How does one live simply, according to Thoreau?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thoreau said, "Our lives are frittered away in details...simplify,simplify" meaning that people are concerned too much by insignificant things and not those that are truly important.  He wrote, "As you simplify your life the laws of the universe will be simpler, solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness." 

We need only look at the problems of our society today brought on by bigger and bigger government  (Thoreau also said, "That government governs best that governs least.) and all its departments that interfere with such areas as home ownership, education, etc. Nowadays individuals complicate their lives to the point that they are stressed out, dissatisfied, and unhappy.

In order to simplify his life, Thoreau did go into the woods.  He went because he 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.

Indeed, we would do well to follow Henry David Thoreau's advice.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If you look at Thoreau's life as an example of simplifying one's life, I think you will see what he means. Thoreau decided to leave Concord, Mass. and go to the words by himself where he would not be bothered by "civilization". His cabin was very simple and there were no extra material goods. He tried to live off as little money as he could. He did not hold a steady job so he could concentrate and meditate on life and nature. When he did need money, he earned it from doing odd jobs that he could finish in a rather short amount of time. Every day, instead of heating water, he washed in Walden Pond. If you've been to Walden, you know that it can get pretty cold. But Thoreau found the cold water "refreshing". He spent as much time as possible writing in his journal and watching nature. He could do this because he was no burdened with debt or so many material possessions that needed care, cleaning and/or repair. He dressed simply and ate food that could be prepared rather easily ( for the 19th century). That left him plenty of time to do what he wanted--to live simply.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thoreau was interested in living simply, as you noted.  In fact, at the beginning of Waldenhe says:  "Simplify, simplify, simplify."  I think he means it.  One aspect of simplification he was adamant about was the issue of material goods, which were just becoming readily accessible and affordable to most people.  He advocated living simply by not "cluttering" or complicating one's life by buying "stuff" then working harder to buy even more "stuff."  In other words, we should be in control of our goods and our work--they should not be in control of us. 

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thoreau believed that lives lived in civilisation resulted in unnecessary complexity. To truly live simply and to live in harmony with our surroundings it is necessary to do what he did, which was to go into nature and live secluded from other humans and civilisation. Thoreau and romantics like him were enemies of civilisation, which they saw as opposing the kind of self-reliance and creative spirit that was dependent for successfully simplifying one's life and living deliberately.

gkstkdwl123 | Student

wow. it's amazing. When I think of Thoreau I already feel like relieved and relaxation. Thank you ver much!! ms. mcgregor.

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