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Dividing up your hours when you don't work

WaldenAlthough Thoreau (as usual) layered meaning upon meaning, the theme I found most interesting in chapters 7 and 8 pertained to how Thoreau filled his days when he had no external demands on his attention.  I suspect that many of our readers are working toward exactly that state, and I know from experience that it's not as easy as it looks to be happy when you're in charge of managing your own time.

I've noticed that most people who enjoy this freedom (rather than fleeing from it) settle into a routine, perhaps like the one that Helen and Scott Nearing developed --- four hours of physical labor, four hours of mental labor/artistic expression/fun, and four hours of community work.  The schedule that has worked best for me and Mark is to work from nine to noon on farm chores, from one to four on writing/chicken waterers, and from 4 until whenever on blog posts.  We swap the indoor and outdoor time periods in the winter, and spend an extra half hour before (me) or after (Mark) the work day for chicken care and walking Lucy.

Thoreau had his summer routine as well.  First, he hoed beans (his cash crop) from 5 am until noon.  As he chopped weeds, Thoreau watched birds, dug up salamanders, ignored the advice of neighboring farmers, and listened to festivities in the nearby town.  But, mostly, he revelled in the work itself:

"As I had little aid from horses or cattle, or hired men or boys, or improved implements of husbandry, I was much slower, and became much more intimate with my beans than usual.  But labor of the hands, even when pursued to the verge of drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness."


Come noon, Thoreau jumped in the pond, then did whatever he liked for the rest of the day.  I was surprised to read that his preferred activity every day or two was walking into town --- maybe he wasn't an introvert after all.

For those of you who already get to plan your own days, what sort of schedule do you choose?  And for the avid readers (especially Sam), what unmentioned part of these chapters jumped out at you?

If you're new to the book club, you might want to check out the Weekend Homesteaderthought-provoking comments on chapter 1, chapter 2, chapters 3 and 4, and chapters 5 and 6.  We'll be discussing chapter 9 (The ponds) and chapter 10 (Baker farm) next Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join in.  I suspect that you could jump right into the discussion without wading through the difficult early chapters, so please don't let a late start deter you.

The paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader contains three bonus chapters not found in the ebooks, two of which cover the relevant topics of setting homesteading goals and learning to enjoy what you've got.



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I was most struck by the amount he actually planted and cultivated! At one point he says he never did hoe the whole beanfield. But that wasn't really a problem. His hoeing seemed to be the way he connected to the outdoors in a different way than his woods walks. He never tells of his feeling it is too hard! Overall, he seems very self-possessed (at least, in how he presents this side). Relaxed, and happy. Good for a solitary person. Not always possible for one who has other family pulls.

Comment by adrianne hess Wed May 30 15:09:33 2012

Mom --- I think it does make a huge difference if you don't have kids hanging on your coattails. :-)

But I also think that Thoreau went into his adventure from a different point of view than you (and later, I) did. I think he had enough money to get by because of his family and was more into the philosophical adventure than really trying to feed himself. So, if half of his bean crop barely produced due to not being hoed, it was no big deal to him.

Comment by anna Wed May 30 16:10:38 2012
I am not reading along, but I have read Walden 3-4 times in the past 10 years. I recently went through a year and a half of unemployment and after the first 3 months fell into a daily routine you are talking about! I have been working since January and miss the freedom to make my own schedule :)
Comment by Phil Wed May 30 20:22:31 2012
Phil --- I think that having read the book three or four times, you're quite well qualified to chime in. :-) Glad to see another data point in favor of schedules.
Comment by anna Thu May 31 07:34:10 2012

Right now I wake up, feed the dogs, help get Waylon dressed and fed, head off to work, sit in a chair staring at a computer screen for eight hours, go home, take over babsitting duties for awhile, help with household chores, collapse on the couch out of utter exhaustion and stress and the go to bed so I can do it all over again the next day. On weekends I frantically try to play catch-up on all of the outdoor work on the property that I was unable to get to during the week. Sunday night I drink several beers, watch a movie, read a book and prepare the the same week starting Monday morning.

I think my current schedule is indicative of anyone with kids and a mortgage.

If you want to live a life like Thoreau do yourself a favor and don't take on a mortgage, and don't have kids. If you've already done both of these things you'll just have to wait until you retire. Welcome to the American dream.

Comment by Everett Thu May 31 10:16:51 2012

Everett --- Hang in there! In a few years, Waylon can be doing all your chores and you'll be able to sit with your feet up in front of the fire! :-)

You did hit on Thoreau's main theme, though --- the fewer possessions you have, the more time you have.

Comment by anna Thu May 31 16:34:31 2012
Even though I don't work outside the home I'm still focused on deadlines. Watermelon seedlings that need to get into the ground, painting a bathroom needs to be complete before a friend comes to visit next week. I'm spending some time in the evenings getting ready for a neighborhood yard sale I'm planning in August. Since it's summer I'm focused on outdoor projects: finishing raised garden beds, building some outdoor furniture, swapping my pop up sprayers to a drip system. At the same time I'm planning some indoor projects for the fall and winter: painting kitchen cabinets and reorganizing my canning storage. Since we're a one income family (my wife works as a university faculty member and loves it) my main "job" is to keep the money that comes in from going out. DIY projects, growing and canning food, cooking from scratch, doing our own repairs and hosting friends for entertainment.
Comment by fostermamas Fri Jun 1 11:34:31 2012

Fostermamas --- I know what you mean. It feels like there are always scads of deadlines here on the farm! And we're always missing them too, like getting wood in the shed by the end of May so it's had the absolute bare minimum of six months to season before wood stove burning time starts....

(I love the way you sum up your job, by the way!)

Comment by anna Fri Jun 1 15:51:19 2012

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime