Learning to live slowly and intentionally: what growing up, moving to the suburbs, and buying too much stuff taught me about life
What is slow living? What does slow living mean? If you’ve been following along on my Instagram then you’ve seen me answer these questions in various ways (unless you don’t read the captions - my photo editing leaves a lot to be desired and I know it so shame on you), but they’ve been a recurring theme coming through my life, becoming more valued the older I get, and now actively apart of the message I want to promote. Embracing slowing down in a fast-paced, immediate gratification focused society is a powerful way to appreciate where you are now, with what you have, and it goes against everything we are conditioned to believe. But, consider, wouldn’t your life be dramatically improved if everything in it were there on purpose instead of in your way?
Just a Gypsy Soul
Living slowly is definitely not something I was raised to value. I grew up all over the place because my dad worked in the airline industry and we moved almost every year. Mostly staying in Texas, however, with a three-year hiccup to the east coast. Fun fact: I actually went to a total of 13 or 14 different schools (I’ve lost count at this point). What I did learn from moving around so often is that A) it’s a enormous pain to move around with three kids, three cats, and a large dog that often, but mostly B) that it’s a lot of wasted effort to haul around a bunch of stuff that doesn’t actually serve a purpose. Which, to be frank, not a lot of it did. It took a SEMI TRUCK to hold everything. Granted, we did have five people living in our house, but nobody needs that many dishes.
We always lived in larger urban areas, with multiple pets and I had two brothers, so I also never really experienced boredom growing up. I was perpetually the new kid, during the dawn of the almighty internet, exploring new schools and cities and neighborhoods annually. I sincerely loved and am so thankful for those experiences because they have made me supremely adaptable, but on the flipside, it was constant input all the time. Looking back, I’ve found that in my adult life I continue to crave the thrill of everything new, either out of habit or genuine interest - still picking apart that one.
Enter into my early 20’s, a past life at this point, a post-graduate with a real paycheck (FINALLY) living in the suburbs of Forth Worth cultivating an enormous shopping habit to satisfy my messy, emotional discontent. I filled an entire walk-in closet myself. Actually, maybe more than just the one closet, there were 4 bedrooms total (which may not sound that big, comparatively, but was entirely too much space for a childless household. Just empty rooms, mirroring my life.)
In my tiny blonde head I was living the status quo. Going out to dinner? New outfit. Tough night at work? Online shopping bender, that’ll fix it. Weekend trip? BUY ALL NEW THINGS. I had no sense of contentment. Or really quality, for that matter. After all, to be seen wearing the same thing to another wedding in the south was blasphemy in the biblical sense.
There I was, in a misaligned marriage, trying out someone I wasn’t, then discovering who I actually was, which is someone who doesn’t like meaningless things. I have since forgiven myself and take full responsibility for my previous ultra-consumerist ways, but I did escape the south without a Sam’s club membership though and I think I deserve some credit for that.
An Intentional Lifestyle is Born
Then life happened. I got divorced at 24. I had a 1700 sq ft house in the suburbs full of stuff. Just, stuff. And I realized, I hate stuff! The little trinkets that you mindlessly collect from the varying home goods stores in different cities that all sell the same crap and you attach a trivial sentimental value to… what was the point? I don’t know who made those. I have memories - they’re still intact! Why carry around multiple shot glasses or ceramic figurines from that trip to Cancun in 2011 to represent them? There’s no quality there. I’m not going to be buried with things and truthfully, they’re just obstacles when dusting. If you look at them (and yourself) hard enough you’ll see that they don’t really mean anything. They are cold, ceramic placeholders for emotions… tiny reminders of everything you’re not dealing with.
So, in classic gypsy style, I packed up on a whim and moved to Denver. To a tiny studio apartment and uprooted my entire life. I got rid of everything that I didn’t absolutely love, and it was INCREDIBLY liberating to rent the smallest U-haul, not even fill up half of it, knowing everything in it was essential to me. I felt so light (emotional baggage aside).
That was 2014. Fast-forward to now, sharing an 820 sq ft house and a closet that’s depth is visible in its entirety with the door open, with another person, and my new hobby is purging things. Just ask my wife, she loves it. Searching for items I’ve deemed trash is now her hobby.
But it’s so much better! Having a small home forces you to edit your belongings relentlessly because if it isn’t essential then it’s clutter, and space comes at premium. If you haven’t downsized recently, I recommend it. It will do wonders for your sanity if you can learn to let go.
The Art of Slow Living
The point of saying all this is that as a collective society we are berated with STUFF and NEW NEW NEW constantly. But, have you taken the time to stop and think about why you’re mindlessly consuming? There’s always a reason you’re running from. Personally, I kept accumulating because the next new outfit was for sure going to make me feel great in my own skin, when the message I was really sending was “hey, you’re uncomfortable your body, this will for sure mask it!” (and you have like a bajillion outfits hanging there so if something was going to fix you it was probably that 4th pair of cowboy boots and it would’ve already happened).
Side note: still have them, still love them.
It can be challenging to fully articulate why this is all important to me because I feel it so deeply, and I’m sure it won’t be the only blog I write along these lines. I grew up in a perpetual state of upheaval in homes filled with things that my family had been conditioned to cling to, instead of to each other. It made learning how to grow roots and see contentment and joy in my everyday surroundings a lesson that I’m continuously working through.
Slowing down and living intentionally at their core are about blooming where you’re planted. If you can’t find happiness where you are right now, with what you’ve got, then the next thing, place, or opportunity is sure to disappoint.
I hope by sharing my experience I am able to help someone else take more stock into their life right now and aide them in seeing the value of what they already have and the people around them, which will in turn create a greater collective sense of contentment, joy, and ultimately a smaller carbon footprint. The earth is actually suffering from the weight of all our stuff (literal, emotional, etc.) and what you do in your everyday life matters - don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
You are here, therefore you have purpose and can make an impact. What kind will it be?