Samuel Alexander

Deconstructing the Shed: Where I Live and What I Live For


1.      Reading Thoreau’s Walden changed his life

         a.      Essay contains insights from Walden about simple living as well as from his own experiments in simple living

2.      Take a look at Alexander’s Simplicity Collective


3.      Simple living = How to live more with less

4.      Practice of simplicity

         a.      No one way to live simply

         b.      No 12 point plan

         c.      Not a destination, but on going creative process

         d.      “A set of attitudes, a recognition that abundance is a state of mind, not a quantity of consumer products or attainable through them.”

5.      Need to know how much is enough (“economic sufficiency”); more is not always better and it can even be worse

         a.      Getting richer is not always a trustworthy path to well-being, especially in affluent societies.”

6.               In circumstances of affluence, lowering material ‘standard of living’ (measured by income/consumption) could actually increase ‘quality of life’ (measured by subjective well-being).””

7.      How much should one work?

         a.      In our world, people need money and resources, to some degree

         b.      How much time should I spend earing a living?

         c.      How much do I need to live well and to be free?”

         d.      Need to know how much material wealth is enough, and thereby avoid laboring without end or purpose

8.      NH’s worries about ignoring value of work

         a.      Assumes there is no intrinsic value in working;

         b.      As if one’s employment is simply a means to and end and if one can get that end another way, cut back on the means (work)

         c.      But part of a meaningful life is meaningful employment



9.      On wealth and status (after being a lawyer for 18 months)

         a.      I had no idea what my calling was at this time, I knew at least that it did not involve seeking wealth and status

         b.      Not all rich people are unimaginative, but only unimaginative people need to be rich

         c.      And only timid souls seek status

10.    Downshifting: The exchange of income/consumption for more freedom

         a.      “After a year working in the law firm I managed to exchange a scheduled pay rise for an extra day off work.”


11.    Rethink housing: Rethinking the meaning and purpose of a house is one of the most important aspects to living simply

12.    Story of living in a shed

         a.      Moved out of the house he rented with friends into backyard

         b.      Instead of rent he paid for dish and laundry soap, trash bags, TP, mops, etc. for entire household (costs about $12 a week)

         c.      Because he had access to kitchen and bathroom, he shared cost of electricity, gas, water

         d.      Built a shed that mainly used recycled and thrown out lumber

                   i.       Goal to reuse and recycle as much as possible

         e.      Cost under $500 to build, and took only 6 days to build

13.    People spend 20, 30, 40 years working to pay for their house

14.    Why exchange 30 years of your life for a house?

         a.      Having a fancy house is not a necessary part of living a happy and meaningful life

         b.      11 Reasons Why I Never Want To Own A House Again (from Forbes)



16.    Food:

         a.      Grow as much of own food as possible (in 5 foot x 30 foot)

         b.      Has 4 chickens that gave him 2-3 eggs a day

         c.      Eating locally, purchasing ‘green,’ eating out in moderation, eating less meat, eating simply and creatively – I know by experience that this can be done very cheaply"

         d.      Resents supermarkets as use their financial power to promote the toxic practices of agri-business, and thus I do everything I can to avoid giving them any of my money.”

17.    Energy

         a.      Purchases 100% renewable energy

         b.      Save’s money on energy by never using a heater, puts on wool sweater when gets cool and coldest nights sleeps in ski jacket, gloves, and wool hat: “Days and nights might be cold, but I never am”

18.    Clothing

         a.      Buys second hand (for furniture, make it yourself if possible)

                   i.       Thoreau: “If my jacket and trousers, my hat and shoes, are fit to worship God in, they will do, will they not?

         b.      Does not give up on style, but rejects “high fashion and all it stands for” and in favor of an alternative aesthetic

         c.      Avoids being part of fashion industry

                   i.       High-fashion clothing is comically expensive, such that I would sooner pay $200 for an old turnip than I would for a nice shirt. I have higher aspirations in life than to have my place in the world defined by a nice shirt.

         d.      Cheap, mass produced clothing in department stores almost always product of wage-slaves in 3rd world factories

         e.      Enjoys being able to lie on grass w/o thinking for a second about getting his clothes dirty

         f.       Over last 4 years, spent $38 in clothing


19.    Simple living might involve

         a.      Riding a bike instead of driving a car

         b.      Choosing a washing line over a dyer

         c.      Choosing a book over television

         d.      Avoiding air travel

         e.      Conserving water by taking a bucket into the shower

         f.       Taking energy reduction seriously.

