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Home in Southern California. (Rick Feldman)

Finding Beauty in the Chaos: A Case for Slow Living in the Modern World

For all of society’s new tech-driven shortcuts, are we more relaxed and in control of our time? On the contrary, life seems to be speeding out of control, and our personal lives bear the brunt of the ensuing chaos and clutter.

One American found an antidote to the modern frenzy in France. After growing up in casual Southern California, Jennifer L. Scott discovered wisdom in Old World etiquette and the traditional Parisian way of dressing, dining, communicating, and living beautifully at home—a higher standard of living. She shares her advice and inspiration on her blog and YouTube channel, The Daily Connoisseur, and in her best-selling books.

“We, especially as Americans, can really get swept up in the rat race,” Scott said. “But I think that we miss something when we do that: We miss a lot about the beauty of everyday life.”

That’s why, she said, “one of my missions in life is to encourage people to live a beautiful life at home, and to live life as a formal affair. I do think that the home is a sacred space; it’s our most important space. It’s where we spend the most time and our environment affects us. … We have a life at home—and for many people that life is in chaos.”

Fish Out of Water

Scott’s slower living approach is a way that Americans used to follow but that she hadn’t encountered while growing up. All that changed the year she went to Paris on a study abroad program.

“Suddenly, I found myself living with this very formal, traditional Parisian family in the 16th arrondissement in Paris,” Scott said. “It’s a fish-out-of-water experience for me.” Her books—“Lessons from Madame Chic,” “At Home with Madame Chic,” “Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic,” and “Connoisseur Kids”—are full of stories about what she learned from her host family, including “Madame Chic”—her nickname for her host mother—and Parisian culture in general.

On one of her first nights there, for instance, she learned a sartorial lesson she’ll never forget. Scott’s host mother spotted her in the pajamas she had brought from California, an ancient pair of sweatpants with a hole in them. Madame Chic was in disbelief. She let Scott know that there was no need to dispense with self-respecting standards just because you’re at home or the sun’s gone down.

“I think, ultimately, the thread of the books is how I meld both what I learned living with this formal French family with my casual American lifestyle, and make it modern and make it significant to me,” Scott said. Since then, she’s discovered even more wisdom and beauty in everyday living, from her personal experiences as a conscientious homemaker and homeschooling mother of four children, ages 4 to 12. She shares her advice with her followers in videos every week.

A Path Through the Noise

The Daily Connoisseur’s slogan is “Keep calm and remain classy.” But as a busy working and homeschooling mom, how exactly does Scott keep calm? “I have to constantly remind myself of it,” she said. “I frequently find myself operating on low levels of stress, sometimes high levels. … I have to consciously step out of that.”

One grounding pillar she always returns to is faith. Scott is Christian, but on her channel, she keeps the tone comfortable for people of any belief system and freely discusses “the major role that prayer and meditation plays in my life,” she said. “[It’s] the thread that kind of gets me through every single day.”

The “noise” on social media and in the news can be an obstacle. Quiet that down, Scott advises, and think about how you truly want to live your life.

“Living beautifully at home is about expressing your style,” according to Scott, who said that her goal is to open people’s eyes to what a fulfilling journey that is. “I just can’t stress enough that it is a beautiful adventure, and that people should wholeheartedly embrace it, even if you are a woman in her 40s who just thinks, ‘Well, I’m not going on an adventure.’ Yes, you can go on an adventure!

“I think it’s exciting when you embark on the journey to improve yourself. And so just enjoy it.”

Tips for Beautiful Living From Jennifer Scott

Scott is not afraid to point out “not-so-chic” choices her fellow Americans make from time to time; she does it with charm, kindness, and humor. But the power of her advice lies in the practical examples of what to do instead. Here are some ways to start living a more beautiful, formal life every day.

Schedule Your Days Mindfully

Self-discipline is a cornerstone of a beautiful life, Scott said—not something to be afraid of. “I like to encourage people to use a planner to schedule their day, write to-do lists, have a morning routine where you do the same things every morning. I think a lot of people are afraid of a routine or getting stuck in a rut by doing the same things all the time, but there’s actually a lot of beauty in [discipline].”

Scott is candid about the sacrifices she makes in order to write her books, helm a successful YouTube channel, and raise her children. “I’m a very disciplined person,” she said, and “that’s how I do accomplish what I do.” Case in point: She keeps up to 10 notebooks at a time to organize the different parts of her life.

(Fei Meng for American Essence)

That doesn’t mean packing each day with rigid, strictly-business tasks. Scott stresses the importance of taking intentional pauses for the little rituals that nourish you. “Doing the things I love throughout the day, like a scheduled tea time, is something that I’m really known for promoting, because I think it’s so important for people to take a break from their afternoon,” she said. For her, that means making time for meaningful exercise, gardening or going out into nature, taking a long bath with a good book, or writing letters or postcards to friends—“things that you wouldn’t really find on a to-do list, but that are equally as important as our most important items on that list.”

