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How to Reject Busyness and Embrace Slow Living with Your Entire Family

Jen Anderson
Jul 13, 2017 · 7 min read
Photo: paulbr75 @ Pixabay

Our family had it all — the house, the pool, the precocious only child, and loads of plastic neighbors. But like many of you, we felt there had to be more (the kind of “more” you can’t buy in a store). Ours is a journey that landed us in a tiny camper in the middle of the woods — territory we’d once relegated to more-adventurous, free-spirited families.

But I’m here to let you in on a little secret: We found a way out. After years of drowning in the depths of the status quo (the social norms, the nine-to-five, the thirst for virtual validation, and the busyness epidemic), we came up for air. And by asking the right questions, you can too.

Imagine that your family is a pie, with each slice representing an element of your dynamic. At its simplest, ours looks like this:

By taking the process one slice at a time, my husband, my five-year old son, and I have literally redesigned our lives. Rather than obsessing over lost time, we came to see the undernurtured areas as opportunities for adventure. Our new approach involved risks and hurdles galore, but we worked through the kinks and have come out stronger on the other end.

Trust me, I get it. All families are different. Our day-to-day narratives are shaped by our varied cultural, political, and social contexts. We’ve carried different aches and celebrated different victories. But in sharing the following experiences with you, I want to give you the start of a roadmap for opting out of busyness and into what we in our family call “slow your home.”

Slice 1: Location, Location, Location

Questions to Explore

Are we happy where we live? Why or why not?
Is there a place that would be a better fit for our family?

Solution

Move. After years away from the coast, there was a longing to return to it. Having experienced landlocked city life for several years, we determined that we’d be happier parents if we could raise our young son near the ocean. The morning commute, the professional (and personal) competition, and an inexplicable sense of urgency left us constantly on edge. The moment we breathed in the Atlantic Ocean air, we felt like we were home. And in taking that leap, we triggered a series of small but life-changing shifts.

Note: Particularly with a child in the picture, the decision to move was not easy. Considerations like school districts, safety, and proximity to grandparents suddenly moved to the forefront. Moving also meant job changes and starting from scratch on the social/business networking front. All of this was terrifying, but not as terrifying as raising our son in a place where we weren’t happy.

Slice 2: Communication

Questions to Explore

How often do we truly check in with one another?
When and where do our best chats occur?

Solution

Eat dinner together, no matter what, and forgo the long-exhausted “how was your day?” script. Taking our cue from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, we now share the best and worst moments of our days, as well as something we are grateful for. Including our son in family decision-making (home repairs, meals, and daily recreation) helps all of us view ourselves as valued members of a team.

Note: My husband often logs 12-hour days and previously would work through dinner several times a week. We created a small, quiet desk space at home for those nights when he needs to push on after the family eats.

Slice 3: Adventure

Questions to Explore

How often do we experience new things together?
What does adventure mean to each of us?

Solution

Scrap our overpriced annual family vacations and invest in a tiny travel trailer camper.* Book 12 months of weekend camping trips (embracing all long holiday weekends!) in surrounding state parks. Document travels in a scrapbook, with each family member contributing in some way. The result has been a screen-free monthly family getaway that nurtures both our love for the outdoors and our longing to escape the noise of the daily grind. Sound amazing? It is.

*We went with a 2017 R-pod 171 by Forest River, at around $16,000, because of its high reviews, light towing weight, and vintage styling. (There are far-cheaper options, including used models or pop-up campers.) Having officially coined ourselves “the Pod Squad,” our preference is likely to stick.

Note: Cumulatively, we had zero RV experience prior to this purchase. We were terrified to take the leap but now consider it one of the best decisions we’ve ever made as a family. We each play various roles in the prep, setup, and unpacking process for these trips, and each trip goes a bit more smoothly than the last.

Slice 4: Mindfulness

Questions to Explore

How often are we truly present with one another?
What contemplative practices appeal to each of us?

Solutions

The three of us use guided meditations on the Headspace app, which offers several options for kids. We set up a “peace corner” in my son’s room with a comfy chair, books, and his headphones. When he needs to recharge, that space is his. In addition to meditation, my husband and I introduced daily habits that nurture our individual needs. For me, that was early morning journaling and evening walks. For him, it was running.

Note: We came to recognize that nurturing these habits individually strengthened our family as a whole. My son will often stop himself when frustrated, take a deep breath, and note his feelings out loud. Our stress levels have plummeted, and, more often than not, our “together time” lives up to its name.

Slice 5: Sustainability

Questions to Explore

Does our family life reflect our respect and concern for the earth?
What changes can we make in our daily routine without getting completely overwhelmed?

Solutions

The word “sustainability” covers so much territory that I’ve elected to highlight our environmental efforts in this section. Nutritionally, our family has cut out most meat and leaned into more locally sourced fruits and vegetables. We support our farmer’s market and join our son for monthly harvest days at the community garden. We obtained a permit to keep backyard chickens and share the eggs with friends and neighbors. The ornamental hedges that came with our home were replaced with native plants and an herb garden.

Note: Like the RV lifestyle, poultry care and gardening proved new territory for the three of us. We have relied heavily on the wisdom of friends (and experts) who are well-versed in urban sustainability, and we continue to introduce new practices at a gentle pace. When we find ourselves slipping back into old habits, we seek sustainability “reboots” through documentaries like those listed on the Zero Waste Memoirs.

Slice 6: Minimalism

Questions to Explore

Why do we have so much stuff, and how much of it fulfills us?
What do we stand to gain from decluttering?

Solution

Gleaning inspiration from the Minimalists, Marie Kondo, and the ever-encouraging founders of Slow Your Home, we got rid of our crap. And after we whittled down, organized, and hauled countless piles to Goodwill, we addressed digital clutter as well. We cut back on TV and began to (gulp) spend quality time together in the evenings. Social media accounts were deactivated, and time limits were set on mindless scrolling. Screens and things don’t make us happy — experiences do. How could something so obvious feel like such an “aha” for our family?

Note: Do not envision our home as a sparsely furnished, clean-lined shell. We have a five-year old. Let’s get real. But when holidays or birthdays are on the horizon, we host a purge. Out with the old to make space for the new. And when our family finds itself twiddling our thumbs on a Sunday afternoon, you’re far more likely to catch us exploring in the canoe or hiking at a local preserve than in the electronics aisle at Target. Escaping the “miles of piles” requires consistent effort on all of our parts. Mindfulness helps.

Conclusion

The solutions I’ve shared here did not take place overnight. But by approaching each change thoughtfully and as a united front, our “after” picture feels beautifully unrecognizable. While we still have our fair share of hide-under-the-covers days, they sting a lot less and pass far more quickly.

I challenge you to craft a pie with your own family. What questions will you ask yourselves? What solutions will you design to escape the noise of everyday life? And what will you gain when you bravely take that leap?

Just ask the lady in the RV with a chicken under her arm. She says you stand to gain everything.

Our pie graph is an adaptation of Julia Cameron’s exercise in chapter two of The Artist’s Way. Other “slices” we’ve addressed include physical health, social lives, community involvement, individual passions, social justice/outreach, marital health, and professional fulfillment.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Jen Anderson

Written by

Mother. Writer. Therapist. Coach.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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