Feeling burned out from the fast pace of modern life? This guide to slow living for beginners will give you the tools to reclaim your time and live with purpose.
The 2020s have been a rough decade so far. But they did teach us an important lesson: the value of free time.
Some of us gained several hours a day by ditching the commute and working from home. Suddenly, we had time to savor our morning coffee and pursue hobbies in the evenings instead of rushing to the office and zoning out to TV every night.
Others saw their free time all but disappear when remote learning forced them to play teacher’s aid, housemaid, and model employee all at once. And given the state of things, there were no date nights or kid’s sleepovers to offer a break from the endless grind.
It’s no wonder that the slow living movement has gained a ton of traction in recent years.
Whether you want to hold onto your newfound relaxed lifestyle or need to find balance in a hectic world, learning how to live slowly is the solution.
What is slow living?
Slow living is the deliberate choice to live mindfully and sustainably.
While it may seem like a recent trend, the principles of slow living actually grew from the slow food movement of 1980s Rome (think farm-to-table restaurants and organic, local produce).
Over time, eating “slow” evolved into an entire intentional lifestyle that emphasized taking your time, connecting with nature, and being content with what you have instead of chasing more money, status, and stuff.
To be clear, slow living isn’t about spending extra time on every single task. Rather, it’s about giving your actions the amount of time they deserve based on your values.
For example, think about dinnertime.
The fastest and most efficient way to have dinner is to get takeout or maybe a microwave ready meal. It’s quick, easy, and requires little to no cleanup or advanced planning.
In contrast, someone who practices slow living would cook most of their meals at home.
They’d use mainly sustainable ingredients and be mindful of nutrition. They might use the time they spend cooking to reflect on the day, chat with their partner, or listen to a podcast or music they enjoy.
When it comes to things that affect your quality of life, efficiency isn’t always the answer.
RELATED: Minimalism for Beginners
What’s the opposite of slow living?
Naturally, the opposite of slow living is fast living. A fast life can take many forms:
- Working long hours at a job that doesn’t fulfill you
- Living paycheck to paycheck despite earning a good salary because of lifestyle inflation
- Filling your schedule with appointments, social events, and obligations at the expense of all your free time
- Taking action and making decisions based on short-term enjoyment or efficiency instead of your values
American culture is the embodiment of fast living.
People work long hours and compete over how few vacation days they take.
Somehow, there’s never enough money even if you get raises and promotions, because it goes towards a newer car, a bigger house, or trendier clothes that you see flaunted on TV and social media.
Overspending and debt force you to take on even more work and responsibilities, and the cycle continues.
In contrast, people who practice slow living may turn down higher-paying positions if it means giving up their free time.
They find contentment in the house they live in and the car they drive rather than strive for “bigger and better” options.
More importantly, their choices are driven by their goals and values rather than short-lived thrills and expediency. It’s the difference between saving up for a sustainably-made sweater vs buying one from a fast fashion chain (along with some new shoes and a dress you didn’t need but wanted at the moment).
Is slow living the same as simple living?
Living a slow life is not quite the same as living a simple life, though they are closely related.
While simple living focuses on having fewer possessions and obligations, slow living is more closely tied to living sustainably and consuming consciously in all areas of life.
That being said, both slow and simple living emphasize spending your time and energy on the things you value most. This is achieved through mindfulness and connecting decisions to outcomes, also known as being intentional.
This is why many people choose to live slowly and simply instead of just one or the other.
Check out my post on slow vs simple living for more details.
Can anyone practice slow living?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to slow living. You can practice elements of it anywhere in the world, and no two slow lives will look the same.
Despite what you might think, you don’t need to move to the countryside in order to live a slow life.
I live in London, a major metropolis with tons of things going on, but I live more slowly here than I did in the American Midwest or Texas. In fact, a major reason we moved to the UK was to improve our work-life balance and have more time to do the things we love.
However, a change in location can certainly help you live more slowly. If you’re in an expensive house or a pricey city that requires a high salary to get by, it will be harder to slow down.
Living slowly has more to do with your mindset and priorities than with outside factors like location or income.
All the money and land in the world won’t stop you from living fast. It has to be a conscious commitment, one you make every single day.
How to start slow living for beginners
#1. Treat your free time like a commitment
The rest of the world could learn a thing or two from the Dutch when it comes to protecting “me time”.
