewhere the internet had conflated 'M' words — monochrome, a picture reproduced in black and white or in varying tones of only one color, with minimal, a minimum amount.”
Together with her partner E, Cummings allows herself “ a full set of tools” that help the couple live out their values like hospitality and generosity, for instance. “Hospitality is my first language. With however little or much we own, I believe we should roll out the red carpet for each other," she says. "It’s very hard, this work of living. We should do whatever we can to make it a little lighter for one another.”
“Hosting at home brings us so much joy," Cummings shares. "So, we stopped playing around, stopped hmming and hawwing, or patching pieces together and arranged our money in ways where we could have tools one would need for a bar cart and a full-set of beautiful flatware and serving dishes so we could serve our guests when they come over.”
Other touches like “a full pantry we can cook complete and nutritious meals from, linens, furniture, closets, and decor” assist them in living out their values, while not overwhelming them with cleaning and upkeep. She also acknowledges that yes, on her platform she lives “minimalist” on the surface, but also incorporates a very vibrant life that is constantly “jutting out and mucking up the traditional monochrome IG aesthetic."
"There’s a lot going on in our rich life and, with that, comes a riot of color. Chartreuse probably. So, let’s riot," laughs Cummings.