Slow Living - simple ways to start
Let's start this post with a definition - Contentment - a state of happiness and satisfaction. I've realised fairly recently that this is what I feel these days - contented. I never used to think like that but all of a sudden this feeling has snuck up on me and shouted 'boo!' in my ear. Over the last few years I've been adopting a simpler, slower way of life and made some big decisions as to how and where I work and what I choose to spend my money on. I'm a shopaholic (correct that, a recovering shopaholic) and I stumbled across slow living when I needed it most. Making changes hasn't been an easy process by any means and truthfully it was very difficult to modify some of the habits of a lifetime. But it's been totally worth it as I feel calmer, less envious, less stressed, less guilty, less worried about the future and of course, content with what I have and what I have achieved. I didn't really expect this to come from simplifying and living slowly. Yet that's what has happened and I know it's changed me for the better. Many of us are looking for some answers to some pretty big questions, whether it be through financial struggles, ill health or emotional well being. Slow living can help to ground you and to see things a little differently.
We grow up believing we should aim high, achieve more, earn more, buy more, spend more. Things should be bigger, better, faster, newer. We fear that we are missing out and that everyone is living better lives than us. That we should be entitled to the house of our dreams, exotic trips away, a lavish wardrobe and state of the art gadgets. Yet let's be honest, we're not. Many of us are living well beyond our means and sadly I've been there myself. But through making some big changes and adopting a simpler approach I've dug myself out of that hole and I'll never fall down it again. In my son's school several children have lost their homes due to their parents debt. This is not in a poor area, this is suburbia where the land of the Audi and the BMW roam, where keeping up with the Joneses is the norm. These are kids where foreign holidays are expected and designer brands of clothing are demanded. These are kids raised on fast food, technology and influenced by 'celebrities' and vloggers. I don't raise my son like that and luckily he's turned out kind, sensitive and keen to look after the planet. He isn't interested in designer clothes, cheap fashion and fast food. It's been explained to him that these things aren't good and that there are other ways to live. Last week his form tutor asked every student what they were buying their Mum for Mothers Day. My son answered with 'nothing because she doesn't want anything' and he was promptly told that he was a terrible son and should at least go buy me some flowers and chocolates from the supermarket! He came home sheepish and double checked with me that I definitely didn't want anything, which of course, I didn't. But it made me kind of mad that every kid was expected to buy something and that consumption was the answer to showing someone that you cared. I wanted to share this story as I know a few years ago I more than likely would have have fallen into this trap too. I thought buying things was the answer to all of my problems but the reality was it was the cause of most of them.
I know that many of you want to make changes and adopt a simpler, slower life and it's my goal to spend more time this year trying to pass on what I've learned. If you are at all puzzled about how I define slow living then please do read the post 'What Slow Living Means To Me' that I wrote in Spring 2017. And let's be honest here, slow living is for everyone, not just those who live in the countryside, raise chickens and grow their own veg. Most of us don't live like that. Most of us live in busy towns or cities, lots of us struggle to get the kids out of the door in the morning and off to school only to sit in traffic jams or take crap public transport to get to work. I know I'm writing this from a privileged point of view, not financially to be clear, but as I am lucky enough to work from home, I can make my own hours and choose which jobs I want to do. This is only a recent change of lifestyle as for years and years I was that person stuck in a crap daily commute going to a job I loathed. But each change that I've made has taken me to a better place in my life and that's what I want to pass on. I want to stress that I'm by no means perfect, I've a long way to go and that's okay. My life will always be a work in progress and that's one of the most important things to understand. Above you'll see the words of Leo Babauta from the blog, Zen Habits and I think these pretty much define the meaning of simplicity and living more intentionally. They are a great starting point for anyone wanting to begin their slow living journey but I don't think anyone can achieve these immediately and it takes both commitment and willpower to get to where you want to go. We're all at different stages and places in our lives, yet we can all choose to live a slower, quieter, more contented life if we're prepared to put in the work.
