Black Minimalists: Jessica Young

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yogi. writer. teacher. vegan. women*s health advocate. freedom fighter. feminist. marching band fan.

-Jessica Young, A Devoted Yogi

How did you find minimalism or did it find you?

I found minimalism pretty organically, shortly after I returned home to Chicago from India. I planned to pack as lightly as possible while I was away, and though my four weeks in India was markedly different from my life in Chicago, the fact that I could live on so little was astonishing to me. Additionally, I was touched by how many folks I witnessed in India make a life with such a small amount. When I came home, I quite literally felt like I didn’t have enough space, because my home and life were so full of things I didn’t need, want, or use. I leaned into this desire for crafting a life that focused on what I need most and releasing what no longer serves me. A little research revealed this practice as minimalism. I’m grateful to have discovered it: it feels not just practical or economical, but even spiritual in a way. I’m learning to be a better steward of the gifts, blessings, and relationships I’ve been given, and the practice continues to show me lessons and beliefs it’s time for me to let go.

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 What does minimalism look like to you?

My minimalism practice is still very much under construction. For me it has been about simplifying choices. My wardrobe is much simpler. I’ve been experimenting with a capsule wardrobe, which isn’t always easy to sustain in a city like Chicago, with such severe winters and summers. Still, I find myself wearing a kind of uniform as often as possible: when I teach, in my day-to-day work life outside the classroom, even on social or formal occasions. I’m also considerably more thoughtful about the amount of waste I create—food waste, plastic waste, paper waste.

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How has minimalism impacted your yoga practice?

Compared to others, my practice has always looked pretty minimalist! Both as a teacher and a student, I don’t play music in class. I find music to be a distraction from the sound of my breath and the internal pace and volume of my thoughts. Students who are used to music during class find they have to adjust, but after a while, the silence is really nourishing. When I purged my wardrobe, I got rid of a lot of yoga clothes I’d been holding onto: leggings and tops that I didn’t wear but hadn’t gotten rid of. Now, I have a practice uniform that is comfortable but allows me to move freely. For better or worse, it’s not at all influenced by what’s trending, but more by what will let me move freely and comfortably. As a yogi who’s practice isn’t just physical, practicing minimalism has taught me to be intentional about my thoughts and lifestyle habits as well: sometimes that extra workout isn’t serving me as well as a restorative practice or yoga nidra might. It’s taught me how to choose wisely how to care for myself.

 

What inspired you to create the 31 Days of Black Minimalism Challenge?

When I started experimenting with minimalism, I searched for resources to help me learn more: I was watching documentaries, hitting Instagram hard, looking up podcasts—where I found Black Minimalists!—even checking out books from the library. In a lot of my research the minimalism practice looked really defined by the majority culture. I was dismayed to see minimalism look so white. I created the challenge as a way to document and hold myself accountable for what felt like not just a lifestyle change, but a pivot point: if I value craft, intention, and dedication over excess, materialism and fear, then I wanted to live out those values in a way that would last. I also wanted to illustrate in a visual medium that minimalism isn’t just a practice for white folks of privilege, and minimalism isn’t defined by just one approach or aesthetic. I wanted to show someone moving into minimalism in a way that felt accessible and approachable. By no means do I have this figured out, but I’m trying, and maybe that can inspire others to find their way toward doing more with less. Really helpful resources for me included The Afro Minimalist, brownkids (both on Istagram), and of course, Black Minimalists.

What did you learn about yourself from the challenge?

This process brought up many personal challenges. As a woman of color, I’m attuned to the challenges my parents and grandparents face to help me to accomplish and succeed. Anxiety about hoarding came up for me as I faced the challenge of releasing that which I didn’t need; it often felt like members of my family were hovering over my shoulder at times! So clearly, there’s internalized judgment and fear I’m still processing. That scarcity mentality came into stark relief, and this challenge was my first time to really consider if I’d continue to allow my life to be dictated by fear of never having enough, rather than choosing to accept the gifts of the Universe, and share my overflow with others. I also learned that I’m a person who really likes being neat. My whole upbringing, I was told that I was a slob; turns out I just had too much stuff, and no place to put it. Learning to create a place for every object I own—and I learned that from Marie Kondo—has made it somewhat easier for me to keep a neat home, which I find incredibly soothing and comfortable. I also learned that minimalism has helped me lower the number of decisions I have to make, at times, so I experience less decision fatigue, and I can focus my energy in the places I want and need it to show up.

 

What are your goals in living simply?

To live a life that is comfortable and sustainable for my partner and me. To live a life that is good for me, good for others, and good for the planet. I’ve been both gluten-free (for health reasons) and vegan (for health and political reasons) for years now, and minimalism feels like it falls sweetly in line with some of those beliefs: consuming less makes my footprint smaller, not bigger. Having said that, I try not to preach at others about their lifestyle. But the planet is groaning under the weight of human existence—the volume of plastic on the planet that will never go away, carbon emissions released into the air that are warming us up, the pounds of food wasted every day—we can change our copious waste and overuse, if we’re willing to try.

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What if any surprises or challenges have you encountered?

Well, occasionally my partner and I don’t agree on our needs, and that can be challenging. I’m fortunate to be married to a man who communicates with me thoughtfully, so when we aren’t on the same page, we take a lot of time to share our goals and desires, and try to reach a consensus that will work for our family. Having said that, he’s not much of a shopper, so he’s not as tempted as I am to buy things. Additionally, there are still some practices that are really challenging for me. For instance: this past December was my first Christmas practicing minimalism. My habit was to throw all kinds of money around buying presents for everyone and way too much on gifts, a process which I’ve been doing since I was old enough to afford to spend money. Even so, this created a lot of anxiety in me. My partner and I deliberately kept our gift-giving small, and we made a pact to set a spending and gift number maximum next year.

 

What does being a black minimalist mean to you?

The practice of minimalism as a black woman means to me that I determine what in my life has value: not the corporations trying to get in my wallet, not the moguls and taste-makers marketing their brand, not even the lessons I was taught as a girl that feel out of alignment with my values. As a black American woman, I feel a deep connection to my community, my country, and the planet; choosing to live in a way that uses only what I need, that makes less waste, and that considers the cost and quality of life of others honors this connection. I know that when I use my purchasing and consumption power in a meaningful way—whether I’m buying or not buying—I’m cultivating a way of life that is generative, reflective, and sustainable.

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Where can we learn more about you?

I have a website, A Devoted Yogi, where I write about the intersection of yoga, faith, and society. It has my full yoga teaching schedule here in Chicago. I’m on Twitter @devotedyogi and on Instagram at @jessmyoung. Additionally, I have some classes and practices posted at Yoga Green Book, an online resource by and for yogis of color, so please check that out if you’re interested in practicing with me and don’t live in The Chi.



Thank you Jessica for sharing your story. We are excited to be collaborating with Jessica in May 2019 to co-host the next 31 Days of Minimalism challenge!