It’s a no-nonsense guide that focuses on ways to reduce busyness with habits like single-tasking, unplugging from social media and practising gratitude.
There are practical tips on how to slow down and set up calming morning and evening rhythms to anchor your day. The chapters are readable with checklists, step by step guides and bullet points that show how to implement the ideas in real life. Even if you have children.
McAlary, host of the Slow Home Podcast, says the book is about being intentional with your daily actions and creating the life you want. But she’s also realistic. Creating change in your life takes effort, time and energy, though the payoff is huge.
The book offers insights on how single-tasking brings you into the present moment and leads to more focused work. There are also insights on how disconnecting from social media leads to more creativity and better conversations.
McAlary also suggests making an achievable list of your 3 most pressing daily tasks. And doing those first instead of struggling through a winding to-do lists.
Recommended for: the busy beginner who’s looking for an accessible, easy-to-read guide on slow living.
“We forget how to simply be. How to immerse ourselves in whatever is in front of us. How to truly engage in face-to-face conversation, personal connections and true down-time. And we are burning out. We are addicted to this digital connection. We are afraid that if we unplug we will miss out on something.”
“Achieving and then maintaining a state of balanced perfection would be incredibly stressful and unfulfilling. Instead you need to understand that your time is limited and valuable. And you can choose where to place your energies, depending upon where they need to be.”
2. Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
Essentialism makes a case for doing less, but doing it better with more focus. It’s not about getting more done faster, but about doing the right things to make the highest impact.
The book was inspired by the author’s personal experiences. Author Greg McKeown had rushed off to a client meeting the day after his daughter’s birth – as his wife lay in the hospital. Afterwards, even the client lost respect for him and McKeown began to reflect on his misplaced priorities. He realized that if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
It makes a compelling case for cutting out the busywork and eschewing social pressure to focus on really impactful work. When you invest your time and energy in fewer things, you’ll make more significant progress.
The book argues that you can’t really have it all. There are also pointers on how to discern the trivial from the vital and be more discerning with your time. McKeown argues that saying “no” is a skill that requires being courageous and making some tough decisions.
There are also chapters about looking at the bigger picture so you don’t indiscriminately throw yourself at every opportunity. Other sections cover the importance of play to widen your perspective and sleep to recharge.
Recommended for: the worker who’s feeling stretched too thin, overworked and unfulfilled. Anyone who’s ever said “yes” to commitments and then regretted it.
“If you believe being overly busy and overextended is evidence of productivity, then you probably believe that creating space to explore, think, and reflect should be kept to a minimum. Yet these very activities are the antidote to the nonessential busyness that infects so many of us. Rather than trivial diversions, they are critical to distinguishing what is actually a trivial diversion from what is truly essential.”
“The way of the Nonessentialist is to go big on everything: to try to do it all, have it all, fit it all in. The Nonessentialist operates under the false logic that the more he strives, the more he will achieve, but the reality is, the more we reach for the stars, the harder it is to get ourselves off the ground.”
3. In Praise of Slowness, by Carl Honore
In Praise of Slowness is a fascinating look at how speed permeates every facet of our lives – from orgasm-oriented sex to the increased tempo of classical music concerts.
Carl Honore looks at the cult of speed from a historic and cultural perspective. And his journalistic style packs in plenty of interviews, anectodes and statistics.
Honore chronicles the slow movement from Maryland’s suburbs (where a new style of architecture places priority on communities over cars) to Rome and the origins of the Slow Food movement as a reaction against McDonald’s opening at the Spanish Steps.
The book traces the origins of the modern world’s preoccupation with speed from the first public clocks in Medieval town squares to the punch clocks of the Industrial Revolution.
The following chapters cover other facets of our lives. There’s Slow Food as a reaction against industrial farming, obesity and junk food, in favor of seasonal produce and artisanal production. There are Slow Cities in Italy and beyond that have cut noise and traffic, and increased green spaces.
And there are rising trends like tantric sex and meditation with its power to increase insight and creativity. There’s also the rise of hobbies like knitting and gardening that were once seen as old-fashioned but now offer an antidote to the cult of efficiency.
Honore chronicles how the slow movement has seeped into medicine. Doctors are pushing for more time with patients as more people turn to alternative medicine with its slower, more holistic approach.
Recommended for: anyone interested in how society began to speed up, why that’s not always a good thing and what’s being done about it.
“Fast and Slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity.”
“What the world needs, and what the Slow movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age. The secret is balance: instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow, and sometimes somewhere in between. Being Slow means never rushing, never striving to save time just for the sake of it.”
4. Slow, by Brooke McAlary
Slow is the story of McAlary’s messy journey towards a simpler life. It’s full of personal anecdotes sprinkled with practical tips on everything from decluttering to fighting perfectionism.
The book starts with chapters on decluttering and de-owning – and the weight our possessions often have. There are insights into how to handle uncooperative partners and sort through sentimental items.
McAlary also looks at why we crave material possessions in the first place, whether that’s advertising, our egos, insecurity or boredom. There are tips on how to share items instead of buying, and how to mend what we already have without stigma.
There’s a chapter that unpacks mindfulness and what it really means. McAlary lists practices like yoga, creativity and going outside as ways to appreciate the present moment. When we’re aware of our thoughts, we also notice the lies and negativity we might be dwelling in, she says.
There’s another section about the ills of social media. The online world often means no downtime because we’re constantly connected, and lower confidence because we compare ourselves to others. McAlary gives strategies to fight this overwhelm, whether that’s phone-free weekends or no screens at the dinner table.
