Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary
From the creator of the award-winning Slow Home podcast comes Slow the perfect companion on the long road to living a simpler and more fulfilled life.
‘Dear Mr & Mrs Jones, I am writing to inform you of my withdrawal from the race to keep up with you . . .’
Once upon a time, Brooke McAlary thought she was close to having it all. Married to a wonderful man, mother to a lively young daughter, and pregnant for a second time, she’d acquired all the things she’d once thought important-holidays, cars, a renovated home. Yet despite this, she found herself utterly despondent. Realising that they wanted a simpler, more fulfilling existence, Brooke and her family gradually created their own way of living, with an emphasis on depth, connection and experiences.
In Slow Brooke gently encourages you to find pleasure and value in a simpler life, sharing the practical tips and rituals that have helped her on her own journey, from decluttering to de-owning, messiness to mindfulness, from asking why to asking where to now?
Part memoir, part practical companion, Slow provides a fascinating insight into the benefits of slowing down. It will inspire you to forget about the Joneses and create a life filled with the things that really matter to you . . . slowly, of course.
About the Author
Brooke McAlary is passionate about slow living. She has experienced the transformative power of simplifying, paying attention and living a mindful, intentional life, and as the host and creator of the award-winning Slow Home Podcast (downloaded more than 2 million times) she encourages thousands of people every day to live a simpler, slower life.
But it wasn’t always like that. Six years ago Brooke was completely overwhelmed. She had two young children, a husband who worked long hours, a business, a home filled to the brim with all the trappings of a ‘successful life’ and a severe case of post-natal depression.
Everything changed when she began decluttering. What began as an effort to remove some of the excess, slowly evolved into a complete transformation. Gone is the overwhelm, the clutter, the excess, the busy-ness, replaced by a simpler, more meaningful, more connected life.
Now she and her husband are self-employed and enjoy a life centred on the important things – which, it turns out, aren’t really things at all.
- Awareness begins with an Aha Moment
People don’t typically wake up and change one day without a compelling reason.
“After our second child was born, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression.”
“I had no margin. No room for change or flux. Mentally, I was operating beyond capacity, and when something happened that threw me, even a little, I had no room to expand. There was no buffer to help me cope, so I blew up.”
“I remember sitting in my psychiatrist’s office, recounting the previous day and the anxiety that bloomed every time I stopped doing . She looked at me and asked, ‘Have you ever considered doing less? Maybe slowing down a bit?’”
- Acknowledge the Joneses & the Mainstream Consumption Society
Ever wonder how the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” was created? Brooke’s book actually begins with a resignation letter to the Joneses: “Please accept this letter as my official notice, effective immediately.” She also addresses lifestyle inflation.
“Life was abundant with all the good stuff we’d spent so much time chasing. And I was utterly despondent. Yes, life was abundant. Abundant with things.”
“Rather than question our priorities or try to work out why we were so unhappy, we got busier.”
“Our society and economy are built upon a strong foundation of consumption and a firm expectation that we will contribute, so much so that choosing to live with less stuff is viewed as countercultural.”
“Take your purchasing power back from marketers, and choose a product that will prove a good investment of time, money, and resources.”
“We live in a time when we can make a difference and support brands that are being proactive on issues we care about…Whatever issues are most important to you, make a choice to support those doing good in the world, and acknowledge that you also have the ability to contribute to causes that are important to you simply by purchasing with intention.”
“Care more about community and sharing resources. Care more about quality. Care more about the things you already own and use. Care more about the people making your stuff. Care more about the planet. If you do need to buy things, buy once, and buy well. Look for the best quality you can afford. Look for things with multiple and varied uses. Look for items that can be passed on to someone else once you’re finished with them.”
- Ask Yourself A LOT of Questions
My questioning started with big questions that led to an existential crisis. But, not all questions have to be big questions.
“Whenever I have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with people about creating a slower life of less, the response is almost always the same: their shoulders slump as they sigh and say, ‘Oh, that’s what I need.’ Usually, that’s followed up with the question ‘But how?’ This book is an introduction to why a slower life is a more contented one, as well as a practical guide to how to achieve it.”
“As I moved through the gradual and messy process of slowing down, the question I was asking myself was the same one so many people have asked me over the years: life is already too busy, how am I supposed to find time for slowing down? If I’m already struggling to do all the things required of me every day, isn’t ‘slow down’ just another item on my to-do list? Another way to make me feel guilty for not doing enough?”
“The far more common question is ‘How do I start?’ and it comes from people who are simply overwhelmed at the thought of beginning. They’re tired, stressed, overcommitted, and struggling to find any peace or simplicity in their day-to-day existence. They want to learn how, but they just can’t find an easy entry point. It all looks too big or time-consuming.”
