This week, we got the chance to chat with one of our favorite Instagrammers, Julia of @simply.living.well. We fell in love with Julia’s slow and wholesome feed as soon as we discovered it, and her account is a breath of fresh air in the often chaotic world of social media.
I live with my husband Scott and our two children on the north shore of Chicago. We moved here a few years ago after living in Washington, DC for twelve years and San Francisco, CA for two years. When we moved to the west coast, we were seeking a simpler, slower lifestyle, but I don’t think we were able to truly sink into one until we moved to the Midwest. Now we live in a town just close enough to Chicago to feel vibrant, but far enough away to shelter us from the frenetic pace of city life. Our town is small and well-planned, which makes it possible to live locally, as we can walk or bike everywhere – from the grocery store, the soccer field, our local schools, the post office, the library, bakery, coffee shops, and barber shop. We also live right down the street from grandparents who help a lot with the work of raising our children – it you’re a parent, you know it takes a village, and I’m beyond grateful to have their help!
Aside from where we live, Scott and I both work from home. He works as an environmental lawyer on climate and energy policy issues and runs a conservation non-profit we co-founded in 2016. I was a stay at home mom for the past several years but started working part-time again a couple years ago when our children both started school. Nowadays, I work a little for our non-profit and a little as an independent writer. I also share about living simply and sustainably on Instagram (@simply.living.well) and on my blog Simply Living Well. This year, I wrote a book called Simply Living Well: A Guide to Creating a Natural, Low-waste Home,which comes out in April 2020. When we’re not working, we’re usually puttering around the house and garden, riding bikes as a family, or involved in some sort of activity in our community.
Motherhood, for sure! My first child was very sensitive and told me in no uncertain terms that he needed our family to slow down. Quite literally, we slowed down our pace by keeping a strong rhythm around eating, sleeping, and playing, and we did our best to focus on being present and resisting the urge to be everywhere and do everything. We also worked to create a calm home by paring down our belongings; surrounding ourselves with things that were essential and well-loved; being mindful about how much we stimulated our senses with media, music, and screens; and spending time each day outdoors and in nature. My first child’s sensitivities were also triggered by foods, so I learned to cook healthful, wholesome meals from scratch and learned a lot about the old, traditional ways of preparing foods. At the same time, I became really interested in holistic nutrition and wellness and delved into all sorts of things that would probably fit under the umbrella of natural living. Anyone familiar with this territory understands that it’s sort of a rabbit hole – one essential oil leads to a course in herbs, which leads to a stack of books about how to ferment cabbage, grow an organic garden, bake sourdough bread, make cheese, make soap, line dry clothes, and create a zero-waste household.
For me, sustainable living means using as few resources as possible. I think it’s less about lifestyle and more about mindset because the way you go about carrying out your values is entirely up to you. The only thing that really matters, in my opinion, is that you understand why it’s important to you and then figure out how to do it in a way that’s sustainable for you. It doesn’t help the planet if we martyr and push ourselves to our outer limits. If you strive to a place beyond what’s practical and healthy, the most likely outcome is burn-out, isolation, and resentment – none of which are sustainable for you or the planet. Sustainable living is a process, not an event; it’s challenging and can take time to learn a new way of living, especially within a system that’s moving in the exact opposite direction.
I guess my perfect day would involve having absolutely no plans – no place to be or go – so that I could putter around the house with the kids and Scott. The kids would have friends over to play (I love having lots of kids around the house and like to give them freedom to be and play), and I’d probably tidy and organize, make lots of food, and play in the garden a little. Then we’d go on a bike ride to the Green Bay Trail or the Chicago Botanic Gardens, eat lunch at one of our neighborhood restaurants, play at the park for a bit, maybe ride down to the lake, visit our grandparents, then bike home for a relaxing evening sitting on the front porch.
Yes – it’s simple but consistent. I wake up before the kids, put on my slippers, go downstairs, prepare fresh-squeezed juice, warm tea, and breakfast. Then I pack the kids’ lunches, feed the dog, and slowly start to wake up our children. We all get dressed, make our beds, eat breakfast, brush teeth, and bike to school. Once I’m back home, I clean up the kitchen and try to do some work.
After the kids go to bed, I always clean the kitchen, fold the laundry, and tidy the house. For me, waking up to an organized, orderly house helps me feel calm and regulated in the morning. After that, I almost always take a warm bath, drink a cup of chamomile tea, and read something before tucking myself into bed.
I think having a consistent bedtime routine is a great way to establish healthy sleeping habits. A few things that help cue my body to wind down include keeping the lights dim and avoiding too much blue light (screens) after sunset; taking a warm bath; drinking a cup of chamomile tea; and reading a book before bed. I also like to spray our linens with lavender essential oils, and I always sleep with an eye mask and ear plugs. It might sound like a lot, but I never toss and turn once I get in bed. I think I fall asleep within about 5-10 minutes every single night and always get between 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
I think I wish people understood what it really means. Brooke McAlary defined it well in her Slow Home Podcast:
“Slow living is the antithesis of fast living, which sounds really ridiculously obvious, but when you think about modern life, it’s dominated by fast - fast food, fast fashion, immediate results, instant gratification, higher productivity, greater efficiency, more and better and faster and cheaper and louder. Slow living is a reaction to this and it’s about intentionally choosing to opt out of the race to be faster and cheaper and higher and louder. It’s about intentionally choosing to opt out, to say no, to find meaning in our everyday, to look for quality in everything – in our interactions, our relationships, our thoughts, the things that we consume. Slow living is about people, not consumers, experiences over stuff, mindfulness in the things we own, the things we consume, and the way we live. It’s about choosing what to include and most, importantly, choosing what to exclude in our lives.”
In light of her definition, I think people should know that slow living isn’t synonymous with easy living. It’s not something you decide to do one day and achieve the next. I know I said it once already, but it really is a process, and it requires mindfulness, intention, and will. Sometimes it means going against the culture too, which is trickier and harder than you might think. Saying “no thank you” to holiday and birthday gifts, for example, can come across as ungrateful and offensive – and I’ve found it takes being respectful and honest to really get the message across that you love the person but just don’t want to clutter your life with things and stuff.
1) Simplify your living space by paring down and decluttering your possessions, then commit to de-owning and consuming slowly by choosing quality over quantity.
2) Spend time outdoors + connect with your natural environment every day.
3) Practice 15 minutes of meditation every day to declutter your mind and practice stillness.
I love Amanda Watters’ blog Home Song, where she shares about mindful homemaking with a focus on “simple things done with care”; Brooke McAlary’s The Slow Home Podcast; and Erin Boyle’s blog Reading My Tea Leaves and her book Simple Matters.
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