How to Live with (More) Intention

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Have you ever thought what it would be like to live with more intention? Live simpler and let go of your possessions? It’s a question I always pose to myself; could I live with fewer things? The answer is always no, mostly because as a beauty product junkie and black woman with natural hair I need a whole cabinet dedicated to my hair products (and don’t get me started on my skincare). I often think how wonderful it would be to throw everything away and live smaller and Yolanda Acree has done just that. She’s a black woman living a minimalist lifestyle; calling it slow, simple, and creative. She’s also the founder of Black Minimalists–“Black folks who have decided to lead simpler lives devoid of excess which can include emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial clutter,” per the website.  Here are a few burning questions I had about her move to minimalism and sustainable living and how she maintains it.

Q: How did you get into sustainable living? How many years have you been doing this? Why is it important to you?

Courtesy of Yolanda Acree

I learned about sustainability by practicing minimalism. My life wasn’t always so balanced. About seven years ago, I came to a point where I was unhappy with my “normal” American lifestyle. I was 29 at the time and I think it’s a period where a lot of upheaval and change occurs. By normal, I mean I worked 40 hours, commuted in traffic daily, ran my errands after work and on the weekends, and used my disposable income on things I didn’t need or couldn’t really afford in the grand scheme of my life. My life was fine, but it was not inspired. My lease was ending so I decided to move home and start over again. I have gradually shed my former lifestyle because my freedom was more important to me. For me and the communities I’m a part of, freedom and liberation are foundational to sustainability.

Q: What is your definition of sustainable living?

Sustainable living is balanced living, starting within. My mental, physical, and spiritual systems are in sync. My values, goals, and priorities are aligned with my actions. I am in contact with my local environment and working to reduce my negative impact on it. For me that looks like having a wardrobe that is 90% thrifted, swapping my personal care products out for more sustainable options like reusable cloth menstrual pads, borrowing books from the library instead of buying them, recycling paper media and products by making collage art. Another important area is time. Asking myself, “Am I making the best use of my time?” I changed the way I work and what I did during my free time to create harmony and space in my life.

Q: As a black woman in this space, did you face any particular challenges? (hair care, beauty, fashion, food etc.)

I was fortunate to find black women living this lifestyle early on in this journey. Shout outs to Dawn Michelle of Minimalist Beauty and Rosetta Thurman of Happy Black Woman, who were my introduction to the term “minimalism,” which led me to the mainstream movement. I realized there was a lack of black people featured in the movement and it drove me to seek out people who looked and lived like me. This was the start of Black Minimalists. I think the greatest challenge back then, was finding community.

Q: What’s the most often asked question you get when you talk to people about sustainability?

“How have you been able to maintain this lifestyle and stay motivated?”

The answer is, “this is a process.” Over the past several years there have been periods of time where I’ve lived more or less sustainably depending on my personal circumstances and I’ve definitely felt guilt and frustration at times too. The key is to allow yourself some grace and space to recover, remember why you’ve chosen to live intentionally, and keep starting over again as often as needed. Also, find a community for a sense of belonging and support.

Q: What was the hardest part about living sustainably for you? How did you overcome that?

Finding a level of sustainability that works for me. As I said, it’s a process, and you can’t change everything all at once and some things will not be feasible for you given your locale, means, and access. I do what is within my power and try not to feel bad about what I can’t do or compare my journey to others. Also, living with others who may not share my views on sustainable living. I think some of my habits have rubbed off on my family over the years, but I don’t try to force them to live like me. I also acknowledge that some of our cultural practices are sustainable like reusing plastic bags and containers, keeping a small garden, or sharing resources and services with family, friends, and community members.

Q: What was the easiest thing about living sustainably for you?

Knowing there is a community where I can go for support and camaraderie. Knowing that if I fall off the wagon or make a mistake and I can begin again.

Q: What impact do you hope to have on the world?

I think the work I’ve done through my own efforts and with my team and community through Black Minimalists has already had an impact in our world. We have created a safe place for black folks and other non-black people of color to educate themselves on simple living and sustainability, to share their stories, to find resources, and to find freedom and liberation. I also recently wrote a book called Mindful Simplicity to help folks find more harmony in their lives. My next goal is to preserve and sustain the black history and culture of my home region.

Q: What are the first 3 steps someone should take if they want to live sustainably? What was the process like for you?

I always say I did the process backwards. I started with the physical stuff first instead of focusing on my values, intentions, and priorities. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Evaluate your lifestyle. Why is it important to live more sustainably now? How do I already live sustainably? Where can I improve?
  2. Educate yourself. There are many resources available to learn about sustainable living via the internet or your local library. I would also suggest Fort Negrita, Dominique Drakeford of Sustainable BK and Melanin & Sustainable Style, and Raphael Amiens of 2 Worlds Business.
  3. Make a plan. Use the results of your evaluation and decide how you want to change your life to meet your needs and wants. Consider your short and long term goals. What small steps can you take now to live a more viable life.

Yolanda’s journey to sustainable living is all about finding what works for her. The beauty of that is that you don’t have to judge yourself or hold yourself up to societal standards of what “minimalism” is, find what works for you and adjust accordingly. Interested in learning more about minimalism? Here are some helpful links:

15 Simple Ways to Simplify Your Life:

*Ronald Banks’ channel is full of great tips on how to live a more simple, thoughtful life.

Sustainable, Capsule Wardrobe:

Shopping Like a Minimalist:

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Morgan Gilliam
Morgan Gilliam
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