Episode 75: Lessons from Walden Pond

In 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into a little house he built himself on Walden Pond outside Concord, Massachusetts. His experiment in simple living and renewing connections with nature has inspired people like us ever since.

This week, Clay and Sarah discuss what lessons we might take away from Walden today.


In this episode we discuss:

* how More comes with a bigger cost than the initial pricetag

* the various areas of our life we can Simplify, Simplify, Simplify…

* how reconnecting with the natural world is a radical kind of education

* where spiritual life fits in

* the media and Information Age – is our life frittered away by detail?


I wanted to re-read Walden after coming across this quote on social media – “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

So often we look at something we want and only consider the number of the price tag. We don’t factor in the amount of money needed to maintain it, nor how much of our working lives we must ‘give away’ in order to afford that thing. Whether it’s a car, a house, a new techno-gadget, or as Thoreau would say ‘a new gewgaw’, Thoreau’s Walden is an examination in what are true necessities and what things truly cost us.

Out on Walden Pond, living in the woods in his small house, Thoreau pared back his life to an extreme. It was his great experiment to rediscover what was truly necessary to live — how much food, clothing, shelter and how many hours of work were needed to sustain a life. Writing about that experiment in the following years, he argued that “most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only indispensible, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind.”

“We are still forced to cut our spiritual bread far thinner than our forefathers did their wheaten” he continues. “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.”

So what are these serious things?

The natural world. Time and space to observe it and live within it. Attention to our spiritual lives and the deeper things that not only make us human but also those aspects of ourselves that we feel reflected in the starry sky, the reflecting pond and the silent woods. “The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature.”

”When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life,” Thoreau advises us, “there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is to adventure on life now.”

Whether we are considering our material ‘stuff’, the activities which fill our time, or the mental clutter from the vast details we try to hold in our heads, Henry David Thoreau’s experiment with a different kind of life inspires us to stop trying so hard to do more.

Instead, “simplify, simplify, simplify”.