Shielding my children from the complicated, catch-your-breath pace of modern life is a feat, but I feel that I have somewhat succeeded so far. But I haven’t done such a great job in protecting my own life from being hectic.
How We Live Slowly
Here are a few ways I have managed to keep life mellow and simple.
1. We walk almost everywhere we need to go.
Yes, we had to spend more for a house in a walkable neighborhood, but that was okay because walking was important to us. My car sits in the driveway all week, until Friday when I take Virginia to her one after-school activity. (For Sofia, I found a ballet class so close that she can walk the two blocks from her school.)
2. I don’t do errands.
Sure, I occasionally have to stop by the pharmacy on the way to and from walking the kids to school, but I don’t go to Target anymore, or drive out to the big box stores, or even go grocery shopping. I order household supplies along with my groceries online, and I don’t drive around trying to find speciality items like gourmet food or craft supplies. As a Prime member of Amazon, I just order what I need and get it shipped free in two days or less. Besides conserving energy and saving time, staying out of stores helps me tune out the noise of marketing as well as those urges to buy stuff I don’t really need.
3. Our weekends are free to spend as we like.
Because we don’t have soccer games and swim meets (I was so bad at soccer when I was a kid, I couldn’t do that to my own), we usually don’t have much on the schedule. Aside from the occasional party or school event, we are generally free to do whatever we like. We do laundry and clean on the weekends so it’s not like we’re lolling around reading and eating bonbons, but our kids have tons of time for imaginative play (helping them find productive activities takes less energy than driving them around, and it’s certainly less expensive), and we can work in the garden, have a picnic in the park, or invite someone over for dinner.
4. We live frugally so only one parent has to work.
Perhaps the biggest lifestyle choice we have made — and which was a conscious one from the beginning — was to live within the means of one income. So much of our resourcefulness is fueled by my desire to be able to stay home with our kids, take care of the house, and fix dinner every night. I am so grateful for this freedom to do what I love.
However several things that we do are counter to a relaxed life:
Fast Things that Keep Me Running
1. I turned a hobby into a career.
Taking a passion and going professional — or trying to gain money or fame from what was once a hobby — is exciting, for sure. But it is not slow. External and worldly markers of success — such as Twitter followers or website traffic or advertising income — are much more complicated than the simple joys of self-achievement, or creating something for family and friends. And anyone who owns their own business knows that there is no end to the amount of work you could do to improve your business.
2. I use technology like email, social media, and digital cameras.
Anything digital is not slow. Things that can be created, copied, and transmitted this quickly and inexpensively cannot be slow. One email can be sent to hundreds of people in a split second. We can take boatloads of photos in a single afternoon. We are connected to thousands and thousands of people through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
And since we are on the subject, I confess that I have so many digital photos that my computer groans under the volume, and I avoid taking pictures because I can’t even manage the ones I have. I barely visit Twitter anymore, and if you’ve sent me an email recently, I apologize. Until I can figure out a system to manage the flood: call, send smoke signals, write a letter (now that’s nice and slow).
3. We bought a house that needed renovating.
I love our house and owning it gives me a deep sense of stability and well-being. Maybe that’s why my stomach knots up when someone drives a drill into it (and I’m paying them to do it). Just maintaining the structure and systems of a house would be a part-time job, time that I used to spend on organizing cookouts or babysitting co-ops.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days.”
How to Get a Little More Peace
What I’m realizing is that one of the biggest hindrances to living slowly is ourselves. I admit I find complexity fun and exciting. And I keep taking on more projects and challenges — or they come my way, and I don’t say no.
Here are some things I could do to slow down even more:
1. Keep focusing on what I love (not what other people want)
Isn’t it when we are racing to someone else’s timer that we feel the most harried? I need to keep returning to the questions, What do I really want to do? What am I good at? What do I find deeply fulfilling? How can I mold my work to fit these things?
2. Make sure my goals are not contradictory
Who was it that said, “You can have it all, but just not at the same time”? At the beginning of the year, I set goals about our house and garden, but (thankfully) I stopped before I mentioned anything about writing a book this year. I must remind myself, there is a season for everything.
3. Learn to live with the imperfect
So our house is not going to look like a magazine spread any time soon, if ever. I am learning to live with unfinished, with ugly, and uncomfortable. In today’s world where you can order up any rug, lamp, or couch you want online, it’s hard to have restraint. But when I take it more slowly, I am not only more relaxed, but I’m happier in the long run.
4. Continue to limit and tame technology
I need to resist solving problems with technology, because it often ends up creating new problems. Some people think I’m weird because I write down my appointments in a paper agenda, I don’t use a cellphone, and I don’t watch TV. I think I’ll keep being weird for now, because I can barely keep up with the technology I do use, and I’m not convinced that easier is better.
What about you? Do you wish life was more slow? What do you think makes life frenetic? Let me know in the comments.