And if it all starts to get too overwhelming, be in tune with that, and adjust accordingly. When Scott finds herself operating on stress, she said, “I have to consciously step out of that and stop my to-do list and say no to commitments, and that helps me remain calm.”

Break Out the Bone China

Or your fine linens, or the nice wine you’re saving—today. A key theme that runs through Scott’s advice is “always using the best things that you have,” she said. “It’s about adopting that mindset of higher living, of allowing yourself to enjoy beautiful things, not saving your best for later.”

That can start small: “Instead of having your afternoon tea in that cracked old mug that you use every day,” Scott suggested, how about “finding that nice bone china tea cup that maybe your grandmother gave you that you never used, and enjoying it.”

Simplify Your Wardrobe To Amplify Your Style

Scott encourages “dressing well for the day, every day”—whether you’re going out or at home. To put that goal within reach, enter the “10-item wardrobe.” It’s a life-changing lesson Scott picked up from her Parisian mentors who owned, by American standards, very few clothes, but high-quality ones that they wore often and took good care of. Each item fit well, looked great, and was timeless and elegant, and most or all of them were chosen so that they could be mixed and matched seamlessly. This approach is the subject of a chapter in Scott’s book—and a 2014 TEDx talk—that she says has enduring and universal appeal.

“I think a lot of men and women, they have way too many clothes, and because of this, their style is confused,” Scott said. “Personal style is such an important part of our lives, so paring that down and expressing your true style through the 10-item wardrobe is a big one.”

The concept isn’t as extreme as it may sound. For each season, pick a few tops, a few bottoms, and for women, a skirt and dress or two. Not included in the 10 items are your jackets, hats, scarves, gym clothes, pajamas, and so on. Unneeded pieces go into storage. Closet space is freed up. Some people choose 12 items; for others, 20 is more appropriate. This capsule wardrobe stays put for about 12 weeks, then you swap it out to your heart’s content.

Bring Formality Back to the Dinner Table

“My favorite thing about living in France in particular,” Scott said, “was every single meal involved conversation, community, and nice, formal manners.” She pointed out that American families used to sit down together to enjoy their meals, but that the pressure to join the “rat race” may have sabotaged the tradition here. Eating has become a casual affair.

Making mealtimes more formal—not stuffy—is one way to slow down, pay attention to quality of life, and replace chaos with order, which begets beauty. Scott has also found a fulfilling creative outlet in setting a pretty table with fine trimmings for her young family at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

(Fei Meng for American Essence)

There’s a wellness benefit here, too: “If you’re walking down the sidewalk stuffing a sandwich in your face, because you’re late for something, that is not a good way to digest your food,” Scott said. “When you’re sitting down with good posture, a beautifully laid table, and conversation, you’re able to digest your food properly and get that nourishment you need. And it helps with your stress.”

Welcome Whimsy Into the Home

Life is hard, Scott admits, and homemaking can become monotonous. She proposes an antidote: Introduce some whimsy to the everyday. A perfect example is her “Gemstone Homemaking” series, in which she chooses one gemstone at a time as a theme, and allows it to “inspire us at home.” Emerald, for instance, might show up as an accent color in an outfit of the day, the focal point in a bouquet of flowers for the table, and a recipe for a matcha-flavored hot drink or delicious pesto pasta dinner.

Scott said she believes this is her signature characteristic. There is no shortage of homemaking YouTube channels, for example, that cover nitty-gritty tips for cleaning, decluttering, meal planning, or etiquette basics. “But I like to explore a more whimsical, different dynamic,” Scott said.

Pursue the Arts and Learning

Scott understands the power of looking good, and she shares plenty of style tips from her wardrobe and home decor, but she always emphasizes that our cultivated inner worlds are what truly make us elegant, beautiful, and attractive.

Art appreciation plays a big role in that for Scott. She studied theater in university, and while studying abroad in Paris, she took an art history class that included weekly trips to museums like the Louvre. The class “totally transformed my life,” she said. “I fell in love with these paintings, because not only are you seeing the painting, but you know the story behind it, about the artist and the time period. There’s history—there’s so much.”

Her video series “Seek Out the Arts” is a monthly appointment with a curated selection of paintings, poems, music, and more. In adulthood, she’d longed for the fine arts again in her life but found few opportunities to include it; she created the series to give herself and others the chance to return to some of their most fulfilling pursuits.

“I love embarking on new ideas and implementing them into my life,” she said. “I’m constantly reading, I’m constantly listening to audiobooks, constantly watching YouTube channels, trying to improve myself, and I’m still learning things every single day of my life.”

From Aug. Issue, Volume 3