My home is an eclectic mix. I still have furniture from when I first moved out over 30 years ago. it’s now matched with castaways from friends, a sofa I found on Kijiji, and chairs from Habitat Restore. My dining room table was the one I grew up with in my parent’s house, and I have a cabinet that my son made in high school woodworking class. But when people come over they don’t notice all that. They see a place that they can be comfortable, and put their feet up. My latest project is making my kitchen more sustainable. I’ve been obsessed with collecting glass jars from the local second-hand store and filling them with bulk foods. Again, like the veganism, I get an emotional connection every time I open or even look at a jar. I feel like I’m doing something for the environment and it’s so aligned with my principles. I’m not plastic-free, but I am working towards it. How does all this relate to slow living? Again, it all comes down to meaning. Our house is a reflection of who we are, our kitchen is a reflection of our principles. We are less concerned with what everyone else is doing or thinking, and are more concerned about our own authenticity. It’s all a bit harder — buying in bulk takes more work, and washing glass jars and bowls has to be done carefully! But we do it because it has meaning to us.
I have a very busy job. I have to travel, I have to work with a lot of different personalities, and I have my finger in a lot of different projects. Every day is different and unpredictable and I’m pulled in several directions all day long. Slowing down work is the only way to keep sane. Some strategies I’ve used are: single-tasking (ignoring all else until the job is done), checking email only periodically, asking people for deadlines so I can plan out my time, and being selfish with my own time. (SEE Slowing Down at Work). Running my job as though I own it, and not allowing myself to be buffeted by the winds of others. I find that as long as I’m responsible and responsive, and I take the time to cultivate relationships, then I earn respect, and that respect gives me the freedom to work at a pace that is meaningful to me. I teach rather than tell, and try to lift others up. More than anything, I don’t worry about the things I can’t control. I keep the big picture in mind, but bring my focus to what I can do that day. I also honour my own personality. I’m a huge introvert and I’m slow to process things — so I keep lots of space between meetings and I try to do as much as I can over email and in person, rather than on the phone. It has only been through slowing down and noticing my patterns that I’ve been able to see what works for me.
I’m grouping a lot of things under love — romantic relationships, friendships, parenting — but that’s because to me, slow love always boils down to the same two principles, no matter what the relationship — respect and kindness. Above all, respect the person you are with. In romantic relationships, too often we try to change the other person, or we take their actions as a personal affront. In other words, we make everything about us. It’s the same thing with parenting. As parents, we often try to control our children, and we believe that how they act is a direct reflection of our abilities. Rather than gently guiding our children, and respecting their own individual needs and quirks, we impose our own sense of right and wrong, of “shoulds” . And these have been borne out of our own experiences, so we believe them to be true. But we need to step back and let others shine. Treat them with kindness. What happened if we treated those we love with kindness every day? What if we made it our mission to make everyone, including those we love, feel like they are important? When we slow things down, this becomes easier. We get out of our own heads and start to pay more attention to what others need. We stop imposing our own needs on them. This doesn’t mean that we lose ourselves. On the contrary, we act in a way that we ourselves would like to be treated. Think of it this way — do you respect people who demand that you do things their way? You may follow orders or rules, but that’s out of fear or submission. Why do we treat our relationships that way? We need to show respect to get respect. We respect the needs of our loved ones and they will respect ours. We treat them with kindness and we get treated kindly. Trust me on this one.
So you could argue that if you hop on a plane, go to a warm destination (perhaps even an all-inclusive where everything is done for you), and lay on a beach all day, you are travelling slowly. After all, what could be slower than having zero responsibility? But that’s not my definition of slow travel. And after all, this page is all about me :). To me, slow travel is about getting to know the places you go, getting to know the people that live there, and making connections with your fellow travellers. It’s travelling with a light footprint,and making a small impact. It’s coming home with rich, deep, meaningful memories. I have a lot of those. Like the time a woman overheard me wish hubby a happy anniversary, and showed up at our table moments later with a cake. Or the time we visited the Grand Canyon and our B&B hosts told us of a wonderful spot off the beaten path. It’s not about the pace, although we try not to pack too much into our days. It’s more about slowing down and making connections — speaking to people, getting to know them, absorbing the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of wherever we are. And coming home with deep, everlasting memories.
Of course there is a whole slow food movement. And the principles are eating healthy, eating fresh, eating locally. Sitting down and enjoying a meal slowly amid good company. I adhere to this as much as possible. Dinner in our house has always been a sit-down affair, even on our most hurried days. If you only do one thing, strive for that. I’ve also been a vegetarian on and off for 30 years (on for the last 10), and have been a vegan for over a year now. Since becoming vegan, I’ve developed a love of cooking (who knew?). I enjoy eating healthy and knowing what’s in my food. It feels authentic and — you guessed it — meaningful. I don’t take my diet lightly. It forces me to be aware of what I put in my mouth — not because of some artificial rules around what I should eat, but because I’ve made a decision to eat in alignment with my beliefs. So being a vegan is actually easy — I have no choice. I try to buy local whenever I can, and for me that’s about making connections and supporting my community. Slowing it down so that food and eating become a deeper experience. I’m not saying everyone should be vegan (I’m totally saying that), but that we need our eating to reflect who we are. It should feel authentic and not mindless. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy treats or social outings — not at all — in fact, these things hold more meaning because they’re carefully chosen.
