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"Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance ... through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality ... and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp-post safely ... that future ages might know how deep a freshet of shams and appearances had gathered from time to time."

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Spring Cleaning

Posted on May 16, 2015 by in Meditations | 0 comments

I feel like a lot of the things that I think about over and over again are like junk in an attic. They accumulate over the years, and I take them out to look at them every once in a while for sentimental reasons. But it’s junk. I don’t need it anymore, it’s not helping me, it’s an empty and unproductive pastime. It distracts me from the amazing world in front of me right now. You don’t get more time, everything you decide to do is a trade for your limited supply of time, and that time is just a measurement for the amount of life you have left.

A favorite phrase of mine is “your money or your life.” By that, I mean that you’ve got to scrutinize what you trade the life you have left for. When you “grow up” it’s usually money you spend the best hours of your days for. Thoreau called this concept “economy” in Walden, he brought up the fact that the native americans in his area spent 2 weeks of their lives building their homes. In contrast he looked at what his neighbors spent: years, sometimes their whole lives. By comparison, that’s a bad trade. The purpose of your home is to improve your life, if you spend all of your life attaining it, then it’s like selling your car to buy gas for driving. Imagine the life you’d have if you worked two weeks to get attain your home, free and clear. Now imagine that other necessities such as food and water took you a few days a month to earn. The amazing thing is that Thoreau actually went out and did this as an experiment. More fun with numbers at the end of the post.

Applying this idea to nostalgia, or beating yourself up over past mistakes, or living in the past, or whatever you do with your own memories helps make it clear why we shouldn’t indulge in them unless it provides a benefit. If you can learn something from it, if you can improve your life, then it might have merit. But most of the time I think it’s just wasting your most precious resource. Better to let the junk go, and enjoy what you have right in front of you.

Most of the old thoughts I carry around with me are irrelevant to my life today. Who cares what someone I haven’t seen in 15 years did all those years ago, who cares what mistakes I made before I knew better, who cares about some girl I never really knew and who I wouldn’t spend the time to chase down today anyways. If it’s not giving you a benefit, if it’s not something that taught you how to live, or that helps you stay strong, then let it go. Shift your focus to what’s in front of you right now and enjoy it, breathe deep, have some coffee or tea, and do something that makes you happy.


By the numbers, you start off with 15 hours a day of consciousness if you like to sleep like I do, and spend 4 hours for grooming and eating and whatever else for upkeep, leaving 11 hours for you to spend any way you want. Lets say the average modern person spends 1 hour in transit, and 8 or 9 working. On the low side, 11 minus 1 for transit and 8 for work, leaves 2 hours to yourself, although I’m guessing you’d be too tired to do anything awe inspiring. Taking the weekends in to account, if you can finish all of your chores in 4 hours, you get an additional 22 minus 4, leaving 18 hours of free time. For the whole week you get 77 hours to spend on what you want, minus 45 for work, minus 4 for chores, leaving you 28, or 36%. Plus 2 weeks a year for a vacation if you get time off, you end up with 38% of your time to accomplish your dreams, while spending 62% working “for a living.”

Now compare this with Thoreau’s experiment. He spent somewhere around a 4 months building his cabin, and a few hours a week growing food and fetching water. Over a year, lets say he spent 8 hours a day for 100 days building his house (800 hours), and 4 hours a week during the year for food and water (208 hours). Then he spent 1008 hours of his 4004 hours (77 hours times 52 weeks) on earning the necessities. This means that 75% of his time was spent doing what he wanted, and 25% on earning his living.

Who lives the better life? Modern people with all of our amenities or Thoreau and his ideal? I know there is more nuance to all of this, but the perspective these numbers provide is important when deciding how to value the things you trade your time for. From a strictly practical point of view, living in a the modern world, it would not be a stretch to imagine building or buying a small house with a few months labor a year over say 5 years, and earning what you need to live with an additional few months. It may not get you 75% of your time back, but I think it would be eminently possible to get 6 months a year for yourself, and, very significantly, those months could be spend back to back. Doing amazing things requires lots of time without interruption. Spending an hour a day and one day a weekend just isn’t going to be as productive as spending 6 months enjoying yourself and being able to focus without distraction.

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