What is an upscale shack?

This should have been my first post. Belatedly, let me explain the name of this blog.

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau quit his job and built a small house in the woods. It was essentially just a shack. But it was an upscale shack, not just some thrown-together lean to. It was small, even by the standards of the day, measuring only 10 feet by 15 feet, containing a single room with a bed, a table and a writing desk. A fireplace kept him warm throughout the winter. He lived comfortably in his upscale shack for a bit over two years, and documented his simple lifestyle in Walden. Thoreau’s most salient advice, which defines the spirit of this blog, was “simplify, simplify.”

By 2013 the average US home size had ballooned to over 2,600 square feet. Thoreau’s 150 square foot cabin would fit in the the guest closet of one of the fourteen bedrooms of one of today’s McMansions.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya I had the pleasure of working with the Karoyo family and calling them my friends. Nine children and two adults lived in a single mud house with a roof thatched from coconut leaves. Sometime in 1996 a heavy downpour destroyed their home. The roof leaked, and once the rain began to saturate the mud walls, the house literally melted around them and collapsed. The Karoyos were left homeless, all eleven of them were forced to sleep outside, small children and all. But they rebuilt, determined not to give up. The Karoyos’ new house was probably even slightly smaller than Thoreau’s famously tiny house. But it was a roof over their heads. All eleven of them slept in that one single tiny house, which was little more than a hut, really. But it was their home. Their upscale shack. The rain took their home, but they still had their land and they still had their dignity . They were proud of the tree nursery we built together. Because it was their hope for a better future. People who literally struggled just to put a roof over their heads had the vision to plan for a better future for their children by planting trees that would take years to mature. These people have continued to inspire me throughout my life. karoyonursery

That’s what this blog is about. It’s not about what you have, or how much you have. It’s what you do with it. It’s about whether you choose to give up when life knocks you down or whether you get up and rebuild and get on with it. It’s about not wanting more than you need, and being happy with what you’ve got. Every shack can be an upscale shack if you make it one. Simplify, simplify!


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