Brooke McAlary on choosing a simpler, slower life

Brooke McAlary, host of the hugely popular Slow Home podcast, explains how she came to quit the rat race and discover a simpler, more fulfilling existence in slow living, which she shares in her new book Slow:

Six years ago, I was as close to having it all as you could imagine. Married to a wonderful man, mother to a lively and lovely one-year-old girl, pregnant with our second child, running a relatively successful handmade jewellery label, renovating our home and just returned from an overseas holiday.

Life was abundant with all the good stuff we’d spent so much time chasing. And I was utterly despondent. Yes, life was abundant. Abundant with things. A double garage so full, it had never seen a car. Wardrobes crammed with clothes I hated (never a thing to wear!). Cupboards full of enough toys to entertain an entire preschool. Life was also abundant with other things: debt, anxiety and stress. Life was hectic and hurried. Over-engineered and overcommitted, disconnected and dissatisfying.

Clutter (but not Brooke’s!)

Rather than question our priorities or try to work out why we were so unhappy, we got busier. We added items to our lists of things to buy, things to do and goals to kick. We kept buying stuff we couldn’t afford. We continued digging a deeper hole, all in the name of keeping up with the Joneses, never realising we were slowly morphing into the Joneses.

After our second child was born, I was diagnosed with severe postnatal depression. At my best I was an automaton—efficient, unfeeling, completely emotionally detached. At my worst I was a nightmare—angry, bitter, sad, resentful and entertaining suicidal thoughts.

I remember sitting in my psychiatrist’s office, recounting the previous day and the anxiety that bloomed every time I stopped doing. She looked at me and asked, ‘Have you ever considered
doing less? Maybe slowing down a bit?’

Doing less? Slowing down? Seriously? Doing less was for underachievers. Slowing down was for weak, boring people. Mediocre! Average! Ordinary! I was none of those things, thank you very much, and frankly was offended she thought so little of me.

But that seed of an idea had taken root in my frazzled brain. It wasn’t until days later, when I found myself despairing at everything I had to do and be and own, did I even consider it a
possibility. Do less? Slow down? OK. Maybe. But how? Naturally, I turned to Google and found my way to Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits. There I discovered a man who had completely transformed his life by choosing less. He was adamant that letting go of the excess stuff his family of eight had accumulated over the years led to massive changes in his health, happiness, work, home, parenting, relationships, finances and self-esteem. He was an unapologetic advocate for a life of less stuff, and he wasn’t alone.

Further research revealed there were literally millions of people who shared similar values, who were saying no, doing less and letting go. What’s more, they were saying that this life of less stuff, less stress, fewer obligations and fewer pressures was actually a life of more—more time, more energy, more freedom, more joy, more presence, more connection and more health.

As I sat in my cluttered office late that night, illuminated by the blue light of my computer monitor, my family sleeping nearby and my coffee cold next to me, I realised I wanted to be
one of these people. I wanted to find a life of more on the other side of less.

Over the next twelve months, my husband Ben and I decluttered stuff with a tenacity we’d previously reserved for acquiring it. We let go of over 20,000 items from our home that year (yes, I kept track) and many thousands more over the subsequent years (I stopped counting because it was quickly becoming a new, albeit different, obsession with our stuff). We slowly started making other changes too, and regained our weekends by learning to say no, do less and embrace the lost art of downtime. We reined in the mindless spending by questioning our wants versus our needs, began re-evaluating what it meant to live a successful life and started sketching out a long-term plan for self-employment. We rediscovered contentment by turning to gratitude and living in the present more often. And gradually, we realised we didn’t want to be the Joneses. In fact, we didn’t even like them very much. So we opted out. And while imperfect and still evolving, we’ve never been more at peace.

We now have way less stuff, less stress, less anxiety and less dissatisfaction. We have more time, more space, more fun and more creativity. We have better health, better relationships, better sleep and better adventures. We’re now self-employed and while that brings with it other complications, we’re living with the benefits of more flexibility, more freedom, more time and more satisfaction in our work.

Lest you think that’s one massive humble-brag, please know this: Did slowing down and simplifying make our lives easier? Not really. And certainly not in the beginning. Simpler, yes. But not easier.

What it did do was put the important things front and centre. We can now, most days at least, rest easy in the knowledge that we’re giving those important things the attention, love, time and space they deserve. And we can also see that those important things really aren’t things at all. Every week I receive emails asking how we achieved this values-centred life. Turns out many of you are facing the same challenges my husband and I were struggling with six years ago. And believe me, I get it.

As homes get bigger and self-storage facilities blossom in the suburbs, we find ourselves obsessed with the acquisition of ever more: stuff, status, activity, likes, followers, friends and money. Catalogues arrive daily. Online shopfronts ring with purchases made day and night. Retail therapy is mistaken for actual therapy. Social media is used to sell us new clothes, new lifestyles, new business opportunities, new health trends. Advertisements bombard us with the next big thing, making us feel inadequate until we relent and buy, just to fit in.

To paraphrase American actor Will Rogers, we buy things we can’t afford to impress people we don’t like. And we do it every day.

We fill our calendars with meetings and parties, lessons and classes. We bemoan how busy we are while saying yes to another commitment. We do these things because we believe, on some level, they will make us happy. We believe that if we just find the right combination of stuff and status it will perfectly fill the discontented hole in our lives. But we are more stressed than ever.

We are overwhelmed by a relentless amount of information every day. We have blooming consumer debt. We have homes so large we can’t keep them maintained. We have breakfast and dinner in the car. We have weekends booked out for months in advance. We have forgotten what it is to have less. Less stuff. Less stress. Less expectation. Less to do. Less to be. Less to prove. We are hyperconnected and utterly disconnected at the same time. We engage with strangers on social media but we don’t say hello to our neighbours.

Whenever I have the opportunity to talk face to face with people about creating a slower life of less, the response is almost always the same: their shoulders slump as they sigh, ‘Oh, that’s what I need.’ Usually that’s followed up with the question: ‘But how?’

This book Slow is an introduction to why a slower life is a more contented one, as well as a practical guide to how to achieve it. Because I understand how hard it can be to crave simplicity or a slower pace when your reality is of overstuffed cupboards, booked-out weekends and a crammed schedule. And I know how difficult it is to move from the theory into practice, without
hands-on guidance.

That’s where slow living comes in.

Discover more about Brooke McAlary’s Slow

Part memoir, part practical companion, Slow provides a fascinating insight into the benefits of slowing down. It will inspire you to forget about the Joneses and create a life filled with the things that really matter to you . . . slowly, of course.

Learn more about the book on our website, and hear Brooke McAlary read from Slow below, and if you’re interested in learning more about Slow Living subscribe to the Slow Home podcast on Brooke’s blog Slow Your Home:

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