Article by Laura LaVoie
Henry David Thoreau is often held up as the first tiny house adventurer; the Granddaddy of our movement, as it were. His history is complicated and interesting and to truly understand his place in the American narrative one must pour through Walden and Civil Disobedience. His philosophies are almost always shoehorned into those of his intellectual counterparts in the transcendental movement but he never quite fits there. If you’re willing to take some time to read his writing you can find plenty of inspiration for tiny house living.
Thoreau is often considered an important figure in modern environmentalism – he was an environmental scientist after all. When we put it into perspective we understand that he studied the environment in a time before cars, holes in the ozone, and the other crises we face today. Environmentalism was important to him and he not only studied it as a scientist but he revered it as a religion and a way of life. However, the motivation for building a tiny house on a friend’s land was about more than treading lightly on nature. In my estimation, his real impetus was to live deliberately.
“I went to the woods because I 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.”
Living Deliberately is what I think the Tiny House Movement is all about. The common denominators for all of the people I’ve met and spoken to who have built a small house chose this experience because they want to live deliberately. We want to separate ourselves from our complicated lives. We tend to be very purposeful in every decision we make along the way. I think this is what Thoreau taught us with his experiment at Walden.
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Tiny Cabin on the River © Travis
“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
Sure, dwelling within nature was a key to how Thoreau chose to live but it isn’t the only possibility for the modern movement. Some tiny house dwellers choose to travel. Some live within the city to experience all that urban life has to offer. But everyone is choosing to live life in a way that is important to them.
Thoreau also preached simplicity. He encouraged people to live within their means and learn how to foster the best possible situations. I occasionally meet someone who thinks that if they follow some predetermined steps they will have lived life, but they don’t understand that risk and passion are what makes someone truly experience the world around them. We need to interact with the world to be part of it, not just wander through waiting for life to happen around us.
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it and call it hard names. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do want society.”
Thoreau desired nothing more than to live on his own terms without the constraints of certain governance. He wanted to be independent and self-sufficient and his method was simplicity. These are all values of the tiny house movement. As we begin our process of downsizing our lives to fit within a tiny space we start to realize how much we need and what it is we can do without. We keep with us the necessary things to enhance our lives. It seems to me that Living Deliberately is the most important thread in the tiny house movement and this desire was fed by the life that Thoreau built for himself in his tiny cabin in the woods.
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