Thoreau Thursdays (34): Three Chairs, or How Much Is Enough?

December 8, 2011

I had three chairs in my house:  one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

One chair for solitude

“Many of our houses, both public and private, with their almost innumerable apartments, their huge halls and their cellars for the storage of wines and other munitons of peace, appear to me extravagantly large for their inhabitants.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

How much is enough?  We have 21 chairs in our house, not counting sofas or camping gear or folding chairs and broken chairs in the basement.  Most of them sit empty, day after day.  And even if most of these chairs were acquired at no or low cost, having this many chairs is an extravagance.

And chairs are just one category of household goods — is it fair to say that we have too much of just about everything?  Too many cake pans, too many bath towels, too many pairs of shoes . . .  I think, in general, Americans live in houses that are too big (just think of the wasted energy to heat them) and filled with too much stuff.  And I am as guilty as my fellow citizens.

I think that the middle of the Christmas shopping season is a great time to think more mindfully about stuff and whether we should be buying more of it.  In this era of overabundance and consumerism, I am struggling with what gift-giving means.  So few of us delay or defer buying what we want, when we want it.  And how do you buy gifts for loved-ones who already have everything?

I support the trend toward “No New Gifts” holidays, and all of the creative alternative gift ideas, such as the gift of consumable foods, the gift of experiences, and the gift of shared time.  This is a step in the right direction.

What I like about Thoreau is that he has a defined use for each of his three chairs.  He reminds me that there is more work to be done in tackling the abundance of stuff that surrounds me in my everyday life, stuff that is unused for most of the year.

“The vast majority of us simply have too much stuff — more than we can possibly keep track of, much less thoughtfully possess . . . Unless we employ conscious strategies to streamline and slim our living spaces — and put clutter-control mechanisms in place — our homes have become virtual sinkholes of stuff, clogging the flow of energy and movement in our lives. . . . Job No. 1 for most of us is paring down what we have to a set of possessions we can thoughtfully own.  (Part of responsible stewardship of our possessions involves redirecting what we no longer need to worthy recipients.)  Once we’ve purged our systems of the excess, the focus will be on creating lives that are dynamic and streamlined, where the carbon cost of a thing is weighed alongside its dollar price tag, where the focus is on usability rather than ownership, where we seek to reduce our personal waste streams.”
— Wanda Urbanska, The Heart of Simple Living: 7 Paths to a Better Life



12 Responses to “Thoreau Thursdays (34): Three Chairs, or How Much Is Enough?”

  1. What a timely post and so true…just been doing some clutter clearing since I have been home sick…I have 10 chairs inside and 10 chairs outside. But oh the shoes etc that we don’t use…a major goal this winter is to simplify and pare down…closets, basement and drawers are next…

  2. garden2day Says:

    I think this sentiment should be a reminder because so many of us feel that we cannot stop buying and overindulging once we start. I find this true for so many who grew up in poverty or near poverty. I think gift giving is really overrated because we too often pay more attention to the gift rather than the giver. Gifts, no matter what they are, should be given freely with no strings attached-neither from the receiver or the giver. I applaud all who make gifts or give gifts of service and such because these gifts are the ones that should really matter. So, Rosemary, I guess you don’t need any more chairs :).

  3. Rosemary,

    This post was just forwarded to me by a reader who just knew I would appreciate your blog.

    How right she is!

    So true, so wise, so timely! Enough with stuff.

    I will definitely share this one on my blog–and sign up to receive more of your posts.

  4. Very important to ponder and act upon. Brava! Love the Thoreau quote of the three chairs.

  5. 3 is good. Remember one on, one in the wash and one in the cupboard? I got halfway thru the books. But the second half is gardening and crafts and novels I enjoyed and reference books. Hard to sort out the excess. Our Friend Ben has a house rule, one in, two out.

    Your posts are food for thought, and deep enjoyment.

  6. Renee Says:

    My brother in law recently moved and I cannot tell you the amount of waste, energy and time it took to complete the move. I am 58 years old and really no longer buy much of anything but the necessities of life (food, medicines and treats for my dogs along with birdseed for the bird feeder outside). All one has to do is think about packing for a move and it will become clear we have too much “stuff”

  7. Lovely post. This past weekend, I’ve been decorating for Christmas. Have been hauling lots of old ornaments and other items around for years. I bought a small Fraser fur tree and didn’t need all those ornaments. I packed a bunch in a box and wrote “Free” on all sides and asked my son to set them out on the curb. It gives me such pleasure to move things on to others. Thank you for your lovely blog.

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