Interview by Chelcee Johns. Photography by Brown Kids.
“If we’re walking through the world and we want to consider ourselves royalty - which I love this paradigm of Black women - then what is worthy of being on our bodies?”
When Roe, of Brown Kids, says this I have a momentary paradigm shift. The semi-crowded spaces in my apartment arise, the semi-tattered pj’s I only wear on solo nights.
Are these things worthy?
Roe continues, “If we looked at ourselves this way, we would look at things differently. And not only [around] what is worthy, but what is worthy for a long time? Because if I am timeless in a way, shouldn’t my things be too?”
Roe is half of the beautiful, intentional living, minimalist couple that is @Brown Kids. Both Erin and Roe create a space on Instagram (and real life) that invites their over 8,000 followers to join them in living more intentionally, creating sanctuary spaces and loving more authentically.
This month, as we celebrate Brown Body Boldness at BGIO, Roe leans into both her love and living to help us better tend to the ways our bodies exist in well-crafted spaces.
Both Roe and Erin, who affectionately goes by “E,” live and grew up in the Bay area. But they had very different experiences. E was raised by a single father with three children and often moved around, love and family relationships being the tangible they held close. While Roe describes her upbringing very much so tied to things.
Chelcee: So, we see you both on this amazing journey towards freedom and self-determination, when did minimalism come to play in your close to 7-year relationship with E?
Roe: I think the way we were thinking about the word ‘minimalist,’ I actually meant ‘intentional living.’ I think minimalism came about later in society and it’s really just a summary word.
I prefer intentional living, because if you live intentionally, by nature it excludes other things.
I came to it from a shopaholic background where I could say that I was a shopping addict. I was medicating a really low sense of self-esteem and identity through my clothing and it was what validated me. First, because I am a woman [meaning, women are expected to love to buy things]. Second, because my zodiac sign is a Leo [meaning, I intend to joy luxurious things]. Third, because my mom is both of these things. And so she came about shopping the same way, communicating, ‘this is what women do. We buy things and then figure out where they go later.' It’s all about expression - who you are is what you wear and who you are is what you own. I confused and conflated the two.
By the time E and I came together, I was trying to ween myself off of low self-esteem and the habit of buying things to make me feel better, to assert my worth because I was confused of what my worth was. And E knew what his worth was and didn’t feel like things could help. So that’s where the two came together. I did a lot of learning about self-worth through E, because he’s unshakeable.
Chelcee: I think that journey is what we love about your relationship and how authentic that transition was for you. I believe when people think about minimalism or intentional living, it’s sometimes a scary thought because quite frankly, we like our stuff, we find comfort in it. What would you recommend to others who are trying to break free of those things?
Roe: So, I love things. I love clothes. I love beauty. I am a sucker for beautiful things and I really love speaking from this perspective, because I’m not one of those odd few who don't fancy shopping,” Roe laughs as she gushes about her loves.
“For me, what changed was that two things happened to me. First, I did development work in East Africa. I went to East Africa and saw what happened to all of our clothes. Americans giveaway so much in these shipping containers and send them to East Africa, depressing their textile economy. So everything you’ve ever worn like those shoes or that dress that didn’t fit, definitely your prom dress is being sold in a market in East Africa right now. There are aisles and aisles and aisles of it, I saw it with my own eyes and was just at a loss for words. What I learned in that moment was that there is another way. The other thing I learned right after that experience was how to live more sustainably.
Chelcee: And what happened next? How did you bring that back to the states with you?
Roe: I came across this blog challenge called “10 in 91 days” (wear only 10 items of clothing for 91 days) and when I first read it I was pissed. I was like, ‘these people are crazy! This is written by some white women and they don’t understand. No, I’m not doing it!"
In that moment I hear in Roe’s voice, the voice of my girlfriends anytime we’re considering a radical shift.
“But I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the entire week. I was in an argument with myself. And the last day I said to myself, 'Why don’t you? Let’s see what happens. And I decided the night before, I’m going to wear 10 pieces of clothing for 91 days over the summer in the Bay. It was a transformative experience! Not only did I think differently about my clothe but I would wake up and know exactly what I was going to wear and how freeing that could be. I kid you not, I had never gotten more compliments in my entire life!
I learned in that moment that it wasn’t about variety, which is what I was thinking it was, it was about color and it was about fit. And I didn’t understand that, I thought that the more things you could have the more creative you could show yourself to be but it wasn’t that at all. It was what I could do with what I had that made me look put together. People don’t notice if you wear the same thing over and over; they notice how put together you are. Those are two completely different things.
So, for people like myself who really love things, what came to me was a beautiful question that I asked myself: What does this mean to me now? And be open and willing to be surprised by the answer. We thought the answer was: ‘It means everything and I can’t get rid of it,’ but the thing is, it actually might not. It may have changed, and are we willing to let go?
For me, when I started down the path of minimalism or intentional living, intentional consumption, intentional dressing - what I got to do was give myself the best of things.
