Well, my friends, I can hardly believe we are days into the new year—and 2017 is behind us. Part of me wanted to let the date change without putting much energy into reminiscing and thinking about all that the year held for me. But I think that’s simply a combination of knowing it will always be the year I remember losing the girls + feeling excited for a fresh start. I can’t predict what 2018 will hold, of course, and I don’t like to put pressure on new calendar years and new beginnings. In saying that, I can’t deny that I’m ready to leave my sadness behind in 2017, and continue to move forward in general. Because even with all the sadness, I do feel as though I made some big steps forward last year—particularly when it came to my mental health.
It’s been interesting to look back at my first post from 2017 when I announced I was going to complete a year of slow living experiments. People still ask why I decided to start those experiments, and the only answer I can come up with is because I felt as though I genuinely needed to. My anxiety was at about a low-to-medium level, compared to what it would later climb to in March and April. But it was high enough then that I knew I couldn’t handle all the other messaging that filled my feeds before that new year had even begun. You know, the ones about how to be bigger (or skinnier), better, faster, stronger and richer. I couldn’t stand to read those messages, because I had enough to be anxious about. So, I decided to opt out of it all and simply slow down, instead.
I didn’t have a plan, before I got started. Instead, I had a general list of the areas in my life that I might consider slowing down and being more intentional about. Before the beginning of each new month, I checked in with myself + the list and considered which area of my life needed the most attention. And then I wrote out a list of intentions—not hard goals I had to stick to, but intentions for things I wanted in my life—and got started.
Things didn’t always go as planned. As an example, my plan was to complete 12 slow living experiments—one every month—but life (and anxiety and grief) took me down a couple unexpected paths, so I decided to opt out yet again. And that felt better. Since I had created this whole experiment for myself, I was allowed to change the rules, or simply opt out. So, that’s exactly what I did for the month of June after the girls died, and again in September when I decided my only intention was to spend 30 minutes outside each day. That’s what I could handle, so that’s what I did. As a result, I (mostly) completed 10 slow living experiments in 2017—and I would like to share some reflections on them all, in the event that it might help you plan for something similar.
Experiment #1: Slow Mornings
- wake up naturally
- make the bed
- eat breakfast
- enjoy my coffee
- read a book (audiobooks work too)
I always knew I was going to start with the slow morning experiment—I just didn’t know it would end up being one of the most important experiments I would do all year. My list of intentions was simple enough. Each day, I woke up naturally (without an alarm clock), turned on an audiobook, made coffee and breakfast, and just relaxed a little bit before diving into work. It was so simple, but it was also such a treat. January was the month I finished the first draft of The Year of Less and it was a complete blur. I holed myself up in an Airbnb in downtown Squamish and was basically in isolation for five weeks, aside from going snowshoeing with Krystal once and having an old friend from high school over once too (and that wasn’t even until after I submitted the book). All I did was work—and enjoy my slow mornings. I’m happy to say this is something I’ve kept up with ever since, including making my bed every day, which was something I didn’t do often before. It feels good to start each day at a slower pace rather than rush into things, and it feels really good to crawl into a fresh-looking bed every night. Oh, and I read 5 books that month, which prompted a year where I read a lot more. :)
Experiment #2: Slow Money
- set new financial goals for 2017
- track my spending / make sure it aligns with new goals
- change my budgeting strategy
- change my investing strategy
- analyze / find ways to reduce business expenses
- bonus: file my taxes (or at least input all the numbers)
The idea behind the slow money experiment wasn’t so much that I would slow my money down (what does that even mean!?), but that I would do one big check-in with my finances overall. The intention was to simply make sure I was happy with how things were going and shift anything that felt like it needed a change. In February, I crossed most of these things off the list! But, as it often goes, things changed as time went on. For starters, I did NOT run a lean business. In 2016, my business expenses added up to exactly $14,000 and I wanted to attempt to cut that in half. Instead, I ended up spending $17,000 in 2017. This wasn’t a surprise, though. I track my business finances (invoices, payments, expenses, etc.) every month in FreshBooks, so I always know how things are adding up. There are only two financial decisions I regret (costing me about $2,300). Otherwise, it was all intentional (vs. impulsive) and I feel good about my final numbers. I’m just aware now that it will likely be impossible to ever spend less than $14,000 on my business. The one money move I’m extremely happy I made was the decision to start investing regularly. In an attempt to adopt an abundance mindset, I setup a weekly automatic deposit into my Wealthsimple account and have kept that going all year! (Though I did decrease the amount in the summer, when I wasn’t earning much.) Nearly one year later, I’ve learned I won’t run out of money—and that was a lesson I really needed.
