Slow Living in a Fast Lane

We are always reminded that today’s life is hectic and people are time poor, that outsourcing domestic tasks, such as cleaning, shopping, gardening and cooking is necessary to allow for leisure time. I wonder if this thinking has been hijacked by the perceived need to climb the employment ladder and that the extra time created is actually eaten up by more work and the demands of our children’s organised activities.

Italy, where the slow food movement began also started the Slow city or Cittaslow movement where membership requires a city population of 50,000 or less to meet a host of principals based around infrastructure, diversity and the environment as a means of improving the quality of life. While this is a great initiative, perhaps what is more important is a slow living individual mindset where the philosophy espoused is the leisurely enjoyment of simple domestic tasks in the company of your loved ones. Does that sound too strange, old fashioned and boring? Can raking up leaves and wheelbarrow rides be a better childhood memory than the sound of a blower by Jim’s Mowing. Apart from the sale of rakes and barrows, a slow living society probably won’t keep the wheels of consumerism turning quite as much and perhaps regular structured activity, like competitive sport, is better for children’s social development than raking leaves but I wonder whether we could all do with more gaps on our calendars.

I spent some time living in Europe without a car and noticed very quickly on my return to Australia how my weekends became so busy driving here and there for this and that. I came to the conclusion that having a car meant I could cram quite a bit into the day and I did it more because I could, not necessarily because I really needed to. Using the car for everything actually made my life busy, more complicated and tiring.

I’m often asked by my hairdresser or by shop assistants whether I have something on tonight or whether I have a big weekend planned. Mostly I don’t and say so but I’m left feeling that some how I should be doing something very exciting and that I must be a social dinosaur for not filling my days and nights with exciting activities. I confess I love quiet, alone, contemplative times where I sometimes do nothing but look at the beauty of an Autumn sky. During my years as a scientist I made sure I spent time thinking, whether that was an hour long walk before work or a lunch time amble in the park. This thinking time was always calming and quite productive and certainly beat going through emails or listening to office politics. I believe everyone, kids included, need time to just think without the distraction of others and the devices of modern living. We all know this slow approach improves our concentration span and ability to learn and yet we don’t do it. We muddle through multitasking and wonder why we haven’t achieved that much.

I’ve recently taken the time to discovering my city and my local neighbourhood on foot but with no particular aim or direction in mind. Places I used to drive or ride past on route to somewhere suddenly became quite interesting on foot as I met familiar faces and got to know the cracks and lumps in the footpath and there are plenty in my inner city neighbourhood. I realised by taking this slow route and a little time to chat I’ve developed a true sense of place and while I encountered things that also irritated me I know it is part of the fabric of my community and I have grown to accept it. I consider myself very lucky to live in an apartment block with a large garden that runs riot with about a dozen young kids playing crazy make-believe games in the hour of so before dinner. These kids are part of our apartment community and are watched over, occasionally reprimanded and even entertained by neighbours, something I had not thought possible in a large city of 4 million in 2015. In contrast, I know someone who lived in a street where there were several children the same age as their own but did not know this until they moved house. Despite living in a high-density inner city suburb, the families were all hopping into cars to go to some activity and never saw one another. With just a little slow living that street could have been a vibrant and supportive little community.

On a more intimate social scale, simple tasks that can bring family and friends together, like a garden makeover or bottling tomato passata, are the essence of slow living. Allowing participation of the youngest through to the oldest in these activities ensures for plenty of idle chatter, the passing on of useful skills and the building of important social bonds. So, next time you’re thinking of outsourcing painting the picket fence, why not make it and a rewarding afternoon tea the focus of activity. Slow living is worthwhile pursuing but you need to practice it. Try leaving a few days blank on the calendar; you won’t miss out on anything, rather you may encounter so much more.


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