On Slowing Down – and Meaning It

Jan 30

Tsh 2As 2013 rolled into 2014, I read a number of magazine articles and blog posts sharing the resolution to slow down in the new year, to stop and smell the flowers (even if the seeds of those flowers in many parts of the country are buried under a blanket of snow, fearful of the subzero temperatures that await above the soil). These writers promised to spend 2014 looking their partners in the eye, paying more attention to their kids, taking time for long walks and home-cooked meals with locally-sourced ingredients.

What troubled me about many of these posts was that the authors offered up “Live more slowly” as just another task to be added to an already bloated to-do list, right under “Buy more coffee filters” and above “Make dentist appointment.” These writers felt too busy and longed for stillness, but their antidote to busy-ness was to try to do more without taking anything away.

Right around this time, I also read Tsh Oxenreider’s newest book, Notes From a Blue Bike, in which she recounts her family’s efforts to translate values they gleaned from their years living in the relationship-based culture of Turkey to the productivity-based culture of the US. Like some of the writers of these articles and blog posts I’d just been reading, Tsh values slow living. She wants to do things like walk everywhere, eat seasonally, and linger over meals drawn to a close with a generous mug of tea. But what Tsh acknowledges that the others didn’t is that slowing down involves not only good intentions, but also saying a rather loud “No!” to a culture where worth is often tied up in busy-ness and productivity is a primary goal.

Reading Tsh’s smart, thoughtful book made me think about my own family’s values and how well we do at living them. I gave us a gold star for choosing professional paths that allow us both creative satisfaction and flexible, family-friendly schedules. I offered silent thanks to the person – whoever it was, I can’t remember – who encouraged me never to sign up a child for more than one activity at a time. I thought happily about our Friday night secular Sabbath, when we gather as a five-some to sing, share allowance money with our family tzedakah box, eat pizza, and watch a movie.

But even while I gave us credit for the things we do that are in keeping with our wish for a slow, peaceful, family-centered life, there were other habits I had to question: like saying yes to every birthday party invitation that arrives in my kids’ cubbies even if it means adding yet another commitment to an already full weekend, and getting a prickle of satisfaction when every line of my weekly calendar is full. And I realized once again – as Tsh reminds us throughout Notes From a Blue Bike – that every one of these obligations that leaves us feeling depleted, that steers us away from the life we want to live is a choice, that we are too often opting in to a culture of busy, that “no” is as viable – if not always as easy – an answer as “yes.”

In her book, Tsh encourages us to look both at our values and the choices that we make to support them. She shows us the ways in which her family and others navigate lives of intention where they accomplish plenty – both by Western cultural standards and their own – without feeling emptied. It’s refreshing and inspirational not only to read about good intentions, but also to see those intentions carried out.

Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Check out the book trailer below and then grab your copy hereThis post is part of the Blue Bike Blog Tour, which I’m thrilled to be part of. To learn more and join us, head here. (Tsh provided me with a complimentary review copy of her book. Opinions expressed here are my own.)

Do you prefer living fast or living slow? Do you ever feel like you and your family are swimming against the cultural current?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Nina January 30, 2014 at 9:02 am

I’ve read Tsh’s blog way back in the day and yes, agree that living simply is the way to go for me. Like yourself, I don’t plan to sign my kids up for more than one activity at a time (too much time and money anyway). We also prefer simple entertainment (a walk to the park) than every-weekend outings. I however do try to say “yes” to invitations when feasible, because I also don’t want to miss out on opportunities and stay holed up forever, but I try to balance it so that I don’t feel overwhelmed. So if we’re invited to a party, that’s the only “main thing” we’re doing—no market, no squeezing in a trip to the mall, etc.

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm

That’s where I run into problems: those times when birthday parties spill into grocery shopping or dinner plans and it feels like the entire day is gone and everyone’s more exhausted by the end of the weekend than they were at the start of it.

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pamela January 30, 2014 at 10:25 am

You raise such a good point about the need to say NO. Which requires a certain intention. I often try to “live more simply” and end up more exhausted. You distill this down so wonderfully. Thank you for giving me permission to say No:)

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 2:50 pm

You’re more than welcome, my dear. I hope that by giving it to you, I also remember to give it to myself. xo

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Rebecca@altaredspaces February 14, 2014 at 8:42 am

A lovely chain of giving and reminding. I often find that. As I’m talking to my kids and preaching, “be careful what you say yes to…” the hungriest ears are my own.

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Kristen February 14, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Yes, yes, yes. I know just what you mean. xo

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri January 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Kristen,

I follow her blog and love how she offers practical solutions on mindfulness.
The points you raise are ones I’ve grappled with in the past. I am my best self when I am not overcommitted. Keeping that one personal truth in mind helps me say no to things that are not essential.

Thanks for your insight, Kristen.

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 2:51 pm

So much wisdom here, Rudri: “I am my best self when I am not overcommitted.” Thanks for distilling this idea down into one succinct mantra.

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lisa January 30, 2014 at 1:34 pm

We all say and think we need to slow down, but none of us really believe it can happen, do we? I just finished a womens’ book review at our church; the book was titled [appropriately] Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem, by Kevin DeYoung. I think you’d like it.

