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

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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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Book Review: Playing with Fire

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Yesterday, after walking to the library to pick up Playing with Fire, I stopped by an open house on my way back home. When I walked in, the real estate agent greeted me with, “Hey you’re too young to be here! You’re still borrowing books from the library! How old are you, seventeen?” I was surprised at the way she greeted me, but I smiled and explained that I liked reading, all the while thinking: 1. How is that any way to talk to a potential buyer? 2. Since when is there an age requirement to buy real estate (besides being of age)? 3. What’s wrong with the library? 4. How do you think I’m saving up, lady?

The whole exchange felt like yet another time I stuck out like a sore thumb on my path to FIRE. From this one I gathered that normal people don’t read books (or if they do they buy them) and they don’t buy homes until they look a certain age.

Once I got home and started reading Playing with Fire, however, I was reminded that this type of experience is not unique to me. In the book, Scott tells the unique story of his family, but somehow their journey feels just like mine. There are so many relatable experiences, feelings, and realizations for everyone in the FIRE community that make the pages fly by. That’s why I feel like this book is best for people who are in the slow accumulation phase of FIRE and need some emotional support or are just getting started.

Scott also introduces a lot of FIRE concepts with newbies in mind, but it’s been so long since I started that I can’t make a fair judgement on that content. I did like how Scott included some profiles of other people, which showed some of the diversity within the community, but I don’t know how someone completely new to the concept of FIRE would respond to this book.

I have a feeling that the documentary will be the same story told in the book, but I’m still looking forward to it. I think it will help spread and normalize the concept of FIRE like Marie Kondo’s Netflix series.

If you read Playing with Fire, what did you think of it? I’d love to know!

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