Before, I hadn’t given myself the best of things. I gave myself what I liked at the time, what I thought I needed, or what other people had.
Instead of asking myself: ‘Hey, what actually makes up a solid wardrobe of clothing? All of these things I bought on sale, did I like them because I cherished them or did I buy them because they were cheap? And it’s not the same thing.
Minimalism to me is the way I take care of myself. So that I can keep myself from this harsh cycle that’s not only emotionally harmful, but financially harmful.
Chelcee: And what would you tell folks to do to work on that internal shift? How do we start this intentional living internally too?
Roe: For those who are "journal-ers," I would take an hour of your day in the morning or the evening and I would put on a timer. I would begin to write out our first memories, thoughts and beliefs about things. Why is it that we buy so much? And to get really, really curious about those things because I think it helps to create an awareness around why we buy.
Write whatever comes up for you, whatever is true for you and begin to meditate on those things, read them over and then do a kindfulness practice at the end of it. You can do Ho ʻ oponopono, or something like it - it's a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation. We can do it for ourselves saying - I love you. I’m sorry. I forgive you. Although it’s simple, it’s really powerful because I think many of us hold a lot of guilt here.
So, the internal shift is to become aware, to understand, and forgive ourselves. And when we forgive ourselves, we invite a new context and a new path to be different, because now we have opportunity, possibility and we’re no longer hung up on all these things.
And then I would say, find a room or an area in your home and look at it. Ask yourself 'In what way is this space making me completely crazy? Are things the reason? I’d also ask: What do I need to be stress free? What do I need to feel great in this room? What do I need to feel abundant in here?
Chelcee: I love that process of reconciliation because I agree there is some guilt in the holding on and letting go process. What have you seen change from you and E's lives as you’ve let go and focused more on intentional, abundant living?
Roe: I think a lot of the change happened with me. In our lives, I’ll do a little re-thinking and reconsideration such as when I committed to my capsule wardrobe another time. I think E was able to see me give myself a lot more confidence. But, I’d also notice places around the home that were weighing us down.
‘This energy isn’t moving in this room because of this!’ she light-heartedly proclaims.
Then, I’ll take the things and I’ll move them or I’ll give them away and he’ll come into the home and the home really does feel different. It looks great, but I’ve become alive because I’ve done something to add peace to the home.
We created a sanctuary and it feels so good here.
Maybe our next transformation will be: What does it look like to live outside of these walls? What does it look like to live more mobile? And that might be our next step of development where we realize we’re not unencumbered by things but space,” she laughs.
If you’ve been following Erin and Roe, you’ll know this mobile life may be coming to a reality soon as they set their sights on possibly buying an old bus and transforming it with gentle cheers from their community. What resonates strongly about Erin and Roe’s commitment to intentional living is their commitment to not just themselves, but showing what self-determination looks like for their community as well.
Chelcee: On Instagram, we often see you give these “Simplicity Challenges” that ask followers to partake in a practice to build themselves for the better. I’d love if you could give BGIO readers who are interested in and excited about this idea of intentional living two challenges to try out.
Roe: This is truly a challenge, but consider a capsule wardrobe for the summer of 20-25 pieces that you could wear for three months… and these 20-25 pieces include shoes! But there’s no limit on accessories, there’s no limit on scarves, earrings. What would it look like to create a capsule for yourself for the summer where you loved everything and you could make multiple outfits? Could you give yourself the gift of that this summer?
Secondly, identify one thing you can do to your space to give you peace and then do it.
Chelcee: Nice! I’m definitely going to do both of those things and the capsule wardrobe gives me nervous excitement. So, Roe, is there anything else our community should know about you and E?
Roe: Just to come say hey, nothing makes us happier than to hear from our Instagram followers!
NOTES: I’d also love to give some stats. There’s two of us, we live in about 850 square feet, in the San Francisco bay area which is one of the highest income brackets in the entire nation - we don’t make nearly as much. Like, the average is $70,000 and we don’t come close. We’re well under 30 maybe $40K together, so we’re technically under the poverty line but we can’t feel it because our life is really expansive and we live abundantly on less and we feel great! I think that’s important to note because some people want to say, “Well, how is it they live in the Bay area? They make tons of money!” Mmmhhh hhnnnnnn, Roe holds a long moment of disagreeing.
“We don’t make tons of money! So, if we can do it, you can do it too! Fo’ sho!”
Chelcee Johns is a digital nomad, Detroit native, editor/content strategist and word & world-loving soul. She is based between Harlem and Detroit, and recently called Bali home for a year. Her passion for the power of the written word & highlighting often policed narratives has led her to work in publishing for the past 7 years with organizations such as Moguldom Media Group, Serendipity Literary Agency, the New York Times and writing for the likes of Ebony. In a rupturing political climate and blooming social change, BGIO is the place Chelc is able to create a community of safe space in our collective stories as Editor. She is empowered by the (inner)work! With that said, her self-care go to is journaling, prayer and meditation.