Thoreau Thursdays (9): Your Money or Your Life

June 16, 2011

” . . . 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.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

At day's end: watch, keys, and pocket change on the mantle

I rather like the way Thoreau values his time more than money.  His definition of wealth is how much free time is left after his basic needs have been met.  And one way to maximize his personal time is to pare his material needs to the bare minimum:  “I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

I am comfortable living a frugal life most of the time.  My parents set the example of living within one’s means, raising nine kids on a small farm.  I never saw them use a credit card.  Thoreau’s way of life seems especially appropriate for weathering today’s tough economic times.

“Security to me is not what we have, but what we can do without.”
— quote from Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel

“Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift?”
— Cicero

Living life content with small means can be liberating — you’re free from the stress of burdensome debt, high maintenance costs, and the dissatisfactions of needing the latest thing advertised on T.V.  You can craft of your life a symphony, in the words of William Henry Channing:

“To live life with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable,
and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully,
Do all bravely,
Await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.”




4 Responses to “Thoreau Thursdays (9): Your Money or Your Life”

  1. Margaret Says:

    You found some wonderful quotes.

  2. garden2day Says:

    My family also didn’t do the credit thing and taught material things are not as important as non-material. Time is precious and worth so much but so often we (humans) squander it away or at least not make the most of it. A simple life is a free life. Cherish what you have because you have so much and these are wise words that you choose to share.

  3. William Henry Channing? Tell me more about him.

    • Rosemary Says:

      “William Ellery Channing was a Transcendentalist poet, nephew of the Unitarian preacher Dr. William Ellery Channing. (His namesake uncle was usually known as “Dr. Channing,” while the nephew was commonly called “Ellery Channing,” in print.) The younger Ellery Channing was thought brilliant but undisciplined by many of his contemporaries. Amos Bronson Alcott famously said of him in 1871, “Whim, thy name is Channing.” Nevertheless, the Transcendentalists thought his poetry among the best of their group’s literary products.” (from

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