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My Slow Living Journey: How I Slowed Down and Changed My Life

September 14, 2021

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I'm Helena!

A sunny gal from Cali living in the south of France. I adore slow living, magic, and celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I’m a self-proclaimed Disney nerd (as is my husband!), obsessed with cats and cocoa, and you can often find me swimming with the fishies in the salty sea. Come along and enjoy the magic, the simple joys of life with me...

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As I write this, I’m lying sprawled out on the couch, looking out over the most beautiful green mountains. Alex and I recently got back to Corsica after a wild and adventurous 2-month roadtrip through Europe, and it’s so wonderful to be back home and back to routine. I’ve missed writing on my beloved blog, this cozy corner of the internet I’ve been sharing my heart on for the last 5 years. And today, I’ve been reflecting on my own slow living journey and how I went from achiever to enthusiast, people-pleaser to  self-pleaser. Because the truth is I haven’t always lived slowly and with intention. Looking back, there were many years where I blindly followed the pace of peers and chased the next carrot on a stick.

Anyone who forces a life path that isn’t in honest alignment with their intuition is going to experience a breakdown at some point. Some may endure it for years, possibly even decades. For me, it was 3 years.

Before Slow Living

I can see this time most clearly when I was living in New York City, hustling and trying to make ends meet as an actress. I merged with the pace of all the other struggling actors in the city and rushed to auditions in the early mornings, obnoxious belting & waitressing shifts with fellow thirsty attention-seekers at Ellen’s Stardust Diner (the absolute lowest period of my entire life) and forcing myself to attend acting classes at night. I pushed myself into living in a stressful, overwhelming environment because I told myself it was what I had to do. I surrounded myself with friends, classmates and co-workers who required attention and applause as their energetic fuel. And in turn, I lost myself in the process. At this phase of my life (age 19-22) I lost connection with my intuition. I lost sight of who I was, what I valued, and what I believed in. I filled every tiny space in my calendar. If I wasn’t out and about auditioning or taking classes, I was networking at events. If I wasn’t going to seminars, I was going to photoshoots. Every block of time was scheduled. Every minute was intentionally spent “getting ahead.” And as an actress at the time, that was all I could see. The finish line was all I could focus on.

I didn’t love the process, I just wanted the results.

I never enjoyed the journey, the classes, or the daily struggle that comes with being an actor in New York.

I just wanted the outcome.

Dear reader, I thought it was time I share on the blog a detailed recount of what my personal slow and spiritual journey looked like and how I simplified my life and got out of the rat race.

My Slow Living Journey

After my first year in New York, I knew deep down that the lifestyle and path toward being a performer weren’t the right fit for me. I loved attending plays and musicals, reading scripts and analyzing characters, but I despised the daily lifestyle of being an actor. After that first dreamy year in New York, it felt like I was forcing a life upon myself – a life that I told myself I wanted for years but deep down knew it was the wrong path. And the thing is: your intuition is never wrong. Your gut always knows the best path for you. Looking back I wish I had listened to myself and moved on sooner. 

It was the year 2017….

I was living a lie. I was chasing success to please other people that believed in me (any fellow former people-pleasers out there?) and living in an overwhelming city that depleted my gentle, nature-loving heart.

When you live a lie for years, you will burn out. It is inevitable. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.  What’s the easiest way to burn out and collapse? Keep doing what doesn’t make you happy.

There was a particular moment while riding the M34 bus cross-town when life just seemed to slow down….and I could see the big-picture of my life. I visualized myself living in the same city, chasing the same dream, going through all the same motions, being miserable, living to please others, every day for the rest of my life, and it was at that moment that I realized I needed to take sudden massive change. I decided to leave my life in New York City. 

My connection with my intuition is sharp. When I get a crystal clear knowingness – an intuitive hit –  in the pit of my stomach, there’s nothing that can stop me from taking action on it. There’s no looking back.

Clear messages are our divine orchestrators. They are treasures, gifts that if and when we pay attention and follow through on them, life will reward us. Life mysteriously has a magical way of opening up a more abundant and joyous world when we follow those intuitive hits.

It was at that moment that I bought my first camera and started a photography business. That camera gave me a zest for life again. It gave me excitement for each new day, and I started to have fun telling stories of people. After 8 months of saving up my money from babysitting jobs, photography shoots and random odd jobs, I bought a one-way ticket to California and started meditating on the beach every single day, in help to the Headspace app.

Reconnecting with my Spiritual Nature

While crashing on my mom’s couch for a month, I decided to sue the rest of the funds I’d saved up from jobs to buy a ticket to Bali and practice yoga and meditation. While in Bali, I learned a lot about my inner voice and my connection with my body, my heart and with the Source of life. I started eating healthy again and watched documentaries at the Yoga Barn. I made friends and had conversations with true kindred spirits at cafes and yoga centers. And it was while in Bali that I started this here blog (!!) and kept at consistent writing, photography and posting on a weekly basis. My heart felt lighter, freer. I felt I was living in connection with myself, for the first time in years. With 15 years of attaching acting and theatre to my identity gone and out the window, I had a fresh, clean slate to do what really lit me up: writing and photography.

After traveling alone for three months and doing long-distance with Alex, we decided to move in together.  I gave Alex a brazen ultimatum before I left New York: I told him he could leave NYC with me and we start a new life somewhere else (he could choose the place) or we break up. Luckily, Alex wasn’t fulfilled or happy in New York either, and he chose Washington D.C. as the place for us to move to. I wasn’t thrilled about the place (I’m not a big political person), but I was grateful to have Alex make the move with me. He was my best friend and the love of my life, and deep down, I knew then that our relationship wasn’t over. So, I followed Alex to D.C. and we moved in together. We ended up moving to a charming small town in Virginia – Old Town Alexandria.  It was the start of something brand new: a new passion, a new home, a small town, a new lifestyle. 

The apartment flowed to us easily, and we later found out that that same apartment we moved into was where Alex’ parents first moved in and lived together when they were dating! What are the odds?! We took it as a sign that we were exactly where we were meant to be.

In Comes Slow Living

Life was a lot slower in this small town. With one, main street flowing through the town, there wasn’t much to do, and I appreciated not having as many options. I had a chance to redesign my life and focus only on what was essential. But I was also working like 7 minimum wage jobs to pay my rent and monthly costs each month. So, my environment was slow but my lifestyle was certainly slow-er, but daily costs of healthcare and living in the U.S.A were ridiculous. And after recently spending a month living in Bali where my dollars were going much farther, I kept thinking that there had to be another way. I kept working nearly 7 days a week, and I kept saving. But the moment I started my slow living journey was with a book, one book to be exact: Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. 

I felt a resonance with Erin. Reading her memoir, I felt like I knew her. I connected with her journey, her soft heart, her desire to live a simple, joyous life after years of chasing ambition. That book was enough to get me started on living with intention. After reading it in 2017, I began my journey with minimalism, passionately absorbing documentaries like True Cost and Minimalism, and learning what it meant to simplify my life.

My Minimalism Phase

While I still embrace a minimalist lifestyle today, I realized then that if you don’t adjust your mindset to embrace simplicity, that less is more, no amount of decluttering will make you happy.

Despite all the money you save, the things you get rid of, the no-shopping challenges you embark on, you will never find joy and inner peace until you sit down and get clear on what you value most in life.

And that was when I started learning about the core component of slow living: values. I honed in on my own core values, turned on my blinders to the fast hustle and bustle of life that was swirling around me and began working in harmonious tandem with my soul. I cut out with was nonessential and I focused only on what lit a spark within me.

Grab My Slow Living Guide and Journal

I wrote a slow-living digital guide – all about how to find your values, bust through resistance & fear and find confidence and self-love here if you’re curious! It also includes a beautifully designed journal with 49 writing prompts to bring you calm, clarity and peace.

Helena Woods-Slow-Living-Ebook-Guide

On my 23rd birthday, Alex and I sat under the trees on the grassy lawn looking at the white house and I brought up the idea of moving to a country with a lower cost of living, one where we could afford to live more comfortably without working multiple jobs and worrying about healthcare costs. Alex jumped on the idea (as he grew up in Europe and missed the lifestyle there). And he began applying for jobs that winter. We put the intention out there. We were clear on what we hoped to do by the following summer: move abroad. The place, we weren’t yet certain about, but we wanted to move somewhere that had a different lifestyle and a lower cost of living.

Alex got a job offer in France, as I blogged about here. And once I moved to France, the reality of living slowly pushed its way to the forefront of my mind.

Living Slowly in France

Life in France showed me how to live well and prioritize leisure time. I observed the people in France: what they were passionate about, what they prioritized, how they spent their free time, what they talked about, what they ate, how they moved. I felt like the French were more content and satisfied than anyone I knew back home in the states. They weren’t constantly chasing something. They were happy with what they had.

I was still moving fast when I first moved to Strasbourg, as it took me a full year to adapt and reprogram my beliefs and lifestyle. But I was curious. So, I started asking questions. I wrote down short stories in my notebook – sightings and observations. I wrote in journals, and when I didn’t have one on me, I wrote on napkins and on the backs of receipts.

I spent my days alone.  I wandered alone, strolled cobblestone streets and took notes. Alex and I traveled all over France during his school breaks (which were plenty) and felt the energy move and shift in the different regions of France. And when I felt like I really began to implement and live a slow lifestyle, one that prioritized my joy and values first above all else, I began to share about it on Instagram, my blog, and then later on Youtube, which is where we are today.

Helena-Woods-Slow-Living-Simple-Joys-Living-in-France

That’s my journey in a nutshell. And it’s never-ending and always changing. And while this post is the cliff notes version of my slow living journey, know that I’ve gone through lots of challenges along the way. I’ve lost myself time and time again and then found myself while in nature, meditation and journaling.

My love for myself, trust in myself, my foundational core stems from three things: nature, meditation, writing.

I rely on the water, my practice and the trees for oxygen (LOL literally). Nature brings me back to my essence. Meditation, my presence. The written word, my most treasured passion, love and art form.

How I Slowed Down and Simplified My Life

Here are just a few tips that have really helped me simplify and slow down my life. As always, dear kindred spirit, take what works for you and leave the rest.

I Followed My Curiosities

You’ll never know what’s meant for you if you never try. Experimenting, data-collecting is what allows you to see what would really, truly make you happy. Sign up for that class. Check out that random library book. Ask your friends what they think you would be good at and try them all. Pick up obscure hobbies. Learn skills that don’t fit your “brand” or formula. Stay open-minded. Stay curious. Follow your excitements and the universe will open up doors.

I Put Myself in New Environments

Get in the energy of the feeling you want to feel. If you want to feel more luxurious, start spending your free time at the beautiful luxurious shops you enjoy. If you want new, more positive friends, get involved in a community online. Being in environments that match the feeling you want to feel in the future will trigger your mind to think in a similar vibrational way.

I Saw My Life Big-Picture

This brings me to the next point: start acting like the person you want to be a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years now. Much of my belief, in regards to this, stems from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, specifically the belief of “begin with the end in mind.” Imagine yourself living how you want to feel. Visualize yourself in the future feeling that way. What is that person doing? What kind of environment are they living in? How are they spending their day? What service or contribution do they bring to others? So often we get stuck in the small minutia of the day to day. We feel overwhelmed by all the small tasks, the errands, the appointments, the little habits. Instead, I encourage you, dear reader, to zoom out. See big-picture. See your life from a bird’s eye view and then work backward. 

I Understood My Values

Your core values are the foundation of everything you live by. Self-awareness is key to a contented life. When you know who you are and what you want to feel, you can start doing the things that make you feel in alignment with those values. I have a guide all about how to do that here. 

I Chose Quality over Quantity

In my fast-living days, I shopped a lot. I shopped at a lot of fast-fashion retailers (like H&M, Forever 21, etc) but when I began my simpler lifestyle in 2017, that all changed. Since then, I only buy 1 highly quality piece than 5 cheap ones. The price is more expensive in the short-term, but it lasts way longer, so you end up saving money anyway! I’ve had my $300 hiking boots since 2017. I use them all the time, they’re still good as new and they feel like I’m walking on a cloud. I have a friend who buys new hiking sneakers every year or so – they end up buying more shoes for less money, but they fall apart in the end. Buy quality items for yourself, things that are timeless – just like you.

Any money I have, I invest it monthly in stocks, crypto, funds, etc. I build assets and then when I’ve earned enough from those assets, I shower myself in abundance, without any credit card debt. I live frugally, but the items I do buy, I make sure they are an example of the lifestyle I wish to live. There’s no need to be rich to live abundantly. If you enjoy the simple things in life, the amount of it doesn’t matter. Spend your money only on the things that bring you joy and make sure they’re long-lasting and have quality – you deserve only the finest, darlin’!

I Showed Up Consistently….Everyday

Habit-building is one of my most favorite topics. When I show up every day for myself, I build strength and confidence. When I take daily action on doing things that I LOVE, the universe conspires to shower me with gifts and treasures! I absolutely adored the book Atomic Habits by James Clear – I highly recommend it. Living a slow lifestyle requires discipline and focus. You have to tune out the noise. What would make you feel good today? Go do that. And be consistent about it.

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What I Wish I Knew.

What I wish I knew back then, before I started this slow living journey, is this:

if you find that you have dug yourself into a hole, stop digging.

If you know deep down that something feels off, STOP. Don’t take any action. Just stop. Put it down and sit on the idea for a while. Contemplate the change. See how it fits. Go do something more fun and inspiring to you at the moment. And then come back to the decision later when you’ve cleared your head and are in total alignment with yourself. When you feel good, then make the decision.

And remember, lovely, that desire is a gift. You can live simply, slowly, frugally AND have abundant dreams for yourself. Desire is what makes you human. It is what makes you REAL.

Dreams are the compass pointing us home to ourselves.

And while there is nothing wrong with having dreams, goals, plans (and heck even wanting to manifest those dreams!), there comes a point while you’re chasing a dream that you can easily fall away from yourself. If you’re so focused on the manifestation or the feeling of the dream attained, you lose the beauty in the journey. The journey towards getting the dream is the most fun! Most of us are afraid of the unknown, but it is the unknown, unforeseen that makes things so exciting. It’s a thrill not knowing how things will play out. If we knew exactly how every single thing in our lives would unfold, we would get bored! Remember that you’re here on Earth to have fun.

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Grab My Ebook – Slow Living Made Simple

It’s here, it’s here! What I’ve been working on for 5 months is here: my first ebook, Slow Living Made Simple. It’s part guide and part journal. You’ll find not only all the inspirational tips, routines and self-care practices that have helped me transform my own life but I’ve created a workbook with over 45 writing prompts to help you ground, recenter and put it into practice, with plenty of spaces to write your thoughts out and connect with yourself. 85 pages, beautifully designed and minimal. Trust me, you will feel inspired!

If your intuition feels like it’s a fit for you, you can order it from my online shop here!

I’m sending you all my love, kindred spirit! I hope this post inspired or excited you for your own slow living journey. I’m sending you all my love and I hope you have the most magical day.

Love,

Helena!

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I'm Helena, your new kindred spirit.

Sunny free-spirit, writer and creator in love with documenting the simple joys of life. I am passionate about noticing light and truth around me and reflecting it back to others.

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