Walden: A reflection

Our lives are frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify - Henry David Thoreau

Last year I had the pleasure of reading 'Walden', a book written by the sociologist and who many consider an important figure in minimalism, Henry David Thoreau.The novel is writing as a reflection on two years of simple living on the edge of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and although the book may seem rather anachronistic, after all, it was writing in 1845, but the message the book convey's is as poignant right now as it was then. I'm not sure where this post will lead to, it may end up as a ramble, but we shall see what happens.

Walden is both a book of its time and also of ours. It was released at a time where not only American was changing, but the whole western world. Released at a time when the industrial revolution was ramping up, and in a way, drowned out the message of simplicity and self-reliance. In a way, the industrial revolution help creates the antithesis of what Thoreau believed in, consumerism. Although I would in no way say that the revolution was a bad thing, indeed it improved the life's of millions, although at the price of the poor who in a way, lost their personhood and were mostly ignored until Charles Booths famous 'poverty map' of the mid-1890's. But let's leave the argument over poverty for the moment, and talk about Walden.

HDT left for Walden pond, looking for something that he struggled to find in modern (19th century) life, a sense of solace, meaning and intentionalism. So he took action and started a new life only a few miles away from Concord, but from the book, you get the feeling that it felt like a million miles away. Thoreau wanted people to understand that life could have a lot more meaning and a damn sight cheaper if we only took the initiative to make a change. He built his own small wooden home, one room, a bed and a desk. He would sow his own crops, selling some to locals and lived off the rest and spent his days reading, writing and enjoying the splendour of the pond and the wildlife that surrounded it. Within the book, Thoreau condenses all of his expenses over the first year of simple living. All in all, it comes to around $28! that's including building the house.

All chapters focus on one aspect of life on Walden ranging from, the people of nearby Concord, to long poses on the wildlife and the sounds of nature.  It's a peaceful book that makes you yearn for a simpler time, but also makes you understand that a life of contentment isn't a period of time or a certain decade, but something that can be obtained anywhere at any time, whether you live in the country, or a town. Another thing that the book show's, is that, although so much has changed in technology and lifestyles, but people, at the core, haven't changed that much. We still have the same drives, we want to look after ourselves and our family's, we want to make money, have a house, a job. These things are the medians of the human experience, the simple wants of life... But just as people approached these wants the wrong way, we in the modern age still make these mistakes over 150 years on.

I don't believe that humanity will ever truly solve this problem that we have, if anything, it will probably get worse. What I do believe is that a growing number of individuals (Millennial's  like myself) are discovering this new/old way of living in which we remove all the periphery, and focus on evolving what we truly want, need, and desire for ourselves. It's become a bit of a cliche for a millennial to say "I'm going to (Insert far off country here) to 'find myself' ".  And although I would love to one day travel to all those far of countries, it didn't take travel, for me to find what I truly love to do. All it took was minimalism, Squarespace, and many hours of typing. I don't have a big house or a gas guzzling car, a high-powered job or a fancy degree ( yet! :) ). What I do have is a laptop, a room, and a hunger to live this life, my life, far removed from all the trinkets that create modern personhood. This Henry David Thoreau understood, and although society may never change, Individuals who hear the message of simplicity and minimalism always will.