Living in the slow lane
I recently moved to a small regional town in south Western Australia. There isn’t a traffic light for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. The land is dotted with canola fields, sheep and cattle paddocks and sprawling mountain ranges. The sky is blue steel, interrupted by the calls of black cockatoos, kookaburras and sweet little wrens. My mind relaxes in the glorious sense of space, my eyes drink in the colours of the trees against the sky and I feel utterly refreshed.
I’m not going to lie…it’s a bloody good life down here.
As a city dweller and city lover for most of my life, it now surprises me how my body and mind react when I visit the city after weeks at home. I feel the irresistible pull of the shopping centres, my mind creating reasons to buy things, impulses that 24 hours ago didn’t exist. I’m startled by the air conditioning that blasts from the automatic doors of businesses that open when I walk past. Cars like mine guzzle petrol and scramble around the city like angry ants, I join the hoards, feeding off the mania and smell of fumes. My heart sinks at the sight of public bins overflowing with non-recyclable takeaway coffee cups and kerbsides stacked with hastily discarded household items. Shopping trolleys are stacked with processed foods suffocating in plastic packaging.
I think about the people behind those things, their choices, behaviours, trends, actions. People who are trying to cram as much into their day as possible, because life demands it. People whose work follows them home, or who are managing a crisis, caring for others, or just trying to keep a roof over their family’s head. I see myself, not thinking about anything beyond my own experience, gliding along on my privilege, consuming and wasting to make myself feel better, less anxious, less bored, more satisfied.
We’re all moving at a million miles an hour,
and most of the time it feels like we’re asleep at the wheel.
The problem with fast
We’ve all read the articles on the hugely problematic set of systems that allow someone in Australia to pop down to Kmart and pick up two bedside tables for $20 or to Seed for a $30 sale rack top (for that dinner we have on Saturday night with our friends who 99% of the time don’t even notice what we wear).
Access to mass produced, low cost and low quality items is taken for granted in the developed world, and while we delightedly fill our trolleys with $1 mugs and the 17th white t shirt we’ve bought that year, we quietly push down that uneasy thought “how can this stuff be so cheap??” (Please send your apologies to the environment and the people living in another country who were paid next to nothing to bring you this cute AF shelf in the shape of a hexagon).
Fast food has been taken to the next level through the massive explosion of food delivery services. Have you noticed the mountain of packaging you have to toss in the bin after each delivery? Do you wonder how much the delivery person is being paid to cycle through the dark streets to deliver your Poke bowl? Eeeeek.
Now I know I’ve just demonised quite a few things which aren’t inherently bad ideas. Low cost options help level the playing field and give as many people as possible economic access to the same types of goods and services (I’ve intentionally left out the word ‘quality’ here). Convenience helps people who have likely just spent a substantial amount of time busting their gut at work do more things that matter to them, like hanging out with family or being outdoors. But if we’re not paying the price for convenience and access, who is? And are we comfortable with that?
The message here is not that having affordable and convenient things is bad. It’s that we, as consumers, need to decide what type of system/economy/world we want to support when we’re making decisions about what to buy, eat, drink, keep or throw away. By slowing down our decision making and being more conscious we have a much better chance of our money ending up supporting a business trying to do the right thing. There are so many wonderful businesses who are trying to do good in the world by choosing local suppliers and resources, being environmentally responsible, and supporting their communities. These businesses have to start somewhere, and need support from consumers like you and me to tell the market that we demand better quality, ethical and sustainable products and services that make the world a better place, not a worse place.
What’s driving you?
Part of slowing down and being more conscious when it comes to our consumer behaviours is understanding who or what is influencing our decisions. When you find yourself at a shop, what is the emotion or feeling that brought you there? If you’re anything like me it could be boredom, fatigue, anxiety, stress, or the perceived absolute need for new outfit for 4th wedding I’ve attended in a year. If you’re anything like me, you’ll often find yourself at the cash register with your shiny new shoes and a sinking feeling in your chest because you’re already regretting the purchase. It simply doesn’t feel good. Isn’t that crazy? So often we part with our hard earned money on things that don’t make us feel good – and they SHOULD!
There are many reasons that we’re left unsatisfied. Firstly, because, as we darn well knew would be the case, our new pair of shoes hasn’t solved the problem they were meant to. After a fleeting feeling of success, we’re left anxious, or bored, or unhappy again. Secondly, there’s often no sense of connection to the thing we’ve just bought. We have no sense of who made it, what resources were used, how long it took to make or where all its bits and pieces came from.
We’ve become used to expecting finished products. We’re not that interested in their journey,
or the impact that they make on our planet, economy and community.
Stop, revive, survive
Slowing down is a concept that is showing up more and more in contemporary society and culture. Slow fashion, slow eating, slow living – they are all part of a response to a world where convenience and cost have become king. People who advocate for a slower approach to living and consuming would like to take that crown and break it into pieces like Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, and throw a piece to quality, a piece to environmental sustainability and a piece to kindness, compassion and humanity.
When I look past what can sometimes feel like the latest ‘wellness’ fad, there is a value system inherent in this idea of ‘slowing down’ that I very much respect. I dig the idea of being part of a world where people don’t feel harassed, depressed or manipulated into spending their time, money or emotions a certain way. A world where people make these sorts of decisions consciously and with joy.
So, I hear you say, while you’re living the nice slow life in your little country town, how about me living in the fast and furious city? It’s easy to prattle on about slowing down and making conscious choices when your environment supports you and gives you that extra motivation. I hear you. As I said earlier, I still feel pulled into the fast lane when I’m in the big smoke, it’s really hard not to get caught up in it all. But, I do think we can do a few little things, no matter where we are, to try and slow down and give ourselves time to reflect, consider and really feel our decisions before we make them.
If you’re having a moment in the homewares department at Kmart when you’re not feeling connected or in control, pump your brake and reflect on the following questions – they might help you figure out where your heart truly lies:
What is the real cost of this good or service? If I’m not paying the price, who is?
What kind of world am I supporting by making this purchase?
Is this decision in alignment with my values?
Part of supporting and being part of a kinder and slower world is extending those same gifts to yourself. Your ability to be present and conscious will be enhanced by finding more moments of peace and ‘slow’ in your day. Instead of dunking a teabag 3 times in your mug before racing back to your desk, consider bringing a small tea pot to work and re-discovering the beautiful taste of slowly brewed loose-leaf tea (which, might I add, is better for our environment – less “bags’n’tags” to end up in landfill! Win!) Or, if you really do feel compelled to buy yourself something new for your friend’s birthday dinner, challenge yourself to hit up a few op shops first. You’ll feel so vindicated and proud if you find something awesome, and your money will be supporting a local charity.
At the end of the day, it’s about deciding how you want to live in the world, and supporting the kind of world you want to live in. As consumers, we have more power than we know to influence what types of businesses thrive, the impact humans have on our environment, and the livelihoods and dignity of everyone involved in getting something to the shelves. For me, slowing down has allowed me time to think and reflect on how my choices make me feel and the impact they have on the world around me.
If I can leave you with any message today it would be that living in the slow lane can save the world. A world filled with thoughtful people making conscious and compassionate decisions is bound to be a kinder, happier and healthier place for everyone.