December 28, 2011

Amazing Feats of Simplicity: Henry David Thoreau

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things
he can agree to let alone." - H.D. Thoreau, Image by M. Thompson
Tired of the destruction wreaked by high stress lifestyles centered on the acquisition of more and more stuff? Tired of working all the time to support a way of life that is increasingly dissatisfying?

Be inspired by this amazing feat of simplicity that took place 150 years ago in a tiny house in the woods of eastern USA - a house that was smaller than most people's garages today.

Increasingly, people are looking for more gentle ways of living as an alternative to unsustainable modes of production and consumption, and many of them turn to the writings of author, environmentalist, and social critic, Henry David Thoreau.

In 1845 Thoreau built his home and monument to simplicity next to Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. He used found and recycled materials to keep costs down, and reduce his environmental impact. 

To build a replica of his cost-cutting cabin today would only cost about $3000, if you could find a neighborhood willing to accept a home so... sensible. His 150 square foot house would have to be at least 10 times larger to meet the minimum size requirements of today's residential developments where size definitely matters.

Thoreau's 150 sq. ft. cabin was built by hand from found
and reclaimed materials

Thoreau's minimal approach did not end when his house was done. He stocked his home with the same eye to keeping his life as simple and carefree as possible, and only kept what added to his basic life, and no more.

Thoreau considered many wealthy people to be little more than the janitors of their possessions, for when did they actually have time to enjoy them? Henry David treasured relationships, nature, and freedom over possessions. 

Because he kept his possessions to a minimum, and did without extras like coffee, tea, milk, and meat, Thoreau could choose to work less.

The ideal work schedule for a week on Walden Pond was one day of work, and six days of leisure. He wrote, “The order of things should be somewhat reversed – the seventh should be a man’s day of toil…and the other six his Sabbath…”. This radical plan would amount to six weeks of work per year, a schedule most people would find sufficiently relaxing.


Thoreau's amazing feats of simplicity model for us a way of living that minimizes environmental damage, and maximizes personal freedom, responsibility, and enjoyment.

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life," he warned, "are not only not indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”


The spartan interior of Thoreau's cabin - all you need.

"Live simply. Be free." is the lesson Thoreau shares with us in his amazing feats of simplicity.

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