Slow living has become a big trend. But its essential message is about consuming less and taking a slower approach to everyday life.
Slow living is getting renewed interested during the pandemic. Suddenly the activities that once packed our calendars are cancelled and we’re left to reevaluate what’s really important.
Slow living is so mainstream that issues of Breathe are stacked in grocery store checkouts amid the usual tabloids. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is so popular that it’s sparked an upswing in thrift store donations.
Fast food outlets now offer vegan menus and countless apps help us meditate and reduce our online time. And who doesn’t have a reusable water bottle?
It seems everyone is striving for a simpler, more sustainable and meaningful life.
The push is towards simplicity – whether that’s decluttering or slimming down your itinerary for a more laid-back vacation.
On Instagram, hashtags like #theartofslowliving depict crumpled linen sheets and steaming cups of tea. They illustrate life’s simple pleasures meant to be savoured and enjoyed slowly. They might even inspire you to lay aside your smartphone.
But slow living is more than an aesthetic or a beautiful Pinterest board that’s often just as aspirational as the consumerism it claims to counter.
But the essential message of slow living hasn’t changed: slow living is all about consuming less and taking a slower approach to everyday life.
What is Slow Living?
Slow living is an approach to everyday life that goes from what you eat to how you plan your vacation. It’s a set of values that says faster isn’t always better.
Slow living isn’t a privilege for people who don’t have jobs, families or responsibilities. It isn’t only for those who can afford cottages in the country and linen sheets.
Slow living was born out of the slow food movement that emphasizes local and traditional cuisine over fast food.
When a McDonald’s wanted to open at the Spanish Steps in Rome in 1986, a group of Italian activists demonstrated and threw a big pasta feed to protest the commercialization of the historic site. They created a manifesto several years later and went on to inspire the slow living moment.
But while it’s ever-growing in popularity, slow living is often misunderstood.
Here are six key elements of slow living.
The meaning of slow living:
1. A slow approach to everyday life.
If you’ve ever worked in the corporate world – or just tried to get friends together for coffee – you’re familiar with the common refrain: “I’m so busy.”
The statement is sometimes spoken with a hint of pride because in our culture “being busy” means “being important.”
Society reduces our value to what we can produce – and what we can consume. In a world of status symbols, brands printed on t-shirts and endless WhatsApp work groups, slowing down is a “guilty pleasure.”
And then there’s the grind culture that glamorizes busyness and claims that working overtime and sleeping in the office means you’re passionate, dedicated and driven.
Slow living at work
Slow living is a rejection of that fast-paced life that glamorizes a mindless flurry.
A full calendar doesn’t mean you’re living a full life. A mad rush through your itinerary doesn’t mean productivity.
On the contrary. The constant meetings, buzzing notifications and coworker chatter that fill so many people’s workdays are the worst possible environments for the focus needed to produce meaningful results.
If you ever arrived at your office early and produced days worth of work in hours, you’ll know the power of undistracted work.
Slow living at work means focusing on the tasks that bring in real results and eliminating the busywork.
Slow living hobbies
A slow life means being intentional with your leisure time. It’s not about packing your calendar and attending social functions out of a sense of obligation.
It’s about learning how to politely say no – and being ruthlessly protective of your free time. And it’s about spending your free time doing what you’re passionate about.
We’re often flooded with obligations: birthday parties for colleagues we don’t really like, tennis lessons because our best friend is taking them too.
Taking a slow approach to leisure time means defining what really brings you joy.
This takes self-knowledge gained from exploring different interests and finding what makes you truely happy.
But most importantly, it means making sacrifices. Because those joyful activities can’t be packed into an already full calendar. Some things just have to go if you want more time.
And where does our time really go? Many of us claim we “don’t have time,” but we spend hours on our smartphones or in front of the TV.
Limiting screentime goes a long way towards making time for more fulfilling and enjoyable pursuits.
And you’ll find that these more meaningful hobbies will bring you better rest than passing out on the couch – even after a tiring day.
It seems counterintuitive, but your mind will be refreshed after tackling a “difficult” task in the evening. A night of shallow entertainment means immediate pleasure but it will only leave you drained if it’s not balanced with richer activities.
There are a few movements focused to richer and more meaningful ways to spend your free time:
The slow reading movement
Going against the push to devour information, the slow reading movement emphasizes a slower pace to get more nuance, pleasure and meaning from complex books.
The slow travel movement
With over-tourism and the rise of Instagrammable destinations, the slow travel movement is all about slimming down your itinerary and immersing yourself in a location to really get its culture.
2. Mindfulness, or being present and aware of your surroundings.
Mindfulness might seem very New Age, but it’s actually a proven tool recommended by psychologists to combat depression and anxiety.
