“Minimalism” has undeniably become part of the Zeitgeist — whether it evokes a type of design, a mindset or a lifestyle, most people would be hard-pressed not to have heard the term. Depending on the source, “minimalist” can sometimes come across as highfalutin or something that can only be achieved with a massive price tag. Today we’re sharing the wisdom of a self-described minimal couple who are anything but condescending, unapproachable, or unattainable. Roshanda Cummings and Erin Johnson (or Roe and E as their Instagram community knows them) are San Francisco Bay Area natives, who five years ago went minimal with both their space and needs.
Minimalism has brought so much freedom to the couple in their lifestyle and relationship, and Roe was even able to pay off $11,000 in debt in less than two years. Roe now writes, documents, and muses about the ins and outs of living a minimalist life as a person of color and moderates an extraordinary community interested in doing the same. Roe and E’s next goal is to make “#vanlife” a reality. Below, Roe shares her and E’s inspirations, photos of their home, their tips on how to make minimalism work for the long-haul, what works for them, and what may prompt you to take a similar path. —Rebekah
Photography by Roshanda Cummings
Image above: The official bedroom of Roe and E’s historic home didn’t meet the couple’s needs (like heat and insulation) so it has since become the perfect guest bedroom for the warmer months.
Image above: Roe (left) and E (right) in their new bedroom. Getting to wake up in front of those beautiful windows with incredible morning light, a lovely fireplace, and kitchen proximity, made them happy to convert this space into a master bedroom.
1. Do your value-work. Minimalism, over the longterm, seems like a lot of grit, grunt work, and discipline. I’m here to tell you, it’s not. What will keep you on the straight and narrow though: your values. Minimalism is not an exercise in tidying, it’s an opportunity for an individual to find out what matters to them and make that their life. (This thought was influenced by Fumio Sasaki, in his book Goodbye, Things). Avoiding this key step, you’re likely to get off track quickly or mistake the organized rat race for being free.
Call to Action: Take a moment to sit down for 20 transformational minutes. Make a list of all your values. Who do you want to be, really? Generous? Relaxed? Clear-headed? Successful and competent? Healthy in mind, body, and spirit? Excellent. Write those things down and circle the top five. Post the list where you can see it and use them as a reminder of the life you’re trying to design.
Image above: Mantel moments.
2. Look for fellow minimalists. Gather your inspirations. Watched the Minimalist Documentary on Netflix and love those guys? Sign up for the podcast and keep yourself inspired to live an intentional life. On social media, find others you can get a daily dose of and join conversations where people are having meaningful discussions about small living.
Call to Action: Find your people. A few of our favorites on Instagram are @mindfulcloset, @this_simple_life, @600sqftandababy, @ginastovall and the @afrominimalist to start; but go down the rabbit hole yourself and find others you respect. Facebook is also a treasure trove of minimalist and zero-waste groups.
Image above: Roe and E’s colorful dining area frequently features fresh flowers, showing that minimal doesn’t have to equal austere.
3. But only listen to yourself. Inspiration leads the way, but you are the final authority on a life well-lived. A minimal lifestyle is your life simplified. I want to free somebody today: minimalism has absolutely nothing to do with people who choose to decorate in only white, black, and plants! We sure don’t!
Your personal reasons for this lifestyle are also its fuel for sustainability. Many choose minimalism because it’s the most ethical way to live, while our primary driver was debt-freedom and mobility as creatives. Your reason may be that you have had it up to HERE with picking up kids toys! Cool. Minimalism is built around you and that’s why it’s so satisfying.
So, ditch the neutral palette pressure if you have a closeted love for chartreuse; guilt you may feel about not being able to make it with only one bowl and fork will frustrate you. You’ll never see your goal to the end if you’re living someone else’s life or by someone else’s standards. So, do you.
Call to Action: Let your aesthetic shine through over time as you discern spaces that don’t overwhelm you.
Image above: Roe and E’s pantry is not just well organized for the function of finding necessities more easily, but also to clearly show what the couple actually needs so that shopping is stress-free.
4. Identify your tools and bring them close to you. For me, one of the most illuminating things about going minimal was realizing how long I’d been without a full set of… anything. We (a) don’t know what we need or (b) haven’t given ourselves permission to get those things. Here’s a sign. Go ahead, love. Get the thing.
After doing the values exercise myself, I realized I had a hodgepodge of dollar store and goodwill dishes, a gang of cups people have given me, no wine opener and no mixing bowls. So, I went to work finding all the necessary tools to make my value of hospitality come true. When I found everything I needed, functionally and emotionally, I no longer talked myself into buying more than I had.
