Downshifting – A Guest Post By Sara Eiser

Are you ready to downshift?

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Sara Eiser.  I’ve met Sara and her husband Keith on Twitter (Sara goes by @smola04 ; Keith is @organeiser ).  Sara came by the house about a month or so ago and rescued us from an overabundance of cucumbers, and since then we’ve chatted on Twitter from time to time.  The other day I tweeted about Henri Nouwen’s phrase “Downward Mobility,” (which I blogged about HERE), and Sara wondered if I had heard of Downshifting.  There are a lot of similarities.  Anyway, take the time to read this thoughtful post and let us know of any areas in your life where you’ve deliberately “downshifted.”  Enjoy.

* * * * *

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.

Simon & Garfunkel, “59th Street Bridge Song”

My dreams were so complex in college – I had a Plan (notice the capital “P”). I was going to be a career woman. I thought that stay at home parents were unambitious and dull – I craved the prestige of a challenging job and clever discussion and had no desire to “sit at home and watch kids all day.” Sure, I was getting married out of college, but I was young, had a college degree, my work and lifestyle was important, and I wanted that nice house in the ‘burbs, where I could invite my classy friends for wine & cheese parties on late Friday nights. Eventually kids would work into it – as part of my status as a “liberated careerwoman.” I was going to have it all.

Now, four years into my marriage and after having two children, my life and priorities look very different. My family and I are now a part of a growing movement of downshifters, people who are voluntarily getting out of the rat race, bailing from the consumerist mindset, and leaving mainstream America’s “values” behind. There are many ways to downshift, but we’re all united in a few basic values:

  1. The belief that our most precious commodity is time, which is finite.
  2. A desire to declutter our lives of possessions which frequently own us.
  3. A desire to devote more leisure time to our family and friends.
  4. A desire to slow down the pace of post-modern life.
  5. A desire to not be ruled by money or the work force.
  6. A desire to live life well within our means.
  7. The belief that only through balancing these elements can we achieve a meaningful existence.

Downshifting in practice looks different to each family. Ours has downshifted in many different ways, each shift happening gradually over time. You may recognize some of these choices in your own life, without knowing you were downshifting.

Shift: My husband is working a blue-collar job that has little to do with his college degree (computer engineering). I work part-time in my field (music).

Benefit: My husband and I, though in possession of (expensive) college degrees, have chosen to work jobs that people love reminding me are “beneath” us. Though we each make a very small salary and have little to no monetary flexibility, we are in control of our jobs, and therefore in control of our leisure time. My husband works four 10-hour days each week (by his choice), leaving his evenings and 3 days each week to devote to our family and also allowing him to pursue his primary love – playing the organ. He loves the fact that when he leaves work each day, he never has to take work home, so he can be fully present in the rest of his life.

I make my own schedule, mostly working from home. This allows me the flexibility to stay at home with our children, not having to work to pay for daycare, and time to spend with my friends who are home during the day. I also love being able to help out my friends who are at work during the day if a babysitter is sick or something is forgotten at home.

Shift: Moving out of the city onto our 1.25 acre rural plot.

Benefit: We are investing our time and money in what we love – the land that we are stewarding, our garden, and our forever house. These things are the parts of our life which give us the most pleasure and provide not just a house but a home, instilled with the values we wish to pass down to our children. We have given up a lot of material things to be good home/land owners, and have reaped the rewards over and over.

Tactic: Doing away with consumerist-driven holidays and instead giving gifts of experiences rather than things.

Benefit: Our kids will hopefully understand the benefit of experiences. Toys are easily forgotten or broken or lost and often kids have no respect for their own property because they have so much and are always getting more. Experiences, on the other hand, last a lifetime. We get family gifts (like board games or cookbooks or road trips), go out to dinner together, and celebrate our holidays in a way that focuses on the meaning behind the holiday instead of stuff.

Shift: We eat real food.

Benefit: This sounds silly, but much of what we call “food” nowadays is chemicals or fake hyper-processed soy or corn. Check out your bag of chips tomorrow, or your store-bought bread. Look at the additives listed in your hot dog.

