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Slow Living 101: Tips for Turning Off the Chaos

Slow Living 101: Tips for Turning Off the Chaos
Image credit: André Andersen | Houzz

What do urban gardens, the home canning craze, the resurgence of vinyl records and the renewed popularity of old-timey crafts have in common? They’re all ways of addressing the same issue: rushed modern life. Boiling farm-fresh berries on your stovetop for jam lets you experience the satisfaction of producing something for yourself that you would normally buy in a store. Knitting a scarf during your train commute helps you savor a sliver of time in your day that would otherwise be a chore. But crafts and cooking aren’t the only ways to access slow living -- you can begin today with a practice as simple as looking up and noticing the clouds.

Why Go Slow?

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A better question might be: Why on Earth are we trying to go so fast? There’s no need to move at a snail’s pace, but slowing down enough to move through your day with purpose helps calm frazzled nerves, make more personal connections and, paradoxically, allow you to feel you have more time than when you’re rushing around.

How to Begin

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One of the first steps in learning to live slow is to recognize that slowing down is a choice open to us all. If this is a busy time in your life, it may be tempting to think that you don’t have time to slow down -- but there are always ways to go a bit slower, no matter how much is on your plate. You can start small! As you read through the suggestions, make a mental note of one or two you’d like to try today.

The Roots of Slow Living

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The slow-living phenomenon has its roots in the Slow Food movement, started by Carlo Petrini in the 1980s in Italy. Favoring mindful eating and conversation rather than what had become the norm -- gulping down food and racing back to work -- Slow Food aims to provide an antidote to fast food. Slow living is an expansion of this simple idea of slowing down enough to enjoy your life, from how you eat your meals to the way you get to work to how you spend your free time.

Ideas for Slowing Down Your Meals

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  • Sit down at a table and eat from a real plate, even if the food is takeout.
  • Take a full, deep, centering breath before you begin.
  • Put your phone/laptop/book away and simply focus on each bite.
  • Invite coworkers to share a meal at lunch rather than eating alone at your desk.
  • Make an effort to gather with your family at dinner.

Other Ways to Slow Down Your Life

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Rethink your commute.

The morning and evening commute can be quite stressful. One way to embrace slowness is to modify or even do away with a traditional commute. Could you ride a bike or scooter -- or walk -- to work instead of driving? Take public transportation instead of a car, or ask your boss about telecommuting one or more days each week?

If your current work situation requires a lengthy commute that really drains you, perhaps you could begin to explore other work opportunities closer to home. Even if you can’t do anything to ease your commute, see if there’s some minor tweak that would make it a more pleasant experience. For instance, you could leave earlier to avoid the worst traffic, or use the time to listen to a meditation recording or audiobook.

Turn an everyday routine into a ritual.

We all have certain things we do daily: make tea or coffee, prepare meals, wash the dishes, make the bed. Choose one of these simple routines and use it as a cue to slow down and be mindful. Making coffee or tea can become a relaxing touchstone in the day when you focus on measuring carefully, pouring slowly and inhaling the aroma before each sip. Even if the rest of your day is incredibly busy, doing this one thing slowly will have a ripple effect, creating a bit more peace and stillness in your day.

Spend your free time on a hobby rather than watching TV.

Or instead of checking email, updating social media or shopping online. It’s amazing how much of our time these activities can take up if we let them! It’s easy to think we don’t have time to pursue our interests, but often the reality is that we’re simply choosing to spend our free time on other things. Try choosing one day a week that will be your “screen-free evening” and use it to pursue a passion instead. If you’ve always wanted to learn to knit or play an instrument or dreamed of writing a novel, devoting one evening a week to that is a solid place to begin.

Experience a little boredom.

As spiritual leader and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh points out in his book Planting Seeds, it’s actually quite difficult to be lazy. “Not doing anything, just enjoying ourselves and whatever is around us, is a very deep practice, because we all have an energy within us that constantly pushes us to do this or that. We cannot sit or lie still and enjoy ourselves or enjoy the beautiful sky. If we aren’t doing something, we can’t stand it.”

Take this to heart the next time you find yourself feeling a little bored, and choose not to rush off into a new activity. Instead, pay closer attention to what you’re feeling, the color of the sky, the light and the people around you.

Keep holidays simpler.

If ever there was a time to slow down, it’s the holidays. Counteract the bombardment of messages to rush, rush, rush and buy, buy, buy by choosing to slow down and simplify. Instead of spending money on a fancy floral centerpiece, why not snip some sprigs of herbs from your windowsill to adorn the table? Or make a small, heartfelt gift instead of going shopping? Of course, sometimes making a purchase online is the simplest thing, and far less stressful than pushing your way through a crowded shopping mall -- so perhaps you can opt for that, and use the time you save to sip hot cocoa by twinkle light.

Embrace slow parenting.

When kids rush from school to sports and after-school activities, then spend any remaining “free” time on homework or looking at a screen, eventually they (not to mention you) are bound to get stressed out and run-down. Instead of filling every moment, make some room in the schedule for screen-free, unstructured time -- even if it means canceling an enrichment activity or occasionally saying no to an invite. Even if they complain at first, the kiddos will find things to do. Help them out by providing open-ended, creative materials (such as art supplies, wood blocks and building materials) and regular trips to the garden or to explore a nearby nature area.

Make something from scratch.

Making something you would normally buy can bring immense satisfaction, usually costs very little and can stand in for more typical forms of entertainment like movies and dinners out. Even better, make it a collaborative activity and get together for project time with a friend. Bake a loaf of bread, can some jam, knit a hat, brew some beer, make your own soap or scrub, or sew up a set of cloth napkins.

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