Being present in your everyday life means cultivating habits like journaling or meditation that plant you into the present moment. These habits help you escape that endless internal dialogue of worrying about the future or ruminating about the past.
How does mindfulness relate to slow living?
A hurried life is the opposite of slow – it means rushing through the day without any intention or pleasure. Our daily lives then become obstacles to endure before the weekend arrives.
When you’re more connected to the present, you’re more likely to appreciate life’s small pleasures and gain perspective on your problems.
There are countless health benefits of mindfulness, too. It can help you manage stress, lower your blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and improve your sleep.
If you’re rushing through your day and hardly remember what you had for lunch, then mindfulness will help you to savour the moments.
Our world of constant information overload, pandemic anxiety and uncertainty about the future make mindfulness especially important now.
3. A connection to community.
Slow living means knowing how your lifestyle impacts the environment and the global community. This can mean supporting local farmers or connecting with locals for a more authentic travel experience.
Slow living is an antidote to a lifetime spent buried online and disconnected from people, in which communication is broken down into its lowest form of “likes” and Facebook comments.
Slow living means nurturing your local community and spending time on the relationships that bring value to your life. It’s about rediscovering the art of conversation and analog hobbies like board games or phone-free dinners.
It’s about being a good listener. And about cultivating friendships based around shared values and interests.
When we mistake social media for real communication, we’re left lonely and drained. When we travel only to photograph major tourist attractions, we’re doing a disservice to local communities. And when we consume with little attention to the consequences, we’re contributing to the exploitation of people, animals and the planet.
Slow living is about valuing real relationships and knowing that we’re all interconnected.
4. A commitment to purpose.
Slow living means focusing on impactful work and intentional living. It means crossing tedious “shoulds” off your calendar to focus on work that drives you forwad. And it’s eliminating pointless tasks to make time for what’s important.
But it’s also about purpose. Whatever choices we make are intentional. There’s no following the crowd or going along with whatever’s popular. Slow living is about knowing your principles and letting them guide your decisions.
It means using technology for a specific purpose and not just downloading the latest apps because you don’t want to miss out.
It means weeding out buzywork tasks that don’t move you towards a bigger purpose. And it means enriching hobbies and free time well spent.
5. Knowing that faster isn’t always better.
There are countless tools and gadgets from toasters to smartphone filters that promise quicker, easier and more dazzling results than whatever came before. Marketing slogans like “new” and “improved” have been used for generations to hook more customers.
But faster isn’t always better, and whether we like it or not – the best things in life can’t be rushed.
We’re wired as humans to take pleasure in work down with our hands, using skills that take years (and lifetimes) to develop into artforms. We may be dazzled by a Tweet or a time lapse video of a watercolor swirl, but that content isn’t as satisfying to the creator as writing a novel or painting a landscape.
Slow living isn’t about eschewing technology when it improves our lives.
But the best things in life require years of focus to produce those deepest insights and life-changing shifts.
Whether it’s Steve Jobs taking a “think week” off from work to only absorb information and learn, or George R. R. Martin disappearing into a wooden cabin with bad WiFi to work on his next novel, there are no shortcuts to producing brilliant work.
Though it’s not about becoming a CEO or writing best-selling novels. It’s about the satisfaction that comes with honing your craft without rushing to just get it done already.
6. Consuming less.
Slow living is about anti-consumerism and rejecting the view that material wealth brings happiness. It’s opting out of a rat race without a finish line.
A slow and intentional life doesn’t have to mean minimalism or monk-like austerity. It doesn’t have to mean a Scandi aesthetic and a home filled with beige basics and a capsule wardrobe.
But the pursuit of status symbols and material possessions is endless by design – and it won’t ever bring you happiness.
Slow living means being grateful for what you have and nurturing meaningful work, deep relationships and joyful leisure.
It’s knowing that retail therapy is only therapeutic for awhile and that people who are impressed with status symbols aren’t worth impressing.
Consuming less means you’re able to invest in more timeless and longer-lasting pieces because you’re consciously thinking through every purchase.
It also means you’re less likely to get crippled with debt and more likely to have some savings laid away. This gives you more freedom in the work you undertake. There’s no working overtime to pay off debts to pay for things you don’t really want anyways.
Instead, your money can go into what truely matters and on experiences instead of expensive gadgets and impulse purchases.
The art of slow living
Slow living doesn’t mean doing everything at a more leisurely pace.
Instead, the art of slow living is all about editing – and that involves making difficult cuts and saying “no” with grace.
Over the years, I’ve attempted to grow jasmine, rose and various bougonvilla on my balcony. I’ve also had several plants that have thrived. One day I asked myself: why waste the balcony space on plants that just never do well? So I took the few thriving plants and propagated them, then filled every available pot with their offspring. The balcony is now green and vibrant – and when I forget to water, it survives.