We’ve shifted to spend LOTS of our time in the kitchen, because we do most of our cooking from scratch now. This originally came about because of my son’s battles with food sensitivity, but is something we’ve embraced. Gone are the days of freezer dinners, drive-thrus, microwaved boxed veggies, and cellophane-wrapped treats. Though we sometimes indulge, our budget, health, and ethics no longer allow us to eat that way with regularity.

My husband has found a love of gardening, and his garden is flourishing. We spend lots of time canning – saving that fresh, unprocessed flavor for the winter doldrums. We have found so much joy in growing and preparing healthy, real food for our family, and feel good that our values are reflected further in the way we eat and nourish ourselves.

Shift: We regularly say “no” and stay away from scheduling our free time full of activities and classes.

Benefit: Our weekly schedule reflects our priorities. We work hard during our work time (and only for the amount of time we need to do a good job) and play harder when we’re out of work. We spend lots of time spontaneously getting together with friends or volunteering or going on walks; playing with our children or cooking or working on the house. These are the things that give our life meaning so these are the things that we spend the most time on. We try not to feel guilty (it’s tough, I know) saying “no” when it’s something that would clutter up our time together. When we do find ourselves over-scheduled, we prioritize and cut what we need to in order to get back to a healthy balance.

Downshifting is a process; a way to reclaim your life and your time. It is important to understand that there will never be enough time for the things you love – family, friends, other things that give your life the most meaning. You have to make time, and sometimes that time comes only by making great sacrifices.

Every day, we have a chance to choose our priorities. Every dollar we earn, we have a chance to choose to spend it on a specific thing. Will you spend your money and your time creating the life you want, aligned with your ideal priorities? or will you go along with the pace of society and the path of least resistance, further in debt and guilty about the time you’re not spending with the ones you love, doing the things you love?

It’s always possible, no matter how impossible it seems. It just takes one baby step at a time. If you never have enough time for what you love, it might be time to shift.

8 Replies to “Downshifting – A Guest Post By Sara Eiser”

  1. great post, sara. and smart one, shawn, asking mrs. eiser to guest post. [sara, i disagree with your #7 in that i don’t believe a balanced lifestyle of this sort actually makes one’s existence meaningful, but otherwise i think you’re spot on with everything.]

    my wife and i have done a lot of the things on your list, though i’ve never heard it referred to as “downshifting.” and i guess i’m not being completely honest when i make it sound like we’ve purposely shifted to a slower and less cluttered existence. that sounds like we’ve at some point had a cluttered and overworked life together and i don’t know that we really ever have.

    we met while teaching english in china for hardly any money at all, and not much has changed since then except for countries (china to u.s. to tanzania). there was a brief stint where i overcommitted myself as a teacher/coach, but we still did manage to satisfy the not-having-money-and-lots-of-things prerequisite…

    anyway, i commend you and your husband for downshifting and appreciate you sharing these ideas with us.

  2. After my husband was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 2008, my entire life came to a. screeching. halt. All of the things I thought were important the day before, my list of “to do’s”, my frantic pace, suddenly didn’t matter.

    My husband has said many times since that eventful day that there is nothing like a brush with death to put life into perspective. And he is right.

    After the initial shock of the accident wore off and our family slowly adjusted to our new normal, I realized that one of the effects of this accident was the slowing….down… that became a necessary part of our lives. Walking at a slower pace, working less hours at the office, planning less events and living with a knowlege that since I really am not in control anyway, it’s ok to not worry so much.

    In fact, there are times now when I deeply miss the sense of inner peace that gently settled over our family, the sheer gratefulness that we were all alive and together, the knowing that nothing in the world is as important as those people God has placed beside us on our journey. I would never want to experience something like this again, but I do not regret it.

  3. I never read suce a detailed example of a “downshifted life”, it is truely inspiring, what you do. I try to do this as well but it tends to be hard when things pile up and you just “have to do them”…

  4. I see some similarities between the concept of your post and the 4 hour work week – There is a lot that can be avoided if you just pay attention and don’t do everything in your to do list just because it got there, somehow

Comments are closed.