Do you feel as if your life is too hectic, too busy, and yet too empty? Do you feel that you don’t get enough quality time with your family, that your kids are overscheduled, or that the days are passing you by without any kind of real connection? Or do you ever feel as if you’re so busy getting things done that you’ve forgotten how to get things done well?
Modern life endlessly pushes us to do more, buy more, and be more every day. We live by the maxim “faster is better.” However, all of our frantic rushing for “more” out of life comes at a high cost — to our jobs, the quality of our work, our health, our families, our finances, and our communities.
Many people are discovering that the antidote to this near-constant state of overwhelm is slow living. Put simply, slow living means living with more mindfulness and purpose. Slowing down allows you to reconnect with family and friends and have the time and space you need to connect with yourself.
Let’s take a look at what slow living means — and what it doesn’t — and how incorporating just a few of these ideas and habits can help you save money and live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
What Is Slow Living?
Slow living was born out of the slow food movement, which emphasizes the health and richness of locally grown, slowly prepared cuisine compared to unhealthy “fast food.” With slow food, cooking and eating is something to be savored and enjoyed with family and friends. It’s an act, a celebration, not a chore or a means to an end.
The slow food movement, which started in Italy in the 1980s, has gained popularity as the pace of modern life continues to speed up. And this concept of slowing down has naturally expanded into the rest of modern life. Slow fashion, slow parenting, slow travel, slow money, and slow medicine are all gaining popularity. Slow living is the umbrella concept that covers all of these.
Carl Honore, the bestselling author of “In Praise of Slowness,” defines slow living best when he says, “It is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about maximizing quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting to sex.”
Those three words, “quality over quantity,” sum up slow living perfectly. Slow living is about doing a few things very well instead of dozens of things with mediocrity. It’s about spending time with the few people you love most, instead of dozens of acquaintances you barely like. It’s about striving for balance instead of a mad rush to accomplish more.
What Slow Living Isn’t
You might be thinking, “I can’t move to a cottage in the countryside and start canning all my food; I have a job!”
The great thing about slow living is that anyone, anywhere can implement these concepts and learn to slow down. Whether you’re a busy stay-at-home mom, an overbooked executive, or something in between, slow living can help you experience a more meaningful life.
Slow living doesn’t mean doing everything slowly. It’s not about sequestering yourself from society or moving at a snail’s pace at home and work. Slow living means learning how to focus on the things that matter and then doing those things well.
Ironically, slowing down can help you get more done, and make fewer mistakes, because you put your entire focus on one task at a time. It’s the quality of your attention that matters, not how many things you’re trying to do at once.
The Benefits of Slow Living
There are a number of benefits of slowing down in your life.
Frugality is an important part of slow living because it puts the focus on experiences and relationships, not things. Instead of spending money on the newest fashion trend, you rely on your capsule wardrobe, visit your local thrift store, or buy a high-quality handmade piece that will last years. Instead of rushing out to buy the latest tech gadget, you realize you don’t really need it and instead save that money to follow a dream, buy a house, or pay for your child’s tuition.
Slow living can also help you save money indirectly because it helps you live a healthier lifestyle. You eat better food, have fewer illnesses, and experience less stress. This, in turn, can give you more energy to do your best work, follow your dreams, start a business, or achieve other financial goals.
Slow living can help you enjoy and appreciate your life more. When you have time and space to pay attention to what you’re doing, you’re better able to experience the joy and fulfillment of the moment. This can lead to a deeper experience and more meaningful relationships.
Greater Productivity at Work
Humans are surprisingly bad at multitasking. A study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies found that accuracy decreases the more people attempt to multitask. Another study, published in the Journal of Communication, found that multitasking decreases comprehension.
Slow living can help you perform better at work because you put your complete attention on the few things that matter, not the dozens of other things that don’t. You become more disciplined and productive in the right areas, doing the right work, and you learn how to leave time-wasting people and activities behind. This can help you accomplish more and avoid workplace stress and burnout. It can also lead to promotions and job opportunities that might never have come your way otherwise.
Slow living can also help you make better decisions. Instead of constantly reacting to situations and rushing on to the next activity or choice, you slow down and respond deliberately, thinking carefully about the choice you ultimately need to make. This allows you to make better decisions that will be more aligned with your morals and values.
