What is slow living and how does it connect to conscious and sustainable living? Our guest writer Amanda Tharp of New Collective is breaking it down for us…
What is Slow Living?
It was the night before I was hosting a party and the last item on my to-do list was to find something new to freshen up my place for the occasion. But it was late, and hunting for home goods at the last minute meant my favorite local spots were closed. Still, I felt just stubborn enough to try out at least one place, so off to the closest big-box store, I went.
Who knows what I was looking for (I definitely didn’t!) but with twenty-plus aisles of home goods, something would jump out at me. Instead, I found mountains of baskets, candles, and decor stocked the month before pushed to the overcrowded clearance sections, replaced by bean bag chairs and string lights for the new college semester.
As I walked past row after row of unloved endcaps, most objects looking like they had been hurled from a toddler’s cart upon reaching the toy department, I realized I had fallen into a trap… There was nothing in those aisles or the store that I needed.
I had been mindlessly forcing a purchase, seeking validation from friends through something new and shiny. I left the store empty-handed feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
This is a classic trap that (I hope) I’m not alone in falling into from time to time. The idea that we are defined by the clothes we wear, the styling in our home, the trips we take, and how well they compare to our social media feed is a dangerous one.
In trying to stay connected, we (yours truly included), have developed our own lists of to do’s which we must fulfill to be “successful”.
We’re in a house of cards — overscheduled, expecting more of ourselves personally and professionally than ever, and compelled to get it all done as soon as we possibly can. We are rushing through our days, rather than enjoying them, trying to check off as many items on our action item list as possible and cram as many things into our calendars as they’ll take.
Carl Honoré, the author of In Praise of Slowness, goes one step further to suggest that “speed becomes a form of denial. It’s a way of running away from those deeper, tangled problems.”
So what do we do about it? How do we enjoy our time rather than work through it? The best approach is to start at home with our day-to-day routines.
Slow movements have been steadily gaining steam over the last three decades. Although these movements span topics from slow food and slow fashion to design, living, and travel, they share common ideas and are available for us all.
Each place the utmost importance on (you guessed it) slowing down, becoming more intentional, and treating others and our planet with respect.
So what does it mean to live slowly and how do we do this when we’re already so busy?
Luckily, it’s not about literally slowing down our actions (because who has time for that) but rather prioritizing what matters and removing what does not to lead richer, more fulfilling lives. This includes both what we spend our time on and the objects with which we surround ourselves.
Reclaiming Our Time
Today, even though we are focusing on mindfulness and meditation more than ever before, the idea of slowing down represents a huge shift in mindset for many of us. We are taught the number of tasks we can complete is the accomplishment. How many emails can we get through before lunch? Can we fit in a yoga class after the all-nighter prep and before the morning presentation?
Slow living challenges us to be present in each of those moments and to evaluate how we really feel as we go through those daily activities. It pushes us to start saying no to what keeps us feeling busy and stressed rather than fulfilled and joyful.
Adopting a slow lifestyle nudges us to find ways to prioritize our connection with people and nature rather than with work and technology. The simplest way to think about slow living is to realize that our lives are literally a compilation of all our minutes, hours, days, and years. What we choose to spend our time — and our lives — doing should be meaningful, fulfilling, and make us feel it was worthwhile at the end of the day.
There are countless ways we can live more slowly day to day based on our interests. We are all unique, on our own path and pace so this will look different for each of us.
For example, during the workweek, I am tied to my computer all day, with a full schedule of meetings and deadlines, with teams, clients, and vendors relying on me. I love my work, but it can be draining some weeks. Years ago, I realized that I need my evenings and weekends to recharge personally and to reconnect with my family and friends.
For that reason, I have the rule to commit myself to as few plans as possible outside of work hours. Having the freedom to do whatever I’d like in the moment helps me be present and engaged. Slow weekend mornings cooking or working out with my fiancé, impromptu hikes or bonfires with friends, spur of the moment pottery classes, or spa days are all possibilities because I have not filled every minute of my calendar just to be busy.
This one rule — a simple shift toward slow living — was achievable despite my full work schedule and has led to an incredible improvement in my life.
Rethinking Our Things
An essential component of slow living is a thoughtful approach to our belongings. As we reclaim our time, it’s important to also assess the objects and materials we keep and how they help or harm our daily experiences. Here’s how you can do this in two steps:
1. What do you own now?
Is it adding value to your life? Does it support you doing the things you love or is it an extra you picked up while in line to check out? (No judgment here: those shelves are strategically designed by marketing professionals to be as enticing as possible.) If the item is not checking these boxes, it’s time to sell it, give it to a loved one that would use it, or donate it to an organization accepting that particular type of item.