- You must Create your own Purpose (or your “Why”)
Creating purpose is one of the biggest themes on this book. If you don’t have a why, the hows will never stick.
“I didn’t know what I thought, and I didn’t know what I stood for. And without those two things, it proved really difficult to make changes in my life and make them stick. I needed to find my Why, but I didn’t know how.”
“There was an enormous disconnect between the things I valued most and my everyday actions. Even back then, in my haze of depression, anxiety, and numbness, I knew what the most important things to me were, but I didn’t live as though I did.”
“‘Write your eulogy in three sentences’ it instructed me.”
“By placing these priorities at the forefront of my mind, I have slowly created a life aligned with values that are important to me and my family, a life aligned with my Why. What I’ve discovered is that the Why needed to come first, while the How followed behind.”
“The words are my compass, helping me navigate difficult decisions and awkward conversations, and have given me the confidence to explain why I’ve made a particular choice. Having and knowing my Why helps me decide what actions to take, which issues are worthy of my time and concern, and which are not. Understanding my Why has helped— and will continue to help— steer me and my family through the inevitable challenges and obstacles that life provides and create a life much more closely aligned with our Why than if we’d simply left it up to chance.”
“Our Why is the antidote to overload. It’s a call back to the important things and a reminder that we don’t need to carry the weight of everything, only those things that are important to us.”
- Start the Gradual Process of Downshifting
Downshifting into slow and simple living is a gradual process.
“Gradually, we realized we didn’t want to be the Joneses. In fact, we didn’t even like them very much. So we opted out. And while imperfect and still evolving, we’ve never been more at peace.”
“As my raw, real, feeling self was revealed, two things began to happen. I began to experience more. More joy, yes, but also more realization, more discomfort, more pain, more bittersweetness. More awareness of the beauty and tragedy of life. For the first time in many years (maybe ever), I was becoming emotionally available, and it was stunningly uncomfortable. The second thing that happened was I began engaging. I began really listening to what people were saying, considering what I was saying, and paying attention to what I was doing. I suddenly wanted more from life.”
“There was a lightness to me I hadn’t experienced before as I began to see the benefits of this slow, sustainable work.”
- Declutter your Physical Environment
Looking for a beginner’s guide to decluttering? After everything I’ve read, I recommend Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method.
“I began the process of slowing and simplifying my life by dealing first with the excess of stuff in our home.”
“Over the next twelve months, my husband Ben and I decluttered stuff with a tenacity we’d previously reserved for acquiring it. We let go of more than twenty thousand items from our home that year (yes, I kept track) and many thousands more over the subsequent years.”
“But only after months of decluttering could I even begin to examine other areas of my life that needed simplifying. That’s when I started to consider my thoughts, my calendar, my opinions, my systems…It was a clear case of my psychological state gradually mimicking my physical environment, eventually leading my family to an entirely new way of living.”
“Minimalism is often tied to slow living, and while they are a wonderful complement to each other and I personally tend to a more minimalist aesthetic, they also aren’t the same thing. At its core, minimalism is about stripping out excess stuff in order to make room for the things that matter, but it so often becomes twisted around the competitive idea of how much we should own, how many items we can live with, how bare the walls are, how tiny the home, how tightly edited the capsule wardrobe. All these things can be part of a slow, simple life, but I find so many people get overwhelmed at the idea of ‘doing minimalism right’ that we essentially swap the old Joneses for new.”
“The new Joneses seem to have conflated the minimalist aesthetic with minimalism as a lifestyle (they are very different things).”
- Transition into Intentional, Purposeful, Slow Living
“I don’t want slow living to become synonymous with decluttering, but I do want it to become synonymous with intention. And if you can work through the process of decluttering with intention, then you can feel confident that a slower, simpler home waits on the other side.”
“Author and slow-living advocate Erin Loechner told me that to her, slow living is a duality of caring more and caring less—that is, working out what’s worth caring more about and letting go of the things that aren’t.”
“Slow living is a curious mix of being prepared and being prepared to let go. Caring more and caring less. Saying yes and saying no. Being present and walking away. Doing the important things and forgetting those that aren’t. Grounded and free. Heavy and light. Organized and flexible. Complex and simple.”
“Remember, the reason you’re slowing down and simplifying is to make life better, so don’t add a whole heap of stress to the equation unnecessarily.”
“A significant part of slow living is learning to think intentionally and purposefully, and a little planning and forethought can go a long way.”
“Slow living is about quality time and making things count.”
