Erin Loechner Tells Us Why Living Slow Is the New American Dream
Somehow, over the years, we’ve collectively decided to equate being busy with being successful. Having too much on our plates is somehow a mark of accomplishment, even if it leaves us feeling stressed, unfulfilled and exhausted in the process. Lately, though, we’ve been noticing a beautifully simple resistance to all this busyness and clutter — and we are so here for it. Whether it’s championing a three-day work week, getting hygge with it or adopting the KonMari method, there’s a shift to slow down and focus on the small things that are in front of us.
Now, thankfully for us, Erin Loechner has literally written the book on all things slow living: Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path is a deeply personal and highly engaging look at Erin’s own journey toward ditching the frantic scramble to be present in the now. We chatted with her to learn more about why the concept is such an important and meaningful way to live, no matter where you are.
B+C: We’re pretty sure we can guess what “slow living” means, but can you give us your specific definition of the concept?
EL: Slow living isn’t a prescriptive formula; it’s simply an exploration of a different way to live. Our culture often praises upward growth — higher, faster, stronger, better — but there are many gifts to be found in the slow, simple, quiet way of living.
B+C: How did you come to live slow? Was it a gradual process or a conscious decision on your part?
EL: Slow living is my own journey toward the understanding that the American dream isn’t necessarily my dream. But we began living slowly before we realized we were living slowly, actually! For my family, our journey toward slow living was purely reactive — a series of circumstances, from my husband’s brain tumor to a cross-country move to the loss of a family member. Each circumstance led us to the realization that this is a heavy, weighty life, and that it’s a gift, not a given. As a result, we’ve learned to continually reevaluate what our priorities are: What matters to us and why? And how can we live out those values daily?
B+C: What have you gained or what do you hope to continually gain in your life from slow living?
EL: I think we hoped to gain a lot of things by living slowly — clarity, sanity, time, perspective. When we truly pause to consider how we want to live this one prized life, it becomes quite simple to see whether or not our calendars/finances/actions align with our values. It’s the seeing and the noticing that offers that first step in making the change toward a more value-driven life.
B+C: How long have you been living slow? Do you feel like it’s gotten easier to simplify your life as the years go by, or has it been a continual process?
EL: I’d say we’ve been living slowly for roughly 10 years, although it’s tricky to measure. We’ve had seasons of fast and seasons of slow, and I always try not to trick myself into thinking slow living looks or feels a certain way. It’s an internal shift; a matter of the heart. So in that regard, slow living is more of a daily decision and not an annual assessment.
B+C: What’s been the most difficult part of living slow for you and your family specifically?
EL: The most difficult part for me has been coming to terms with the many tensions that exist in slow living: How do you live slowly without falling into selfishness or lacking productivity? How do you choose what to prioritize? Where is the balance in it all? The beauty, to me, is that slow living allows us the time and space to process that tension — and the grace to learn as we fall short of our ideals time and time again.
B+C: Have there been any surprises you’ve learned about yourself or about how you want to live your life in the process?
EL: You know, the biggest surprise of moving from a fast life to a slow life has been the realization that it’s not a magic shortcut to happiness. It’s a destination, not an arrival point. It’s a method of reaching your life’s goals, but it’s not the goal itself. I think I assumed that once I “reached” the pinnacle of slow living — say, a waste-free home with zero clutter and a tiny carbon footprint — that I’d be happier. But what I learned was that whether you’re chasing fast or chasing slow, it’s still a chase. The secret is contentment. Gratitude for what you have, not greed for what you don’t. Prioritizing people over things. Experience over convenience. Embracing where you are today, not where you want to be just around the bend.
B+C: For those of us who are still over-scheduled and phone-addicted, what would you say is the most important thing we can do right now to start living more mindfully?
EL: The most important step you can take to slow your life is to look inward, not outward. There are many formulas to slowing your life — e.g., KonMari methods and decluttering theories and financial overhauls — but I think the most important thing to consider is (a) how you got to where you are, and (b) where you want to move from here. Life doesn’t look the same for each of us; we can’t possibly look to the crowd to tell us how to live. When we attempt to follow a prescription for a happier, slower day, we’re not changing our lives, we’re changing the things in our lives. There’s a very big difference. So my advice would be to look at your goals, your values, your priorities. What do you want? Start there.
So whether that’s growing your own food or simply taking time to actually make your dinner, whether it means you sell your television or simply limit your watching to a couple hours a week, whether you quit your job and move to the country or turn off your phone every night after 6pm, you can live more slowly and mindfully however intensely you’d like. Slow is relative, so find your own pace and enjoy the ride.
Have you made any changes in your day-to-day life to live slow? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know what’s been working for you!
(Photos via Veda House and Ken Loechner)