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Musings on National Simplicity Day

Simply stated, National Simplicity Day is the annual celebration of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday – July 12, 1817.

Before being asked to write this blog, I knew nothing about National Simplicity Day.

I knew some things about Henry David Thoreau – a man who intentionally sought to simplify his life.

He wrote the book Walden to explain why he built a cabin in the woods around Walden Pond and lived alone there for two years.

I remembered his often-quoted words: “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach me and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”

Great stuff from a simple man who led a complicated life as author, tax resister, abolitionist, development critic and surveyor.

How to celebrate?

I still didn’t know much about National Simplicity Day though. How is it celebrated? Ideas included unplug, declutter, take a walk through nature. OK, that sounded fine, but superficial.

I Googled more sites about the day and came upon some depressing numbers:

  • 300,000 – the average number of items in an American home,
  • 1 in 10 – the number of Americans who rent off-site storage,
  • 238 – the average of toys a 10-year-old American child owns, and
  • 1.2 million – the amount of money spent by Americans on non-essential goods.

All of a sudden, the “celebration” of National Simplicity Day turned into a celebration for the affluent. Why celebrate getting rid of things most of Earth’s people can’t afford?

My distaste intensified when I noticed the words “business opportunities” on one of the websites explaining National Simplicity Day. You have got to be kidding!

Living Simply

Trying to get back on track, I searched sites for religious or spiritual celebrations of the day. Not much to be found except what Thoreau himself advocated and lived: Silence, being one with nature, seeking “the essential facts of life.”

What started out as a simple writing assignment grew into a complicated mess of feelings and ideas. I may just pass on celebrating National Simplicity Day. I’d rather keep pondering – over many days, months or years – why Thoreau wanted to live simply.

“I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach me and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.”

Henry David Thoreau

I may spend time with these words as well. “Therefore, do not worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … indeed, God knows you need all these things … strive for the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”

National Simplicity Day 2021 – a more thought-provoking assignment than I anticipated.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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6 Comments

  1. Marsha Speth on July 12, 2021 at 7:53 am

    Sounds like National Simplicity Day is not so simple! Thank you for Reminding us of Thoreau’s and Jesus’ words. Certainly enough to celebrate there. And your piece brought me good laughter….a simple delight!

  2. Brad Crites, PA on July 12, 2021 at 8:58 am

    Thank you for sharing your struggle around this topic with us! I had high hopes for National Simplicity Day as a long-time admirer of Thoreau’s writings, but as you alluded to, somewhere along the way, I think the collective “we” have missed the boat. Always nice to have a reminder to return to life’s most basic treasures: peace, quiet, time with God’s Presence in Creation.

  3. PAULA DAMIANO, SP on July 12, 2021 at 9:45 am

    Perhaps I’ll spend the day being grateful for the simple things such as leaves on trees and raindrops.
    Thanks…..

    • Jeannie Smith on July 13, 2021 at 12:30 am

      Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…..

  4. Jane Fischer on July 12, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    Thank you, S. Denise. You reminded me of the gift of simplicity — taught to be long ago at one of your schools.
    “‘Tis a gift to be simple — ’tis a gift to be free — to come down where we all ought to be!”……..

  5. Donna Butler on July 16, 2021 at 10:07 am

    Denise,
    Thank you. It motivates me to pare down as well as celebrate the gifts of nature and silence.

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