It’s been 15 years since the publication of Carl Honoré’s international best-selling book, In Praise of Slow (republished a year later under the title In Praise of Slowness), and the worldwide slow living movement shows no signs of going anywhere.
What exactly does slow living mean? Beyond all of those dreamy Instagram photos of white marble countertops covered with artfully arranged linen napkins and freshly baked sourdough bread, chickens wandering freely in apple orchards at the golden hour, and baskets filled with home-grown produce, what is slow living? And is it something you can embrace without having to quit your job and move to a secluded cabin in the woods? What about those of us who can’t (or don’t want to) do the whole homesteading thing? What if you don’t like linen?
What slow living really means
Simply put, slow living means to do less and buy less, but better — to get off the treadmill and determine your own pace, to question the modern drive to accumulate more more more of everything, and to enjoy what we have in a deeper way. The slow living movement calls for a more intentional approach to life and rejects the idea that to be busy means you’re important, to be rich you need to have more stuff, or that to be successful we have to keep pace with the relentless pressures of modern life.
As Honoré explains, “The central tenet of the slow philosophy is taking the time to do things properly, and thereby enjoy them more.” To him, and to many others in the slow living movement, “the great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections — with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds.”
The roots of the slow living philosophy
Slow living as a clearly defined movement emerged as a reaction against fast food in Italy, with the founding of the slow food movement by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Since then, the benefits of slowing down have been applied to an ever-widening circle of life, including everything from fashion to money, careers, parenting, and lifestyle.
But the roots of slow living go deeper than this. In 1973, E. F. Schumacher’s book, Small is Beautiful, was a compelling and radical call for our culture to slow down and re-think our priorities, to put people and the natural world above profit and engage in humane economics. “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction,” Schumacher wrote.
Even before the 1970s, plenty of philosophers and thinkers were challenging the machine-led pace and destructive side-effects of the industrial revolution. With his 1948 book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper argued that unless we rediscover the value of leisure and prioritize making time for contemplation, we’ll destroy our culture — and ourselves.
In the face of a materialistic and consumerist culture, the slow philosophy encourages us to question the origins of the things we buy, the food we eat, and the products we clean with — all as a way to intentionally consider the human, environmental, and health impact of our daily habits and choices. Doing this can also help us find more joy in the everyday, as well as deeper meaning and connection in our lives. Living more slowly and mindfully enables us to create the space we need for spiritual flourishing.
Shop local, support small business, engage in conscious consumerism
When we take the time to think before we buy things — to plan out our meals in advance, for example, and batch-cook healthy, whole-food-based meals using seasonal, local ingredients — we not only have a more positive impact on the environment and the world around us, but it can also help us to live longer, healthier lives while actually saving money. Slowing down our consumption means wasting less, investing in longer-lasting things, repairing and reusing what we already have, and generally valuing (and enjoying) our belongings a lot more.
Taking the time to google alternative online shops that stock a book we want to buy rather than just heading straight to Amazon.com can have a hugely positive impact on someone’s small, family-run business. Buying stationery and gifts wherever we can from our local market or craftsperson helps us enjoy the act of shopping more, as well as supporting someone’s craft. Committing to buying vintage or thrifted clothing, and investing in ethically-made clothing whenever we do want to buy something new, is a way of casting a vote for a kinder, more transparent world where people at the bottom of the supply chain are fairly compensated for their work. Taking the extra time to walk or cycle when we live close enough to a shop or our place of work instead of jumping in the car every time can help us lead a healthier life while leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
Speed isn’t always a bad thing
Rather than being a rejection of speed, slow living is all about being in “control the rhythms of your own life.” If Honoré’s book is a kind of manifesto for a way of life, that way of life is all about finding “a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age… instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between.”
Slow living advocates don’t generally claim that we should all throw away our smartphones (though, research shows that being mindful of your tech habits is hugely beneficial), move to the countryside, and start growing our own vegetables as soon as possible. This isn’t about walking slowly, being less productive at work, or missing deadlines. It’s about finding a healthy balance between speed and slowness, productivity and rest.
Studies show that rest is beneficial not only for our health and happiness, but it also has a significantly positive impact on wider society — it lowers crime and suicide rates and improves our productivity and creativity in life and at work. By doing less, but better, we can actually achieve more but live saner, happier, more loving and generous lives in the process.
In her book, Overwhelmed, Brigit Schulte talks about how our leisure time has been polluted by our culture’s glorification of busy, echoing Pieper’s philosophy. When asked by Verily magazine about what culture loses when it stops valuing leisure, she said “I think we lose our soul. We’re so busy earning and striving, getting and buying, competing and worrying about our status that we don’t take the time to check in with ourselves and determine what we truly value. You lose the ability to know yourself…”
Slow living is all about being intentional, which means anyone can do it
If you’re still thinking that slow living is a luxury that you just can’t afford, you might enjoy Erin Loechner’s take on it — in her book, Chasing Slow, she admits that many of us can be tempted to fall into the trap of thinking that slow living needs to look a certain way, or that we need to worry about doing it right. “Without grace,” she writes, “minimalism is another metric for perfection.”
Loechner talks about choosing to order takeout when friends come over for dinner so that she doesn’t spend her time and energy worrying about what to cook, but can more fully enjoy the presence of her loved ones. To her, living slow and choosing less means putting her values at the heart of everything she does — family time trumps a perfectly clean house, and happy kids trump an Instagram-worthy aesthetic.
Whether you call it la dolce vita, essentialism, minimalism, or slow living, being intentional about the way we live life costs us nothing but intentionality. Slow living will look different for all of us, but making space to thoughtfully shape the way we live and align our habits and lifestyle with our deepest values is a path that leads to integration and joy.