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On minimalism


Over the past week I’ve re-read Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ for the first time in more than twenty years. It’s always an amazing feeling to re-visit a book after such a long time period, in particular one that is so interesting, because while reading it I felt like a teenager again. I like to think that I am too smart to be influenced by any one person or book, but the truth is ‘Walden’ did influence me then, and still does to this day.

As a child in Catholic grade school, I can also remember being moved by the story of Father Maximillian Kolbe, who was a Polish priest that gave his life for another prisoner in the Auschwitz Concentration camp during the Second World War. To this day, his courage, born from his beliefs, is amazing to me, and his story is not only inspiring, it is also truly fascinating. Like Thoreau, I cannot do Father Kolbe justice with just a few paragraphs, so I will post a link that will at least shed some more light on him and what he did during his life.

As an adult, another man who inspired me is Richard Proenneke, whom I’ve written about several times before on this blog. Proenneke, was somewhat of a modern day Thoreau, though in a more practical, down to earth sense. While Proenneke, who was also influenced by Thoreau, was not as philosophical as his predecessor, he did in fact put Thoreau’s ideals into practice even more so than HDT. Proenneke spent the better part of thirty years living in a small cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. I like to believe that Proenneke was not only a modern day version of Thoreau, but a modern day minimalist as well.

While all of these men have different backgrounds, they do have one thing in common; they are all minimalists. They all “Lived life deliberately.” They cut out much of what is unnecessary in life, and maybe that is why they achieved greatness. Greatness takes focus, and focus requires sacrifice. That probably is why the great prize fighters of old would head to the mountains to train, in order to clear their minds of all distractions and the unnecessary things of life. Just looking at the Spartan like living quarters of Thoreau, Kolbe, and Proenneke reaffirms that theory.

Interior of Thoreau's cabin-Walden Pond

Interior of Thoreau’s cabin-Walden Pond

Replica of Maximilian Kolbe's room.

Replica of Maximilian Kolbe’s room.

Interior of Proenneke's cabin.

Interior of Proenneke’s cabin.

As a person that likes furniture, I really enjoy these photos because it shows the furniture that these men used everyday. There was nothing fancy about it, but like all simple and functional things, there is a beauty in its simplicity. These men accomplished some extraordinary things with this simple furniture, and the truth is that this is the type of furniture that I strive to build. I don’t like fancy things, I don’t like opulence, and while there certainly is some fancy furniture out there that is truly magnificent, the museums can keep it, because it is not for me.

I can’t call myself a minimalist; I like creature comforts as much as anybody. But I do have minimalist traits: I don’t like jewelry, I don’t like fancy cars, I don’t like fancy houses, I don’t like clutter; my wife will tell you, I dress in a very plain fashion-for the most part. And simple is how I like to build my furniture. Simple furniture always seemed more practical to me, and I’ve found that I am drawn more and more to simple designs. So while nobody is going to confuse me with Henry David Thoreau, that doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired by him.

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8 Comments

  1. theindigowoodworker says:

    That last paragraph pretty well described me. Now if only I could achieve greatness from those traits… oh well.

  2. John says:

    Hi Bill,

    I think something’s gone awry as the Father Maximillian Kolbe link also goes to Henry David Thoreau’s Wikipedia page.

    John

  3. dzj9 says:

    Living in a barrel might be an alluring concept in one’s adolescence, but life has ways of corrupting such notions.

    • billlattpa says:

      And these guys were all single without families. I have no desire to live in a cave, but I do like the idea of utilitarian furniture. I like the practicality of the designs. I’m not a fan of ornate furniture for the most part, which is probably why I like the Arts and Crafts style. I think if you can strip furniture down of all the unnecessary components, and it still looks nice, you have a successful design.
      Thanks.
      Bill

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