They schedule everything in advance, including their time to stay at home and do nothing. It may seem like a strict way to live, but in reality, it keeps them from overfilling their days with obligations.
We tend to treat free time as a luxury rather than a necessity. Unfortunately, that means there’s nothing stopping us from packing our days with extra work, tasks, and appointments.
Setting boundaries around how you spend your time is a crucial part of slow living. If that means putting a block on your calendar for “me time” like you would for a doctor’s visit or birthday party, so be it.
#2. Find your “why”
If you read any of my posts on simple and sustainable living, you’ll know that my foolproof strategy for making lifestyle changes is to tie them to core values–a.k.a. your “why”.
Whether you’re making small habit changes or career shifts, it’s far easier to do when you connect these choices to the things you care deeply about. Especially if you want those changes to stick.
Think about it–when was the last time you permanently altered your life simply because someone else told you to?
By connecting your new slow living habits and lifestyle decisions to a core part of who you are, you’ll have the motivation and strength to overcome the difficulties.
These values could be anything–spending quality time with your family, keeping your carbon footprint low, learning new skills… Whatever gives your life meaning and purpose.
If you’re having trouble finding your “why”, try reflecting on some simple life quotes or reading a couple books on slow and simple living. They’ll give you an idea of what you can achieve, as well as a frame of reference for the rest of your journey.
#3. Do one thing just for you every day
We spend so much of our days in service to others–work, pets, childcare, emotional labor. Plus there’s all of the life admin that comes with being an adult, from cleaning to car maintenance.
It definitely feels like there’s never enough hours in the day to do what you really want to do. But for the vast majority of people, that’s simply not true.
Rather, we’ve convinced ourselves that “me time” is indulgent or selfish or downright lazy.
The reality is that spending all of your time in service to something else only leads to burnout and eventually resentment.
Living a slow life begins with reclaiming your time. You could spend it bullet journaling, gaming, or even taking a long, luxurious soak in the tub.
Even if you can only carve out 30 minutes of “me time” a day in the beginning, those precious moments will give you a much-needed break, not to mention fulfillment.
#4. Create a morning ritual
Morning rituals are one of the best ways to ease into slow living for beginners.
They can be as short or long as you want (mine is about 45 minutes). And the routineness of it not only feels comforting, but also gives order to the start of the day.
Here are just a few ideas for things to include in a morning ritual:
- Brewing fresh coffee
- Listening to music
- Dog walking
Your morning ritual will evolve over time, so don’t be afraid to change things up if they aren’t working.
P.S: This post on habit stacking has some great tips for building a routine and sticking to it.
#5. Take a hard look at your spending
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy freedom. If an expensive mortgage, consumer debt, or a delivery habit are eating up your monthly paychecks, it’s time to take a hard look at your finances.
I’ve mentioned lifestyle inflation several times already, and for good reason–it’s nearly impossible to start living slowly if you don’t keep your spending in check.
Money is a personal and touchy subject, and I’m not here to tell you how to spend or save. But it is essential to go through all of your expenses and honestly reflect on the value they bring to your life.
Is your $100/month cable package really bringing you $100 worth of happiness? Do you truly need to buy a 4 bedroom home when it’s just you and your partner?
One way to help this reflection process along is to think about expenses in terms of your hourly wage.
If you earn $15/hour (after taxes), it takes nearly 7 hours of your time and labor to pay for that $100 cable bill.
Do you watch enough cable TV and love the programming enough to justify the cost of an entire day’s earnings? Or could you cancel, opt for a streaming service and free programming (there’s tons of incredible long-form content on YouTube), and put the savings towards something you actually value?
#6. Limit your smartphone time
Americans and Brits spend nearly five hours a day on their smartphones, and it’s not because we’re busy Facetiming with our moms or reading a good ebook!
Be honest: how much of your screen time is spent scrolling through social media and viral videos? Probably more than you’d like (or even realize).
There’s a reason it’s hard to break free from the scroll cycle. TikTok, Instagram, and even news sites are expertly designed to keep you on their platform for as long as possible.
Fortunately, there are apps that can help you set boundaries around your smartphone time.
Freedom lets you temporarily block apps and websites so you can focus more, while Off The Grid locks your phone for a set time and sends auto-replies to messages letting people know you’re away (though you can whitelist certain contacts and make calls).
