Walden: 8 Things that the FIRE Community Can Learn from a 165-Year-Old Book

Thoreau’s Walden isn’t a FIRE book in the strictest sense, but it has many themes that relate to the FIRE movement. I never read it in school and I’ve seen it referenced time and time again by the community so I decided to give this 165-year-old book a chance and I’m glad I did.

I always thought that Walden was an example of how many principles of FIRE were mainstream in the past, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thoreau was considered a weird guy, his ideas were considered weird, and the FIRE community can learn a lot from his experience as a result.

  1. Living below your means was never the norm and probably will never be. Even in the 1800s, Thoreau describes that most people spent what they earned and that most farmers didn’t own the land they farmed.
  2. Society will always think that you are strange for pursuing FIRE. People thought that it was strange that a man would voluntarily move into a cabin in the woods, just like people will think that it’s strange for you to downsize your home or downgrade your car.
  3. Detailed accounts of income and expenses will always be interesting. Just like how people were interested in how much it cost to build Thoreau’s cabin and pay for food, people will always be interested in money diaries and income reports.
  4. It’s hard to separate FIRE from food. Thoreau advocates eating mostly vegetables to save on food costs and therefore reduce the amount he needs to earn.
  5. Not everyone will want to live just like you and that’s fine. Thoreau tries to convince a neighboring Irish family that they should give up meat and butter in order to reduce their expenses, but they’re resistant to the idea.
  6. Pursuing FIRE alone is one thing, but as a couple it’s hard if one person isn’t on board. In the interaction with the Irish family, the husband seems intrigued by Thoreau’s thoughts, but the wife isn’t convinced.
  7. Check your privilege. You have advantages that allow you to pursue fire that others don’t. One of the main criticisms of Thoreau’s experiment is that he didn’t pay rent or own the land he lived on. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson allowed him to live on the land for free.
  8. Practice contentment. Thoreau both demonstrates and explains that it doesn’t take much to live a rich, full life.

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