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Practical Ways A Minimalist Lifestyle Frees Your Mind & Your Money

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Life & Travel

When you hear the word "minimalism", your mind probably formed an image of some privileged man with a dingy backpack wearing wrinkled khakis and flimsy flip flops. And if he has a place to live, you may imagine one plaid chair, one chipped plate, and one fork. We can even hear his voice tell those of us who value money, things, and experiences that we're too superficial. I'm also willing to bet that we're not about that lifestyle.

But what if I told you that minimalism isn't all tiny homes or hand-me-downs? What if I said we can still have nice things? Or that minimalism is just living in a way that gets rid of the meaningless stuff and curates a lifestyle filled with peace, purpose, and freedom? And let me not forget the best part of it all: You can ultimately build your bank account, too.

Christine Pratt understands the accumulation of things and the impact it has on our well-being as well as our coins. This Afrominimalist — as she's known on the 'gram — once had a closet full of accessories, shoes, and handbags within handbags within handbags as well as shelves full of knick-knacks. Yet, she reached a point where her life felt messy and oftentimes overwhelming. It wasn't until she cleared her apartment of anything that didn't serve a specific purpose that she was able to breathe. Christine makes a deeper connection between material, mindset and money in her first TED Talk titled "You Can Be a Minimalist, Yes You!" that she delivered this past November.

Fellow minimalists Roshanda Cummings (Roe) and Erin Johnson (E) are the individuals behind the Instagram community Brown Kids. Just a few years ago, an overworked Roe was ready to quit her underpaid job but worried about the rack of credit card debt that she created for her racks of clothing. But by adopting a minimalist lifestyle, she managed to pay off $11K in 11 months on a $19K annual salary.

11 whole thousand.

In less than a year.

On less than $20K per year.

How'd they do that?

"You have money," Roe says, "It's just in your stuff."

What kind of stuff, you ask? It's all those jeans we packed away in a tote because we're going to pull them back out when we lose those last 10 pounds. It's also the three types of edge control that we tucked way under the bathroom sink because they don't lay our baby hairs at all but we're keeping them, dammit, because we spent a lot of money on these jars! And some may say it's all the books I had neatly stacked and shelved but to that I'd reply, Mind yo' business. I'm reading all of them!

I suppose I can agree that it's all clutter and there are numerous studies linking physical clutter to internal clutter, but that's a whole other article. And the stuff that's out in the open for all to see? At some point we need to clean it, move it elsewhere, or dust it. Or even worse? Pack it up should we ever move! Embracing minimalism means that we either trash it, get paid for it, or pay it forward if we're not using it or getting some joy out of it. Minimalism also promises that we'll feel good for doing it.

Intrigued? Or still unsure? Read on for 4 points we can glean from Roe and Christine when it comes to adopting a minimalist lifestyle, especially when it comes to our bucks:

It empowers you to find “hidden” money.

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E and Roe helped their Brown Kids community find $120K in forgotten money during a weeklong Instagram challenge. Roe stresses that regardless of our salaries, we always have extra money somewhere. She cashed in a stagnant 401(k) worth $4K from an old job but she also found $7K in unwanted stuff that she could sell and applied all of the proceeds directly to her credit card balance. And while we are aware of those sites where we can sell our infrequently or unworn clothing and shoes like Poshmark and Mercari, do we know about unexpected or forgotten refunds and utility deposits that we are due but we somehow overlooked? Did you know you can check with your state's unclaimed property department to see if any of those types of funds are waiting for you? Claim your coins, sis!

It encourages you to look at your finances differently.

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Something about a strict budget is a turnoff. It seems to put an emphasis on the things we can't have because they were considered too minor to include in our monthly spending, like a caramel frappuccino. Although minimalism forces us to distinguish between wants and needs, it isn't designed to be as limiting as a traditional budget. Instead it makes us look inward to decide what's important to us and why.

Christine explains that our current spending habits are a reflection of how we were raised. As an attorney and author, she became the first person in her family to be able to acquire any and everything, which led to her overconsumption of purses and heels. Once we get to the root of our destructive spending habits, we'll automatically make different financial choices going forward, which means we'll think twice before making a frivolous purchase.

It helps to decrease unnecessary food waste.

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In 2010, food waste was estimated to be about a third of the food supply, or a whopping $162B! We contribute to this figure when we buy and cook more than we can eat and then it spoils, causing us to throw it all out. But that doesn't mean we need to resort to canned or dried foods!

E and Roe are the brainchildren behind the Jar Method, which is their way of storing and extending the life of produce from three days up to three whole weeks. E and Roe saved $500 the very first month they kept their veggies in glass jars instead of in plastic bags and containers. And not only did they lower their monthly grocery bill, but they also made their refrigerator shelves look pretty, too.

It shows us that sales don’t automatically add up to savings.

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One of the biggest myths about minimalism is that you can't shop, especially for items at full price. Lies. E and Roe snatched up a pristine secondhand outdoor furniture set a few months ago but they also looked to decorate their interior with West Elm or CB2.

"A minimal mind is not about cheapness or class," says Roe during an earlier interview with Impossible Podcast. She explains that it's about clarity. Will this item reflect you or the person you want to be? Will this item bring you joy?

Roe isn't against splurging on an item of clothing, either, but if it's expensive, she's mindful of its quality, sustainability, and usability. What is it made of? Will it last? How was it sourced? Will she wear it more than once?

"Sometimes you'll spend a lot and sometimes you spend less and sometimes you won't spend at all," Roe adds.

Christine often refers to Project 333, a challenge where you mix and match 33 favorite pieces (including accessories and shoes) to create new outfits for 3 months. This way, you essentially end up with a complete seasonal wardrobe that takes up less closet space.

Buying new quality pieces to fulfill the 33-item capsule wardrobe isn't forbidden and buying as much as you can for as little as possible isn't a requirement or even a recommendation. In fact, snatching up everything you see on clearance is frowned upon and defeats the purpose of minimalism.

Bargain-shopping for Christine was once an escape until it wasn't. She was stunned by all of her purchases with price tags still hanging on them. Sure, she walked out of the store with shopping bags full of merchandise at a deep discount but she didn't exactly gain anything when she wasn't even wearing, using, or really liking anything she bought. "Remember, it's not a deal if you don't need it," Christine says.

Minimalism isn't as extreme as we may think. The sole intent shouldn't be to make unreasonable or unrealistic sacrifices or forego everything of luxury or leisure to stretch our hard-earned dollars. It's not even about junking our most sentimental treasures, either.

Instead, minimalism is about sparking more joy with less stuff and living much better in the process. Sure, it may still be hard to give up some things because, let's face it, who's really a pro at purging their own belongings? But imagine that bit of excitement we'll get when we move those dollars from credit card balances to savings account balances with items we don't use, don't care about, and won't miss.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

6 Ways You Can Start Stacking Your Savings

The Minimalist Guide To Fall Style

10 Budgeting Apps That Will Get Your Coins All Together

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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