Have you ever heard of the concept of downshifting? Well, I hadn’t until recently, but when I did I knew it was something I wanted to look into. Turns out I have been downshifting for a while now… I just didn’t realise it had a name! If, like me, you didn’t even know this was a thing, then read on: we are going to look into exactly what it means to be a downshifter, how downshifting can change your life for the better, and how you can get started.
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What is Downshifting?
Well, the word downshifting usually refers to changing down gears in a car or vehicle. However, in recent years, the word has been gloriously reinvented to refer to a person who wants to experience the finer things in life and prioritise quality over quantity.
The term ‘downshifter’ is often used in reference to seemingly ‘successful’ people who choose to leave high paid and stressful work positions, opting for lower wages and a simpler or reduced workload.
Synonymous with escaping the rat race, it isn’t just the flashy suits who are getting in on the action, however – downshifting is for anybody who wishes to make the most of their time here on earth, regardless of what they are currently earning and where.
A person might be considered a downshifter if they opt to live in a smaller house or buy a smaller car (or they might choose not to have a car at all).
The word can refer to those who opt to buy their weekly food haul at the local farmers market or zero-waste store rather than the supermarket, or spruce up their wardrobe by swapping designer labels for a hunt through the charity shops.
It is a change of gears, in the sense of slowing your pace and considering what your options are, recognising that you have choices and can make conscious decisions to improve your life experience or situation by prioritising connection, experiences and happiness over money, possessions, and power.
Although we talk about escaping the 9-5, downshifting isn’t so much about escape as enjoyment.
To escape something means to avoid it, to run, to hide. Downshifting is more about running head-long into life, less avoidance and more immersion. Living intentionally and really savouring every precious moment!
It’s about working to live, not the other way around. The idea is that your earnings should support your lifestyle and enable you to do the things you want to do with your life. But far too often people are living simply to go to work, come home, go to bed, wake up and do it all over again.
That’s not a life, that’s a prison sentence.
Downshifting vs Slow Living
I talk a lot about the idea of slow living, and at first glance, downshifting could simply be slow living under a different guise, and it kinda is…but with some subtle differences.
Slow living is more of a deliberate lifestyle. A conscious decision to live all aspects of your life in a slower, simpler, more connected fashion. Downshifting is less a total life overhaul and more of a series of small changes. It’s about personal desire rather than political stance:
The slow living movement is more of, well, a movement! It often evokes a sense of community, and you might immerse yourself fully in slow living culture, making connections and trying to spend more time with others who have similar ideals. Downshifting is more about the individual, a personal choice to live life a little differently in order to achieve that coveted work-life balance and overall satisfaction of having spent your time here on earth well.
You can downshift in as small or big a way as you feel is right for you.
Downshifting and Minimalism
Working fewer hours for less pay enables people to prioritise experience and time over possessions. Part of the appeal for many downshifters is the idea of escaping the work-spend cycle:
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” —Will Rogers
Downshifting allows for a clarity of thought, an ability to see what it is that matters and adjust spending accordingly.
Material possessions aren’t shunned altogether, just chosen carefully and with purpose, so that any items purchased are cherished – the downshifter will surround themselves with the things that they truly love.
Just as downshifting isn’t so much about avoidance as immersion, minimalism isn’t about the absence of things, it is about removing the distractions.
Related Reading: Minimalism for Beginners – How to Live More with Less
This shift towards conscious consumerism naturally flows into a reduced ecological footprint. The emphasis of quality over quantity means that many downshifters choose to support small businesses and independent shops (think Etsy over Amazon), preferring to purchase locally produced, handmade or second-hand goods.
They often choose to live in smaller spaces and own smaller (or no) cars, further reducing their environmental impact.
Downshifters also often prioritise spending more time in nature. For example, leaving a corporate job in the city to live a simple farm life in the country, or spending their free time hiking, wild swimming, paddleboarding or camping. This connection to the natural world means that many downshifters are active supporters of environmental causes and have a keen interest in the world around them.
Downshifters who enjoy travelling in their free time usually have a strong desire to travel in as sustainable a way as possible, adopting an ethical tourism stance and trying to offset the environmental impact of travel wherever they can.
How can I downshift my life?
Well, clearly you don’t need to jump straight in at the deep end and quit your job and move into your van to qualify as a fully-fledged downshifting badass (can we get badges? I want a badge…) but it has been done, and many are much the happier for it.
If you’re not ready or able to do something as drastic as that, you can totally start small:
Start surrounding yourself with things that “bring you joy” and stop trying to impress people already!
Live. For. You.
Having a good clear out will also help you gain mental clarity and give you space to breathe. It’s the simplest way to start getting clear on what matters to you.
Stop juggling aaaall the things. Cut yourself some slack and work out what your priorities are, and then, well, prioritise them… focus on the things that matter by simplifying your life!
If you are unhappy with your job, recognise it for what it is – a way to earn money to enable you to live an awesome existence OUTSIDE of the office. So do something with your weekends – don’t just lounge around recovering from the exhaustion of work just for Monday to roll around and have to do it again.
Do something you love
Look at ways you can start to inject a bit of meaning into your hours – got a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while? Get in touch. Got a hobby you used to love? Pick it up again.
Get outside in nature
There is nothing as calming, rewarding, energising and powerful as that. Promise.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
Downshift your way
Whether you just want to dip your toe in the downshifting waters or throw yourself in bodily, know that good things lie down this path.
Downshifting is ultimately about achieving balance and happiness in life. It is about voluntarily simplifying your life, removing the distractions so you can get the most out of your time. And what could be better than that?