How to Get Started With Slow Living
It can take months or even years to pull away from a hectic and overscheduled lifestyle and completely transition to slow living. Few, if any, people successfully perform such an about-face instantaneously. Instead, it’s better to focus on making a few small changes at a time. Find the tips that resonate with you and will work best for your family and implement those first.
Learn to Say No
All too often, we feel pressured to say yes to the majority of things that come our way: Yes, I can do that project. Yes, we can attend two birthday parties this weekend. Yes, I’d love to host Thanksgiving dinner…
But you can’t do it all, and the more you try to, the more empty, stressed, and dissatisfied you’ll feel. With slow living, you say no a lot more and say yes only to the choices that really matter to you.
It’s important to realize that when you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else you could be doing during that time. Thinking about a choice this way can help you make the right choice in each situation.
Learning how to say no takes some practice, especially if you want to do it gracefully and diplomatically. Professors Vanessa Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt, authors of the study “‘I Don’t’ versus ‘I Can’t'” who were interviewed in The New York Times, recommend starting your refusals with the words “I don’t.” The phrase “I don’t” can be more effective in excusing yourself from a commitment because it implies that you’ve set certain rules for yourself that have nothing to do with the person issuing the request or invitation.
So, if your colleague wants to get together for drinks Saturday night, you’d say, “I don’t go out on weekends.” If your local retailer wants you to sign up for their email newsletter, you’d say, “I don’t give out my email address.”
You can even use this technique with yourself to avoid overspending or buying something you don’t need. For example, if you’re tempted to pick up something purely because it’s a good price, try saying, “I don’t buy things I don’t need.” Say it quietly to yourself, right there in the store, and see how it changes your mindset and desire. It’s quite empowering.
Spend More Time Alone
How much time do you spend alone, without the distraction of your cell phone or television, each day? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “not much at all.”
One of the most effective ways to slow down is to spend time alone with yourself every day, unplugged and without any other distractions. You can use this time to try meditating, to be alone with your thoughts, or even to work on accomplishing some of your dreams. Writing in a journal can also help slow down your thoughts and help you find your inner voice.
Build Rituals Into Your Day
For many families, mornings involve a mad rush to get dressed, eat breakfast, and get out the door on time. Evenings are spent racing to practice, rushing to cook dinner, and trying to get homework done before bedtime.
It can be a real challenge to slow down this pace, and it certainly won’t happen all at once. One way to slow down with your family is to build a ritual into your mornings and evenings. Doing one small thing together every day can help everyone slow down for a few minutes and reconnect.
For example, one morning ritual might be to sit down with your family and ask everyone to share what they’re excited to do that day or what they’re worried about. You could spend a few minutes talking about what each person is feeling grateful for or a family member that each person is missing.
You can also start a morning ritual for yourself. For example, you could begin your day with five or 10 minutes of yoga, followed by a few minutes of meditation. You could write in your journal and outline the three things you most want to accomplish during the day, or the three things you feel most grateful for.
Or you could follow a routine like Steve Jobs’. Inc. Magazine reports that Jobs’ morning routine was simple: he’d get up, make his bed, shower, and then look at himself in the mirror. With eyes locked, he’d ask himself, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?” If the answer was “no” too many days in a row, he knew it was time to change something.
Last, consider using the routine developed by Shawn Achor, Harvard professor and bestselling author of “The Happiness Advantage.” According to Inc. Magazine, Achor’s routine only takes 23 minutes but can dramatically improve your outlook for the day, as well as boost your productivity by over 30%. Here’s what it involves:
- Write down three acts of gratitude. Think about what you’re grateful for and write these things down.
- Journal one positive experience. Write down one positive experience you had yesterday or this morning.
- Exercise. Go on a quick walk, do some pushups or yoga, or even weed your garden. Even a few minutes of exercise will make a dramatic difference in your mood and energy level.
- Meditate. Observe your breath going in and out for two minutes. This helps you learn to be more present and to focus on one thing at a time.
- Express kindness through text or email. This is the most important ritual of the five. Write something positive to someone else, praising them or thanking them for something they did. Do this for a different person each day.
You might think you don’t have time in the mornings or evenings to build a routine. But a routine doesn’t have to take a ton of time, and it can be a powerful way to slow down and reconnect with yourself and your family.
Start a Garden
Starting a home vegetable garden can be another way to slow down and practice mindfulness. Working in a garden encourages you to spend more time in nature, which has been proven numerous times to be more restorative than spending time in urban environments. A study published in the journal Psychological Science, for example, found that walking in nature can help improve your attention.
