Brooke McAlary is an author and creator of the popular The Slow Home Podcast. She’s become one of the most well known modern advocates of living a slower life.
In SLOW, McAlary recounts her own (at times extremely honest) journey to a more intentional lifestyle. After being diagnosed with severe postnatal depression following the birth of her second child, McAlary found Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits and began to explore the concept of living with less, of decluttering and resisting the urge to keep up with the Joneses.
From switching off from technology to finding your own ‘wobbly balance’, Brooke McAlary shares her learnings for living according to your own ‘Why’.
In this book summary, we pick out some of the most important themes, learnings and slow living quotes in SLOW by Brooke McAlary. Those chosen complement what is slow living and living a more meaningful life to us at Slow Living LDN. However, we really recommend you read SLOW for yourself to get as much as possible from the insights and personal story shared by Brooke McAlary. For similar reads, head to our slow living books round-up.
Slow Living Lessons from SLOW by Brooke McAlary
#1 Your ‘Why’ is the Key to a More Intentional Lifestyle
Slow living is about living with intent. It’s about curating a more meaningful life that’s in line with your own personal values. It’s for this reason that, despite central principles and a shared mindset, a slow lifestyle can look very different for each individual.
McAlary starts SLOW by encouraging the reader to find their ‘Why’, their reason to want to live a slower life and make these changes. Something perhaps very true for each of us starting on this journey is her realisation that, ‘there was an enormous disconnect between the things I valued most and my everyday actions’.
To articulate your ‘Why’, or your values and priorities, into something truly to live by and hold at the centre of your life, McAlary asks you to think about your legacy and what kind of life you want to be remembered for. She encourages you to ask yourself:
- ‘What is important to me?’
- ‘What do I want to leave behind?’
- ‘What don’t I want to leave behind?’
- ‘What do I want people to say about me?’
- ‘What regrets do I want to avoid?’
It’s a similar exercise, albeit much more long-term, to the concept of defining your guiding word of the year. It helps you put pen to paper to identify what’s truly important to you and asks you to keep it close as a constant reminder.
As Brooke McAlary writes, it’s ‘your yardstick of a life well-lived’. It’s not the life you’re expected to live, nor the one that feel you ought to live. This would mean living in tune to someone else’s ‘Why’ and completely ignoring your own.
#2 Slow Living is Ever-Evolving
Slow living is, well, slow. You won’t find the promises of quick fixes and miracle cures that make up the headlines of hastily thrown together articles and Instagram posts on personal development. McAlary states that her family have been making changes for many years and they are still not ‘there’. In fact, ‘there’ simply does not exist.
‘This isn’t a race with a start and finish line. This is slow, imperfect, intentional and evolving’Brooke McAlary, SLOW
Throughout the book, McAlary points to this repeatedly. She acknowledges that despite all the positive changes we may have made, we are all prone to ‘backslide’ during challenging times. Our lives are constantly in flux and we must learn to ’tilt’ into the areas that require our time most. Also, as you explore slow living and the different tools that may help you pursue a more meaningful lifestyle, such as disconnecting from technology more often or simplifying your home, you’ll learn that there is no one size fits all approach or even order to this journey once you’ve identified your ‘Why’.
#3 Curate and Declutter Your Life According to Your ‘Why’
Throughout SLOW, McAlary refers to the Joneses. The fictional family or neighbours that seem to have it all – they’re the archetype of a perfect existence against whom we compare ourselves, especially in the accumulation of material goods and social status. Whether the latest model of smartphone or newest appliance is truly important to us, we strive to keep up with them. But in doing so, we’d be living in line with the Joneses’ values and not our own.
Removing distractions from those things that matter most to you is a central part of slow living. Often, this manifests itself , in part, in clutter. An excess of stuff that does not enrich our lives, but merely adds to the overwhelm and list of things to clean and dust. McAlary warns, however, that even if you’re trying to declutter and remove items that don’t have value in your life, this process too can become warped by a sense of keeping up with the Joneses. Or, the Joneses 2.0, as we could call them.