And while the book covers standard subjects like decluttering and mindfulness, McAlary has a refreshing approach.
She maintains that slow living requires effort, work and commitment.
Slow living isn’t just tea and incense moments on a yoga mat.
Recommended for: those who are overwhelmed and want practical strategies to prioritize what’s important.
“Learning to live a slower, simpler life was a similar process. I had to earn my chops. I had to figure out what inspired me, what I stood for, what I loved, what I was passionate about, and why.”
“Do the work of uncovering your Why … do the work of establishing your own personal philosophy and set of values. Do the work of naming the highest, eulogy- worthy priorities in your life. Then do the work of putting them at the center of your life, every day.”
5. The Slow Fix, by Carl Honore
The Slow Fix is a journalistic look at our addiction to shortcuts. It’s filled with stories about how a holistic, slower approach is better – whether that’s rehabilitation at a Norwegian prison or a school in Los Angeles that tackles the many roots of its troubles.
Quick fixes rarely work whether that’s laying off employees to cut costs or firing a coach after a disappointing football season.
The Slow Fix explains why we’re hooked on quick fixes and the dopamine-like rush of an easy solution. A slower approach take more time and effort with uncertain rewards, Honore says. Our brains are fond of familiar solutions so we’re less likely to think outside the box. And we’re more likely to repeat past mistakes.
Society often considers mistakes as a sign of weakness. But the only way to solve problems in an ever-changing world is to keep an open mind and embrace your fallibility, Honore says.
A slow fix usually starts with admitting there’s a problem, accepting blame and thinking long and deep. Rushing makes us less creative – and all creativity needs an incubation period.
Honore lists the elements of a slow fix – from thinking holistically to being detail-oriented. And he cites examples of institutions that successfully implement this approach.
There are also chapters on being prepared, the magic of collaboration and the importance of play in problem-solving.
Honore draws on examples of slow fixes from around the world. From how Bogota managed to revitalise its downtown to how officials in Spain convinced the majority of the public to agree to organ donations.
But the last third of the book gets repetitive. It eventually fizzles out into example after example of good business strategies.
Recommended for: those in business and institutions looking for fresh insights on a slower, more holistic approach to problem-solving.
“Even if it feels like everything is getting faster, we are, at the start of the 21st century, exquisitely placed to embed the Slow Fix at the core of our culture. To do so, however, we must tame our addiction to the quick fix. Given human biology, and the world we inhabit, this will not be easy, but there are ways to inoculate against the virus of hurry.”
“When tackling hard problems faster is not always better, that the best solutions take flight when we invest enough time, effort and resources.”
6. Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver
Soulful Simplicity recounts how Carver’s MS diagnosis inspired shifts and changes in her life – from simplifying to focusing on what’s really important.
Carver’s journey was slow but nevertheless radical. She paid off her debt, decluttered, quit her job, downsized to a small apartment and deepened her relationships.
She talks about her experiences with yoga, the benefits of sleep, and having fewer ends – instead of working hard to make ends meet.
There’s a section on getting in touch with yourself, and a section on Carver’s process of clearing her clutter and debt. She examines why we shop and how to let things go to create more space.
There are great insights into how to simplify as a family and discuss uncomfortable topics like spending and savings.
Carver tells the story of creating her trademark Project 333 and dressing with only 33 items or less for three months. She not only freed up her time and money, but also received more compliments.
There’s also a section about making time, slowing down and moving through the day with more intention. Carver’s 21-day “busy boycott” challenge offers daily prompts to protect your time. There are tips on not letting your phone run your life, and opting out of events you don’t want to attend.
Recommended for: people who want slow but radical changes in their life to reduce stress, debt and overwhelm.
“Simplicity isn’t about organized sock drawers and clean countertops, but instead it is the beginning of remembering yourself and it’s your way back to love.”
“It took us a few years to pay off all of our debt, and putting in that time changed many of our other behaviors including overspending, recreational shopping, and buying things we thought we were supposed to have. The better I felt, the less I cared about upgrading appliances, buying new carpet for the living room, or building a new deck or fence. We started talking more about what was important to us, and what kind of life we wanted to have, how we wanted to support our daughter, and what life would look like when we were debt-free.”
7. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, by Haemin Sunim
From finding your calling to not worrying about what others think, this book reads like advice from a wise grandfather. There are no bullet points or strategies. This book is more about gentle, poetic reflections that will make you examine your life.
The book has eight chapters on various aspects of life from love and friendships to work and aspirations – and how mindfulness can help with them all.
It’s gorgeously illustrated with bold and colorful drawings.
And it’s one of those books you can read in an evening – and re-read to find something new every time.
Sunim explores facets of the slow life like the importance of tolerance and learning from different spiritual traditions. He also talks about the importance of space and independence in relationships, and the life-changing magic of observing your own thoughts and emotions.
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is a wise and reflective Buddhist approach to a slower life.
Recommended for: those looking for a deep, Zen Buddhist reflection on mindfulness – and how it impacts all aspects of our lives.
“The world is experienced according to the state of one’s mind. When your mind is joyful and compassionate, the world is, too … when your mind is filled with negative thoughts, the world appears negative, too. When you feel overwhelmed and busy, remember that you are not powerless. And when your mind rests, the world also rests.”
“As you get better at it, you will realize that the negative emotion is not a fixed reality. It naturally emerges and retreats within the space of your awareness, regardless of your will. Once you awaken to this truth, you will not be swayed by negative emotions and can regard them as a passing cloud instead of identifying with them as a defining part of your self. Do not fight your negative emotions. Observe and befriend them.”
I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any favorite books on slow and simple living?