The Wisdom of Walden, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Revisiting some of my favorite passages from Walden, and explaining what they mean to me.

“When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced.”

Live below your means – way below. Most of us in Western societies spend every penny we earn. Few save much if any, and almost nobody would entertain the thought of living as if we made a fraction of what we do. If we can easily afford a $2000/mo apartment, we figure that’s what we need to live in.

Many vandwellers have gotten the idea: They’ll stay at their job, making say $2000 a month, but they’ll only spend $500 of it. The rest goes right into savings. These people don’t necessarily have a problem when they lose or quit a job, knowing they’ll be just fine. It’s a term you may have heard called “F.U. money”.  Whether you live on minimum wage or have a six digit income, your expenses can remain constant and low.

There are quite a few of them who work seasonally, saving enough to live on for the rest of the year. This seems like a great balance between work and free time, as many worthy destinations would require weeks or even months to explore.

Of course there are also some vandwellers who make under $1000 a month. I’ve heard of as low as $250. These are the poor folks who were forced into their vehicles, usually due to reasons beyond their control. I’m not talking about these folks; they’re already facing real problems instead of fake ones, and surely they don’t waste a cent.

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”

Here Thoreau is talking about society’s tendency to be always upgrading their wardrobe. Specifically, to ensure their clothes look as good, well-kept, plentiful, and new as their neighbors’, to ensure their respected position in said community.  It’s an expensive and vain habit, one of the seven deadly sins. If your old clothes are good enough to worship God in, surely they’ll do. Who are these people to tell me how to dress anyway?

“It is desirable that a man […] live in all respects so compactly and preparedly that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.”

He’s still going on about clothes in particular, but it applies to life in general. Where would your life be if your house were to burn down? Would you even know what to try to save? Do you have so much “important” stuff it’s not even possible to save it all?

“I cannot believe that our factory system is the best mode by which men may get clothing. The condition of the operatives is becoming every day more like that of the English; and it cannot be wondered at, since, as far as I have heard or observed, the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.”

He’s devoted quite a slice of the chapter to complaining about clothes, but he’s dead on. Over the centuries, we’ve become indoctrinated to believe that we must buy new clothes every few years or decades merely because it’s old or out of fashion. But what is fashion, and from where does it obtain its authority over our closet space? Who is dictating these changes, and who are they to tell me how to dress? Indeed it is driven by the corporations. There’s nothing wrong with trying to pull a profit, but there’s definitely something wrong with following their will so blindly. I buy a new pair of $20 shoes maybe thrice a decade, and even that seems high.

“Many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box who would not have frozen to death in such a box as this. I am far from jesting.”

He’s talking about sleeping in a 6’x3′ wood box next to a railway. It provides all the shelter you really need for sleeping, and you could buy it extremely cheap. Yet Americans spend about half their take-home pay on housing and all the expenses that go with it. If you could put half your money into savings instead, you would only need to work half as long. Imagine retiring at 42 instead of 65 simply by cutting this one expense!

Housing costs are where vandwellers truly have it made. Most own their homes outright, not to mention they can live almost anywhere they want.

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