What does Thoreau mean by: "Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them." -Walden: Economy, 1854

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luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thoreau believed, and said, that people do not own possessions, the possessions own them.  He means that when people own things, they become so concerned about protecting and maintaining those things, that the people no longer focus on what Thoreau perceived to be the more important aspects of existence.   For example, a homeowner locks up his house to ward off theives and even go to the expense of installing alarms or other devices.  This costs the homeowner more money.  The homeowner may even worry about the possibility of a break-in, thus causing the owner to lose sleep, or appetite, or simply lose the time to ponder on more pleasant thoughts or on thoughts that might help mankind exist in a better world.  The financial and emotional distractions of ownership pull a person away from what a person might be able to do without the burden of ownership.  Thoreau suggested that the more a person has, the more the person works to keep and protect what he has, rather than allowing the person to ponder on other matters.  This idea is behind Thoreau's "Simplify, simplify."  He believed that if people only owned and used what they needed to exist, rather than owning and using what they want to be more comfortable or to be more highly placed in social perception, then people would be generally happier and there would be far less crime and less animosity among people.

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