Real Life Minimalists: Jo Bennett

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

Today, Jo Bennett, a Canadian minimalist with a life coaching and organizing practice in Toronto, offers us a deep look into the psychological benefits of simplifying. Visit her blog to learn more.

Jo writes:

Jo Bennett

Jo Bennett

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!

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

9 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Jo Bennett

  • Sophie

    maybe you would like the book “Loving what is” by Byron Katie.

  • Your talk of your “life work”, as you call it, reminds me of “right livelihood” in Buddhism.

    Gadget-free evening is a lovely practice!

  • Jo

    First, thank you Francine for putting up my post!

    Sophie, thanks for the book reference. i will check it out.

    Country Mouse, it is interesting you reference right livelihood. My understanding of that principle is to work in a profession that ‘does not harm others’ and to be mindful of how the job makes you feel. This fits, but not just with the money making career but with all the other life work such as taking care of family, voluteering at a child’s school, becoming skilled with a hobby and yes, finding ways to rest. My clients sometimes refer to their 9-5 as something to get away from – need ‘balance’ – yet all waking moments connect with each other to support the choices we make. Balance to me is seeing it all as one picture and then determine how that vision satisfies or not.

    The No Gadget Night – I love doing this! If you click on the link in the post, you will find interviews I did with folks trying out a NGN. Their stories are great! :-)

  • Tina

    I worked as a public aid caseworker for more than 20 years and found it very entertaining and rewarding. When it stopped being fun, I took early retirement. I also worked 17 years part time for the Census Bureau as an interviewer. I find when I enjoy what I do, I do a good job and the day goes quickly. Also I like jobs where you dress office casual.
    Being a minimalist gives you more freedom to choose what you want to do.

  • Jo

    “Being a minimalist gives you more freedom to choose what you want to do.”
    Yes, Tina I agree! Clearing the deck so you can see where it is you really want to go. And when you do what serves you best, that welcomes in optimism and joy.

  • The look of a decluttered space does more for my mood than I would have thought possible.

    And I’m also one of those people who choose a job they love instead of the most lucrative one.

    Happiness is there! :-)

  • Tina

    At one point I had a choice between a better paying job and one with much less stress. I should have stayed with less stress. The next time a decision came up, I chose less stress. money doesn’t matter if you live frugally.

    • Hi Tina!
      Wouldn’t it be great if we could get both more money and less stress? :-) But if we have to choose, my experience tells me the reduced anxiety is far more important than the money. I guess we have to go through both to know what is meaningful for us.

  • Tina

    I was talking to my friend who isn’t able to retire because her husband can’t work due to health problems. I wanted to tell her to cut way back and set her kids–in their 30’s– free. but being a minimalist or practicing simple living is an individual’s
    Choice. I know people who are helping their grandchildren with college expenses. Some people take on more debt than others.

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