Slow living isn’t exactly synonymous with city life. But it’s definitely possible. Here are the best tips for living a balanced life in a big city.
Think slow living and you probably picture a countryside cottage and an organic herb garden.
That’s the aesthetic that Pinterest often shows us.
And many slow living writers often move to the countryside to get away from the big city corporate life. Their books and YouTube videos are inspirations for more intentional living.
But that’s not always the reality for the rest of us with jobs and responsibilities in the big city.
The vast majority of humans live in big cities. And a quiet, countryside life isn’t always an option.
And so slow living turns into a weekend indulgence and a faraway dream that doesn’t fit into our everyday life.
But how can slow living work for you, where you are? Even if you’re in a small apartment with noisy neighbors?
I live as an expat in Cairo, Egypt – one of the world’s busiest cities that’s notorious for traffic and noise.
But I’ve found my own path towards a slower and more intentional life.
I’ve worked to fill my days with more meaning and less busywork. And I’ve made efforts to cut down on social media and turn my slow morning routine into a daily habit.
Of course it doesn’t always work. And slow living doesn’t mean you’ll never have a hectic yet strangely unproductive day.
But I’ve gleamed some life-changing lessons along the way that helped me turn my slow living aspirations into a realistic lifestyle.
So what exactly is slow living in the city?
Slow living is all about taking a slower approach to everyday life.
It can include anything from eating mindfully to planning a vacation off the beaten path.
It’s a set of values that says faster isn’t always better.
Slow living is not just a privilege for people who don’t have real jobs, families and responsibilities. It isn’t just for those who can afford cottages in the country.
Slow living an invaluable tool that helps us to manage stress, stay grounded and remember our real priorities in life.
It’s a mindset that puts depth and meaning over speed and consumption.
So here are my top life-changing tips to live a slower and more intentional life – even in a big city:
1. Make your home a sanctuary
When you live in a fast-paced city, you want to come home to a restful space that’s a sanctuary from the outside world.
A clean and clutter-free environment lets you recharge from the demands of work, kids and everyday life.
But a space that’s stuffed with clutter just adds to your anxieties and your to-do list.
Here’s how to create a comfortable home that will help you slow down:
Declutter your space in short but regular sessions to keep it neat even when you get busy.
Choose a few beloved items to display. A clutter-free space should still be beautiful – not empty or stark.
Keep your home clean and realize the impact it has on your mental health. Dust and piles of laundry are depressing to look at and will only add to your anxiety.
Do your cleaning in manageable chunks. Don’t let everything pile up until that magical day when you finally get enough time.
2. Create a green oasis
Did you know that just looking at the color green reduces your stress levels?
Create a green oasis in your home to enjoy the life-changing benefits of leafy palms and ferns.
Fill your garden with a few plants that are easy to maintain when you’re busy. Deck your balcony with potted palms and put out some lounge chairs to create an oasis of tranquility.
And if you don’t have a garden or a balcony, bring a few luscious plants into your living room and line your windowsills with greenery.
If you have pets that eat leaves then get some plastic plants. They’re very realistic these days.
However your green oasis looks like, it will bring you invaluable benefits. Even if that means just a few minutes a day out on your balcony.
3. Take a few slow moments every day
You’ll fall way short if you try to transform your life over a single weekend. And you’ll only get discouraged.
You’ll get better results when you create small yet consistent habits.
Slow living in the city isn’t easy. But it’s possible with a few realistic mindset shifts.
So start slow and make a few tiny changes that will add up over time.
Inject a few moments of slow into your day. It can be as simple as a morning coffee on your balcony with a guided meditation instead of scrolling social media in bed.
Or take a lunch break in the sun and get away from your desk. It will feel indulgent, but you’ll be much better rested. And your afternoons will be all the more productive.
4. Create a slow morning routine
A rushed and disorganized morning gets your entire day off on the wrong foot.
Create a slow morning routine that with regular practice becomes as automatic as brushing your teeth.
A good morning routine sets the tone for the rest of your day, leaving you energized and better-equipped to take on the stresses of everyday life.
You may have to wake up earlier to give yourself a few moments to journal, meditate or do some yoga stretches.
But that early wake-up time will pay off throughout your entire day. It will boost your productivity and leave you more grounded to make time for yourself and your loved ones.
So savor your morning coffee, prepare a healthy breakfast or squeeze in a guided meditation session before you start your day.
