stretching cat



- published 1854

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put rout to all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.


When one has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, our vacation from humbler toil having commenced.


Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful house-keeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation...

In the East of Finland, on the very borders of Russia, we found a group of people living a life of simplicity. Each one of them lived somewhat differently than the next, but each one had carefully considered how they wanted to live and why. Moreover, they did not simply think on the matter, but practiced their considerations every day, in every way. These were inspiring people.

We stayed with Dennis, who is a bit of a hardcore dude, one of the more ascetic people in that group of friends. For one week Oliver and I experienced life in Dennis's shoes: living on the second floor of an old, drafty Finnish farmhouse, without running water, electricity or plumbing. We cooked foods that were seasonally available (a lot of barley and beetroot), and learned to make bread from rye and the bark of pine trees. We did not shower, but instead  were invited to sauna at a new person's house each night. It seems the small community had gotten wind of our arrival, and everyone and their mother wanted to meet us. 

At first, when I saw that we would be using a bucket as a toilet, I admit I was quite scared. But slowly the fear melted away, and by the second or third day, it did not matter in the slightest. There was too much else to think about, too many more important things to hold in my mind.

When I say important, maybe instead I should say magical. Because, when I stripped back the superfluities of my life, back to bare bones, I realized that all other additions were luxuries - things to be actively appreciated. I had a roof overhead, a cosy sleeping bag, a fireplace with firewood, a lot of hearty winter food, fresh spring water drawn from the wells... These were my bare necessities. And these being met, and having no other pressing worries (as it was quite simple to live this way), I was now able to choose what I wanted to focus on, what to add, and how to spend my time; just as if I were building my life upon a sturdy foundation, brick by golden brick. So, I added those things that give me joy: people and laughter; those things that give me purpose: art and story telling; and those things that feed my soul: books and music and good food.

My list will look different from another person's list, but it that is not what matters. Nor does it matter whether or not a person is using plumbing - I will not advocate that anyone follows Dennis's path unless they feel it is their own to take. What matters is that we put our lives into consideration, carefully choosing what we think is essential and important and magical. 

I learned so much in Finland, about what I want in life, and what it is to be alive.


{and magical luxuries}

. . .

a warm room
wholesome food
clean water
warm clothes (or not?)
(given & received)
family gatherings
time spent with my siblings
time spent with my parents
an old novel or two
(Lord of the Rings will do)
songs to sing
space to dance
rainy days
a bit of sun, for good measure
time spent outdoors
(gardening or walking)
something to learn about
some way to learn it
cosy socks
a hill or two to climb
a forest to walk through
a sacred place
deep discussions
lots of fruit and veggies
art making of any kind
a bit of time to write
a lot of time to think

In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one’s self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime if we will live simply and wisely.

One young man of my acquaintance, who has inherited some acres, told me that he thought he should live as I did, if he had the means. I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible;

but I would have each one be very careful to find out how to pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.
Finnish road sign
tractor in the snow
house for mailbox in Finland
finnish red house winter
village sign
traditional yellow house Finland
Dennis and piia
dennis and piia


Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old mother nature’s recipes
That bring the bare necessities of life

Wherever I wander
Wherever I roam
I couldn’t be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzin’ in the tree
To make some honey just for me
When you look under the rocks and plants
And take a glance at the fancy ants
Then maybe try a few

The bare necessities of life
Will come to you
They’ll come to you!
Russian blue cats
old tea pot
spice rack
Finnish Russian pottery
books on the floor
stacked wood
cat hiding under carpet
moomin mug
dried herbs and lore
cat with pumpkin
cat with guitar
old Finnish stove
traditional Finnish rye bread
old finnish stove fire
fried bread
heart twigs
russian preserves
henna the Finnish gnome
white on white
frost on the windows
Finnish sauna
sauna wash cloths
traditional Finnish bath
traditional sauna in Finland