I love to cook and used to think I needed every kitchen gadget in the world to cook and feel like an adult. That did not work out so well in my little city apartment kitchen! Every tool (melon baller, seeder, panini press, spiralizer, waffle iron, pasta maker, you name it!) was crammed dustily in a cupboard.
When it came time to reassess, I kept the items I used most often and which got me excited to try new recipes. This meant that the cookbooks, mortar and pestle, Vitamix, and a bread maker could stay while others found happier homes.
2. What will you own in the future?
The slow living movement fits in perfectly here with slow design as this mindset of slowing down our lifestyles also helps us be more intentional and thoughtful about our purchases.
Our homes contain hundreds (even thousands!) of products we come into contact with each day. From the humblest of coffee mugs to the tile we walk on to the furniture which moves with us through our lives, each has a story — and a footprint.
This story begins long before we bring it home and it sticks with us in surprising ways.
As we are thinking about how we spend our time and what objects we have currently, it is also crucial to reflect on how we can be more responsible consumers.
Slow design celebrates the thoughtful process of designing and producing goods that find their way into our hands and homes.
“Slow” goods can lead to life-changing outcomes for the makers behind them. Much like the fast fashion industry, our traditional product and home goods industry is far from transparent. Working conditions are often dangerous, wages often unfair, and the materials used are commonly unhealthy and unsafe for the makers producing them — and for the end consumers that buy them.
Like slow fashion, the slow design movement seeks to change that through a more holistic and thoughtful approach to how we make goods, from the humble coffee mug to the chair we sit on.
At the beginning of every product’s story is its base materials that are taken in one form or another from the Earth. With intentional planning at the beginning of a product’s life, the raw materials for production can be sourced ethically and sustainably to ensure the ecosystem and community from which they are harvested will continue to thrive.
Next, the materials are used to make the end product. This can involve a large number of people from around the world depending on how complex the product is. Slow-made goods take a thoughtful approach to the design and manufacturing process, which involves treating everyone along the supply chain well and with dignity. It means supporting and partnering with communities rather than exploiting them.
The value of this approach cannot be overestimated. By thoughtfully collaborating with artisan communities instead of pushing them to produce cheap goods at a relentless pace, slow-made goods open the opportunity for these artisans to contribute their talent and skills, hone their artistic craft, and can even pass on techniques and art forms that would otherwise be lost to mass production.
If a product is thoughtfully designed, it will even have an end-of-life plan that considers what will happen to that item when the user is done with it.
Will that product be composted? Sent back to the manufacturer to be repaired and resold? Can it be fully recycled to make a different product?
These practices of creating with care rather than destruction, with healthy and durable materials rather than low-cost harmful ones, with importance placed on artisans’ lives rather than just the profit potential, add a level of soul and character to the product.
If a product was made locally by a vendor you know or with locally-sourced materials, all the better.
These goods are rich with culture and history, artisanal and unique, well-made and durable.
Slow-made goods can follow you throughout the years, reminding you with each use about the people who crafted it or maybe the place from which it came.
These soulful pieces add a tremendous amount of pride and character to our slow homes and benefit our well being in the process. That coffee mug, tile, or bed frame tells a story of how we can all thrive!
The Intersection of Slow Living and Slow Design
There are many ways that the slow design movement can support our slow living trajectories. I suggest (you guessed it again) starting slowly, one item at a time.
The most sustainable products are those we already own, so first and foremost, we should be mindful of any new items we are purchasing.
Instead of immediately buying new, we can consider repairing and refurbishing for a refresh. As belongings break beyond repair or as our lifestyles and needs change and we could use some additional storage or furniture, then we can take this opportunity to be intentional with each purchase.
Intentional purchasing means seeking out products that are pre-loved and we can give a second life to or that were made consciously, considering both people and the planet. This thoughtful approach to purchasing less quantity and more quality will guide us wherever we find ourselves on our slow living paths.
We are moving more quickly than ever before making it easy to fall into the trap of busyness, comparison, and seeking validation through stuff rather than finding gratitude for the things that actually matter. It can be exhausting!
We are each on our own timeline towards finding balance and meaning in these hurried times, but luckily we have incredible tools at our fingertips through the various slow movements. From slow living and design, to slow food, fashion, travel, and more, we have access to principles, inspiration, and new frameworks. These tools help us prioritize what brings us fulfillment rather than keeps us on that hamster wheel.
About the Author
Amanda Tharp is an Architect, Designer and founder of New Collective design consulting. She is passionate about helping her clients live well, be in balance with nature and create community through design. Follow her (and her puppies) @the_newcollective