Even looking out the window more can help you slow down and boost your mood. A study published in the journal Environment and Behavior found that looking out the window, especially at nature, contributes substantially to people’s feelings of satisfaction and well-being. So instead of eating breakfast while you catch up on the morning news on your phone, sit and look out the window. Put up a bird feeder and watch the birds. Better yet, take your breakfast outside and eat on your porch or in your garden.
A home vegetable garden also puts you in control of your food supply. When you grow your own food, you can choose to limit or avoid the use of pesticides. Locally grown food is also more tasty and delicious than food that’s been shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. Eating mindfully and choosing local ingredients are important parts of slow living.
Cook at Home
Slow living is a natural extension of the slow food movement, so it only makes sense that cooking at home using healthy, local ingredients is an important part of decelerating your day and living more mindfully. Cooking at home, especially if you cook with your kids, can become an important ritual in itself, giving all of you the opportunity to take a breath and reconnect at the end of the day. It’s also a great way to save money because it’s often far more affordable than eating out.
That doesn’t mean you have to cook at home from scratch every night, which can seem impossible for many families. Start with one or two nights a week and slowly work your way up from there.
Cooking at home doesn’t have to be complex. It can be as simple as making macaroni and cheese with fresh vegetables. But whenever possible, your meals should include at least some fresh, locally grown produce. There are plenty of ways to save money on produce aside from growing it yourself at home, such as shopping at your local farmers’ market and only buying produce that’s in season. You can find out which produce is in season through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Another way to get healthy, affordable, locally grown produce is to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. With a CSA, you buy “shares” in a local farm and get a weekly vegetable delivery during the entire growing season. The produce in each delivery varies depending on what’s in season, but you get a fairly wide variety from most farms. Joining a CSA can help you save money on groceries and eat more fruits and vegetables throughout the week.
If you find it hard to devote time in the evenings to cooking a meal, try using a pressure cooker or slow cooker. These appliances can help you create a healthy, home-cooked meal with a minimal amount of prep.
When you’re ready to eat, sit down at the table and eat on a real plate. Ask everyone to put away their devices so you can all focus on the taste and texture of the food you’re eating, as well as each other’s company. Put on some music and eat slowly. Ask each person to talk about something they’re proud of or grateful for.
Practice Slow Parenting
If you have children, you know how very quickly they grow. One moment they’re babies, and the next, they’re off to high school. It’s a bewildering paradox of days that seem to last forever and years that pass with the blink of an eye. With slow parenting, you focus less on doing things with your children and more on simply being with your children.
Slow parenting means something different to each family, and there’s no right or wrong definition of what it entails. For some families, slow parenting means having dinner together at least three nights a week. For others, it means limiting extracurricular and enrichment activities so everyone has more time to just hang out and play together. Some families might decide homeschooling is the best way to slow down and forge a deeper connection with their children.
In an interview with The Boston Globe, John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Available Parent,” says that parents need to take time to really watch their children. Take a few minutes to watch them play or do their homework. Remind yourself how special and remarkable they are. This short “time out” can help you slow down and remember how quickly their childhood will be gone.
Another way to practice slow parenting is to find ways to spend time together without buying “stuff” or overscheduling your kids. Parents are often all too eager to buy their child the latest, greatest toy or enroll them in an activity that will look good on their college applications. But the goal here is to give your children less “stuff” and more time — time to explore and discover, time to play, and time to be bored.
When it comes to building relationships, the best thing you can give your children is your time and attention. Pay attention and focus on what they’re saying, as well as everything they’re not saying. Sometimes all they need from you is a listening, undistracted ear.
Last, consider practicing minimalism with kids and paring down their toys to just the ones they love and play with most. Fewer toys and possessions can allow for deeper, more creative play. It can also free up more of your time since there are fewer items around the house to clean up.
Slow Down Your Commute
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute time in the United States is 26 minutes each way. However, in some regions, such as eastern Pennsylvania and the New York City area, these times are much higher — 38 minutes and 35 minutes, respectively. And 1.6% of workers now commute 90 minutes or more each way to work.
You might not be able to eliminate your commute, but there are ways to maximize your commute time so you arrive at work feeling peaceful, productive, and ready for the day.