She explains, ‘minimalism is about stripping out excess stuff in order to make room for the things that matter, but it so often becomes twisted around the competitive idea of how much we should own, how many items we can live with, how bare the walls are, how tiny the home, how tightly edited the capsule wardrobe.’
There is, therefore, no one slow living aesthetic, as we’ve mentioned before. What you choose to surround yourself with should be a case of what you can’t live without, rather than how little you can live with.
McAlary calls clutter ‘deferred decisions’ and the ‘manifestation of procrastination’ which can make us feel a ‘low-level anxiety’. SLOW explores the barriers we create when wanting to declutter and also gives advice on de-owning objects and making more considered, eco-friendly choices when consuming.
#4 Everyone Can Practise Mindfulness
A great message in SLOW by Brooke McAlary is that everyone can practise mindfulness. As McAlary explains, mindfulness has become a big business. There are apps, retreats, courses and colouring books. While it’s great that it’s been given a spotlight and there are so many prompts we can take advantage of, mindfulness doesn’t have to cost a penny. And it certainly doesn’t need a huge slice of your time to have an impact. Mindfulness can be as simple as paying attention to sounds and smells while making a cup of tea, or it can be more purposefully carved out time spent in nature, being creative, practising yoga, walking or meditating.
McAlary summarises the effects of being more present and attentive; ‘learning to establish positive habits in the ways we think and experience the world translates to an ability to form better habits around what we eat, how we move and what actions we choose to take.’
#5 How You Use Technology is a Choice
Throughout SLOW, McAlary references time she once spent mindlessly consuming social media – time she could have spent doing things that truly matter to her, such as being present and engaged with her family. McAlary’s view on technology echoes that of Cal Newport, who stands for digital minimalism.
‘Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools’Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
Like Newport, McAlary sees many positives in technology and is no luddite, yet acknowledges that many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the expectation of always being contactable. Not to mention how excessive screen use can affect our sleep and focus. To McAlary, ‘slow living provides an opportunity to step back, pay attention, and question the ways we use technology, to recalibrate our relationship with the constantly switched-on, logged-in world.’
She explains a range of methods to find a better balance with technology, such as sticking to a screen-free bedroom and removing certain apps from her phone. ‘We’re using technology as a diversion, rather than the useful tool it should be’, she mentions.
#6 Everyone Has Time for Slow Living
One of the core insights in SLOW by Brooke McAlary is that we all have time to live true to our values when we remove distractions that don’t serve us. While many of us may feel we are too busy for self-care and wellness, McAlary does well to mythbust the commonly wielded phrase ‘I don’t have time’. She explains, ‘We enjoy telling others we’re busy. Too busy, in fact, for the things that are important to us, and isn’t that a shame? But can I honestly say that my priority is eating better if I have enough time to mindlessly scroll through social media and clickbait for an hour, but not enough time to cook?’
Similar to how she explains that you don’t need heaps of time to practise mindfulness, rather it can accompany everyday activities, her openness when explaining how she often wastes her own time sparks thoughts around activities where we might not be prioritising what’s important to us.
SLOW by Brooke McAlary is an honest narrative that depicts a journey towards a more intentional lifestyle. If you’re new to slow living or simply need a reminder on how to re-find your ‘Why’, SLOW is full of useful insights. A key message is to reflect on what you want your life to truly look like and have a frank discussion with yourself on how you currently spend your time. Living with intent means making more conscious decisions, every day.
McAlary concludes her book with a final note on permission. She says, ‘you are allowed to make changes to the way you’re living. You’re allowed to look after yourself. You’re allowed to decide what is important to you. And you’re allowed to create a life with these things at the centre’. These words offer you the courage to start a pursuing a more purpose-driven lifestyle, to shatter expectations (real or perceived) and ultimately, to find contentment.
You can find a copy of SLOW online and in major bookshops.
Need more inspiration on embracing slow living? Read our guide on how to slow down. For more reading, you may also enjoy our list of the best independent magazines for slow living.