Slow living is all about finding space in your life for the little things, about saying no to the things that don’t matter so you have more time for the things that do. It’s about rejecting the cult of busy, the idea that we must always be doing something else, something more, and instead savouring the simplicity of a cup of tea by a sunny window or an evening walk with the family.
At it’s core, it’s a practice of making space for the things we value and rejecting what we don’t. It’s also about leaving room for the spontaneous pleasures in life, like a midweek dinner out with your partner or a lazy Saturday morning with a good book.
What to do, then, when the day is full of rushing from one thing to another, but they are the things we value?
Take my Mondays, for instance. I get home from work around half-five, and after a quick dinner I’m out the door by half-six for a couple of hours at the dojo. By the time I’m home again it’s after nine, so I have a snack and a shower and then I’m in bed.
It would be easy to blame my job for taking all my time, but in reality financial stability is something I value, and at this stage in my life a 9-5 at a company I like and with coworkers I get along well with is living in accordance with that value.
All that time I spend rushing from one place to the next on Mondays is spent living in accordance with my values, but it’s not slow by any means, and it’s something I know I couldn’t sustain for an entire week.
The question, then, is how to find slowness when life is busy.
I think this is the first step, and arguably the most important. You’re not failing at slow living because you have a busy day, a busy week, or even a few busy months. You’re not even failing at it if busy is your life’s default setting, because you’re building a business while working a full-time job, or you’re a single parent caring for your elderly mother.
If you’ve looked at your life and can honestly say that the things taking up the majority of your time are things you truly care about doing, things that genuinely add value to your life, but you’re still spending time rushing from one thing to the next — that’s okay.
It’s a rather privileged form of slow living that requires you to have the free time for a leisurely morning cup of tea, a mid-morning bath, and then a long walk along the moors in order to be doing slow living ‘right’. I don’t say this to be critical of people whose version of slow living looks like this, but to remind us all that not everyone’s life is laid out in such a way where this is a possibility, either now or in the foreseeable future.
Slow living is about stripping away the unnecessary things in life, but there’s no rule as to how much time you should have left over after you’ve done so. And it’s the people who lead the busiest lives who benefit the most from the small moments of calm in the everyday. If a long afternoon walk along the moors isn’t a possibility, then perhaps five minutes on your lunch break is enough to help calm your mind and reset your thoughts.
Take a higher-level view
Perhaps your weekdays are busy, but your weekends are free. Or, like me, a few of your weeknights are busy, but the others aren’t. If this is the case for you, then work around it.
For instance, I hate rushing in the kitchen. I don’t mind cooking when I have the time, particularly with some good music or a podcast, but I hate being rushed to finish before I get too hungry or because I have to eat before I go to karate.
So I batch cook.
I used to loathe batch cooking. Spending ages in the kitchen, trying to keep track of three different things, then spending even longer doing the washing up, and you don’t even get the reward of eating it at the end, because it all goes in the fridge for later? Not my cup of tea.
But I’ve found a way that works for me. On the evenings I’m not busy, I cook dinner, and I make sure there’s enough for leftovers. Then for lunches and my busy evenings, I can just reheat the leftovers, perhaps throw a salad together or roast some veg for a bit more volume, and my food’s ready to go.
This means that between getting home from work and heading out again I have time for stillness. Rather than coming in the door and going directly to the kitchen, I can settle down with a book for half an hour or have a cup of tea and chat to my husband.
Likewise, I do the washing up right after dinner on these days, so the kitchen is clean when I get home and I can have a more leisurely bedtime routine (as leisurely as doing the laundry and wolfing down a post-workout snack gets, anyway!).
Find pockets of stillness
Ten slow breaths, five minutes of yoga, fifteen minutes of reading before turning the lights off — even in the busiest day, it’s possible to find a moment or two to yourself. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long yoga class or an afternoon reading marathon; just six minutes of reading can reduce stress (it’s worth noting that this study was commissioned by a campaign to give away books, but I think we can still take something from it). I always read a bit of a novel after I go to bed. It can be anywhere from five minutes to over half an hour, depending on how tired I am when I climb into bed, but it really helps me to wind down and relax.
Even just paying attention to the smell of the flowers and the rustling of the leaves instead of striding home from work with your mind on your to-do list can help; it doesn’t take you any longer to get home, but it allows you to gain a sense of stillness and calm.
Another thing I really like doing is listening to podcasts at work. It helps block out all the noise and distractions of the work environment, which I find so mentally draining, and I really notice a difference on the days I’m busy in the evenings; I’m more willing to do housework or cook dinner right away when I get home rather than feeling the need to sit down and relax and recover from the overstimulation of the office.
Podcasts also help because they allow me to devote a little corner of my brain to whatever it is I want to pay attention to, but can’t because I’m working. Sometimes I find it hard to focus on work because I can get really invested — obsessive, really — about my particular interests, and all I want to think or talk about is That One Thing.
But I find that if I listen to a podcast on intentional living or creative writing it helps feed that obsessive beast enough that the rest of my brain can focus on coding, and I end up being less easily distracted and more focussed at work than if I just try to power through and ignore That One Thing that I’m interested in.
A final note
At the heart of slow living is an appreciation for the present moment and a rejection of the pressures of society to do and be things that are inauthentic to our true selves. While this often leads to more unstructured time in our lives, and this is often regarded as a positive of a slower lifestyle, that doesn’t mean that if your life is busy you’re doing slow living wrong or you can’t have a slower lifestyle. You absolutely can. It just won’t look the same as it does for someone with fewer commitments.