Slow Living - what it means to me

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin with a story.....

Once upon a time I worked in a market garden and plant nursery. Everyday I wore dirty, mud splattered waterproofs and if it had rained or been windy, I looked like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards. The work was hard, often monotonous and yet fulfilling in ways that I could never have imagined after years of working in retail and arts management. One day a man came into the nursery driving a swish car, dressed in expensive clothing and reeking of aftershave. He looked me up and down , taking in my bedraggled apppearance and then started a conversation that revolved around him trying to impress me with his wealth, his lifestyle and his status.  He was trying to sell his new project which was something to do with a local school although I can't actually remember what he wanted now. Somehow we wandered onto the topic of clothing and he made a passing remark that his family never ironed anything, they simply went out and bought new clothes and threw out the un-ironed ones (this was absolutely not a joke and he was completely serious). I was astonished that he thought I should be impressed by this. Half the world is starving and he thought this was okay to just chuck stuff away? He didn't even donate it to charity. And then at some point during this conversation the penny dropped  and I realised - he had no job anymore. He was now unemployed and was trying to wheedle his way into making money out of a primary school. He had created a life that wasn't real and from the fear in his eyes, their dream lifestyle was going down the toilet. It was truly a conversation that opened my eyes - that people could be so obsessed with keeping up with the joneses and they simply couldn't see what was really important in life. 

Since I had that conversation, I've made some big changes in my life. Previously I was a firm believer in buying more stuff - more clothes, more magazines, more cake, more things for the home, just more and more and more. The Hermes delivery man practically became one of my best friends he was at my door so often. I equated purchases with happiness, thinking to myself if I just have this top I'll look amazing, I really do need the latest edition of this lifestyle magazine or I'll pick up this DVD with the grocery shop and we'll have something to do tonight. Instead of thinking how much stress this put on the family finances, I continued to buy and buy. Cupboards groaned with stuff to the point if you opened them things would fall on your head. Now I don't live like that at all. I've stopped buying things we don't need and I've started to look after the things that we do. I've decluttered a whole lot of stuff and I'm happier and more positive about things than I've ever been. I've chosen a simpler and slower pace of life and it's one that suits me perfectly.

I've been thinking about the topic of slow living a lot lately. From a chance comment I made on Facebook a few weeks ago about what irritated me on Instagram (the same images over and over, the copycats, the ripped off heads of flowers to style around teacups - these seriously annoy me) led to a wave of comments from friends who said they were bored of the 'slow living brigade' and had even chosen to unfollow many of them. I felt a little sad as I regularly write about and follow a lifestyle that is 'slow' but there was definitely a feeling of slow living becoming a style, a trendy fad and ultimately a 'brand', the new hygge if you like. The marketers have grabbed hold of it and twisted the concept and I've seen several online retailers recently branding 'slow living' as the next big thing and a range of products you must buy in order to adopt the lifestyle. From artisan pottery, leather fly swatters, watches to alpaca socks, these are not what slow living is about at all, these are things to make your breakfast prettier or keep  your feet warm at night. The sheer number of hashtags devoted to slow living is pretty overwhelming and most are overrun with pictures of people wafting about in linen aprons among flowers or sipping endless cups of coffee in trendy cafes. It's becoming the done thing on social media to use one of the hashtags or write a caption to fit the concept. Don't get me wrong, I do love those images and so many are beautifully styled and photographed,  but many of those are Instagrammers who use their feed as their photography portfolio. And to an extent it's why I have an Instagram account as it allows my writing and photography to reach a wider audience.  But let's be clear, most of these images and I include my own in this, are not what slow living is about at all.