And that’s what the art of slow living is all about. It’s being self-aware (I forget to water sometimes) and critically examining what works in your life. Then it means doing more of what works.
Slow living means anything from streamlining your work day to cutting down on social media to make space for more purposeful work and meaningful leisure.
Piling more “slow living” activities (like yoga or reading) onto your packed calendar will only leave you frustrated.
Slow living means building your life around your priorities. This means ruthlessly editing and scheduling your time to make space for what matters.
Slow living tips
How does all of this translate to real life?
Here are my top 3 tips for a more mindful lifestyle:
1. Be aware how you spend your time.
Track your activities in a calendar for a few days and record what comes up. Very often we just don’t realize how much time we’re spending watching TV or scrolling Facebook. When we’re faced with the statistics, we’re often in disbelief. And the point of this kind of entertainment is to make you lose track of time.
2. Schedule in slow living.
Doing what you love (like watching movies with your partner or dabbling with watercolors) are things you should look forward to doing. Scheduling them in seems harsh – like it kills spontaneity and makes it an obligation.
But we don’t often spend time doing what we love because we haven’t made the space for it.
So schedule in a night for experimenting with recipes and make it a routine whether you’re tired or not. You’ll find that it’s hard to get going, but doing what you love will leave you invigorated afterwards.
3. Keep your expectations low.
We often make plans to meditate or journal, but then real life happens and a few days go by when we just didn’t have time. We get discouraged and we give up, telling ourselves we don’t have time.
But high expectations are often part of the problem. It seems ridiculous to commit to 5 minutes of yoga a day. So we schedule in an hour of cross training that goes great for awhile, but then becomes impossible to maintain.
Set yourself a low minimum for all your habits. If you want to start yoga, do 5 minutes of stretches and go from there. If you want to keep a daily journal, then write a single line every day and build on that.
When you’re exhausted or busy, take your habit back down to that minimum. Do 5 minutes of yoga, even if you’d normally do a full hour. This keeps your habits alive.
Slow living quotes
There are many different approaches to slow living. Reading the movement’s different voices offers insight into how slow living impacts all aspects of our lives.
Here are four of my favorite slow living quotes:
“It’s about knowing and passionately loving the things we value. And designing our lives to spend the most time possible enjoying them. It’s about having intention and consciousness in our activities. About escaping the mindless scrolling and unproductive multi-tasking and focusing on purposeful action.” — Kayte Ferris
“A fast approach tends to be a superficial one. But when you slow down you begin to engage more deeply with whatever it is you’re doing. Speed becomes a form of denial. It’s a way of running away from those more deeper, tangled problems.” — Carl Honoré
“Busyness is, at its core, about misplaced priorities.” — Joshua Becker
“I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity. And busyness the greatest distraction from living.” — Maria Popova
Slow living magazines
What’s more “slow living” than browsing a magazine in bed with a coffee?
Here are 3 of my favorite magazines on intentional living that will inspire you to slow down:
This mainstay on every hipster bookshelf, and Instagram aesthetic icon, is all about slow and intentional living. It began as a magazine about intimate gatherings and slowing down, and has now been credited with defining the millennial aesthetic with its curated shoots of avocado toast and drying laundry.
Cliche? Maybe. But there’s also some great content on slow living in those beautiful photos.
My favorite recent stories:
The Click Farm, about the astonishing popularity of pet influencer accounts on Instagram and their ability to bring us comfort.
Like Clockwork, a new column by Carl Honore, the “godfather of the Slow Movement,” on the tyranny of the ticking clock and the effects of measuring time.
Darling is all about real, unphotoshopped women and challenging cultural ideals of beauty, the oversexualization of women and the diet culture. There’s also “tangible, deep advice” on issues like depression and anxiety, and helpful articles on slowing down in your everyday life.
Erin Loechner is the author of the Christian memoir Chasing Slow, and her blog is a beautiful reflection on slow living, parenting and – more recently – life under the pandemic.
Design for Mankind is an eloquent and powerful voice on living simply, often reflecting on buziness, raising children and life expectations. Loechner is also a beautiful storyteller with evocative anecdotes.
My favorite recent stories:
State of the Blog (Sort Of), or Loechner on her sporadic use of social media and the connections she values instead. It’s also a look at how we communicate online, why we consume content and what purpose it should serve.
How to Slow Your Life is an atypical guide to slow living – there are honest reflections about the imperfect nature of life, and about making things easier on ourselves.
Emma is a New Zealander who went from overworked mom to a simpler life with less clutter, and more creating things and building connections. Her blog posts often touch on parenting and the role of the “superwoman,” the glorification of busy and clutter as a time thief.