Experiment #3: Slow Move
- go through all of my belongings again / only pack what I want to keep
- sell / donate everything I don’t want to bring with me
- make a list of things I think I want to buy (like a standing desk)
- settle into my new home, before actually buying anything
- reach out and make plans with new friends :)
March was a tough month for me, personally (you might have guessed that if you read this post), but it finished on a high note when I moved to Squamish. At the beginning, I was definitely living small, having no couch or coffee table or desk or basically anything in my living space. But in June, I bought a couch. At the end of the summer, I pieced together a DIY standup desk (for about $450 vs. the $600-$1,200 you’d pay in stores). And I even commissioned my friend Amanda Sandlin to do a custom painting for me. I still don’t have a coffee table, but it’s not a priority right now (saving for my trip to the UK is). It’s taken almost a year but I really do feel at home here—not because of the stuff, but because of the life I’ve built and the friends I’ve made. For the first time in years, I’m not wondering where I can move to next. I just want to be here, and that feels really good.
Experiment #4: Slow Breathing
- have slow mornings
- do yoga 10x (short practices are fine)
- meditate for 7 days in a row
- listen to audiobooks/podcasts on this subject
- go floating at the end of the month
At the beginning of April, I sat down to write a post about how I was going to do the slow work experiment next, but I couldn’t finish it. It felt impossible to string words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs about things that didn’t actually matter to me then. All I could think about was news I had received on March 28th that shot my anxiety up higher than I knew it could go. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t write or do any kind of work. Some days, the elephant on my chest was so heavy that I couldn’t even breathe. So, I decided to do the slow breathing experiment instead. Only I didn’t end up crossing much off this list. Instead, I published that post then read all the comments that poured in, and took all of your suggestions to heart—particularly the ones that asked if I’d ever considered talking to someone about this stuff. I had thought about it, but I had never taken action on those thoughts. Your comments helped me get the courage to. A few hours later, with the help of my friend Clare, I crafted an email to a therapist. She called me shortly after, and I started seeing her the very next day. I’ve written about this enough times now, I think, but want to make sure I say it again for anyone who is considering doing the same: therapy is the best investment I’ve ever made. It definitely changed—and saved—my life. And I will always be grateful I started it in April, because things got so much tougher in May.
Experiment #5: Slow Technology
- do a 30-day social media detox (April 29th – May 28th)
- figure out the role I want social media to play in my life
- check / reply to email less often (also experiment with not checking on my phone)
- figure out the role I want technology to play in my life (phone, computers, TV, etc.)
- read from a book every day
With how much anxiety I was experiencing, May was the best month for me to take a step back from social media and attempt the slow technology experiment. And I know I’m not the only one who felt like opting out from it altogether this year. But I decided to log off all social media for a month and think about how I could have a better experience with it when I went back—because I didn’t actually want to quit it altogether, I just didn’t want it to always feel so negative. Like any social media detox, it came with the realization that I was addicted to my phone and I knew I wanted to have a healthier relationship with it too. But I ended up quitting early and going back online after Molly died (May 22nd) so I could share the news and also support my family while they shared it too. I don’t regret that decision. Because of the detox, I have kept Twitter off my phone all year, and even deleted the email app from it (until recently because the book launch has required that I be a little more connected). So, I do feel a lot better about how (much less) I use my phone now. I’m not even that great at replying to text messages anymore! The most important lesson I took away from that experiment was that, when it comes to social media (and technology as a whole), you’re allowed to create your own rules on how to use it. In fact, you should. I am continuing to do this, and made another big decision I’ll share with you later this month.
