By Harriet Clifford
Often viewed as an antidote to the chaos of the modern world, the slow living movement gently nudges against what most of us view as normal life. We rush from one meeting to the next, always at the beck and call of our smartphones, barrelling through our days in hour chunks in which tasks are completed with a satisfying ‘check’. The coronavirus pandemic, it turns out, was a devilish, twisted kind of antidote. It forced many of us, kicking and screaming, to slow down, take a break, or even stop completely.
For some, this was a bitter pill to swallow, as we realised that our busy lives were distraction techniques, diversions, or that we had simply been running on adrenaline for years.
When the scaffolding came crashing down, what was left was ugly and uncomfortable. We’d much rather be busy, ticking things off our never-ending to-do lists, only stopping when it’s time to sleep (and even then, we’re only getting a few hours).
At the beginning we were distraught, itching to do something, anything to make our existence feel worthwhile. But as the months went by and the dust began to settle, we adapted to our new pace of life. Looking back at our lives pre-COVID, we wonder how on earth we kept going at the pace we did, barely having time to eat, sleep, or think.
If it took a pandemic to make us all slow down
It is interesting that ‘slow living’ as a lifestyle choice has dominated many a social media feed for years.
Type #theartofslowliving into Instagram and 3.2 million posts appear, mostly aesthetic, minimalist shots in muted tones, captioned with an inspirational quote or a thoughtful reflection on the natural world.
Type #slowliving in and another 3 million photos fill the grid, featuring latte art, battered books, simple interior design and earthenware pottery. The related hashtags are #kinfolk, #kinfolklife, #liveauthentic #cerealmagazine and #minimalisthome.
The ‘slow lifestyle’ advocates adopting a slower pace of life, consciously making an effort to be more present in the moment, and therefore living in a more balanced, meaningful and life-affirming way.
The most popular slow lifestyle magazine, Kinfolk, floated ethereally onto the scene in 2011, starting off as a niche lifestyle publication, but soon becoming the ‘must have’ coffee table accessory for many millennials (strategically placed just to the left of the oat milk flat white).
A way of living or a trend
Ironically, this rise in popularity was largely fuelled by Instagram, becoming perhaps a performative statement rather than a genuine way of life. One would think that people wanting to slow down would start by getting away from social media, with its instant gratification and constant steam of content.
Instead, many are thinking about how a moment will look on Instagram, positioning the book, freshly ground coffee, handmade babygro, loaf of sourdough to ensure that the sunlight is hitting it perfectly. I am guilty of this, sometimes formulating a witty caption rather than concentrating on what the person sitting next to me is saying.
Slow lifestyle magazines are veritable feasts for the senses, filled with sleek, minimalist images and thoughtful reflections on design, fashion, interiors, arts and culture, food and nature. Aside from Kinfolk, others include Cereal, The Happy Reader and Another Escape.
Delving into the pages of these publications, it becomes clear what slow living is really all about. We’re drawn to these magazines because we crave authenticity, favouring a deep dive into niche topics, learning something new, reflecting on new ideas, and looking at beautiful images over being bombarded with adverts, unattainable bodies and consumerist values.
But how can we apply these values to our daily lives, rather than just our Instagram accounts?
This question is especially pertinent as the ‘new normal’ settles in, with many of us returning to some semblance of our busy, pre-COVID lives.
Hardly revolutionary, but it’s a piece of advice I rarely take myself, despite one hundred percent subscribing to it.
Even if you start by just going for a walk without your phone (preferably in daylight), that’s something. It gives your mind a break from the constant stream of content it’s usually assaulted with all day long, especially if your career involves social media or a lot of emails.
Eventually, you could build up to a whole day each week without technology, most likely at the weekend. Read a book, drink a coffee outside (without taking a picture of it), write a letter, enjoy a glass of wine, paint a picture, or bake a cake.
Do things that initially feel ‘pointless’
I’ve always struggled to understand what people mean when they say that we should take time to ‘just be’. There’s so much going on in my head and there are always things to be done – I can’t just sit there and do nothing.
But that’s not what they mean. Instead, it’s about taking time each day to do something that isn’t on your to-do list. It doesn’t have to take up lots of time, but even a 20-minute yoga practice helps to slow down the pace of your day. You might feel as though you’re wasting time, but you’re actually giving your mind and body a much-needed break.
Go for a walk with no destination
I’ve become quite good at this one during lockdown, having had plenty of practice when we were only allowed out once a day and no shops were open.
Now it’s become part of my daily routine. Even if I feel like I’ve got too much to do, I make sure I get outside for 30 minutes or so, just to clear my head, listen to some good music or a podcast and just think. Maybe it would be better if I didn’t have my phone with me, but perhaps I could put it on Airplane mode. Baby steps.
There is nothing wrong with the #slowliving trend on Instagram, but we are unlikely to reap any real benefits of a slower pace of life if we’re busy scrolling, posting, tagging and comparing.
Perhaps we can gather inspiration from others online, while also remembering that social media is one of the last places we should look if we want to be more present in the moment.
How are you going to slow down as we emerge into the ‘new normal’?