#7. Support local businesses
Slow living is rooted in community connection. Even if you’re an introvert like me, you can still strengthen ties to your local community by shopping and eating at locally-owned businesses.
Farmer’s markets, independent grocers, non-chain coffee shops, locally-run restaurants… Each of these are great options for supporting local businesses.
In our online-centric world, shopping from our phones or computers is the default. While there are some great benefits to online shopping, it can make mindless purchases too easy.
Next time you’re in the market for something new, see if the local businesses have what you need before resorting to big box stores or the internet. And if you can thrift it instead of buying new, even better!
#8. Pick up a hobby that brings you joy
Having a hobby that you love is a surefire way to protect your free time. And if your work hours often bleed into your evenings, a treasured hobby can help you set boundaries and prevent overworking.
It’s far easier to close the laptop at 5pm when you have a running club or language class after work.
It’s also just as valid to block off time for solo hobbies as it is for group activities. As discussed in points 1 and 3, we all need and deserve time to do things for our own pleasure.
#9. Cook more meals at home
Cooking seasonal, sustainably-grown foods is the core of the original slow living movement. But if you’re used to eating takeout and ready meals for most of the week, it’s a big leap to the “ideal” way of slow eating.
Instead, slow living beginners can start by cooking one more meal at home per week than usual.
If that meal is made with sustainable ingredients, wonderful. If not, that’s okay!
Easing into cooking is the best way to build the habit and learn new skills along the way. Once you get comfortable in the kitchen, you can start working on eating less meat and incorporating seasonal produce into your meal plans.
#10. Fix your sleep schedule
It’s incredibly difficult to be intentional and self-reflective when you’re tired all the time. Our willpower is finite, and sleep is a critical part of recharging it.
Here are a few tips for fixing your sleep schedule so that you’re rested and ready to tackle the new day:
- Avoid screens within 60-90 minutes of bedtime–the artificial light stimulates your brain and disrupts your circadian rhythm
- Exercise regularly (though not too close to bedtime)
- Keep your weekend bedtime and wake-up time as close to your regular schedule as possible
- Perform calming activities before going to bed, such as stretching or journaling
#11. Cultivate patience
If you want to transition from a go-go-go lifestyle to a slow one, you’ll need plenty of patience. Luckily, patience is one virtue you can develop and hone over time.
Empathy is an excellent tool for being more patient.
Next time you’re irritated at the slow-moving old woman taking forever in the checkout lane, take a breath and consider that she’s doing her best and that aging is a part of life.
Knowing your “locus of control”–i.e. the things that you can directly influence–can also help build patience.
If you’re frustrated that your dog won’t do his business on your morning walk, take a pause and remember that you have no control over your pet’s bowel movements. Getting upset won’t make it happen any faster–it only creates stress for everyone involved.
#12. Connect with nature regularly
Given the slow living lifestyle grew from farm-to-table eating, it’s no wonder it’s deeply rooted in connecting with nature.
It may sound a bit “woo woo”, but there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests there are real health benefits to being outdoors.
You don’t even need to spend an hour venturing through a forest. Even brief walks in a city park or relaxing in your leafy backyard can promote feelings of calm and improve your mood.
#13. Ditch the to-do list for a must-do list
When’s the last time you checked every single item off your to-do list?
If you’re anything like me, you end up not finishing one or two tasks on Monday, pushing them to the next day, and by Friday you’re totally overwhelmed and feeling like a failure.
Eventually, I realized this way of working was unsustainable. That’s when I re-evaluated all the tasks on my usual to-do list and decided whether or not they were actually necessary.
Things like walking the dog were a must, but vacuuming the downstairs or replying to every email? Not so much.
Instead of crowding my day with 20 tasks, I only put the absolute must-dos on my list. Anything beyond that was a “bonus” accomplishment.
It totally reframed my mindset around what really matters and taught me how to intentionally spend my time.
#14. Make time for regular self-reflection
Your journey to slow living will have ups and downs, twists and turns.
By staying in touch with yourself and reflecting on your values and goals, you can stay the course and make adjustments when necessary.
No matter how you decide to reflect–be it via journaling, meditative walks, or a mindful shampooing session–make a habit of it. You’ll be amazed how much clarity you can get from regularly sitting alone with your thoughts.
Looking for more slow living tips? Check out these posts: