Do you want to pull out of the fast lane?
To take a slower, more intentional approach in your day-to-day?
In our technology-seeped, drive-through culture we’ve lost a few things that used to make us slow down, connect with each other on a more personal level, and put our own best self forward.
It’s high time we revive these old customs that made life better–and made us take our time.
Like many of you, I grew up in a flurry of stationary and stickers with half a dozen pen-pals and no such thing as an email until junior high. When a letter arrived for me I’d abscond with it to my bunk bed or a tree to pour over the contents. Writing–by hand–was daily life. Besides letters to pen-pals there were the notes my mom made me write to our college-bound babysitters, and thank you cards galore: to our elderly friend from church who gave us Milky Way bars, to our grandparents after every birthday, to the museum where we’d gone on a homeschool field trip.
Why don’t we write letters and notes any more?
Letters take longer than a phone call or an email, both to compose and to receive. They require more out of us and cost a little more…stamps, stationary, and writer’s cramp. There are more efficient ways to get a message across. But nothing can beat the intimacy of a hand-written letter, or the pleasure you get when you receive one!
Wearing a watch
Do you want to look instantly polished with very little effort? Put on a wristwatch. Your grandmother probably wore a watch. It didn’t make her look stodgy, it made her look like a lady. And you probably wanted one or looked forward to owning your first watch.
A watch is a classy accessory that conveys your personal style and will save you from being rude on more than one occasion. Like me, you might be a compulsive phone-checker. Not necessarily to see the latest social media update, but because you’ve gotten so used to using your phone as a clock that now it’s the only way you check the time. The trouble is, it’s almost impossible to be discreet about checking your phone for anything–even something as innocuous as the time of day. Ask anyone who’s taught high school: no, you’re not being subtle when you “glance” at your phone.
But when there’s a pretty watch on your wrist? You know the time instantly, without having to appear rude in a meeting, at a restaurant, or anywhere where your phone ought to be out of sight.
Dressing for dinner
All of the Victorians in the novels I read as a little girl got “dressed for dinner,” and I was fascinated by the ritual. I’m not sure when we stopped this practice, because even in Agatha Christie novels (which go deep into the 20th century), people still dress up for dinner, even when they don’t have servants to help them.
Dressing for dinner shows respect for the ritual of sharing a meal with other human beings. It’s a small way of slowing down and being intentional. Of savoring time around the table with your people, and showing them that they’re worth dressing up for (because if you were expecting company, you’d definitely put more time into your appearance, right?).
Now, I don’t mean we should all wear elbow-length gloves like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey. Although as a thirteen-year-old, I probably would’ve liked that. All I’m talking about is taking a moment to freshen up before sitting down to eat. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel a bit frazzled after dinner preparation, and taking a few minutes to reset can save you from being grumpy woman when you sit down. Put on a fresh, pretty top, and brush your hair. That’s all it takes!
Dress for dinner when you go out to eat, too. It’s uncommon these days; most of the people in a restaurant (even a “fancier” one), look like they’ve been at Disney World all day. Be different and put some effort into your appearance. It will ensure that going out to eat still feels special, which it should!
Bringing flowers indoors
Take a page out of a Jane Austen story and infuse your home with fresh flowers. You don’t have to be a master florist, just gather the flowers that are available from the garden or the wood’s edge. Trim the stems at an angle and put them in a vase for the kitchen table, the entry way, or the bathroom. If you can’t find anything blooming outside, it’s money well spent to buy an occasional bouquet from the grocery store. Flowers brighten your home and lift your spirit, and it’s a simple way to add beauty and color when you have zero decorating skills.
I think I first learned how happy flowers can make me when I was 15 and living in Chile. Nearly every week, my parents (usually my Dad, I believe), bought a large bouquet to break up and spread throughout the house. Nearly every room had a vase tucked onto a window sill or counter top; there were flowers everywhere you looked.
Reading aloud as a family
Serialized stories were the TV of the day in the mid-1800s. Many of the Victorian novels we know today originally appeared chapter by chapter in literary magazines such as Household Words and the Cornhill. The public eagerly awaited each new installment of the latest novel by Charles Dickens or George Eliot, reading them aloud in the evenings with the whole family gathered in.
Watching your favourite TV show with your family can certainly be a time for bonding, too, but a book read aloud is a more deeply engaging experience. I’ve found that the stories we read aloud as a family live far longer in memory than any sitcom or drama we’ve watched through.
Now, I’m not suggesting you pull a Mr. Collins and bore everyone with Fordyce’s sermons. Read a novel, or a poem that tells a story (like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). If you have children, you can introduce them to stories that might be difficult for them to read on their own. My siblings and I fell in love with Robinson Crusoe and The Lord of the Rings long before we would’ve been able to tackle those stories solo.
Reading aloud does take practice, but trust me–once you find your voice (and the voices of each character) your kids will be begging you to read “just one more chapter!”
You can be honest with me: am I being too nostalgic? Are these or other “old-fashioned” customs worth bringing back? Do you do them already? I’d like to know.
P.S. Here are some other somewhat-related posts you might enjoy: