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'Afrominimalist' author on why it's best to live with less

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, perhaps like a lot of us, you started the new year with the goal of finally getting yourself organized, maybe decluttering that closet and those kitchen drawers. There's no shortage of books, social media accounts and TV shows to help. But maybe that's got you feeling a little overwhelmed, like you don't know where to start. Or maybe you feel like a lot of the people talking about this aren't really talking to you.

Enter Christine Platt. She calls herself the Afrominimalist, and she's author of the book "The Afrominimalist's Guide To Living With Less." Her work focuses on getting everyone, but especially people of color, to live with less by breaking down how race and racism shape ideas about ownership, wealth and what's worth holding on to. When we spoke, I asked Platt to describe her philosophy.

CHRISTINE PLATT: Afrominimalism is simply how I define my minimalist practice, which is influenced by the history and beauty of the African diaspora. But I really wanted to write a book that explained the psychology of ownership - right - so that we understand our motivations. Like, why are we motivated to have certain things? I wanted to write a book that really centered on understanding our attachments. Why is it so hard to let go of things we no longer need, use or love? And, you know, I also wanted to write a book that provided a more holistic approach that was accessible to everyone.

MARTIN: It goes without saying, I think I shouldn't have to say this, that people of all races love stuff, but prosperity and luxury do show up in certain ways in Black culture. I'm thinking about hip-hop. I'm thinking about the way wealthy athletes, I'm thinking about the way that, you know, wealthy artists have kind of trained us to look at stuff as a marker of success. I mean, how many, like, luxury cars have appeared in music videos, how many furs, how many over the top diamonds? How do you talk about that in a way that doesn't make people feel like you're kind of judging them for that?

PLATT: I think we, you know, we have to own that. And then once we own it, you know, we use this information to gain awareness, to build empathy. And, you know, for Black folks and for other marginalized groups, it's often the missing link for how and why we consume the way we do. And, you know, it's empowering once we own it, right? And it's why I dedicated the book to our ancestors, right? I say living with less is now our choice because ownership is just a complicated matter for people of the African diaspora, right? I mean, as a Black woman, when I think of ownership, I have to consider my ancestry. I have to consider the historical and generational inequities of slavery, of Jim Crow, of redlining, you know, and other state-sanctioned limitations on ownership and their lasting implications. Our familial and collective histories are just a big part of and continue to influence how and why we consume.

MARTIN: I mean, I'm thinking about the pressure to be perfectly turned out all the time, right? I'm thinking about the pressure on our kind of movie stars or celebrities or even just regular people to be perfectly turned out all the time, even down to, like, the edges of your hair, right? Right? For people who don't know what that is, look it up. Like, I'm thinking about a young woman I know who was planning her wedding with her long-time love, and she and her fiance owned a house together and were good, you know, good savers and had kind of been really kind of intentional about their lifestyle.

But when it came to the wedding, big pressure on both sides to have the big thing with the custom dresses and the horse-drawn chariot or like Bentley. And I said to her, why do you - why? And she said, well, because neither of their families had ever been able to have that. And so you can see the strong emotional push to live that way, right?

PLATT: Yeah. I believe forgiveness is such an essential step in acknowledging and understanding our overconsumption because for many marginalized people, that forgiveness often has to include and extend to our caregivers and communities, right? We have to give grace to the people who helped raise us - right? - and understand that so many of them were doing the best that they could under the circumstances, you know, whether it was due to lack of education, resources, you know, lack of guidance. So many of our choices and behaviors are reflections and remnants of what our ancestors had to do to survive.

And, you know, today, many of those learned behaviors of our ancestors and their advice, you know, such as live, you know, live for the moment - right? - because tomorrow isn't promised and all of these things, right? They continue to influence our relationship with money and impact our opportunities to build generational wealth, which is why I feel we have to continuously work to dismantle a lot of cultural beliefs that are just no longer applicable and beneficial to us individually and collectively.

MARTIN: So this leads logically into help for people who are listening to our conversation to say, OK, OK, I want to - I'm inspired now. I want to get organized like right now, but where do we start?

PLATT: I really offer a four-step holistic approach, which you can get for free (laughter) off my social media, which is, you know, step one is acknowledging that you have too much right? And step two is again, that important aspect of forgiveness. And step three is letting go. And step four is paying it forward, you know, being very intentional with those things that no longer serve us so that they don't end up just in landfills and that they do end up with people, you know, or organizations that can truly benefit from their use.

MARTIN: For people who got started at the beginning of the year and then lost hope, you know, a couple of weeks into the new year, it just seemed like too much, is there something that they can do to kind of recommit to the cause?

PLATT: I have a challenge that I host on Instagram, which is really to just let go of one thing a day, like, go for a a minimum of one thing a day, right? I mean, you don't have to make it, you know, this weekend warrior mission, right? But I also feel like, you know, even pausing - if you've lost some steam, even pausing and and starting to do some of that self-discovery work, starting to do some of that inner work and understanding, why am I this way as a consumer? Why is it so hard for me to let go, right? The answers to those questions are what really makes the journey not only manageable and tolerable, but possible, you know. And so that would be my little bit of encouragement there for folks.

MARTIN: That is Christine Platt, author of the book "The Afrominimalist's Guide To Living With Less." Christine Platt, thank you so much for talking with us.

PLATT: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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