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It’s all Lumber! Throw it Overboard!

October 26, 2010

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I have recently been re-reading that classic of 19th Century escapist literature, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, and wanted to share the following quote – which lends an interesting historical context to my recent discussions on the modern minimalism movement with Leo Babauta, Tammy Strobel and Rob Wringham.

While he and his two colleagues are deciding what to take with them on a river trip, Jerome begins to muse on the amount of excess baggage that many people burden themselves with on their trip up ‘the river of life’ in general.

The resulting monologue might just be one of the earliest ever minimalist manifestos!

“How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with – oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all! – the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man – all lumber!  Throw it overboard.  It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars.  It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness…

Throw the lumber over, man!  Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good plain merchandise will stand water.  You will have time to think as well as to work.  Time to drink in life’s sunshine.


Image Credit – Axel-D via flickr on a creative commons licence.

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