After discussing the size of our houses in Chapter One of Walden Thoreau turns next to the issue of furniture. From the first mention and continuing through the rest of the chapter, furniture becomes for Thoreau a sort of metaphor for the general clutter of our lives. This clutter bothers Thoreau for a few reasons.
First, the clutter is often unnecessary, being driven mainly by vanity and the desire for ornamentation or luxury. Second, the clutter creates more work. Clutter needs to be cared for and taken care of. The daily workload to care for all our stuff is enormous. Think of all the dusting, washing, mopping, mowing, vacuuming, and other sorts of activities we engage in to care for our stuff. We are, quite literally, enslaved to our stuff. Our stuff demands constant effort, attention, time, money and service. We serve our stuff more than we serve God or others. Consequently, simplifying our lives becomes a route toward liberation and freedom. Toward less work and less worry. But the trick, as Thoreau notes, is contentment. Thus, one of my favorite quotes from Walden, words to live by: "[F]or my greatest skill has been to want but little."
Some other quotes from Chapter One of Walden on this subject:
I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and I threw them out the window in disgust. How, then, could I have a furnished house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass.Of course, most know that the great modern Thoreau-inspired commentary on all our clutter is George Carlin's observations about "stuff."...I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion....Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation....[L]et the ornaments take care of themselves....Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not for want of necessities, but for want of luxuries; and I know a good woman who thinks that her son lost his life because he took to drinking water....Pray, for what do we move ever but to get rid of our furniture...