Book review – Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner

29491890As noted on the author’s website, Chasing Slow is about “slowing down, about stripping the excess, about refusing to amass in a world that shouts for more”. In other words, it’s about simplifying your life and minimizing your possessions. What makes it stand apart from books like The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that it’s not strictly a how-to book. It’s full of advice, but it’s also full of anecdotes about the author’s path to simplicity, the good and the bad.

I enjoyed the book and got a lot of good advice from it. It’s a good, solid read and I think that a lot of people would really enjoy it. Some of the advice she gives is really thoughtful and I found her book to fairly inclusive (for example, she doesn’t preach getting rid of everything and seems to have a fairly realistic view of simplicity and minimalism).

The three main things that I got from the book are:

1. Our default equation is to add more when we feel less

I think this is pretty common knowledge: we buy things to feel better about ourselves, we strive for bigger homes, we work to get larger salaries, etc. But, as Loechner notes, this equation wrong. Adding more things to our lives won’t make us happier, except maybe for that brief moment when we make the purchase (obviously, there are exceptions: if you are poor, a larger income will make you happier; if you have two jobs and three kids, kitchen tools that make meal prep faster will free up more time; etc.).

But, we’ve been led to believe that we should buy more to be more. For many of us, that simply means having more things around, but still being at the same base level of happiness or contentment. Or, being worse off because we spend all our time maintaining all those things or working to afford the space to house all those things.

One of the things Loachner said in her book that struck a chord with me was that we should remove the weight from your wings so we can fly. I’ve seen this or similar ideas in other books, but it felt particularly relevant while reading her book. The idea is that we all have capacity to fly, but it’s easier to do so if we aren’t carrying a load, whether that be stuff, emotional baggage, or the social rules we use to lock ourselves into to be versions of ourselves that we think society will approve of.

2. Things should add value, meaning or purpose

What Loechner said was this: “If it does not add value, it does not add much. If it does not add meaning, it does not add much. If it does not add purpose, it does not add much.”

This is very much in line with Marie Kondo’s philosophy of only keeping things that bring you joy (or have a purpose). And, I think that it’s a good philosophy to follow. It doesn’t mean that you can only have things that add value, meaning, or purpose. It simply means that anything else won’t add much.

And, of course, how “value”, “meaning” and “purpose” are defined will depend on you. Does “value” mean increasing the value of your house, or providing you with a service that is valuable to you? Does “meaning” need to be a family heirloom, or can it be a special souvenir or photo from a vacation?

3. Life lessons in frugality

At the end of the book, Loechner shares several life lessons. The list include basics like “it’s not a sale if you don’t need it” or “never buy anything dry clean only.” It also includes ones that I don’t see that often, like:

  • You can save time or you can save money – shopping universally saves neither
  • Reduce, reuse, or just plain go without (the less you have to dust, the less you have to dust)
  • Don’t be afraid of that thrift store musk (it washes out)

 

Overall, I found the book had a really good balance between Loechner’s own story and her advice about simplicity and minimalism. I think that a lot of people would find it very inspirational and would feel that they could relate to her story more than I did.

It’s a good book and you should read it if this is a topic you’re interested in.

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Hope brings things

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I made this note months ago:

Re. minimalism:

  • Hope brings things
  • you hope you’ll use things, you hope you’ll have friends over for games nights, you hope you’ll sew the pattern, etc. 
  • But those hopes may not be who you really are (ex: I don’t tend to invite people over, but I do sew on occasion). 

I can’t remember exactly where I heard this, but I’m fairly sure that it was in one of The Minimalists* podcasts. This idea of hope bringing things caught my attention because it’s true and it’s something that has had a huge impact on my life:

  • I hoped to be perceived as a successful adult, which I am, so I don’t know why I felt the need to prove it with a bigger-than-I-like apartment and “nice” things
  • I hoped to be a great quilter or stitcher, when, in fact, I liked the crafts but wasn’t passionate about them
  • I hoped to be more interested in cooking, which is silly because I eat very well with my simple and rare cooking endeavors
  • I hoped …
  • I hoped …
  • I hoped …

Instead of using my time and energy to become those things (or, more importantly, to consider if I really wanted to become those things), I used my time and money to acquire things that those people might have. It’s as if I was looking for that magic pill or a bit of instant gratification: “I have a quilt pattern, now I’m a quilter – yay! I feel gratified!”

Quilting might be a bad example, as I’ve made a few quilts (and have one in the works as I draft this), but you get the idea. Hope, or the wish to be something, can lead us to buying things that we don’t need yet and may never need. It’s what entices us to buy the latest fashions, the better lawnmower, or the full set of gear that we think we need for a new hobby that we’ve only just began (or haven’t even tried yet).

I’ve had  many chances to revisit my past hopes over the past few years. Each time I got rid of something, I had to admit that it had just been a hope. In some cases I was sorry that the hope hadn’t turned into reality and sometimes I was ashamed about not turning that hope into reality. But, we can’t be everything and I needed to focus on my priorities and the hobbies that I loved best.

Going forward, I’m trying to be more careful of hope. When I find myself itching to buy things, one of the things that I consider is if I’m buying it because I know I need it or because I hope I’ll need/use it. I struggle with this when I’m considering art supplies. For example, I recently decided to buy a Leuchtturm1917 bullet journal, but I agonized over it for days – Do I really needed it? Am I just hoping to keep a bullet journal? Am I just hoping that this book with be better than the notebooks I already own? Why do I need it?

I did purchase it in the end because I’ve been keeping a bullet journal of sorts for a few weeks and had already tried it in several different notebooks or different sized papers. In this case, the Leuchtturm1917 bullet journal has all the things I need: a medium sized page with something to act as a guide for my layout (grid dots). For me, it was based on a preexisting reality, not on hope, so it made sense to buy the journal. And, yes, I do use it – not everyday, but certainly several times a week.

The next time you declutter or consider buying something, do a little thought experiment and consider if you’re buying something you need, or something you hope that you’ll need.

*If you’re interested in minimalism or simply need something inspirational to listen to while decluttering/simplifying, The Minimalist are a good resource. While they have embraced a fairly stereotypical minimalist lifestyle for themselves, they’re adamant that we all need to find what works best for us, whether that be owning only 50 items or keeping that random key chain collection that you love even though your partner thinks it’s silly. The podcasts do get a bit repetitive if you listen to too many in one day, but they still have useful content.