My favorite recent stories:
Life Admin. How To Tackle It Without Going Crazy! is full of useful tips for those who procrastinate with the mundane everyday items on their to-do lists. From eating the frog first to letting go of perfectionism, this is an insightful look at what’s holding you back from getting things done.
When you want a career AND a slower pace of life is Emma’s no-nonsense guide to slowing down without thwarting your ambitions. From having strong boundaries to outsourcing household chores, this post is full of tips for everyone with a hectic day job.
Charlie is an interior designer in the Yorkshire hills who narrates her family’s journey towards slow living. Our Kindred is a relatively new blog that I’ve quickly fallen in love with full of heartfelt advice – and some gorgeous photography.
There are countless benefits of living a slower-paced lifestyle. Here are just a few:
saved money: whether it’s decluttering and being more mindful about your purchases, or focusing more on experiences over material things, living a slower-paced life is a good financial decision when you prioritize what’s important and stop spending money on what isn’t.
more happiness: slowing down makes you appreciate your blessings and the little things in your everyday life.
better health: when you slow down, you’re better managing the anxiety and stress that comes with a furious schedule. Embracing slow food and making time for movement sees even more benefits.
improved relationships: spending more quality time with loved ones and putting your relationships above your work or social media strengthens real communication.
increased productivity: from letting go of multi-tasking to focusing on meaningful work, slowing down at work can boost your productivity.
more time: by cutting down on time-suckers like TV or social media, you’ll find yourself with more time on your hands.
How to start slow living
Starting a slower lifestyle doesn’t have to mean a radical shift. It’s often the mindset shifts and small but consistent habits that bring the most impact.
Here are my top tips:
eat your meals mindfully: focus on the flavors and textures of your food, not on the TV or phone.
take regular technology breaks.
quieten the digital noise and limit your social media.
use your commute to meditate, listen to audio books or podcasts.
say “no” more often to things you don’t really enjoy.
Destination Simple is intentionally brief for overwhelmed people. It’s a very concise and practical introduction to slow living that opens with 7 ways to reduce busyness and overwhelm, including tactics like single-tasking, practicing gratitude and unplugging from technology.
McAlary, the host of the popular Slow Home Podcast, is also honest: making change in your life takes effort, time and energy, but the payoff is enormous.
This slim volume gives you simple and actionable tips to make slow living happen. There are also tactics to establish calming morning and evening rhythms that work best for you.
Seeking Slow is a beautifully photographed guide to slow and seasonal living by the creator of the blog Geoffrey and Grace. The book is full of gorgeous imagery and tips on setting priorities to make time for what matters most.
Barnes takes a holistic approach and offers insights on anything from how to travel more mindfully to ideas for leisure time. There are also activities for each season and crafts to make with kids.
Barnes writes eloquently on the role of self-compassion in slow living. And there’s an entire section on digital detox and strategies to keep the Internet from taking over your life.
Cal Newport is the author of bestsellers like Digital Minimalism and Deep Work, and is an incredible source on how to increase your concentration and do meaningful work in our increasingly distracted world.
His new podcast Deep Questions tackles all the issues he’s known for. And there are insightful interviews with experts on creativity, deep vs. shallow work, discipline and habits.
The podcast is often done in a Q&A format with Newport answering real listener questions about the challenges people face when trying to cut down their social media or increase their focus.
Essentialism is a new podcast from best-selling author McKeown. After leaving his wife’s bedside after the birth of his child to attend a work meeting, McKeown had an awakening and began to re-think his priorities.
Essentialism is for everyone who’s busy and stretched thin but not exactly productive. McKeown and his guests explore how to “do less, but better.” The episodes tackle issues like unplugging, getting the right things done and the fear of missing out.
There are invaluable lessons and fascinating conversations for anyone looking to slim down their schedule and make a bigger impact.
Jessica Rose Williams is a slow living writer in England’s Peak District writing about simple and intuitive living. She’s also a former shopaholic who reevaluated her lifestyle after a cancer scare.
Jessica’s content is about creating a slow and simple home. There’s also lots of advice on slow fashion and building a capsule wardrobe that will take you across the four seasons with some versatile staples.
I love her ability to learn from her mistakes. And Jessica shares great tips on her Instagram Stories from her everyday life that really work, along with mistakes and lessons learned.
Nanhe is a beautiful writer whose evocative language makes abstract concepts come alive. Living with her family in the Belgian marshlands, she writes about slow everyday moments, changes in the seasons and creativity.
Nanhe excels at bringing the slow living community together on Instagram with her live interviews and hashtag challenges. She also shares beautiful videos of her simple moments amid nature. From a picnic in the grass to watching her daughters dance to a morning spent writing, her Reels capture moments of joy and creativity.