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm

I love that title! It sounds like a book for me!

You know, on the one hand, I do sometimes see the busy-ness epidemic as insurmountable. On the other, I’m encouraged by the number of families I see choosing to opt out of it. I think it’s one of those small trends that could have a strong snowball effect the more people hear about others saying “no” to over-scheduling themselves and their kids.

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Perfecting Motherhood January 30, 2014 at 3:11 pm

We’re already so busy with our regular activities and the extra annoying stuff that life likes to throw at us every single week, I have no problem saying no to some events. There’s nothing worse than having to run around the whole day, every day, and end up with tired, cranky kids at the end of the day. There are so many balls and lemons I can juggle until I’ve had my fill. Pizza and movie night is always fun!

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm

The image of you juggling balls and lemons makes me smile, Milka! :)

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Elizabeth Grant Thomas January 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm

I love this, Kristen, and am very interested in the book! I often feel like I’m swimming against the cultural current (and always have, to some extent, it feels). I am taking some pretty active steps this year to committing to a more sane, slower life; namely, having Abra in bed at 7 pm, which took a lot of schedule-shifting and ultimately means we can’t do much in the afternoons. But thus far, the trade off in ALL of our energy levels and emotional state throughout the REST of the day has been totally worth it. (And thanks to you, I am also subscribing to that no-more-than-one-activity-at-a-time credo!)

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:14 pm

An early bedtime (for both kids and grown-ups) has been essential for us. It ensures that the kids get the sleep they need, it gives us grown-ups time together after they’re in bed, and it helps me prioritize rest for myself. If forced to dole out one bit of parenting advice, enforcing an early bedtime just might be it!

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Nina January 30, 2014 at 10:55 pm

We have twice as many kids as most of our friends so in a odd way we feel against a cultural tide because we say no to many activities. There are certain things are too hard or we just can’t be in that many places at once. We are also more religious (Jewishly) than most of our friends so that slows down our lives too on Shabbat. I like it though! I like sort of having a foot in both worlds.

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm

I think there’s a very good reason why Shabbat has existed for so long: it makes so much sense, both spiritually and secularly, to put aside time at the end of each week to renew one’s self and one’s spirit. Though we are an interfaith family, we have borrowed many elements of Shabbat in our own weekend rituals and have benefited from them.

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Corinne January 31, 2014 at 8:00 am

I love the idea of slowing down not being something on a check list of to-do’s. We’re pretty slow here… or rather – we’re intentional about our time and commitments. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:18 pm

I really admire that about you, Corinne, and hope to be more and more like you as I make tweaks to my life and that of my family. xo

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Jessica January 31, 2014 at 2:29 pm

I’m getting much better at saying ‘no’ these days, it’s hard, but it needs to be done sometimes. Last week we took my 9 month old baby girl to the first birthday party she’d been invited to, it was for a 2 year old and it was bedlam! I found the party so draining and my daughter was way over stimulated. I found myself dreading all the invites that come through once they hit the school years and I told myself then that I’d have to say no to some, not only to save our schedules, but also our sanity – so pleased I’m not the only one whose had this thought!

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

“Bedlam” is a great word for it. In our new hometown, everyone seems to have birthday parties that are sort of destination events where a venue is rented and dozens of kids are invited. My kids (2, 4, and 6) often really enjoy them, but just as often they feel overwhelmed. (Where we used to live, parties were much smaller and almost always at friends’ homes.) We’re having my daughter’s third birthday party at home next weekend with just a handful of family friends. I wonder if we’ll be blacklisted from future gatherings for going against the grain. ;)

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Andrea January 31, 2014 at 3:54 pm

It’s not easy to say no, is it? I want to have a social life and spend time with friends (I already feel like I’ve neglected most of my friends since having children), but making time to be with them means taking time away from my family, or dragging my husband and kids to go somewhere they don’t want to go (they are much more learned at saying “no” than I am). I also feel guilty if we don’t meet other people’s demands and expectations for spending time with them. Since I finished my grad school program, I’ve had numerous people remark on all the “free time” I’m going to have now, and I feel as if just by saying it they’re trying to suck away my precious (and limited) writing time. Not sure what point I’m trying to make, except that, yeah, saying no is super hard, and that there needs to be some kind of balance (but I don’t know what that is!!).

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Congratulations on finishing your program, MFA lady! Proud of and inspired by you!

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Tiffany February 2, 2014 at 8:47 am

We are trying to be better about this too… That’s not easy! Thanks for the reminder.

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Not easy at all – especially with three kids, huh? :)

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Jessica February 2, 2014 at 9:40 am

I agree wholeheartedly with this. Slowing down and living simply are very important to me, and learning how to say “no” is essential for walking this path. We, too, follow the one activity at a time rule. Though it’s become more challenging as the kids have gotten older, and they want to do what all their friends are doing. This sounds like a great book.

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Kristen February 3, 2014 at 3:35 pm

I’m wondering how much more challenging the one activity at a time thing is going to be as the kids get older. My oldest, for instance, has expressed interest in Cub Scouts, which start next year, but adding that to his rock climbing class would mean three evening activities just for him. I can’t see that working well for a family of five.

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