A Tiny House Thought from Thoreau

Jesse Smedley has been reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau and shared this with me.

This past weekend I was re-reading one of my favorite books: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Many of your tiny house readers are probably familiar with the book, and I would urge those who have not read it to do so. It’s a wonderful meditation on the virtues of the simple life. As I read it again I came across the following passage, which seemed so relevant to your tiny house weblog that I hoped you might share it with your readers. It comes from the chapter titled “Economy,” in which he describes the building of his own tiny house beside Walden pond, and muses on the simplest way one might obtain shelter:

“Formerly, when how to get my living honestly, with freedom left for my proper pursuits, was a question which vexed me even more than it does now, for unfortunately I am become somewhat callous, I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night; and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free.”

–Henry David Thoreau

I have attached a photo below that I found on the internet of a 3 x 6 tool shed. This would be minimalist living to the extreme, but it is fun to imagine how you could use this size space and make it a complete and livable home.

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Michael - March 17, 2010 Reply

For ideas he could take a look at my Nine Tiny Feet concept. http://www.ninetinyfeet.com.

The 18 square feet Jesse is working with is much more reasonable. Imagine a fold-out platform for a bed that sits flush against the wall when not in use. One one side a kitchen with sink and stove. On the other end a toilet with fold-out seating over it. If the interior walls (at least on one end) were water proofed one could shower in there too. Heat is a challenge unless you use gas or electric heat.

I’d love to see Jesse’s experiment complete. Nice little tool shed too.

    di - August 14, 2010 Reply

    Yeah, a twin bed is 3′ x 6.25′ – so, an underbed kitchen and wetbath – maybe as a homeless shelter…

mike - March 17, 2010 Reply

Funny, I read Walden several years ago, and that very blurb about the railroad box was what I remembered more than anything else in the book.

And as someone who is dealing with a flooded basement after 7″ of rain, that railroad box is looking pretty damn good to me right now…

John P - March 17, 2010 Reply

Yikes! I’ll save sleeping in a coffin until I’m dead! As with electronics, at some point miniturization becomes a detriment, not an enhancement.

Bob Holecek - March 17, 2010 Reply

This must house the pool equipment. Look at the house in the background.

MJ - March 17, 2010 Reply

This little house reminds me somehow of Grandpa Potts’ tiny home in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Remember the song “Posh” when his house ends up being lifted up and away? Here’s a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNpWBMNyC0w

Mara - March 17, 2010 Reply

Yeah, right. Get back to me when you find that Thoreau actually *lived* in a 3×6 box. It’s real easy to say “Poor people should do this” when you have a Harvard education and don’t want for a meal.

    Russ - March 17, 2010 Reply

    Mara, I think you missed the point entirely. Perhaps reading the book would alter your view of what he meant? Then you can get back to us 🙂

Jesse S - March 17, 2010 Reply

Just a reply to Michael Janzen’s comment above: Hi Michael, I didn’t actually build the shed shown in that picture. So I don’t want to take credit for a “project” that doesn’t exist. I merely emailed the Thoreau quote to Kent and suggested he share it with his readers. Kent looked online for a photo of a structure that might illustrate the quote, and found this pic of a 3×6 shed. In fact, I imagine the tool boxes that Thoreau saw beside the railroad did look more like coffins, as one reader above has suggested. And frankly, I agree with the reader who would rather not sleep in a coffin. But if I was homeless and had only a dollar, that toolbox might start looking pretty good in a cold rain!

frank - March 17, 2010 Reply

People often overlook the humor in Walden. I suspect Thoreau had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he wrote that passage.

Elizabeth Goertz - March 18, 2010 Reply

Thorough must have been a charming guy, he managed to procure the use of land, free building materials and most of his meals, from the kindness of others.
His own cabin was a great deal bigger than the tool box or the garden shed mentioned above.

mike - March 18, 2010 Reply

wow, people seem to miss the point on this. what i believe he was implying was that, one is better off living very modestly without overextending financially, than living large and being in debt. living small with minimal overhead allows one’s soul to free for other pursuits such as art, music or whatever it may be… it’s a conceptual point, and i think he makes it beautifully…

gwne - March 23, 2010 Reply

Wow really cool.. I just found this site today and have been attracted to the smaller more portable side of like like hexayurts etc.. This seems just the site for these kinds of minimalist all in one kinds of shelters(just enough for me and my dog 🙂

Does anyone recall the stressed skin plywood camping podin in either Mechanix Illustrated/Pop Sci/mech in the 1970s or be able to point me to a copy of the article?


“I want to believe” strikes again | In defense of anagorism - August 12, 2011 Reply

[…] read an economics textbook without experiencing symptoms of clinical depression.  Perhaps (like Thoreau) I must become more callous.  But is not the history of science/technology/politics full of […]

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