For a time back in the early 2000s, it looked like Slow Living was about to take off as a major lifestyle change, with the Slow Food movement growing into every other avenue of life such as Slow Cities, Slow Schools and Slow Technology. But the movement seemed to peter out and for many years it seemed like there were just small pockets of people who kept the Slow Movement going. The pandemic has changed things again, with people re-evaluating the way they live, and Slow is back on the agenda. So where did it all go wrong, and how can we ensure it doesn't get lost again as the world gets back to normal?
Slow was introduced with great fanfare in the early noughties, with books such as Carl Honore's 2004 In Praise of Slow opening up the world of Slow to a new audience with the focus shifting from Slow Food to applying the principle to all aspects of living. The book became an international bestseller and the world seemed ready to embrace a new philosophy.
Unfortunately for the Slow Movement, just as it was gaining in popularity, so was social media, and the two were just not compatible - Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all came out after the publication of the book. As people's lives became ever more public, so did their need to prove just how amazing those lives were - travelling the world, going out to parties and events, ticking things off their bucket lists and trying to look fabulous while they were doing it. There was nothing impressive about letting everyone know that you spent a day in the garden with a good book, doing the housework or just watching TV in your pyjamas.
When Instagram really took off around 2012, we were introduced to people posing in beautiful locations; looking mystically at a sunset, drifting barefoot through a field of lavender, arms spread in joy overlooking a view.
The pressure was on to travel further than everyone else, go to more countries and more beauty spots and to pose in front of all of them. People added flags to their profiles so they could brag about just how many countries and continents they had ticked off.
On a visit to Santorini, which is Instagrammer Central, I watched a couple charge from one beautiful spot to another - she would stop, pose looking dreamily into the distance, he would take a photo, then they would speed off again to do exactly the same at a different spot. Outfits were changed, accessories added - this wasn't people enjoying the place, this was people trying to cultivate an image. It was the complete antithesis of the Slow Movement.
The damage caused by these shallow people became apparent after some years and the pendulum is now swinging to the rise of the Earnest Influencer. This is a new breed, those who make a living out of their attempts at perfect, simple living and 'educating' everyone else on how to do it.
Slow Living now is YouTube videos of terribly serious young women in neutral coloured linen clothing, living in minimalist apartments, making their own nut milk from scratch every morning before 'journaling' and meditating for hours before they start their day. They encourage you to 'check in with yourself' and use words like 'quietude' in their thin, mid-Atlantic upspeak.
Photos are sepia tinted shots of them in chunky knit cardigans, warming their hands around a vast cup of chai tea and endlessly talking about 'intentionality', 'mindfulness' and 'creating a morning routine', before they start their flexible online job, working from a laptop in a healthy smoothie café.
Although it may be a step in the right direction, it is just as vacuous and self-obsessed. The Slow Lives on display from these practitioners are completely unobtainable for the majority of us.
You just know that these young women have absolutely no-one to look after except themselves. The rest of us are getting up early to feed children, empty dishwashers and battling the traffic to get to work, grabbing a snack bar on the way out and trying to organise a million things before we reach the office.
By the time I’d fitted in a meditation, thought about three things I was grateful for, made time for a slow breakfast, commuted mindfully, taken a real lunch break, written in my journal, read a bit of a book, cooked a proper meal (slowly, no microwaves involved), remembered to turn my phone off an hour before bed, timed my bath so my sleep hygiene would give me the best chance of a perfect night sleep…. I was exhausted. And that didn’t even include any attempts to be a good girlfriend/friend/daughter/human. TV was the enemy, according to the gurus, but come the evening I was too tired to do anything but binge watch The Good Place.
These 'gurus' have given Slow Living a bad name and put people off. It has become enmeshed with Minimalism, Konmari, Hygge, capsule wardrobes, tiny houses, van life - all those things that are great for people at the start or end of their adult lives, but not so good for those of us in the middle. We have jobs, kids or parents to look after, bills to pay; we can't waft around in beige linen making nut milk from scratch and we certainly don't have the time to thank our possessions or chant life-affirming mantras.
... embracing slow living offers you a different path. It may be that you can only spare 5 minutes at lunch time, but use those 5 minutes intentionally and mindfully ... Take a quick walk around the office, open a window and take deep breaths of fresh air, do some quick exercises, read a poem, light a candle and sit still.
From a Guide to Slow Living (by the people who want to flog you linen clothing to do it in)
I dare any one of you reading this to try those suggestions above, in just five minutes, in your shared office and not feel like a complete pillock, induce hysteria from your colleagues or the wrath of HR for lighting candles at your desk.
Slow Living is a mindset, an attitude, not a checklist of virtuous things to work through. All of these things can be aspects of it; minimising your possessions, focusing on what matters, but they do not need to be accompanied by the sanctimonious bells and whistles.
Fortunately, with the lockdowns, it looks like people are now re-evaluating the speed of their previous lives.
With travel severely restricted, people discovered the joy of local, and the pressure thankfully came off bucket-list travel. Finding 'hidden gems' on your own doorstep, exploring your local woods, beaches and heritage sites is becoming much more normal and here's hoping it stays that way.
The Slow Movement is ready for a rebirth and it needs to be entirely different to what has gone before; there is no need to replace one set of rules for another. Slow Living does not need to have anything to do with morning routines, quietude or minimalism. If people want to do those while drifting around in linen and bleating on about intentionality then good luck to them, but they really need to stop hijacking the Slow Movement to do it.
“The slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail's pace. Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. The movement is made up of people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world. The slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto - the right speed.”