So what is slow living then really? Well, essentially it's about working out what's important in our lives and it starts by asking yourself a few questions - how you want to live your life, how can I make these things happen and how do I want to leave this world for my children? Often many people are doing all these things and simply aren't calling it slow living because they believe they don't fit with that look and style or that they are too busy to go slow. People who have busy lifestyles can still be living slowly - as Brooke McAlary from 'Slow Your Home' says "sometimes you've got to go fast in order to go slow". Working from home I have busy weeks, then quieter weeks and that works well for me. The quieter times give me the opportunity to do other things - work on a goal, plan a project, improve a photography technique or work on the house and garden. Now before anyone thinks that I can do this because I've got a rich husband, you'd be so wrong. He works for the NHS in Tissue Donation doing long hours for crap pay but ultimately what he does helps people. What money I bring in goes towards home improvements or a holiday. As a family we've made the decision that this is what works for us. We don't live in a luxurious house or drive a fancy car. We don't eat out very often, preferring to cook at home with local, fresh and seasonal ingredients and this helps to support our local shops and community. Being vegetarian we eat no meat or fish but do consume dairy although we're also aiming to eat more vegan dishes which are  more ethical and environmentally friendly. We recycle, we use up all leftovers and reduce waste as much as we possibly can. We try to drive less and walk more. We save up for what we need to buy, we have no credit cards (having got rid of them years ago) and our motto is 'if you can't afford to pay cash, you can't afford it' (this wasn't always the way and it's something I've had to learn to do and yes is it really hard but completely necessary for a recovering shopaholic). We have a monthly budget for food, clothing, entertainment etc and we stick to it. I declutter regularly with a one in one out policy.  I have a 'capsule' wardrobe of twenty pieces (not including underwear) which I love as they are all pieces that I wear over and over and I now only replace something when it needs replacing. When I do buy something for my home it must fit my 'how to shop' policy and I have a similar take on clothing - it should be ethical, made of natural fibres, preferably manufactured here in the UK and it should last for a long time. Maybe this doesn't sound like a lot of fun to you and honestly, sometimes it isn't fun (especially when the new catalogue from Toast comes through the letterbox), but doing all of these things means that we can plan and save for a future that we never would have been able to achieve if we'd carried on buying things that sadly would inevitably end up discarded or tossed in the back of a cupboard. I try to be mindful, I swim three times a week and as a family we head to the moors or woods for long walks on weekends. I have a cleaning rhythm that I follow to keep on top of the housework and I use natural cleaning products wherever possible. Most important of all is that it has allowed us to become a much stronger family unit and that's the best thing that has come out of learning to live a slower and simpler life. 

I wanted to write this post as a way of highlighting the differences between Instagram slow living and the reality of living a slow and simple life. Social media tricks us into thinking everyone is living amazing lives, jetting off to exotic locations, drinking flat whites in trendy coffee shops and floating around in botanical gardens. But it's not reality, it's a created illusion and an unhealthy addiction. On several occasions recently I've been asked to connect with 'social influencer' companies who love my Instagram feed and want to pair me up with brands who will connect with my audience. I haven't said yes to a single one of them even though it would provide me with some extra cash. And why not? Well, firstly I don't consider myself as a social influencer (in fact I loathe that terminology) and I don't want to see any adverts on Instagram let alone create them. Secondly, not buying things myself simply means it doesn't fit with my ethos to sell stuff to my audience. I have an Instagram account because I love taking photographs and I want to share those images. I want to be inspired and hopefully inspire others too. Only this week I was delighted to see that one of my pictures had influenced an artist to create a painting inspired by it. How amazing is that? I try to disconnect as much as I can, as escaping from social media is one of the best ways to live a slow and simple life. Deleting my Twitter account a few months ago has been a revelation and I won't ever return to it. There is way too much hatred over there.  Earlier this week I was listening to the podcast interview with James Corden. It was a really fascinating and funny chat and it was so nice to hear how down to earth James is about his success. When asked how he juggles his busy schedule with his family commitments he responded - 'I sometimes stay in the car in the driveway those extra few minutes and finish dealing with my emails. Then I turn my phone off, walk through the front door and that's it, my family is my focus, nothing else'. I loved him for that. 

Slow living isn't about buying things or looking a certain way, it's about making decisions that benefit you and your family long term. It isn't a fad, it isn't a marketing gimmick, it's working together to achieve your goals. It's about living a life with intention and with purpose. It's not a quick fix solution and a co-ordinated Instagram feed. It's about accepting where you are now and making gradual changes to help you on your journey to living a life you deserve. This is what slow living means to me. 

Great resources/advice on following a slow and simple life:

The A - Z of Simple Living by Brooke McAlary (This is a PDF download).