June – No Experiment
After both dogs died (Lexie on May 31st), I decided not to force myself to do a slow living experiment. Instead, I spent the first week of June in Victoria, then flew to Minneapolis to see friends, and drove all the way back from there with a friend + his dog. It was exactly what I needed.
Experiment #6: Slow Food
- eat mostly* home-cooked meals
- *eat out max. once/week at restaurants that use locally-sourced ingredients
- swap out some ingredients for stuff that can be sourced in Squamish or BC
- switch back to a vegetarian diet
- eat slowly :)
After dealing with some of my grief, and then coming home from a two-week road trip throughout the US, it was obvious that my next slow living experiment should involve taking care of myself—and I decided to do that through the slow food experiment. Aside from slow mornings, this was the easiest experiment to complete. I loved walking to the farmer’s market every Saturday, buying local produce + eggs, cooking my meals, and only eating out at Fergie’s once a week. It felt really good to be at home, spend time in the kitchen and fuel my body. So, this one was easy. I even had a little fun and shared pictures of my simple kitchen + minimalist pantry. (I will say though that the contents of my pantry has basically quadrupled, as I’ve been cooking and baking more!)
Experiment #7: Slow Consumption!? Sure, let’s go with that. ;)
- complete a 30-day shopping ban (August 3rd – September 1st)
- do a small declutter/purge + take inventory of some of my stuff
- organize my digital life (inbox, blog post drafts folder, files/folders, pictures, etc.)
- do some values + goal-setting exercises
- get back into alignment with myself :)
The slow food experiment was a huge success, and taking care of myself in one area of my life helped me realize I had to do it in another. See, grief has this way of causing you to shutdown a little. Maybe not completely. But you start to let things go, including some of the control you had. For the first couple of months after losing the girls, I found I was a little more impulsive in most areas of my life—but specifically with my spending. I wasn’t blowing hundreds of dollars or anything. I simply wasn’t being intentional, and that can eventually add up to a lot of wasted money. So, I decided to do a 30-day shopping ban. Not shopping for a month was easy, though I did make two purchases so I could complete projects I had started: some fabric to repair a blanket, and the supplies to finally make a top for my DIY standup desk. But not shopping for anything I didn’t need was easy, and it helped me stop thinking short-term and start dreaming about what I wanted again. The result: I realized I was done with doing small trips, and wanted to finally save and go on a big trip to the UK in 2018! On top of not shopping, I also decluttered my home + my online life, and got to the beginning of September feeling ready for a fresh start.
September – 30 Days in Nature
Experiment #8: Slow Work
- track how many hours I work every day (and how many per project)
- set realistic expectations of what I can get done (with timelines)
- explore other creative outlets (this could be fun – stay tuned!)
- share how I slowly grew my blog (incl. dollars + blog stats)
- share plans for what’s next :)
By October, I finally felt like I had gotten back into alignment with myself. The last piece of the puzzle was to find my focus with work again. Unlike April, when I would have tried to force myself to complete the slow work experiment (and really needed to focus on my mental health instead), I actually felt ready—and excited—to do it in October. And it’s not surprising to me that I got to the end feeling like it was another successful experiment, because that’s often what happens when you listen to your body and intuition, and focus on the thing that needs your attention. Anyway, I tracked my hours, and not only figured out how much I was working but also how long it would realistically take me to get projects done (which helped me make some executive decisions about which projects/ideas to let go of). I also started to dream big again and ask myself what I really wanted. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that 2018 will include more in-person, face-to-face time with this community, rather than just hanging out online. I also know I’m going to let go of one social media platform (you might notice I removed it from the top nav bar on the website), and spend more time on the one I enjoy the most. These two things feel really good to me. While my business is going to look different, in terms of how I make my money, all the decisions I’ve made were further examples of how I have grown this blog slowly (and my own way). (And speaking of how I make money, I also shared what it’s like to budget with extremely irregular income—including real numbers! For those who are curious, my total income for 2017 was around $76,000.)