Here are some practices to fit into your slow morning routine:
Do a 5-minute guided meditation session with an app like Insight Timer, where you’ll find a slew of ready-made morning meditations.
Set a timer for 15 minutes and fill up a journal page with everything that you’re grateful for. Or make a list of all the positive things you’re looking forward to today (even if it’s just a nice lunch break).
Do a few sun salutations or some stretches in bed along with a YouTube video to prepare your body for the day ahead.
5. Tune out in the evenings
Big cities never sleep and it’s tempting to stay up at night dealing with emails or going out when you’d rather be resting.
So when you’re done with work, really put it away for the night. Dismiss those nagging thoughts that you should be productive at every waking moment.
You might feel so exhausted at night that you just want to binge-watch TV series and scroll your phone all evening.
But those escapist hours don’t actually leave you well-rested.
You’ll be surprised how invigorating a good book or some journaling can be in the evening. Just push past that initial fatigue and spend a half hour doing something you really love.
It will leave you much better-rested than TV or social media.
Hours of mindlessly scrolling social media lead to depression and anxiety. So if you want more restful evenings, then cut down your screen time for incredible and immediate results.
Take an evening to just appreciate some silence without an endless stream of entertainment and content. Spend some time without the TV, podcasts and music that always run in the background of our lives.
Listen to the birds outside, have a conversation with your loved one or savor an evening meal in silence and taste every bite.
6. Spend your commute wisely
If you spend a lot of your time in the big city stuck in traffic, then use that time wisely to your advantage.
Do some guided meditation with an app on your headphones. Or tune into a fascinating audio book or an inspiring podcast.
When you’re going from one meeting to another, make your commute a time to look forward to. Use it to recharge and slow down. Your productivity will thank you later.
If you find yourself constantly rushed in the morning, then give yourself more time for your commute and set your alarm 15 minutes earlier.
It’s not always easy to get out of bed early if you’re not a morning person. But your mental health will thank you for those few extra minutes.
7. Find some quiet spots in the city
Whether it’s a neighborhood cafe or a corner park, find some quiet spots in the city for your lunch breaks and weekend strolls.
Have a few go-to spots in the city where you can take a breather, do some journaling or have a weekend family picnic.
If you live in a city near water, then put that on your itinerary. Studies show that water makes you happier and calmer. And it’s a much-needed oasis from a concrete-filled metropolis.
Put these getaways on your calendar and make them an appointment you keep with yourself. They’re as important as any work meeting.
Here are some quiet spots to unwind in the city:
a neighborhood park
a quiet, residential district where you can take a leisurely walk (if your city is real busy, head there in the early mornings or weekends when the crowds are few)
a library with a spacious reading room where you can catch up on a novel or do some journaling
a botanical garden or quirky museum off the beaten path
a quiet neighborhood cafe or outdoor lounge with great views
8. Practice mindfulness
Stay mindful of your environment and stay in the present moment by finding novelty in your everyday surroundings. A little mindfulness goes a long way in fighting stress, anxiety and a hurried pace of life.
Sign up for a weekend walking tour in an unfamiliar neighborhood where you’ll experience something new. Take a different route to work and notice the slanting light at your desk in the afternoon.
These small observations help you slow down, appreciate the moment and fight the dullness of everyday routine.
9. Ignore small annoyances
Whether it’s an Uber driver who gets hopelessly lost and ignores their GPS, or a colleague chatting nonstop at your desk, your anger won’t help the situation.
Get some noise-cancelling headphones if your office is too frantic.
Breathe deeply and let the small things go. Have a sense of humor in stressful situations and remind yourself that nothing is important enough to lose your mind over.
Take 5 minutes with a meditation app whenever you need a breather. Or get outside in the sunshine to walk off the stress.
10. Say no more often
Use your spare time wisely because you probably don’t have a lot of it in the big city.
Don’t fill up your weekend planner with events that you feel obligated to attend. Resist social pressure and ask yourself what you really look forward to doing. Check in with yourself and be honest.
Plan carefully and only choose activities that energize you.
And take time to just do nothing. Catch up on sleep, watch a good film, get some take-out and play a board game.
Don’t feel like you’re missing out when you stay in and do “nothing.”
Rest and white space is just as important as work.
Take control of your own schedule and realize that sometimes less is more. It’s better to do a few things you really look forward to than to race from one thing to the next.
