A guide to living slowly: What does ‘slow’ living really mean?

What is slow living and where did it come from?

A little while back in my Instagram journey, I asked everyone on here what slow living meant to them. I’ve been collecting thoughts and ideas about the concept since then, and have finally put it all together into a little guide of sorts. When my journey with slow living first started, it began with my interest in where my food came from and how it was made; thus, “slow food”.

And that’s much how the slow living movement began. First came the “slow food movement” which was a reaction to increased production practices. As society become more and more detached from where their food came from and how it was produced, others questioned the impact of this trend. Food that was produced more quickly and with less care meant, often times, that it was of a lesser quality. In response, the slow food movement began, emphasizing traditional food production practices and local farming.

Slow Money and Farm-to-Table

These concepts branched off into their own terms under the ‘slow food’ umbrella, becoming ‘slow money’ and the ‘farm-to-table’ concepts. The term ‘slow money’ emerged from this idea of keeping money local, encouraging consumers to buy goods from small businesses and local farmers. The farm to table concept promotes the consumption of food that has been transported and processed as little as possible, thus the idea that it comes from the farm to our tables.

My Experience

My personal journey with slow food began in my early teens, as I was navigating what it meant to eat a healthy and balanced diet after many physical and mental health struggles. When the idea of slow food came along, it felt like such an intentional way of choosing what to consume. I love the idea of taking greater consideration of what we put on our tables and how it got there. I latched on to the concept with the belief that it felt like a kinder, more intentional, more responsible way to consume.

The Emergence of A Slower Lifestyle

As the slow food movement grew and spread, the concept of slowness was adopted in other areas of people lives. From this, the slow living movement emerged and ‘slowness’ became a lifestyle that was adopted by many. The basis of slow living is the idea of taking a step back. Most of the world lives in a constant state of ignorance as to the amount of sensory profusion that controls them. The slow living movement challenges this. Many people simply don’t take the time to step back and consider or even notice how overwhelming their lives have become. We are bombarded on a daily basis by materialism and a constant influx of sensory stimulation. This is largely due to the development of and reliance on technology, as well as ideas of working harder so that we can buy more. However, the slow living movement considers how much materialism and modern technology drive our daily decisions, allowing us to step back and consider whether this is what we truly want. For many of us, the answer is no. Thus, a slower lifestyle.

This approach to life does not mean giving up technology or refusing to buy material goods. However, it encourages one to be more deliberate regarding technology usage and consumerism. Many in the slow living community believe in a concept called ‘slow technology’, or the idea of using technology intentionally: to improve our lives without letting it control us. This also means slowing down with how we use technology: using it when and how we need it, but occasionally putting it down in favor of doing things the old-fashioned way.

What does ‘slow’ stand for?

The slow concept applies to life as a whole, and there are a number of slow movements that have emerged, covering almost every aspect of our lives. But as a slow living community, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the trend of slowing down without asking ourselves how much we’re actually doing it and what that looks like. For example, the term ‘slow’ did not emerge just because it meant slowing down, but because it is an acronym for the pillars of the slow living movement: sustainable, local, organic, whole.

S : Sustainable

L : Local

O : Organic

W : Whole

Knowing that these four pillars are the foundation of slow living, how can we apply them? Well, in order to truly apply them, we of course have to slow down and consider what they mean.

Are you really practicing slow living?

The first test as to the pace of your lifestyle is whether or not you slow down to consider this question. What does slow living really mean and are you truly embracing it, or just touting the phrase for it’s trendiness? Do you understand and value the concepts of sustainable, local, organic, and whole? Moreover, do you live by them?

What is sustainable?

The term ‘sustainable’ implies processes that can be maintained at a constant rate. In the slow living community, this term applies to both a sustainable lifestyle, i.e., not living in a way that allows our health to deteriorate, and to consuming in a way that is sustainable for the environment.

How can you live more sustainably?

Live life at a pace that you can sustain :

Consider you daily activities and routine, as well as how much technology is a part of these. Where you can decrease the time spent on unnecessary, or destructive activities? What stressors in your life are there, not because they need to be, but because you haven’t considered removing them? What important things are you neglecting, in favor of  ‘busy-ness’?

I highly recommend putting pen to paper (in praise of slow technology) and truly considering these questions. Writing things down is an extremely effective tool in helping us to be more intentional about our lives, and if you want to live at a slower, more sustainable pace, you will be willing to consider these questions and their answers. Taking time to consider our current affairs is the only way to change them.

Take responsibility for the environment :

The act of living in a way that is environmentally sustainable is such a vast topic that I won’t admit to covering it as completely as it should be, but I will give you a look at some simple ways to begin consuming responsibly:

  1. Reduce household energy use: Don’t turn all of the lights on if you don’t really need them all on, unplug your appliances when they aren’t in use, and adjust the thermostat based on the temperature outside (or don’t use it at all)!
  2. Reduce household waste: Do away with disposables. Instead of buying paper plates, paper towels, napkins, etc. use the cloth versions. It might be less convenient to wash them, but consider how much trash you throw out on a daily basis. It is well worth it to wash your cloth napkins in order to decrease waste.
  3. Consider your clothing: Hang your clothes to dry when possible instead of turning on the dryer! This helps to reduce household energy usage and your clothing may hold up better when you refrain from machine drying (depending on the material, of course).
  4. Donate old items instead of throwing them away: When you clean and declutter your home, don’t just throw everything in the trash. Donate the items, give them to a friend, or resell them but refrain from throwing out things that could be used again.
  5. Get your groceries locally: Aim to buy as much as your food as you can from local farmers and small businesses. Shop at farmer’s markets, local co-ops or directly from farms.
  6. Consider your other purchases: purchase local, handmade, and fair trade products when possible. Supermarket foods are transported all over the world, consuming huge amounts of fossil fuels. Buying local foods can help reduce your footprint. Also, consider buying handmade products such as soaps, bath and beauty products, clothing, and even home decor items. Many makers use ethically and sustainably sourced materials in their handmade goods. These materials cost more and so are not typically used by mass manufacturers. Not all handmade items are necessarily sustainable, but you can find many that are on sites like Etsy. Also look for items marked ‘fair-trade.’ These items are usually things like chocolate, coffee, tea, and sugar and were grown using sustainable methods and sold for a fair price to benefit the people of the area that these products came from.
  7. Walk! Walking gives us time to think, it’s excellent exercise, and saves our gas money for other things. Walk when you can.
  8. Plant a garden! Even if you don’t have much land (or none!) you can plant an herb garden indoors and then use herbs in your cooking that you’ve grown yourself. If you do have land, planting your own vegetables will help you to feel self-sufficient (important to a hyggelig lifestyle) and will support your effort of living sustainably.
  9. Sustainable baby products! If you’re a mother, then you know how often little ones need their diapers changed. Cloth diapering is a huge step in becoming a more sustainable mamma. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can even make your own cloth wipes to use instead of disposables. Buying wooden toys over plastic ones is more eco-friendly (and look nicer in your house!) and many of these toys are handmade, which means supporting small businesses and makers. I find that choosing sustainably made clothing for myself is very limited, but I try to buy sustainably made baby clothes for my little one.
  10. Always choose glass. Whenever possible, choose glass over plastic. Instead of buying plastic water bottles, buy a refillable glass water bottle that will last you a long time. Buy your milk in glass bottles and opt for glass instead of plastic food storage containers in your home.

What does it mean to buy local?

Buying local is largely how the slow living movement got started. When people considered how little of the money they spent was staying within their own communities, they were driven to buy products that would support their local businesses and townsmen.

Where do I begin with buying more things from my local farmers?

You can support your own local businesses by buying whatever groceries you can from them, and even basic household supplies. The easiest way to do this is to search for farms in your area and find out what products they carry. For us, there is one that we can get all of our meat from and another one that we buy honey from. We buy produce from a local natural foods store which carries produce from nearby farmers.

Depending on where you live, this may be different from the things that I’m able to buy locally. However, I’ve written about some resources to help you find local farms and small businesses in your area, here.

What is organic?

The term organic applies to not only food but anything that is grown and produced without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, or other agricultural chemicals. This can apply to food and beverages, cleaning products, clothing and other goods.

Definitions to know:
Organic Food:

Food and grocery products that are labeled organic contain at least 95% organic ingredients. This means that the ingredients were grown using organic agricultural methods: they are free of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other synthetic agricultural additives. The ingredients were grown or produced without the use of irradiation or GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).

Organic Cotton/Wool/Clothing:

Organic clothing is made from cotton, wool, silk, or other materials called jute, or ramie. The term organic when used for clothing or other textiles means that the materials were raised or grown with organic agricultural methods as mentioned above.

Why buy organic?

Organic agriculture is often considered to be more sustainable because of the more natural methods used. In the slow living community, there is a tendency to lean away from the rapid development of technology and synthetic materials, so the importance placed on organic within the term ‘slow’ comes mostly from this. Organic implies that ingredients may be more ‘whole’ or natural, thus more traditionally made, as the slow living movement encourages.

What is the concept of ‘whole’?

The concept of whole applies both to diet and overall lifestyle. I tend to associate whole as complete or ‘full’ meaning that every part of it is beneficial to me rather than parts of it being ‘filler’.

How does ‘whole’ fit in to slow living?

The concept of ‘whole’ foods is that of eating food that has been processed as little as possible. Thus, eating food in its whole and natural state, before it has been modified with ingredients that make it less expensive or longer-lasting (and often of a lesser quality). However, this concept also applies to the way we live our lives. Wholeness and wellness go hand in hand, and the idea of ‘whole’ can also be used in regard to living a more wholesome, or balanced life when it comes to the use of technology and how much ‘busy-ness’ (or stillness) you accept in your life.

How does the acronym for ‘slow’ (sustainable, local, organic, and whole) benefit our lives?

By understand and living the concepts of slow living, we can more fully experience the lifestyle and what it has to offer. I find a greater sense of calm and content from living this way and from adopting the concepts of sustainable, local, organic, and whole into my life as much as I can. My life feels much more ‘whole’ because I am aware of how I am living and how it impacts others, myself, and the environment. I latched on to the slow living movement because it felt kind (to others, to myself, etc.) and it felt responsible. It isn’t always the most convenient to cook from scratch with wholesome ingredients or to use table linens instead of paper towels. However, being intentional in this way has given me the ability to be more thoughtful in other areas of my life. I consider how I use technology and use it for good without letting it control my life. I consider how my thoughts and actions impact others and I take time for the little things.

You don’t have to become a slow living expert overnight. It’s the little things that add up to make an impact. Even doing one of the things mentioned will benefit you and others, and you’ll find once you begin it is easy to continue adopting the slow living concepts in your life. As you do this, I believe you’ll find a greater sense of peace and stillness in your life. The little things are really the biggest. And as a couple of people who questioned how food got to their kitchen tables know, small steps can become great movements.