The new Thoreaus? Why more Americans are choosing to simplify and reprioritize their lives like the author of ‘Walden’ 150 years ago. (1 of 2)

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On July 5, 1845, a young writer named Henry David Thoreau moved from his comfortable existence in Concord, Massachusetts to a simple patch of forest on Walden Pond. In exchange for his work clearing the land and other chores, Thoreau was allowed to occupy the plot and build his own house.

He did just that, constructing a simple 10’ by 15’ English-style cottage, decorated with only a bed, a table, a small desk and lamp for writing at night, and three chairs – “one of solitude, two for friendship, three for society,” – according to Thoreau. He planted a garden so he could grow all of his own food, and though he did receive many visitors, he managed to be completely self sufficient and sequestered from the outside world.

Thoreau stayed at Walden Pond for two years, two months, and two days, spending only $28.12 per year for his freedom by his own account. When he emerged and re-entered society, he had the rough manuscript about his experiences of solitude and separation from modern life. He worked on it several more years and it was published in 1854 as “Walden; or, Life in the Woods,” that was immediately considered one of the best contemplative works of humanity, a classic of American literature. From Walden:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

More than 150 years later, many people in our modern society wish they could do the same thing as Thoreau, taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of daily existence. A respite from the rat race would be well deserved and much needed. There’s no denying it, we’re a nation that’s falling victim to our own workaholic, over-consuming tendencies, perpetually-stressed and struggling to find more time in the day just to keep up, but less time and space for that which feels meaningful. We’re more tendriled to society and others than ever, especially with social media and smart phones, yet we feel less connected to community.

But the pendulum is swinging back for many people in our modern society. While it may not be realistic for you to quit your job and go live in a cabin in the woods like Thoreau, there are some things you can do to achieve the same effect: slowing down so you can stop and smell the roses.
In this blog, we’ll highlight some ways people are doing just that, recalibrating their lives to what’s important and simplifying so they can enjoy better health, less stress, more time with their families, volunteering or charity work, practicing their faith, pursuing their passion or dreams, and actually have the time and space to enjoy the ride.

Here are some ways people are choosing to simplify, de-stress, and de-clutter their lives, like modern-day Thoreau’s:

Downsizing from larger houses to a smaller home that’s more affordable and easier to maintain.

Moving out of the city to the suburbs or small towns and communities.

Moving to the country to enjoy natural beauty and a slower pace.

Taking more vacation time with the family or choosing interesting and adventurous places to go instead of opting for luxury and comfort.

The Tiny House movement, where people live in tiny but perfectly functional abodes in order to better enjoy their surroundings.

Man caves and “she sheds”.

Zen gardens at home.

Yoga and meditation rooms at home.

Exercise rooms at home.

Canceling cable television or watch less TV.

Volunteering and participating in charitable causes.

Moving out of the country to become expatriates in slower-paced countries and warm climates. (About 3,000 Americans do just that every year.)

Taking sabbaticals or working abroad for a year.

Cutting back on hours at work, overtime, and clamoring for that promotion so you have more time with your family.

Volunteering at your children’s’ schools.

Taking classes for fun like learning to play an instrument, cooking, or art.

Cutting down on possessions by donating what you don’t need or hosting a yard sale.

Getting rid of one car and biking or carpooling to work.

Selling your new car for a reliable used vehicle.

Planting a garden and growing some of your own food.

Cooking at home more and going out to eat less.

Switching to solar power and going green around the house.

Early or semi-retirement.

Paying off debt or getting finances in order.

Becoming self-employed.

Working virtually or at home for increased flexibility and freedom.

In part two of this blog we’ll explore if disconnecting from society is even possible considering the myriad ways we’re connected, including technological, financial, and increasingly, digital. Just how hard it is to semi-participate in society, like Thoreau 150 years ago? And does our government even want us to drop out and “get off the grid?” You’ll be surprised at the information we have to share!


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