You have limited energy each day so spend it on the people and things that really bring you joy.
And sometimes that means creating healthy boundaries with people who leave you anxious and drained – or cutting out those relationships altogether.
This also means saying no to additional tasks and responsibilities at work when your schedule is already full. Don’t stretch yourself too thin.
And realize that your productivity suffers when you take on more than you can handle.
11. Get to know your neighborhood
Reconnect with your everyday environment to make your city a slightly smaller place.
Find a few favorite cafes to visit regularly. Get to know your barista, your neighbor and your grocery store clerk.
Support local small businesses and artisans that make things by hand.
Transform your errands and grocery trips into a real pleasure – and not just another to-do list.
This makes even a big city feel much more personable and way less overwhelming.
12. Forget about multitasking
Multitasking was once a skill we’d brag about on our CVs. But these days, productivity gurus know better.
Multitasking just doesn’t work.
Multitasking leaves your concentration scattered.
Your work suffers, it takes much longer to get through simple tasks and silly mistakes become unavoidable.
If you’ve ever had a hectic day at work that left you exhausted with very little progress to show for it, then you know the dangers of distractions.
But how can you get more focused when many modern day offices uphold open floor plans and constant streams of chat?
Here are some monotasking tips:
If you constantly feel unproductive, have an honest chat with your boss and explain how you’d like to boost your productivity. Emphasize how your ideas will ultimately yield better quality work. This could mean a day working from home or a few hours each morning in a quiet space.
If you’re stuck in a long chain of back and forth emails with no resolution in sight, pick up your phone or stop by the office of the person you’re emailing with. Often a quick conversation is much faster than a long string of emails.
Turn off your email notifications and resist the desire to check your inbox every five minutes. Set a timer and do an hour of focused work, then reply to any new emails once you’re done. Better yet, schedule two or three times a day to regularly check and reply to all your emails.
13. Take a real lunch break
Most of us eat a rushed lunch in front of our computers. Or worse yet we scarf something down from the vending machine between meetings.
But a real lunch away from your screens does wonders to get you over that afternoon work hump.
And it makes the rest of your day all the more positive and productive – which only ends up saving you time.
Eat your meal mindfully and savor every bite to inject a moment of slow into your work day.
Get out of the office for a few minutes into the sunshine. Even a walk around the block gives you perspective and energizes you for the work ahead.
14. Get outside
It’s not always easy to get out into nature when you’re living in a concrete jungle.
So make it a goal to spend a few minutes each day in some greenery – even if that’s just a city park.
Observe the small changes in the seasons, listen to the birds chirp and feel the grass under your feet.
Or take a moment in the evening to look out at the moon or feel the brisk air.
It may not seem like a lot, but getting outside does wonders for your energy levels and mental health. A few minutes in the fresh air even lets you sleep better at night.
15. Find a moment for guided meditation
Meditation is tricky when your mind is constantly rushed and full of fleeting anxieties. It feels impossible to sit down for 10 minutes and do nothing.
And that’s where guided meditation comes in.
If you’ve never managed to make meditation a habit, then start slowly with a 10-minute guided meditation.
A guided meditation takes you through the process of quieting down – and it teaches you to listen to your thoughts and observe their passing.
Guided meditations are available on YouTube and on apps like Insight Timer, where you can easily pick your favorite. Tune in over your morning coffee, during your commute or on your lunch break.
Guided meditation is an easier and beginner-friendly way to reap the life-changing benefits of meditation.
Even a quick session in the morning leaves you calmer, more grounded and less flustered to start your day.
16. Get creative
Channel your creativity and pick up a new hobby that gets you creating something with your hands.
Whether that’s sketching, quilting or baking bread, creating something with your hands brings you moments of mindfulness.
And it leaves you feeling satisfied while teaching you the joy of life’s simple pleasures.
Creativity is a human need and a crafty hobby does wonders to inspire you.
Slow living in the city: final thoughts
Living in a hectic and fast-paced city adds on to the stress of everyday living. Whether that’s traffic jams, rushed lunches or irate taxi drivers.
The concrete buildings, packed neighborhoods and noise of big cities leaves us little space to unwind and relax.
And green spaces of calm can be surprisingly hard to find.
But with a few simple shifts – and some slow living habits – you can build a less hurried and more meaningful life.
I would love to hear from you! How do you live slower in the city?