Welcome to a brand new series on the blog…
I’m keen to show that there isn’t only one way to live as a minimalist. Contrary to what many of us think, there are no rules, only similarities, between those that choose to live a life with less. It can and should be for everyone who wants it. And so, as I am fortunate enough to know many wonderful souls living simply, I thought that I could introduce you to some friends. My hope is that they inspire you, wherever you are on your journey.
Meet Louise Barkas of @thecalmfolk An inspiring woman with a calming presence, who teaches me often how to be mindful with myself, along with my family. I love everything The Calm Folk represents. And as for Lou, her take on intentional living, along with her interview gave me goosebumps - especially the line “for the first time in my life I feel awake.” I’m about to ground my feet into the earth and refresh my white walls after this gah. So settle down with a cup of tea, as I think you are going to love Louise and all she has to say!
Can you tell us a bit about you and your family. Where do you live, how old are your children and how do you spend your time?
I live in a village called Earsdon (pronounced ‘Errrsdon’) in the North East of England, on the outskirts of a coastal town called Whitley Bay. Although the town is only an 8 minutes drive we feel like we are miles from anywhere. It is so peaceful and quiet, with a real sense of community amongst fellow villagers. I live with my wonderful husband and our French Bulldog Claude. My children are both adults now, 22 (Hollie) and 19 (William). Hollie lives in Manchester, after graduating she decided to stay put, very much enjoying city life. William is at Plymouth University (furthest away from home) and very much enjoys marine life – he’s an avid surfer.
In my spare time I like to visit the sea, watching sunrises a particular favourite, although a lot less frequently in the summer, (4am rises). There is something so mesmerising about watching the sun pop up over the horizon, listening to the waves, and being on the beach when most are asleep in their beds. I like being outdoors in nature, with my husband and dog, listening to birdsong, walking along the coast and often head north to Bamburgh – another northern coastal village. I love meeting up with my friends for decaf lattes and cake in Tynemouth.
Can you tell us a little about the incredible work that you do?
By day I’m a Children’s Mindfulness & Wellbeing Coach, working with parents and teachers to create a calmer environment for little ones. The Calm Folk was established in response to a growing need to develop children’s mental wellbeing. Having worked in Education for around 25 years I saw a huge increase in children with anxiety, and a lot more children sensitive to the school environment. I felt the fast pace of family life as a contributor, everyone in ‘doing’ mode, rushing from one task to the next. Stress is everywhere, whether at home or school and children pick up on this, despite parent/teachers trying hard not to let it generate into the home or classroom.
I also think too much time on computers, tablets, phones, tv, versus not enough time outdoors, being creative, playing and exploring doesn’t help. So I initially trained as a Relax Kids Coach, predominately working in schools, subsequently added children’s mindfulness & mental health training to incorporate The Calm Folk, a calmer way of living for families and children.
My classes/programmes/workshops are created in response to need, so if I have a number of requests for bedtime routines, I will create a bedtime workshop. Or if schools require an exam stress / or staff training workshop, I will create a workshop around specific topics. My summer camps or family retreats are purely to encourage children & families to get outdoors, in nature, learning how to be mindful whilst having fun. In each session I aim to equip children and parents with a set of simple, yet effective techniques for developing skills in mindfulness & relaxation. I believe being calm, relaxed and with a positive mindset are the keys to good mental health, self-esteem and emotional resilience. I want children and parents to feel calmer, happier and empowered, with skills to help them face the stresses of modern life.
What brought you to simplifying and how did you get started on this journey toward a simpler life?
Simplifying for me is a continuous journey, but one that was started out of necessity. When Hollie and William left for University, I decided to leave work and start up my own business, which meant a drop in salary. So we made the decision to downsize and move to Earsdon. Downsizing meant removing a lot of the ‘stuff’ we’d collected over the years - mostly mine. I was a shopaholic in a previous life. I loved nothing more than buying; living for payday so I could consume the many items I’d seen in the countless fashion / home magazines I’d purchased each month. Moving to the village removed us from a busier maximalist lifestyle and almost transformed us into minimalists overnight.
What methods did you use to declutter and how long did it take until you were happy with the amount of stuff that you owned.
I have always been ruthless with decluttering. Ever since I can remember I’ve always subtly rearranged, hid or tidied my parents home to create a feeling of calm. (I’m a highly sensitive person so have never liked clutter). Every season I always discarded items in my wardrobe that I’d not worn for 6 months. Always regretting throwing away items in one of my ‘decluttering binges.’ This time however was slightly different. I had just finished reading ‘Chasing Slow’ by Erin Loechner and followed the William Morris Method, ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or beautiful’.
I also did her ‘dip your toe in the lake method’ with some items relegated to the loft to see if we could do without them. Which of course we did but I would say it took a year to be completely happy with this new way of living. Having less took a lot more adjusting for Hollie and William. Sometimes they wish we had more. Which I totally get; most of their friends and family don’t live a minimal life. But I hope we are inspiring them to at least consider a different way.
Did you sell or donate your things, which would you recommend and why?
We donated most of our things to local charity shops, and bigger items we gave to family / friends or sold at a local car boot sale. I don’t think there are any hard or fast rules to be honest, just take your time and go with what you feel is right for you and your family.
