What Is Downshifting?

Downshifting is reducing one's standard of living for simplicity and improved quality of life. Downshifting assumes a trade-off between money or level of wealth, and quality of life, which relates to well-being.

Downshifters believe that through fewer hours of work they can have time to enjoy the important things in life. For example, they may move to a smaller house to reduce monthly expenditures and be able to spend more time outdoors. They also emphasize the benefits of consuming less and reducing their ecological footprint.

Key Takeaways

  • Downshifting is a choice that individuals take to change their habits to achieve a simpler and better lifestyle.
  • Often, downshifters reduce their standard of living and working hours to have a better quality of life.
  • The changes from downshifting could result in more spare time, a reduced workload, or a lower stress level.
  • Downshifters also believe in consuming less to reduce their ecological footprint.
  • Downshifting seeks a deeper connection with the important things in life and a healthier balance in all aspects.

Understanding Downshifting

People who downshift seek to improve their personal lives. These changes could take the form of more spare time, a reduced workload, or a lower stress level. To achieve these goals, an individual must be willing to reduce their income, spending, standard of living, or their job responsibilities. For example, an individual may attempt to downshift by reducing monthly expenses, moving to a smaller house, or selling unnecessary possessions. In return, they expect a lifestyle filled with more purpose, meaning, and ultimately, happiness.

Downshifting has two primary aspects. First, it seeks connection (to life, family, places, etc.). Second, it aims at maintaining a healthy balance in the personal, work, family, spiritual, physical, and social aspects of life.

The decision to downshift may be based on a number of reasons:

  • Reduce stress and enjoy a better work-life balance.
  • Achieve a more fulfilling career or relieve work-related stress.
  • Have more time to spend with family and friends or to enjoy hobbies.
  • Improve health by exercising more.
  • Reduce spending and remove unnecessary, materialistic things.
  • Support the local community by volunteering, buying locally, or participating in local activities.
  • Help the environment by reducing consumption and the ecological footprint.

According to a CDC study, Americans have more than five hours of free time each day, with men generally having a bit more free time than women. But instead of finding fulfilling ways to invest their free time, Americans report they spend most of it looking at screens (televisions, phones, or other devices).

How to Downshift

If you are considering downshifting, remember it is a personal choice. Before taking the downshifting path, define your purpose. Think about what motivates you and can bring a positive change in your life.

Most people opt to reduce their workload to free up time for other activities. If that's your case, track and analyze your finances and consumption habits, and think about how you will support yourself, or what you can do to cut back on expenses. The goal is to find out how to live on less income when you work fewer hours.

Accepting a position with less responsibility, finding a different but more rewarding job, working from home, or even starting your own business to follow your passion are other ways to downshift.

Downshifting doesn't necessarily involve moving to a different location, although many people opt for a healthier and more laid-back location, like the coast or a rural country area.

Types of Downshifting

Downshifting can take many forms since it's a personal choice. These are the most common types of downshifting:

  • Consumption Downshifting: Downshifting consumption involves buying and consuming less (from clothes to food to big purchases like a house or car), or removing all the clutter and unnecessary, materialistic things that don't contribute to a fulfilled life. Changing consumption habits to prioritize quality rather than quantity (for example, buying organic food or visiting the local farmers market) is also a form of consumption downshifting.
  • Lifestyle Downshifting: Spending more time with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, following interests, exercising more, or taking up other activity that reduces stress are all forms of lifestyle downshifting.
  • Career Downshifting: Taking a step back from the career ladder is known as career downshifting. It usually involves changing a financially rewarding but stressful career for a less pressured and less highly paid but more fulfilling one. The goal is to "work to live" instead of "live to work".

History of Downshifting

Downshifting has become a preoccupation for millions of people who have devoted countless books, websites, and journals to the endeavor. But the idea has been around since the start of the industrial revolution.

Thorstein Veblen, an economist and sociologist, is best known for coining the term “conspicuous consumption” in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class, published in 1899. In this book, he described the lives of people focused on getting more and better things. This notion reemerged in the Depression of the 1930s, only to come back in full force in the 1960s era of turn on, tune in, drop out.

Today's downshifting adherent is more likely to opt for the smaller car or no car, a tiny house, and more time devoted to self-actualizing pursuits than making more and more money at a job. The 1996 book, The Millionaire Next Door, enshrined the frugal lifestyle of buying used cars, shopping at second-hand stores, and otherwise living well below your means.

Typical of the latest generation of downshifters is Thrifty Frugal Mom, who fills her blog with advice on how to keep it simple, cheap, and good. You'll find articles such as a recipe for easy vegetable beef soup, eight tips to shop kid’s consignment sales like a pro, a $225/month menu plan for our family of 6, and 20 cheap date night ideas you’ll love.

"Honestly, I about can’t keep myself from living frugally and I usually enjoy the challenge of seeing how far I can stretch the resources that God has blessed us with. I’m thankful that most of the time I enjoy it, because we are once again being forced to live on a rather tight budget as my husband returns to college to get his Master's degree,"  Lydia, the blogger behind Thrifty Frugal Mom, writes.

How Do You Downshift a Career?

Downshifting a career involves moving down the career ladder instead of up. Although this will reduce your salary, it will provide you in return with more flexibility, less stress, and more free time you spend on the things that bring real value to your life.

What Is Downshifting in Leisure?

Although Americans have more free time now than a few decades ago, that time is spent watching television, using other electronic devices. or in "leisure obligations". Leisure obligations are a means to an end, and not undertaken for its own sake. In other words, they have a defined purpose: fitness, socializing, commitments, or fulfilling the expectations of others. Downshifters seek to change those activities for others that bring personal fulfillment and happiness.

What Is Downshifting in Stress?

Downshifting may involve giving up a high-paying but highly-demanding job to take up fewer responsibilities, or reducing clutter and the subsequent chaos in life. These lifestyle changes reduce overall stress and improve mental wellbeing.

Article Sources
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  1. Slow Movement. "Downshifting as a way of life."

  2. ThoughNickel. "Downshifting: How to Achieve Work Life Balance."

  3. CDC. "Free Time and Physical Activity Among Americans 15 Years or Older: Cross-Sectional Analysis of the American Time Use Survey."

  4. Sloww. "What is Downshifting? How to Transition into Simple Living."

  5. MamaMia. "Everyone talks about how to climb up the career ladder. No one talks about how to climb down."

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