“The lightness I feel when I acknowledge that right here, right now is enough, is a letting go. It’s contentment born of gratitude.”
“Slow living is about intention, spending more time on things that are important and less on things that aren’t. Getting organized (enough) is a way to do more of the important and less of the unimportant.”
“A big practical part of slow living is building an awareness and learning how to combat the feeling of being overwhelmed before it takes over. Awareness and action. Noticing and evolving. Paying attention and making it count for something.”
- Pay Attention & Practice Mindfulness Moments
“I’d uncovered one of life’s secrets, and I’d witnessed a miracle, all because I paid attention.” (Brooke on watching a flower bloom overnight)
“You can’t outsource mindfulness. The right combination of app and course and book won’t deliver a mindful life to your door by close of business the next day.”
“You don’t really need to give this any time. There are so many ways to adopt mindfulness in your current day that the argument of not enough time is completely moot. Choose one task you already do, and turn it into a mindfulness moment…Simply pay attention to what you’re doing in that moment — the sensations, actions, smells, and tastes. That’s mindfulness.”
- Digital Minimalism will help you Disconnect to Reconnect
Although Brooke doesn’t use the term “digital minimalism,” her descriptions and tips sum it up nicely.
“Modern connection technology has delivered us a paradox. We have more connection and less humanity. We’re hyper-engaged and increasingly isolated. We have more information and less critical thought. We see more tragedy and have less empathy. We enjoy more privilege but are less satisfied. We are sensitive to personal offense and desensitized to the suffering of others.”
“Slow living provides an opportunity to step back, pay attention, and question the ways we use technology, to recalibrate our relationship with the constantly switched-on, logged-in world. It offers us an opportunity to disconnect in order to reconnect.”
“The technology isn’t the problem; it’s how we choose to use it. And it is a choice.”
“Slow living is a call to disconnect. Switch off our phones and get outside. Talk to people at the coffee shop. Offer a stranger an anonymous kindness. Volunteer our time to others. Have a spirited conversation with someone who doesn’t see the world like we do. Invite depth to our lives.”
“The more I connect with people in real life, the more I have conversations and see their strengths, beauty, and imperfections, the more I realize we’re all alike. We’re all human. We’re all trying.”
- Travel at a Slower Pace
Interested in slow travel?
“The more we’ve let go, the more my nomadic spirit emerges. A house full of stuff, a calendar full of commitments, a credit card full of debt—these things are heavy and made travel and exploring feel out of reach. Now, we feel free to wander. It doesn’t need to be a big, expensive overseas vacation we love camping or going to a new beach. It’s more about the pace with which we do it.”
“We use travel, in all its forms, as a time to connect with each other, different cultures, new experiences, and a slower pace.”
- Finding Time & Balance Require Making Choices
“We each have twenty-four hours in a day, and when I began looking at how I chose to spend those twenty-four hours, it became clear that not all action was created equal.”
“I began to take responsibility for my time and how it was spent. Once I realized I had a choice, it was simpler (though not always easier) to spend it more wisely.”
“Balance is finding the correct weight for every area of life and understanding that the correctness of that weight will change over time. Balance is fluid and flexible. Balance is alive and aware. Balance is intention.”
“Tilting is the opposite of constant balance. It’s willingly pouring my attention into an area that needs it (or the area I need) and acknowledging that I will be tilting away from other parts of life into meditation, into creativity, into play, into noticing, into people, into a good book. Away from doing, planning, list making, screens, comparisons.”
- Take Action & Stay on the Journey
“Every tiny step matters. Every time you make a seemingly insignificant shift toward your Why, every item you let go of, every deep breath, every kindness, every positive choice adds up to the creation of a life centered on what’s important to you.”
“Whatever you choose to do with your excess, simply act.”
“As an advocate of small, consistent action, I’d encourage you to go small first and move on to bigger tasks as your confidence builds.”
“Did slowing down and simplifying make our lives easier? Not really. And certainly not in the beginning. Simpler, yes, but not easier. What it did do was put the important things front and center. We can now, most days at least, rest easy in the knowledge that we’re giving those important things the attention, love, time, and space they deserve. And we can also see that those important things really aren’t things at all.”
“You are allowed to make changes to the way you’re living. You’re allowed to look after yourself. You’re allowed to decide what is important to you. And you’re allowed to create a life with those things at the center. It’s OK to go slowly. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to be different. And it’s OK to let go of caring about the Joneses. Just don’t replace them with a new set. Instead, create a life full of the things that matter to you, and watch as the world reveals beauty and humanity and connection. Slowly. Of course.”