Are your family on board with living with less and how have others reached to your need for a simpler life?
Hollie and William are definitely adjusting to the idea of living with less. And are much more on board with my simple life. They said they couldn’t live like this permanently, however but enjoy coming home as it’s very calming and relaxing. Jonny still wishes he had a bigger TV (for watching Stranger Things haha…)
I think the hardest part, is that we have very mixed views from friends, having turned down nights out, weekend breaks that no longer felt aligned to our new way of life. Jonny and I are both introverts, and although this simplified life suits us perfectly, it’s not the way for most of our friends. So at first we felt a little isolated.
When friends first visit they are amazed at how little we have in our home, curious as to how we manage without the so called ‘essentials’. But after a while their thoughts change to amazement at how our tiny home appears to feel more spacious than their much bigger homes. How we have created a much more calming, relaxed environment.
What is your weakness with minimalism if you have one?
I’m obsessed with white. Minimalism is different for all of us, but to me it has always been about creating a sense of calmness within the home, and to me that calmness is white, or neutral. I don’t allow colour, which can sometimes feel a little clinical to the untrained eye... ha
I also find I enjoy the company of trees & birds rather than people (jokes, (kind of). Being outside in nature is my absolute ideal and the more I adopt his simple life the less time I spend with humans. I rarely socialise in groups these days, preferring the company of one or two friends.
How do you deal with things coming in, especially with work?
Earlier I mentioned this minimal, simplistic way of living as a continuous journey… well lately I have had the opportunity to to re-evaluate. The last 9 months have been anything but slow and simple. My business skyrocketed and the first thing to go was my slow pace. I spent so much time simplifying my coastal community, home/school environments that I neglected my own. This resulted in me being overworked, stressed, and eventually burnt out, accumulating in a slipped disc of which I’m still recovering.
Growing my business is no longer my priority; my focus is on creating a ripple effect, a gentle nudge, not shouting from the rooftops where I recently found myself. I’m looking at alternative ways to spread The Calm Folk message to children and families whilst looking after my own mental wellbeing.
Minimalism is a practice, I think it’s like any skill, it has to be learned gradually, not just a good idea it’s a way of life. I think its important to go with the flow and not be too hard on yourself. Just take the time to be a little more conscious when it comes to buying things. If I have to buy an item of clothing I ask myself could I wear this at least 30 times? And when one item comes in another one goes out. For example, I’m going to a wedding next month, and I rarely wear dresses. Only owning two. (My wedding dress and Hollies graduation dress) I really don’t need another so If I don’t wear the graduation dress for the wedding (it’s a possibility). I will sell it and replace with another.
How has simplifying changed you?
It’s change me for the better. I appreciate the simple things in life, see extraordinary in the ordinary, which I feel is a gift, not everyone has the time or headspace to notice these little things that make up life. I notice tiny things like heart shaped clouds, beautiful birdsong, and sounds of leaves blowing in the trees, the smell of rain. Where once I would notice nice houses, nice cars, nice clothes, shoes and accessories. I find myself less anxious, more accepting of my introversion, less judgemental, more compassionate, happier and free… For the first time in my life I feel awake.
What does minimalism mean to you?
Freedom!!! I’m not there yet, but I am in the right lane heading in that direction. My life is simple, slow and a lot more meaningful. I have the time, space and freedom to appreciate life itself, not the material possessions I have in it. Its not that I don’t ever buy anything, I’m just a lot more conscious about it. This quote from The Minimalists sums up what I feel about minimalism … ‘a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favour of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfilment, and freedom.’
What advice would you give anyone in the beginning stages of decluttering and wanting a minimalist life?
There are so many different methods of decluttering, try one that suits you most. I’m tempted to say don’t over think it, just go with the flow… However don’t attempt it all in one day, start with a drawer, progress to a cupboard, and finally a room. Take your time; notice the difference to the room you’ve just decluttered. It will feel calmer immediately, I guarantee. If you’re a little bit cautious or incredibly sentimental try the ‘dipping our toe in the cold lake method’. Pop items away in the garage or the attic, see if you can do without them, (you will) and once you’ve let go gradually, its easier to let go permanently.
For an introduction to minimalism watch The Minimalists on Netflix. I LOVED everything about this docu-film, and I signpost everyone to it when they are considering an alternative way of life. It’s a great place to be inspired. Then I’d say follow people on instagram, build up a little community, even better if you can find like-minded people locally who are on your page. I found/find this toughest, we very much live in a maximalist world so it can feel a little lonely at first. Thankfully I have a best friend now who has recently embraced minimalism, its great to share our stories, are ups and downs, for which there are few.
And finally what are your future plans and hopes and dreams, I’d love to know?
Because I never want to run myself into the ground like I have these last 9 months - Running from school to school, home to home, skipping lunches and evening meals my dream is to get some of my work online. I haven’t thought too much about it, as initially this year it was to extend The Calm Folk team, with several coaches to help me through exam season. But after slipping my disc and having this time to reflect, I’ve had a total change of heart. I would love to write a blog, create an Ebook? Create a wider Calm Folk community, whilst retaining calm within myself.