There’s crossover between the approach of living slowly, and living simply, and a lot of it has to do with focusing your time and energy on what really matters. And that’ll be different for each of us, so I’m not here to tell you what to spend your time on. In my life, I’ve shifted everything so that I can focus on writing, painting and teaching leadership and facilitation for alternative spirituality groups.
This has meant a radical shift in my life priorities; living simply can be complicated at first.
Life was easier on autopilot. When I was a graphic designer, I worked 50-60 hour weeks, I slept, I watched TV with my husband. I occasionally wrote fiction but never had time to paint. I rarely had the energy to do anything social; this became a sore point in our marriage. We ate a lot of takeout and carby, sugary food.
Then I got laid off, lost a hundred pounds, and left my husband. I moved to a cabin in the woods at a retreat center and suddenly, there was silence. The grunt work was monastic, contemplative. I wasn’t arguing with executives over strategic design. I had no TV. There weren’t billboards or advertisements among the trees, there were no sirens.
The keys to a slower, simpler life are in where I focus my time, effort and life force. The essence is this: What will you say yes to? What will you say no to? This the essence of establishing healthy boundaries.
Eventually I moved, started teaching workshops and leading rituals, then writing and painting, too. I said “yes” to time for creative work I love, and “no” to higher-income jobs that made me miserable. I reduced my expenses; I live in a studio without running water in exchange for household grunt work. I wear thrifted clothes. I don’t eat out. I use upcycled art supplies.
People often say, “I have to do XYZ?” Try rephrasing it as, “I choose to do XYZ.” See how it feels to acknowledge your choice to spend this time. Does the activity drain your life force? Where would you rather spend your time? Is it time to say “no” to this?
Sometimes the choice isn’t great — we can choose to do paid work, or be broke. Other times, we’re doing a codependent dance to avoid offending people. As an introvert, I’ve gone to many social gatherings I had no interest in. This drains my battery, but I didn’t want to argue with my spouse or hurt feelings. I’m now more likely to say “no” and focus my time elsewhere. I also say “no” to wasting my time on people who bring drama or toxicity into my life.
Living simply and slowly requires effort; it involves figuring out what you want to spend your time on and making choices.
You don’t need to do everything more slowly. Some of you might enjoy spending time cooking for loved ones. Me? I don’t enjoy cooking; I’d rather eat simply and stay in my writing groove. I also value my health, and I put in the effort to remove gluten, dairy, preservatives and added sugar — and in a way that simplified food preparation. That way I can focus on enjoying the work that feeds my soul.
I’m not perfect; I struggle to balance creative work and time with my boyfriend. I was unhappy in my marriage and fell into the consumerist trap of buying stuff as a happiness patch-job. Now, I’m in a genuinely happier relationship, though if I spend time with my partner then I’m behind in my work, which connects to the financial stress of being a “starving artist.” I take on additional work to pay the bills, and…see how easy it is to get caught up spending time on things we don’t value?
Don’t get sucked into the guilt spiral; living slowly and simply is about process, not perfection. Try out new patterns and figure out what you value and want to focus on, and what you want to cut out of your life. What do you choose? What feeds you?