First, look for ways to turn your commute into a healthy activity. Could you walk or bike to work? Could you ask your boss if you can telecommute one day a week? If you take public transportation, get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way to work; you’ll boost your energy level and mood and get some great exercise.
Next, think about making a more drastic change, such as moving closer to work or finding a new job closer to your home. Sure, it sounds a bit extreme. But in an interview with NPR, Dan Buettner, author of “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” says that eliminating your commute is the “happiness equivalent” of a $40,000 raise. So it might be worth it to pick up stakes and move closer to your job.
If you can’t cut out your commute or make it shorter, find ways to make peace with this travel time and try to use it productively. Listen to informative or funny podcasts, take up a hobby like knitting if you use public transportation, or listen to audiobooks that you want to listen to (rather than personal development books you might feel like you should be listening to).
Another trick to make your commute “slower” and less stressful is to leave earlier. When you leave earlier, you don’t feel as rushed, and you have more control over your time. You can stop and get some coffee or take a few minutes to sit in the park on your way to work. Taking more time to get to work will help lower your stress level and put you in a better mindset for the day.
Take Time to Notice Others
How many times have you checked out at the grocery store without ever really acknowledging the person helping you at the register? Or barely looked up from your phone or tablet when your children enter the room?
Katherine Schafler, a New York City-based psychotherapist, writer, and speaker, outlines four questions that Maya Angelou says we all ask each other unconsciously — though we rarely, if ever, ask them out loud.
- Do you see me?
- Do you care that I’m here?
- Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
- Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
When the answer to these four questions is “yes,” it means our love, our basic humanity, and our ability to connect with others (even complete strangers) is working. When the answer to these questions is “no,” distance and disconnect develop between us.
As Schafler so eloquently writes on Thrive Global, “Whether it’s your kids, your colleagues, your partner, or really anyone in your community, when someone feels genuinely appreciated by you, it’s because you treat them in such a way that affirmatively answers each question pretty consistently. It’s because when you look at them, you actually take the time to see them.”
One of the benefits of slowing down is that you have the time and awareness to acknowledge other people in your life, whether it’s someone you hold dear or a complete stranger. You can take time to truly see them and appreciate them every day.
More Easy Ways to Slow Down Every Day
- Be mindful of how much media you’re consuming and try to reduce it. That might mean watching less television (or getting rid of your TV entirely), reading fewer articles on your phone, or spending less time shopping online. Dedicate one day each week as “screen-free” and instead spend time on a hobby or with your family.
- Drive slower. Go the speed limit, take the scenic route, and don’t respond to other people’s road rage.
- Try making something you’d normally buy at the store. Learn how to make jam, knit a scarf, bake a loaf of bread, bead a necklace, slow-brew coffee with a percolator — the ideas are endless. Making something yourself takes more time, but it’s more rewarding, and more affordable, than buying it at a store.
- Practice listening better. When someone is speaking to you, give them your full attention instead of planning what you’re going to say next or thinking of something else entirely. This is called active listening, and it can make you a better friend, spouse, partner, parent, and colleague.
- Read one poem every day. Poetry requires slow reading in order to be understood, and it can be transformative when you find a piece that speaks to your soul. You can find great poetry at PoetryFoundation.org.
- Breathe. When you find that you’re speeding up and reacting to situations instead of responding to them, stop and take several slow, deep breaths. This can help you calm down and refocus your attention.
If you’d like to learn more about slow living, head over to the Slow Your Home blog. The slow-living Australian family behind this blog has a hugely popular and informative podcast that can give you more inspiration to slow down. You’ll find the podcast “How to Combine Simple Living with Kids” especially useful if you have children. You can also pick up a copy of Erin Loechner’s book, “Chasing Slow,” or visit her blog, Design for Mankind, for some beautiful essays on the art of slowing down.
The pace of life only continues to increase, and so does the pressure on all of us to do everything we can to keep up. The only sustainable way any of us can survive this stress is to slow down.
Slowing down doesn’t mean “bowing out,” isolating yourself, or shirking your responsibilities. It simply means making more of an effort to be truly present and aware of the things that matter. It means appreciating what you have instead of longing for what you don’t have. It means giving yourself, and your attention, to those you love most. It means saving your money to spend on the things that really matter and make an impact, instead of wasting it on trivial things you will soon forget.
Where would you like to slow down in your life? What could you cut out or trim down in order to do so?