Experiment #9: Slow Travel
- spend a week in NYC (Nov 3-10)
- spend a week in Toronto (Nov 11-18)
- spend a week at home (Nov 1-2, 19-23)
- spend a week or so in Victoria (Nov 24-Dec 3?)
- enjoy downtime in every city :)
For November, I almost had no choice but to do the slow travel experiment—because I was gone for most of the month! In that post, I wrote about why I set travel intentions vs. make travel plans. I also wrote about how every good trip makes you appreciate home. <3
Experiment #10: Slow Evenings
- no work / social media after 7pm
- after work, write down the next day’s schedule / to-do list
- no TV / phone after 8pm (and definitely not in bed)
- read a book every night (probably in the bathtub)
- create / practice / share my new bedtime routine
Finally, there’s one experiment I haven’t updated you on yet, and that’s the slow evening experiment. Even though I didn’t have a plan for which order I would do all of these experiments in, I had a feeling it would come full circle with this one—and I was right. Unfortunately, it didn’t really go as planned. I had a feeling it might not, because I knew how much work I had to do (and how stressed I was) in December. But I wanted to try it anyway, and can now share some of the results.
I will start by saying that while I had the freedom to work slowly for most of the rest of the year, that didn’t feel like an option in December. With my first book launch just weeks away, there was a lot of work that needed to be done. So the to-do list was long, and any extra task that was added to it seemed to double my anxiety. Then I started hearing that Amazon was going to ship it 5 weeks early and my anxiety doubled (or maybe quadrupled) yet again. In the process of trying to get that mistake corrected, I had a full-blown meltdown that I had to quite literally pick myself up off the floor from. (Note that I laughed at myself too, during this particular meltdown. But they are always eye-opening, aren’t they?)
The biggest problem was that I didn’t sleep much, in the first half of the month. I did have slow evenings, long baths, read from a book, etc. And I could fall asleep easily. But then I would wake up between 3:30-4:30am each morning and that was it—I was just up for the day (thank you, anxiety). I managed to get through the week, but noted that the two big meltdowns I had both happened on Friday mornings—likely because I was completely exhausted and my body was just shutting down by then. After a few conversations about this with close friends, I knew I didn’t want to remember the book launch as something that I hated. I was ok with it being busy, but I also wanted to look back and have some good memories from it. With that, I shifted my strategy and decided to cut back on a lot of commitments (and pressures I’d put on myself) and do things slowly. That had been working for me all year, and I have to believe it will work for me now and in the future.
As for the rest, I had good intentions with the no work after 7pm and no phone/TV after 8pm thing, in the beginning. But that also slipped away, as time passed and life changed. When there are only so many hours in a day, sometimes you can’t log off at 7pm, because it means the work really won’t get done. And when your best friend is going through a tough time, you don’t say, “sorry, I can’t talk after 8pm”. I have learned to create boundaries for myself and my relationships, but that will never be one of them. Now, even though it wasn’t a very successful experiment, the one thing I will consider a success is that I think about this every evening now. Just yesterday, I thought about how it was time to shut down my computer and have a bath and read a book. And the experiment is over. I don’t have to do this, but I now have the habit of at least thinking about it—and awareness is often what prompts change. So, overall, I am glad I at least attempted to do this experiment, and I think it’s one I’ll be considering how to bring forward in my future. Maybe after the book launches, haha.
So, that’s it! My year of slow living experiments is complete. And I hope it’s been obvious to anyone reading this, or anyone who was following along all year, but the goal was never to complete each experiment perfectly or cross anything off a list. It was simply to slow down, check-in with myself and consider which area of my life might need a little more attention. At the end of the day, that’s all I was doing: paying attention to what was causing me any kind of anxiety or stress, and then giving it the time + attention it needed to feel better. If you attempt something similar, I hope you’ll come at it the same way. <3