If you are keen to make changes and follow a slower, simpler way of life but haven't got a clue where to begin, then I've focused on a few of the key ideas from Leo Babauta and slightly adapted them below. They are all quick, will save you money in the long term and are more about adopting better habits and less about getting rid of all your possessions.
less television, more reading - I'm not going to lie, I love television. Watching a box set or streaming a movie gives me great pleasure and I wouldn't dream of giving it up. So I'm going to say less technology, more reading is the key to living slowly here. Many of us stick the telly on and only half listen as we pick up our phones and scroll through social media accounts, check our emails for the umpteenth time or start browsing through online shopping sites. Put your phone somewhere you can't reach it and properly pay attention to whatever you are watching. You'll probably be missing a great movie or tv show if you are not engaged in it fully. If you are a regular reader of this blog you'll know I love to read and I tend to get through a book at week, often more. I don't read through the day, only at bedtime. The key is to either turn your phone off, leave it in a different room or do what we do - turn off the wifi overnight. It's simply using up electricity you aren't going to use so why waste it and add to your bill?
start simple - want to reduce your time on social media then check your phone's battery usage - it tells you what percentage of battery is used by each individual app. Shocked by what you've seen? I know I was! Aim to get those numbers down. Also, the more you use the battery, the more your phone needs charging. Think of it as money trickling through your fingers simply by scrolling through the rubbish on social media.
less shopping, more outdoors - Shopping used to be my hobby. It probably is for a lot of people but now I get no pleasure from it. That doesn't come overnight and it can be very hard to break the habit. If online shopping is your nemesis as it was mine, then my best advice is to create a secret Pinterest board. Stick anything you like into that board and come back to it in a day or two. Chances are you won't like it as much as you thought you did. If it's a sale item and you are worried that you might lose out on it, be strict and also stick it in your Pinterest board. If it sells out, ask yourself are you really that disappointed? Probably not if you think about it. If it's actually visiting the shops or going to malls then it's often a case of going cold turkey. Instead of shopping go for a walk, head to a cafe and meet a friend and wander round a local park. Lunch hours in the city centre used to be the thing that did for me. It was way too easy to spend my time shopping for more stuff. Try these instead:
start simple - aim to get outside for half an hour a day. If you work in the city or a town and are likely to go shopping during your lunch hour, take a wander to a park, a public space or a gallery instead of hitting the stores. Or if it's a nice day, simply sit in the sunshine and eat your lunch outdoors. There is nothing nicer than the feeling of sun on your face. If you are at home, sit in the garden or take a walk around your neighbourhood - take time to notice the little things. I try to do this most days and it clears the head and gets me moving too.
less clutter, more space - This does work and it also makes you feel so much better at home. Yet dealing with all the stuff can be seriously overwhelming and many of us simply don't know where to begin. Often there are sites shouting at us to be minimalists, to get rid of everything you own, to only keep things that bring you joy and whilst they are full of good intentions they don't work for everyone. I'm not a minimalist by any stretch of the imagination. I like stuff. What I didn't like was that everything looked okay on the surface but if you opened a cupboard or a drawer it would be highly likely that it wouldn't shut again. Hidden crap would spill out everywhere and made it harder to find things I needed - a screwdriver, a paintbrush, a roll of parcel tape, the cookery book I knew a certain recipe was in. I knew I had them yet they were always buried under ten tonnes of other crap. Now my cupboards and my drawers open and close properly. Unnecessary stuff has been dealt with and things that we use all the time have got their own allocated spaces. Ok it sounds so obvious doesn't it? But ask yourself how many beauty products do you have in your bathroom that just sit gathering dust or taking up space? How many kitchen utensils do you have that you never, ever use? Have you lots of half opened bags of sugar or flour and out of date spices hanging about in the back of your kitchen cupboards? Small steps lead to bigger changes down the road. I haven't finished decluttering by any means and truthfully, I've a long way to go before it's all done. It's a work in progress and that's okay. But having less clutter and more space is a great feeling.
start simple - aim to clean out one drawer or cupboard a week. Look at bathroom cabinets, kitchen drawers and cupboards, cleaning supplies or first aid boxes. Have you a magazine pile that is tipping over? Ask yourself when was the last time you ever picked one up and looked at it? If it's been a while, recycle it. Dealing with the little things first is a great first step to being more organised and having more space in your home.
less junk, more real food - one of my major bug bears. I hate cheap food. I hate fast food. After working at the market garden for seven years I learned so much about food production. The sheer amount of mental and physical effort that goes into producing fruit and vegetables is staggering. I buy all my fruit and veg from our local farm shops and the city market. I can buy more or less everything without any plastic waste too. I also cook everything from scratch. Now I'm not saying any of this to brag and you could also assume that I can do this because I work from home. Yet even when I worked in arts management (which included evening shifts), we always cooked from scratch, mostly because we love to cook. Yes, good food costs a little more but the difference in flavour, taste and knowing where it comes from is more important to me than saving a couple of quid. And if I was to buy cheaper stuff I'd have to drive to several different places to get all that I need and that's where it simply isn't cost effective. Real food is always where it's at for me. Over the next few weeks and months I'll be sharing some of my favourite, quick and easy plant based evening meals on here as well as some practical ideas for packed lunches.
