We’ve all had that moment, amidst all the errands, school lunches, appointments, extracurricular activities and meetings, where we stop, take a step back and think, how did things get so busy? Enter, Brooke Mcalary.
She’s swapped fast for slow, more for less and ‘everything at once’ for the bare minimum. Her days start with meditation and end – early – with books before bed.
Before you think, ‘That would never work for me,’ know that Brooke McAlary was you. Here’s how she made the change, and why.
“My husband and I lived a very fast-paced life of ‘more, more, more’, and I guess it all caught up to me when I had our second child,” Brooke says. “I ended up being diagnosed with post-natal depression. It took that for me to realise just how poor my mental health was and how badly I was taking care of myself.”
“My story certainly isn’t the neat, linear version. It is a messy, frustrating story of someone who takes her time learning lessons and is willing to take imperfect action anyway.”
What happened next didn’t happen overnight. It was a long, long process, tipped off by a single question from her psychologist: “Would you consider simplifying things?”.
The question wasn’t just laughable to Brooke – it was almost offensive.
“I thought she was implying that I couldn’t handle everything, but what she really meant was, would I consider removing the distractions and trials and tribulations to focus on the things I actually value?”
So Brooke did what most of us do when we get onto something new – she Googled. And what she found was a community of people living the ‘slow’ life that she so desperately needed.
“Rather than question our priorities or try to work out why we were so unhappy, we got busier. We kept digging a deeper hole, all in the name of keeping up with the Joneses.”
Things snowballed from there. In 2014, while on a family ski trip, Brooke was browsing a bookstore in Banff, Canada. She came across a book called ‘642 Tiny Things to Write About’ with a not-so-tiny challenge – to write her own eulogy. She quickly got to writing about the glowing words her children would one day say about her before she came to a realisation: how she envisioned the life she wanted and the reality of her life at that point were very, very different.
“Let me tell you what wasn’t in that eulogy, what never even crossed my mind as I wrote those words: bank balance, regularity of eyebrow waxing, kids’ extracurricular activities, number of Facebook friends… And yet I had spent a stunning number of hours worrying about these things, trying to remedy, forget, attain, or disguise them. I never thought they were the most important things in my life, but I often lived like they were.”
For Brooke, there were a few of these big moments on her journey to slow living, but a million more little ones. Reacting or speaking without thinking, saying ‘yes’ to things out of guilt or hesitation, and even the jewellery business that she had built from the ground up were all things Brooke gradually let go of.
It’s easy to assume that minimisation is beyond your realm of possibility. But, have you considered the fact that it may have just been pushed off your radar?
“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?’.”
So what advice does Brooke have for those who want to follow suit?
“The first really important step is to ask questions about your values, to figure out what you really hold close to you,” Brooke says. “It’s something I didn’t do straight away, but I wish I had.”
Once you’ve got those values in front of you it’s simpler to make the changes that you’ve tried to make in the past, but haven’t been able to stick to. Question your actions and the responsibilities you take on – are they bringing you closer to those values, or pushing you further away? Identify your biggest pain points or where you need to slow down. Simple things like eating badly, lack of sleep or even clearing out the excess in your wardrobe become easier with these things in perspective.
“The only thing I felt like dealing with was the physical clutter, and when I slowly started clearing it out I found that other areas in my life began to simplify, too,” says Brooke. “Don’t underestimate the difference that can be made when you focus on taking lots of small steps over time, instead of a few big ones.”
“Learning to be mindful of what we allow in and limiting it to what we truly need has been a huge part of creating and maintaining a simpler, slower home.”
It’s also important, Brooke says, to not only recognise when you’re moving too fast but when you’re scared to move forward at all.
“When you’re making big changes in the way that you live it’s inevitable that something big will happen, and it can scare you a big,” says Brooke. “When those stresses happen we slip back into comfortable habits, so I wanted to be honest about the fact that it was a possibility – you have to learn about your behavioural patterns to change them.”
Most of all, Brooke says it all starts with the realisation that just about everyone feels overwhelmed by the pace of life. When someone asks how we are, we almost boast about being busy – like, if we’re not, we’re not doing enough.
The first step is giving yourself permission to slow things down and free things up. To ask yourself what you actually want, and let go of what you don’t.
To experiment. Exonerate. Exhale… Slowly.
‘SLOW’, BY BROOKE MCALARY
The lessons Brooke has learned on her ‘Slow’ journey have been so impactful that she’s decided to go and get them published. ‘Slow’ is part memoir, part words of wisdom and full passion project. It’s an extension of her wildly popular blog and podcast, ‘Slow Your Home’, and a way for her to put her lifelong passion for creative writing to good use.
Words // Anastasia White