Ten Rules for Living (kind of) Like Thomas Jefferson

Colorful portrait of Thomas Jefferson

Charlottesville has two indisputable heroic fixtures: Bodo’s Bagels and Thomas Jefferson. The finer laws of bagel ordering are well, albeit subtly, established– but how familiar are you with Jefferson’s rules to live by?

Refined from two letters he wrote advising younger compatriots, his rules have been printed, reprinted, satirized by the Chicago Daily Tribune, misquoted, and (often poorly) adapted… including here. We’ll leave the true parsing of history to our friends at Monticello. In line with Rule #1, let’s get to it:


Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

This is hardly unique to Jefferson. People have been writing about avoiding procrastination in order to facilitate their own procrastination since the first cave paintings. I’m proud to say continued procrastination is still a time-honored tradition at his University today.



Never trouble another for what you can do yourself. 

Guilty. In the age of Postmates, Instacart, Grubhub, and Uber, it seems like all we do is bother other people for things we *could* do ourselves.


Never spend money before you have earned it.

Not sure our beloved Jefferson has the authority to speak here- his estate wasn’t in the best financial shape when he died, and there’s a rumor he designed a building on the Farmington property to pay off a seriously substantial beer debt (bring back the barter system for beer, anyone?) but this is solid advice. Just remember- there are different ways to “earn”  it. #Treatyoself


Never buy what you don’t want because it is cheap.

Unless it’s tacos. Always buy tacos. This is my favorite of Jefferson’s rules, though. If you, like me, are drowning in big box store junk, tattoo this on your credit-card hand and start shopping local. For the cheap things you already have, make a pile and Marie Kondo them straight into the pit.


Pride costs more than hunger, thirst and cold.

I don’t care how many Darden grads your family tree holds. You can’t buy pride, honor, or respect. Be kind and stay humble.


We seldom repent of having eaten too little.

While I hate to accuse TJ of being wrong, he is wrong. Eat all the food. See all the things. Drink all the wine. Order extra cream cheese.


Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.

It’s rare that Jefferson pops up with solid relationship advice, but the man was full of surprises. Even the most mundane task can be fulfilling when you do it with love. Or self-love.


How much pain the evils cost us that never happened.

You know when you’re in the shower, soaping up, singing along with power ballads emanating from Alexa, and fantasizing about vitriolic confrontations with your exes that will never happen? Stop doing that. TJ said so. Turn the music up and stop worrying so much about drama that isn’t even real yet. You’re going to give yourself high blood pressure.


Take things always by the smooth handle.

Speaking of high blood pressure… This is an antiquated way to say “work smart, not hard,” and don’t give yourself unnecessary blisters.


When angry, count ten before you speak. When very angry, count a hundred.

And when facing off with Hamilton, count a thousand.