You probably expect me to say that I”m a minimalist. And while I am working towards decluttering, I’m not a fan of having a prescribed number of items in my closet. Here is what my minimalist journey looks like in a nutshell: I don’t have much in my closet, not because of some imposed rule but because I always dress for comfort. So I have a few pieces that I love and that I wear a lot. What has always been more important to me is that I dress for myself and not others. So I don’t stress if people see me in the same outfit. I doubt they even notice! I will say this, though, pretty much my entire wardrobe is second-hand . And when I do buy something new, it’s because I haven’t been able to find it otherwise. I love second-hand shipping, and it allows me to switch stuff up when pieces no longer suit my needs. I get a lot of pleasure from clothes. I love the way a thick sweater hugs me on a cold day. I love that the Sorel boots that keep me feet warm in winter make me smile — with their red stripes and lime green laces I think of Dr Seuss everytime I look at them! I love that my [vegan] Doc Martens make me feel kind of kick-ass strong and that my Converse sneakers give me that old-school vibe. I buy my clothes based on what makes me feel good, not look good. I don’t impulse buy, and I pass everything back to the second-hand shop when I’m done with it. So to me, slow clothing is less about a number and more about connecting with what I’m buying.
I purposely am not calling this exercise, because I don’t actively exercise. It’s obviously not a bad thing, and it can be a part of a slow life if it’s done mindfully, it’s just that I prefer to just incorporate activities I enjoy into my lifestyle. Hubby and I practice yoga together, we walk, hike, canoe, kayak, swim and paddleboard. To me, slow movement is anything that keeps me active and is done purposefully. So when I practice yoga, I do it — drumroll here — slowly. I take time with my transitions rather than let momentum carry me. I listen to my body and don’t do anything I’m not ready for, and I really try to focus on my breath at all times. When I kayak or canoe, I connect to something bigger than me, and pay homage to my beautiful natural surroundings. Whatever I do, I try to make it mindful, honouring my body in the process and consciously deriving as much pleasure as possible from it.
I have a daily meditation practice. And while I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation, I’ll just talk about how it slows me down. First of all, it’s a huge tool for me when I’m feeling stressed or struggling with a problem. It helps me put things in perspective by either reminding me of what my priorities are or gently coaxing me to surrender. It allows me to slow my thoughts and clear that jumbled mess a little. I still get carried away — I’m a huge overthinker — but for that 30 minutes I know I don’t have to think or do anything. And there’s the difference. It’s a few moments of peace, and the more I practice, the more I look forward to just sitting with no expectations. How much slower can you get? Of course, meditation is a formal branch of mindfulness, so it does give me awesome training in paying attention to every area of life. But the bottom line is, if nothing else, it forces me to sit and get to know myself. And that is the greatest gift.
My job is all about technology. I’m a business analyst, and I took for ways that technology can help people do their jobs more efficiently. I used to think that meant I had to find ways to help people do their jobs faster. Now I’m shifting my mindset. I’m realizing that the technology should not be used to make things faster so that we can keep doing more. Instead, we should use it to bring more quality to our lives. On the job, that means using technology to do the easy, mundane stuff while making room for employees to bring their real skills to the table — their ideas, their experience, their talents. Make room for quality. Think about that now in context of our own electronics., starting with our phones. They are amazing tools. I can’t imagine not having mine to communicate with my kids when they’re away. Or to look up directions when we’re lost (i.e., whenever hubby navigates) or to make arrangements to meet on the spot. Sure, we could do stuff old school, but why knock the convenience when it’s there. Having said that, we need to be careful it doesn’t take over. We can restrict our social media so that it’s not a huge time suck. Making sure that it’s still about quality over quantity, and that we’re not focused on the number of likes or followers but rather on making meaningful connections. That we’re not putting our self worth in the hands of others, even strangers. That we’re not slaves to our phones, answering calls or texting when we’re around real people. I am not a fan of social media because it’s a rabbit hole that I don’t want to go down, so when it comes to technology, I try to stay in charge.
You can see a theme emerging from all of this. To me, slow living means living meaningfully. The first step is becoming mindful of what you’re doing. Paying attention to how you’re living your life. Then deciding what has meaning to you and aligning your life to that. It’s not easy, but once you get a framework in place, everything makes more sense. Once you start slowing down in one area, it becomes easier to do so in others. And once you start choosing quality over quantity, you’d be amazed at how rich your life can become.
I hope that this blog will give you some ideas of your own. I hope that the free resources will provide some tools. But more than that, I hope that you keep trying to slow down. That you persist in building a slow, meaningful life of your own. Your happiness depends on it.