Once in a while I purposely immerse myself in the midst of the hubbub and am jolted by the frantic pace of the world. Normally my life is simple and peaceful and I am truly grateful. Most people today have a very challenging juggling act on their hands. Between balancing the demands of work &/or school, caring for kids &/or parents, and having a love life; it’s laughably unthinkable for the majority of people in the modern world to find time to exercise, eat properly, relax, pursue their passions, find their purpose, or to delve into anything in any depth.
Walden is an account of Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in living simply. This book is a touchstone for minimalists. Despite being written so long ago, (in the mid 1800’s) and using words like “firken” and “thither”, it’s wryly humorous and has an abundance of useful information. Many of the things he wrote about took me over 20 years to learn. If I had found his book earlier, my life may have contained fewer frustrations.
It was clear by many things he wrote, that by living simply, Thoreau’s life contained plenty of free time. It was also clear that his peers were not so fortunate. The more wealthy folks he knew were constantly feeling inferior to the even more wealthy folks, and stayed busy gossiping, throwing parties and shopping for the latest fashions. Meanwhile, the farming folks were industriously working themselves into early graves.
Think of the umpteen stories we have all been told of the scarcity, toil and hardship in the olden days. We were told that in the days before modern conveniences like electricity, they had to slave away night and day just to survive! We were told that they needed to have a dozen children at home to help on the farm and the work was never done. Work, work, work. Oh the endless drudgery!
Then there was Thoreau, living in a tiny cabin in the woods by Walden pond. While looking for what to do for a living, he seriously contemplated picking huckleberries because his needs were so few. Thoreau said that for 5 years he could support himself well, by working only 6 weeks of the year. This was on a one man farm, working alone with no horse, ox, or tractor. He wrote, “The whole of my winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for study. “
He also said that a job as a day labourer required only 30 to 40 days in a year to support one person. I imagine most people would need to read that sentence over a few times, stopping periodically to rub their eyes dramatically to then check again if they were working right. What?! He said he only needed to work for about a month in an entry-level, non-educated position and then could do as he liked for the other 11 months of the year! In this time of massive overpopulation, which has created scarcity and competition, it’s boggling for most people to consider. However, most people in our culture think they “need” things that are actually frivolous luxuries. Thoreau did away with all but the most basic amenities. “I especially valued my freedom”, rather than valuing more material goods.
There are other clues that most people back then had a lot more free time than we’ve been led to believe. Just look at the elaborate furniture and ornamental housing styles. Think of the decorative clothing, hand-stitched and maybe even adorned with painstaking embroidery. Even the writing style was much more descriptive.The ornate ladies hairstyles would have been particularly time consuming to accomplish. Everything was so detailed and embellished. Creating things with such intricate detail is very time consuming and it all had to be done by hand.
Nowadays, almost no one knows how to make or do anything for themselves. Back then, people could hunt or farm, dry or pickle to preserve their own food, churn butter, chop wood for heat and cooking, dig their own well and access water, weave, knit, and sew. Compared to today, everyone back then was like a wizard or MacGyver. With a few simple tools they could create basically anything that they didn’t have and thought they’d need.
Today almost everything is mass-produced with machines. Remind me why everyone doesn’t have far more free time than they did back then? Perhaps the answer is that we actually DO have more time than we realize. It’s amazing how we can fritter away the minutes and hours while sending emails, texts, or gawking at videos of cats doing silly things.
‘I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely.’ As minimalists, we choose to streamline our lives to remove unnecessary items and distractions so that we can do more of the things we need and want to do. It was true in the 1800’s and it’s still true today. Life can be made to be easier and more simple. Minimalists have more free time and can enjoy life with less stress.