Ten ways to take life more slowly

{This blog post kicks off our series of guest posts about living locally and sustainably by Edmonton-area writers. It was adapted for Earth Day from a talk Local Good executive member Deborah gave at the 2012 Millet Womens’ Retreat on March 10th, and is reposted with permission from Deborah’s guest post at Edmonton’s NextGen and her blog chronicling the slow movement, Sustainable Slow Stylish.}

Another Earth Day, another avalanche of press releases and sales flyers. Sometimes it feels like ‘green’ has become another hokey sales pitch for gadgets you don’t need, doesn’t it? However, Earth Day is more than just an opportunity to get a great deal on a rain barrel at the hardware store. It’s a chance to rethink how our everyday actions have an impact, not just on the planet, but closer to home.

This is what Earth Day is actually about. Earth & Moon as seen from Mars
(3 Oct 2007, HiRISE camera, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Want to make your impact on the planet and your community a positive one? Try slowing your life down.

By ‘slow’, I mean the opposite of ‘fast’ as in ‘fast food’ and ‘fast fashion’. The Slow Movement is a worldwide grassroots initiative that seeks to mitigate some of the negative effects of consumerism and globalization on communities and traditions, using mindful, ethical, interactive, and playful means. It’s a philosophy that’s being adapted to many different subjects, including slow foodslow fashionslow designslow homeslow travelcittaslow (slow cities)slow craftslow marketingslow parentingslow scienceslow journalism, and slow technology

At its heart, the Slow Movement is about making choices that support communities and celebrate their traditions and skills. Here are ten easy ways you can incorporate its ideas into your life.

1. Local Is Lovely

Thinking locally is the most important idea behind the Slow Movement. Consciously choose to shop, eat, bank, and use services in your community. Seek out things that are grown or made locally, and support local independently-owned businesses. Live Local are Edmonton’s best resource for shopping, dining, and eating locally, and they’ve written a great explanation of why choosing local makes a big difference. 

2. Think Sustainable

Yes, being green is part of being slow, because sustainable practices build healthier families and communities. The emphasis in the Slow Movement is less on eco-marketing buzzwords and energy efficient gizmos, and more on doing what you can with what you already have. There are lots of easy, inexpensive ways to make your home and life more environmentally friendly. A couple of strategies that can make a big difference are looking for third-party certifications to back up a manufacturer’s sustainability claims, and thinking about a product’s life cycle (How and where was it made? Was it shipped far? How long will it last? Does it offgas? What happens when you’re done with it?).

3. Think Long-Lasting

Choose to buy things that are durable, timeless, and well-made. If you consider the life cycle of an object, something you will use and love for decades beats out something you won’t, no matter what other eco-attributes it has. So, aim to buy fewer, better things – and go ahead and eat off the good china.

4. Sharing Is Caring

Borrow from your neighbors. Use your local library. Rent tools instead of buying them. Join a car sharing group. Barter, trade, and swap. All these ways to share items aren’t only cheaper than ownership; they’re also a great way to reduce your personal environmental footprint and build community. Collectively, these activities are referred to as Collaborative Consumption, and peer-to-peer services that use sharing as their business model are exploding in popularity all over the world. 

5. Less Is More

Voluntary Simplicity and Minimalism are twin strategies for slow living. Minimalists aim to buy less, higher quality stuff, and say that living with fewer things is freeing, in addition to being more environmentally friendly. The term Voluntary Simplicity tends to be used by people who aim to live frugally and self-sufficiently.

6. Make Do And Mend

Fixing things – and buying things that are designed to be fixable, instead of having planned obsolescence – is sustainable behavior, but also helps us to learn new skills and share skills with each other, and we tend to cherish objects that we have mended with our own hands.

7. Wabi-Sabi

Wabi and Sabi are concepts that come from Japan’s Zen Buddhism. The concept of wabi includes harmony, balance, simplicity, and humility; sabi translates literally as “the bloom of time”. Taken together, the words describe the beauty of everyday, functional objects that we cherish because they are well-used, patinated, handmade, and tied to memories. Wabi-sabi is also living in the moment, simply and authentically, and letting seasonal rhythms and local availability influence our lives.

8. Think Handmade

9. Think Traditional 

These two ways to slow down your life go hand-in-hand. If a goal of the Slow Movement is to protect regional cultural traditions from globalization, industrialization, and consumerism, then it follows that passing on the traditions that you grew up with, and learning more about the traditions of your region and your ancestors, is an important part of slow living. When I think of the traditions I know of from my family that are no longer celebrated, they all have to do with making things by hand that are mass-manufactured now – like hand-quilted blankets and recipes with days of soaking time. There are countless hand-making skills and family recipes that I cannot learn easily from family members now that I live in another province – I need to turn to books and blogs and YouTube videos to figure them out. Not much is handmade any more, so to preserve those skills and traditions we need to support the artisans who are using them, and learn the skills when we get a chance.

The flip side of that is the intrinsic value of living with handmade things – their beauty and their durability. Just knowing an object is made by hand makes it more special, even if it doesn’t come from our personal set of traditions. Knowing who made something and where it was made makes it even more special.

10. Take Your Time

Try literally slowing your life down. That could mean doing things more slowly and carefully, to get a higher quality end result. It could mean saying no to things that are not a priority for you, to make room in your life for your passions. It could mean taking a sabbatical to research a new area, taking a course to learn a new technique, or taking time off for a vacation, to help inspire new work.

As you can see, incorporating the ideas of the Slow Movement into your everyday life could make it more beautiful, meaningful, sustainable, and connected to your community.