Call to Action: Pick an area in your house and refer to your list of values. What are the essential tools you need to make that value come to life? Do a bit of research if you have to, make a list, get rid of any duplicates, and work toward getting every essential item on that list [if you’re able to].
Image above: Roe and E’s mudroom holds shoes, bikes, and storage items tucked away for occasional use.
5. Out yourself to your friends and family. When my mom tries to offer us something now, she catches herself, saying, “Oh right. Y’all are minimalists.” I love the begrudging twinkle in her eye. She might not totally get it, but she knows what’s important to us because we’ve kept her in the loop about the changes we’ve made. To thwart coworkers, friends, and relatives in their mission to give you crap objects destined for future clutter piles, take opportunities to share what you’ve been reading and how it’s changed your thinking. Be open about how a simpler life has changed the game for you and nurture your loved ones as partners in helping you stay minimal.
Call to Action: Ask loved ones along for trips to the thrift store to give away a bunch of stuff. For Christmas, make up a meaningful list of goals you’d like your loved ones to cheer you on for in lieu of presents (Want to run a triathlon? Ask your best bud to run 3 miles with you as a gift). People give us gifts because it’s one of the few ways they know how to love on us. Brainstorm some ways they can do that for you outside the box this year.
Image above: Office essentials remain just that rather than the overwhelming tangle of cords and papers that most of us worry about.
6. Take a picture of it. “I think throwing away your material possessions and throwing away your memories are two completely different actions,” Sasaki says. I agree. Are we keeping that box of cards because they help us remember we’re loved? Another bit of truth: you are deeply loved anyway. Objects aren’t the manifestations of what we mean to people in our lives, they’re only messengers. A successful path is to be mindful of the distinction. Message received. Snap a photo of it as thanks. And send it on its way.
Call to Action: So, take a picture of that birthday card or ticket stub and feel the rush of emotions of how great that day felt. Make a folder where they can live on your phone or in the cloud. Look back on them and this post during the times you forget how loved you are.
Image above: The guest bed features small-space savvy bedside tables — folding chairs that we imagine can be used for essentials or extra seating when needed.
7. Let an empty space stay empty. Whether it’s your datebook or the piece of wall above your spice rack, ask yourself, “Could I feel complete and satisfied with one less thing to do or look at?” Stay in the practice of keeping clear. It doesn’t need anything. Let empty space delight you.
Call to Action: Look on your calendar two weeks out. Find a segment of time or a whole day where there’s nothing scheduled. Put a star by it. Keep it that way.
Image above: Blank spaces don’t scare Roe and E. They don’t feel the need to fill them.
8. Ask yourself three questions when you’re out shopping:
- Do I want this because I cherish it or because I can afford it?
- Is this so valuable to me, I would pay 3x as much for it?
- Do I want this or freedom?
Don’t buy it because it’s cheap and don’t take it because it’s free. This set of questions has served me well to filter the things I love from the things I love right now.
Call to Action: Pick one and take it shopping with you next time you go. Works for online shopping too!
Image above: Roe and E’s guest room doesn’t feature a bunch of furniture and clutter that doesn’t belong anywhere else in their home — instead, it’s well appointed with lots of breathing room and only the essentials.
9. Reduce your container. You know what westerners are inclined to do with 2,000 square feet? Fill it up with stuff. I mean, you can’t have a dining or a sitting room with nothing in it. But what if you didn’t have so much space to fill in the first place? Would a six-bedroom house for a family of three be liberating or would a three-bedroom? Could you do smaller than that? E and I live in 800 square feet and anything larger seems unfathomable only because we’ve found our enough. And the idea of vacuuming more mummifies my brain. Size is not a race to the smallest, it’s an expedition to find your peace.
Call to Action: Where can you get away with going smaller and save a ton of money and mental energy by doing so?
Image above: Roe shares what she values most about their home, “My favorite thing about my home is: incredible lighting day or night all year round.”
10. Begin again. In the end, you’re going to buy or get things you thought you’d adore but discover they were a big womp-womp. And that’s okay. One of my favorite authors, Sharon Salzberg, shares often about beginning again, a buddhist practice in meditation.
So, yeah, you’re not totally sure how that pile of clothes got out of hand in your closet. Happens to the best of us. Just like our breath, our best aspirations for ourselves are always present. Take one gentle breath and start sorting for donation. When it comes to your journey, this current moment is a fresh page. Begin again. You got this.
Additional reading about minimalism:
Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki
Essentialism by Greg Mckeown
Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less by Mark Lesser
The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer
The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees
Tools to help you minimize:
Evernote’s Scannable will help you capture and organize all your important documents right from your iPhone. Wi-Fi sim cards for DSLR cameras like this Eye-fi Mobi Card have been our godsend for shots up to the cloud, and smartphones can catalogue faces and details for you.