         g.      Simple livers generally aim to de-clutter all aspects of life – personal, work, social, economic

         h.      Value self-sufficiency and be able to entertain themselves for free

         i.       Avoid unnecessary technology and try to live more slowly and peacefully.

         j.       Baking bread at home

         k.      Never go shopping without a proper purpose

         l.       Be wary of credit cards.

         m.     Lend when asked and borrow when necessary

         n.      Rather than stay at luxurious resorts, simple livers might spend $12 per night bush camping in the midst of nature.

         o.      Downshift:

                   i.       Rather than work long hours to afford a life dedicated to consumption, simple livers might step out of the rush and reduce work hours, freeing up more time to be creative, learn a musical instrument, socialize with friends / family, volunteer or join an organization, meditate, relax, etc.

         p.      Choose not money, but meaning.

20.    Keep track of how much you spend and on what and then analyze it, multiplying it out how much spend a year

         a.      $3 cup of coffee a day, $1,000 over course of a year, $10,000 over ten years

         b.      Alexander spent a year totaling costs and lived well for an entire year on $8,000

21.    Thoreau:‘The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.

22.    **How we spend our money is how we vote on what exists in the world

         a.      Purchasing something sends a message to the marketplace affirming the product, its ecological impact, its process of manufacture, etc.

         b.      Simple living, therefore, involves shopping as conscientiously as possible, directing one’s monetary ‘votes’ into socially and ecologically responsible avenues and avoiding irresponsible avenues.

         c.      Money is power, and with this power comes responsibility.

         d.      Tension: Shopping conscientiously or ethically tends to be (but is not always) more expensive

23.    Conscientious shopping has revolutionary power

         a.      Global consumer class has the potential to become a non-violent revolutionary class and change the world, simply by changing its spending habits.

         b.      Never before have so many people had the option of casting off the chains of consumer culture, stepping out of the rat race, and living in opposition to the existing order of things

         c.      Simplicity is the new spectre haunting capitalism.

24.    Simple living a way to honor nature

         a.      Having fallen deeply in love with nature, I now see more clearly my duty to protect her from unnecessary violence, and my ongoing journey to live more simply is an attempt to meet that duty as best I can

25.    Simple living involves taking one’s life seriously

         a.      Thoreau:

                   i.       We each owe a duty to ourselves to take our own lives, our own dreams, seriously

                   ii.      We should not waste our lives in the pursuit of material superfluities (needless or excessive things), for every lived moment is of immeasurable importance


26.    Alexander’s PhD thesis:

         a.      Once economy is big enough, property rights should be structured to help poor and protect environment rather than simply to encourage economic growth:

                   i.       Argues that when an economy grows so large that it reaches or exceeds the threshold point beyond which any further growth is ‘uneconomic’ (i.e. socially or ecologically counter-productive), property rights should no longer be defined and defended in order to grow the economy. Instead, property rights should be constructed or reconstructed in order to achieve more specific welfare enhancing objectives – such as eliminating poverty or protecting the environment – and the efficient growth of GDP or lack thereof should be treated as a by-product of secondary importance

         b.      Money/resources are important to get to a moderate level, but then detract from happiness and environment:

                   i.       Money and resources are extremely important to human beings up to a point – the threshold point – but beyond that point, which evidence suggests is surprisingly moderate, the pursuit of more wealth insidiously detracts from what makes life meaningful and degrades the health and integrity of our living planet

Questions on Alexander’s Deconstructing the Shed


1.      According to Alexander, what are some key elements of simple living? How does he define it? Consider the role of consumer products, the concept of “enough,” and the idea that more is better.

2.      Explain NH’s worry that Alexander does not put enough focus on the “intrinsic value of work.”

3.      Explain the concept of downshifting.

4.      What is Alexander’s critique of the importance of owning a house in modern society? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

5.      What is Alexander’s attitude about buying clothing and what do you think of it?

6.      Alexander gives a long list of possible examples of simple living; describe 5 of them.

7.      According to Thoreau, what is the “cost of a thing?”

8.      Alexander suggests spending money is like voting: What are you voting for when you buy things?

9.      According to Alexander, how might shopping be revolutionary?

10.    How does simple living “honor nature?”