real life minimalists interview

photo of Jo Bennett sitting next to a lake in Autumn.
From rural to urban, and back.

[this post was originally written for  Francine Jay’s site, January 2015]

Taking charge

It was about fifteen years ago when I felt the first shift toward simplifying my life. A primary relationship that was proving to be a drain on my personal resources required new boundaries. Like with any change, there was a sudden dip in energy as I coped with my decision but very quickly it revealed that I am the guardian of my contentment. This was an important lesson about standing up for what I need and discovering freedom by saying “No”.

Simplify and all will be well?

From then on I slowly restructured my life with a ‘quality over quantity’ mantra in reference to friendships, diet, hobbies and possessions.  Every year I would make changes in my work: I improved time management, went paperless, made better use of technology and streamlined information processing. However, no matter how much I focused my life, encounters with mild depression were increasing and I developed what I call an anxiety ‘habit’.

Reduction is just one side of the minimalist coin

There was something cathartic about this reorganizing yet I found myself sometimes feeling bereft of joy and magic. I could breathe when I looked at the clean uncluttered surface of a table for example but it did not make me smile. I started to notice that I was not noticing my life! With few barriers to block my view, I could see that I had further work to do. It was at this point, about four years ago, that I started sharing my journey via my blog Minimalist Self.

Giving myself permission to soar

A message I glean from the design world is that minimalism is not about reducing expression. Rather than just appreciate that a space is empty, I can also contemplate what beauty has been revealed as a result. Through mindfulness I have found ways to pause and grab a hold of such wonder. On a tangible level, we have a rule in the house that when one thing comes in, something goes out. This is a conscious way to welcome inspiring objects that contribute to a soothing environment. For mental relief I created an exercise called ‘No Gadget Night’ [ ] that allows me to sit in visual and auditory quiet so I can relax, have wonderful conversations with my husband and we sleep much better! To connect with my soul I follow a daily routine I call ‘Four Joy’ [ ] ; this is when I register deep observation of tiny moments that make me laugh and feel happy. Overall I am experiencing more optimism. Essentially, I am letting in more light.

A new outlook

Especially as a self employed person, it is through the lens of minimalism that I contemplate my ‘life work’: this refers to my money making activities but also my efforts to give back to my professions and contribute to my communities. But most of all it guides me when taking care of loved ones and myself. Through coaching and my studies in positive psychology, I have explored empathy and compassion, and have forged resiliency through courage and action. All of this instils a stronger sense of self worth. Not everything goes my way and I still feel blue sometimes but the perspective of ‘less is more’ does make things easier. I can honestly say I love my life!