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Downshifting as a way of life


The trouble with the rat race is, even if you win, you are still a rat. Lily Tomlin

Who hasn’t wanted to step off the ever-accelerating treadmill of work, and gain some balance in life? Most of us, at one time or another, have wanted to move from the fast track of life to a more satisfying, healthier, less work-focused lifestyle.

What is a downshifter?

Family time
Downshifting allows family time

Downshifters are people who adopt long-term voluntary simplicity in their life. They accept less money through fewer hours worked in order to have time for the important things in life. Downshifters also place emphasis on consuming less in order to reduce their ecological footprint.

Why do we downshift?

There are two primary aspects to downshifting. One is about connection – connection to life, family, food, place – and the other is about maintaining a healthy balance – balance in the personal, work, family, spiritual, physical, and social aspects of their life.

Research has shown that people in the US, and it would be similar for other western countries, have approximately five hours more free time per week than they had 30 years ago. Thanks to modernity we perform less housework, we have fewer children, and we are retiring earlier. But we are busier than ever before. Although we have more free time a large proportion of that time is spent watching television, and the remainder of our ‘free’ time is spent in leisure obligations. These leisure obligations take the place of traditional sources of meaning in our life such as religious traditions, community, etc. Leisure is now a means to an end not undertaken for its own sake. Our leisure obligations are for a purpose – fitness, socialising, or fulfilling expectations.

Basically downshifters seek a life filled with more passion and purpose, meaning, fulfilment and happiness. A life to look back on with no regrets.

Downshifters want to slow down at work in order to ‘upshift’ in others areas of their lives. For most people the change to a slow life through downshifting comes after a long quest for true happiness and fulfilment. For others it may come after a significant life event such as severe illness, relationship breakup, bankruptcy, or the death of someone close.

Downshifting: A Guide to Happier Simpler Living is a book that will tell you more about downshifting and its benefits. This book helps us to understand why downshifting is the only sensible option. It is motivational, but not very instructive in how to do it. Good to read if we aren't ready to take the plunge yet - it will help us to see that we simply must do it.

What does a downshifter look like?

What is the profile of a downshifter? Well as we saw they have either been questioning life for some time or they have suffered a life event. In terms of demographics, there are no specific features that identify downshifters or possible downshifters. They are blue-collar workers and white-collar workers. They are most likely in their thirties, forties or fifties, although they may be younger or older.

Peel away the layers
Peel away the layers

Downshifters have two thing in common. Firstly, and most importantly they believe that an excessive pursuit of money and materialism comes at a substantial cost to their own lives and to the lives of their families. Secondly downshifters take responsibility for their situation. Instead of complaining and expecting the government to do something they take action to change their own lives.

How do we downshift?

We can downshift by working fewer hours in our present job, or by accepting a job with less responsibility in the company, or we can quit our job and find another one that we find more rewarding. Or we can start our own part or full-time business, perhaps working from home.

Although we can stay where we are to downshift even if that is in the surburbs, many people do move to other locations eg to the coast – seachange; or to the rural country areas – treechange. 

Sometimes downshifters find they make more money, but are happier and more fulfilled – usually because they have found something that fires their passion, and work is no longer work.

If you are thinking of downshifting the first practical step is figuring out how to work less, freeing up time for valued activities. When you cut back on expenses (which you will do living simply), you will find you can live on less income and consequently work fewer hours.

If we want clear, step-by-step guidance of how to downshift, Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More by John Drake provides all we need to know. This book makes easy reading while providing us with real ways to downshift. It gives us a wide range of practical downshifting options and real-life stories from successful downshifters in a variety of life situations. Guaranteed to provide inspiration and encouragement. John Drake, himself a successful executive who chose to downshift, describes doable approaches to downshifting and even offers practical advice on how to sell these plans to employers.

How to help others to downshift?

For every person or family who downshifts there are many more who hold the same values and would like to do so too, but don’t know how to go about it. Downshifting week is one awareness raising event that can help people to know just how to do it.

Downshifting week in the UK is from Saturday 22 to Friday 28 April 2006. In the U.S. the first National Downshifting Week runs from 24 June to 30 June 2006. These events have been designed to inspire individuals, companies, children and schools, by highlighting ways participants can live simpler, happier lives and be kinder to the environment at the same time. Read more about the person behind these events Tracey Smith.