A common lesson of hiking is the concept of simplicity. Whether dayhiking for a few hours or backpacking through weeks and months, it is always helpful to carry fewer and lighter things. “The rule is to carry as little as possible,” advised Henry David Thoreau. Indeed, for one accustomed to carrying a heavy pack, traveling light brings liberty and freedom. This is as true in the rest of life as it is on the trail.
Today I have been pondering freedom, and I can't help but wonder if we give it away even as we proclaim its benefits. Too often, I think, we Americans celebrate our freedom by subjugating ourselves to the tyranny of too many things. Given freedom we welcome new burdens.
Thoreau says it was an accident of the calendar, but I think it is not without significance that he moved into his tiny house at Walden Pond on the Fourth of July. On that day, quietly and without fireworks, Henry began his now famous two year experiment in simple, intentional living.
The year was 1845 and the country was young. The Industrial Revolution had begun, but the world was yet to be cluttered with today's gadgets, gizmos, and common affluence. Thoreau seemed to know intuitively what most of us never learn, that too much stuff is a threat to all freedoms, no matter how cherished.
Of course, we all need certain things to live, and many modern conveniences truly make life better. But freedom will always die beneath the weight of too much stuff. I am hopeful, but not confident, we will eventually learn this truth. We often say, “less is more,” but I see little proof that we believe it.
What can be done? How can embrace a “less is more” mentality? I think this can really only happen on the individual level. We can choose to live differently than our neighbors. When we have enough already, we can say “no, thank you” to more. Very few, if any, of us have the power to influence society, but we all make choices about our own possessions. We can remind ourselves (and we'll need to do it constantly) that the pursuit of happiness is not the same thing as the accumulation of more stuff. No matter what others do, we can choose to travel light.
Life is a journey. Walk well. Travel light.