Dylan Miller, a 22-year-old English and philosophy major at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, decided that for his senior project in simple living he wanted to emulate Thoreau. He built a 17-foot-square, 9-foot-high hut in the woods from fallen trees and used leaves as insulation and a tarp for a roof. The interior of the hut has wood floors, a writing desk, books, and a small heater. It does not have plumbing or electricity.
Miller began designing and building the hut around mid-June 2014 and built it mostly by himself. It took about two months to build the shelter. He used a handsaw to cut the wood and no power tools. He said the obstacles taught him patience.
Miller is self-reliant. He carries propane tanks and water through the woods, carries his trash back down, uses a latrine, and eats rice, beans, dried soup, and canned goods. He said he quickly acclimated to the cold and even wore shorts all winter. He studied by candle light, drank tea, and had to watch out for the occasional bear.
Miller wanted to see for himself if it was possible to live with less and feel content. The title of his senior project is “Content with Nothing.” It carries a double meaning. The problem is that many people never seem to be content with anything and always want more. The solution, as he sees it, is to be content with nothing and not look outside oneself for satisfaction.
Officials at Juniata College were initially skeptical about his plan to live in a hut in the woods. They came around after he submitted a 21-page proposal that addressed their concerns about his safety and the academic merits of the project. He agreed to keep a cell phone for emergencies and spent about a week with friends when it became too cold to sleep in the hut.
Miller has become so used to living in the hut that he says it no longer feels like a project to him; it is simply where he lives. He plans to tear down the hut when he graduates in May.