When I look back at life from a decade ago, I often wonder how the heck I fit it all in: a young kiddo, a full time job, freelance work, part time Masters program at college. Socially, I was often out on weekends, I played pool a few nights a week, I was dating my husband.

I think it’s easy to look back at busy periods in life and shake my head, wide-eyed at how I didn’t completely lose it.

These days, we’ve slowed things down significantly. We run a small business from home and unschool the kids, so we don’t have much of a day-to-day schedule to keep us on our toes. We can afford to sleep when we need to, eat when we’re hungry, and work hard at things that we love. There’s immense privilege in this and I fully acknowledge it, especially looking back at what life used to be.

It’s odd, though, because slowing down life doesn’t at all mean that life isn’t as full as it used to be. Life is fucking brimming! There is always more to do: more work, more cleaning, more cooking or baking. If I was to evaluate life at this point without the context of what it looked like before, I would never attribute the word “slow” to anything we do.

Fran over at Radical Acts has been talking about slow education in the same vein: in this context, slow doesn’t mean slowing down – it means finding your own pace and not being pushed by someone else’s schedule. In the same way, we are living a slow life, but the pace isn’t any slower than it used to be; we’re just living on our own schedule rather than adhering to timelines or deadlines set by someone else.

Slow living and slow education also have another cool feature baked into them: setting your own pace allows you the freedom to live with intention. It means that you get to decide what fills your time rather than being forced to learn skills or study topics that have been deemed worthy by someone else. Slow living is also intentional living, and I love this intersection because it means that I can take the time that I want to learn the things that I believe are valuable.

This week, we decided to try making maple syrup for the first time. It’s been a full family affair (…I say as I can hear my partner stirring pot as we finish the last batch..) from finding the right trees, to tapping, to collection, to building a rocket stove, boiling the sap down, and finishing the syrup. While I’d say that our first attempt was a success, it took a LOT of time and energy for a very small reward. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Will we do it again next year? You bet. Would we have been able to do this if we lived a standard work/school lifestyle? Heck no. Will we be able to sweeten treats and coffee if the supply chain craps out? Well, a little bit!

Maybe syruping isn’t the best example but it’s top of mind. Growing food, building shelters, firestarting, bushcraft, keeping chickens, etc are all great ways that I’ve chosen to spend my time to learn skills that I believe are both practical and enjoyable that won’t necessarily earn me an income, but will help me live a richer and fuller life.

For me, this is what intentional slow living is all about: searching out the things that I love, regardless of their value to other people or the economy, and then learning to accomplish those things at my own pace and on my own schedule. When I look back at life before, my time was spent almost entirely doing things for other people on a schedule set by other people. I had very little input on how my time and energy was spent.

By peeling back the layers, lowering our required financial input, and refocusing on what really matters, my family and I can now focus on how we want to spend our days. For me personally, more often than not, that looks like slow meaningful work that affords me the option to opt out of systems that continue to perpetuate oppression: mending clothes, growing and making food, sourcing items second hand through barter or trade, home educating my children, handcrafting goods through recycling materials headed for the landfill, organizing mutual aid, connecting with community.

For me, this work is 100 times more fulfilling, 100 times more rewarding, and 100 times more important.