start simple - instead of hitting the supermarket for your fruit and veg, head to the local market, farm shop or farmers market. You'll be able to buy fresher, often locally sourced and reduce a lot of packing too. Check out big barn for details of where you can find local food suppliers in your area. If you do have to hit the supermarket for your shop then try to pick things that aren't wrapped up in lots of plastic. Broccoli, leeks, aubergines, peppers, apples, pears, oranges, tomatoes etc can usually be bought loose.
less driving, more walking - I used to love driving. I loved sticking a tape into the cassette player and taking a road trip. I found it relaxing and it cleared my head. Now it's a bloody nightmare. Too many cars on the road, too many selfish drivers with bad attitude and too many traffic jams everywhere you go. Stress, stress, stress. I try to avoid it as much as possible. As I've been doing the Louise Parker Method for six weeks one of the goals is to walk 10,000 steps a day. It can be hard to achieve this if you don't move enough so I've been making the effort to get out and walk at least 6000 steps a day and everything else on top adds up to the 10,000. Doing this has made me enjoy walking so much more as I've taken the time to appreciate the seasons and notice the little things that you wouldn't ever see if you were driving. I get my groceries on foot from the supermarket, my veg from the farm shop and sometimes just go for a wander around the park. Fresh air does me the world of good and I stick a podcast on to listen to as I walk. Recently I've been walking the three and a half miles to Leeds city centre as it's a nice walk along the canal towpath. I don't have to worry about finding a parking space or paying the ridiculous parking charges and I can take the bus or train back home for a fraction of that cost.
start simple - instead of driving to the supermarket for only a few items, walk. Most of us aren't very far away from one if we live in a town or city. Take a sturdy bag that won't dig into your fingers for the return trip as there is nothing worse than constantly having to switch bags from hand to hand! I generally use my back pack basket which takes a lot of stuff and is super comfortable to carry too. Alternatively, head to the hills or a local nature reserve and spend some time looking for signs of Spring.
less focus on the future, more on the present - this is a biggie and a hard one to talk about but I think it's important to be brutally honest. I used to think about the future a lot of the time, in fact I agonized over it. Sleepless nights of anxiety as my mind was so focused on the future. I felt guilty that I might never be able to provide a better future for my son, that my husband and I were stuck in the reality of debt and would never be free of it. I believed I was a failure in so many ways and that others would have much better lives than I ever could. Getting out of that mindset is so hard but as I've slowed down and simplified a lot of these thoughts have deteriorated. We have no debt now, we have a savings account instead. I'm mindful of what I spend money on. Getting rid of a lot of stuff in the house and being more organised has allowed my mind to quiet down too. Hearing other slow living bloggers and podcasters talk of how they changed their lifestyle helped me tremendously and I'm forever grateful for discovering them and the valuable lessons they passed on to me. Now I can see a future for us and it's a good one. Maybe not what I'd dreamed of originally but that's totally okay as I'm a different person writing this today and I have a very different set of goals. My focus now is on making everyday a good one. Working hard, taking the time to notice the little things, paying attention to sounds, smells and daily activities. My mind is free to not worry so much about all the things I don't have and focus on all the things I do.
start simple - if you are anxious about the future then it's time to do something about it. I recommend reading the blog 'Be More With Less' by Courtney Carver, watch the documentary 'Minimalism' on Netflix where they have an honest discussion about how we buy stuff believing it will fill a void and listening to the wonderful Brooke and Ben on the Slow Home podcast. I've learned so much from all of these great teachers on the true value of simplicity and slow living. If you are worried about money and how to get rid of debt then spend some time reading the wise words of Cait Flanders who got rid of $30,000 worth of debt in two years and she has lots of helpful advice.
I do hope you find some of these ideas useful and are able to put some into practice. Simplicity and slow living are different to us all as we all lead different lives. It doesn't look a certain way on Instagram or follow a checklist. It is a way for us to quieten our minds, to readdress our priorities and to live better. You just need to start.
Top right image is a free download from here.