Book review: Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money by Dolly Freed


Originally published in 1978, this is one of those books that gets listed as a “back-to-the-land classic” and is on every self-sufficiency enthusiast’s must-read list.  The edition I checked out from the library was published in 2010 and has an afterward by the author, looking back.

Following her parents’ divorce, Dolly stayed with her father (alternately referred to in the book as the Old Fool and Daddy) while her mother and little brother stay in the city.  Dolly and the Old Fool bought and renovated an old country store to live in and commenced their possum lifestyle, based loosely on the philosophy of Diogenes [Chapter 1].  On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being Howard Hughes and 1 being a possum, she puts them at 2, because possums don’t pay property taxes [pg 21].

As with many such books, quite a bit of the advice is common sense: turn down the heater, buy second-hand clothes, grow your own vegetables, ditch your car, etc.  Some advice in this book (keep in mind the author was 18 at the time she wrote this) is legally sketchy (moonshining, tax evasion, intimidating your spouse’s divorce lawyer).  I think this is one of those books that those who are already into self-sufficiency buy not for the specific advice but for the general philosophy, and that newbies find altogether enlightening.

“Let me re-emphasize that we aren’t living this way for ideological reasons, as people sometimes suppose.  We aren’t a couple of Thoreaus mooning about on Walden Pond here.  (Incidentally, the reason Thoreau quit Walden Pond was that he was lonely – I don’t care what he said.  You need the support of a loved one.)  No, if some Wishing Fairy were to come along and offer to play Alexander to my Diogenes, I’d pretty quickly strain that Fairy’s financial reserves.  We live this way for a very simple reason: It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.” [pg 32, Italics original]

Dolly and her Daddy lived in a renovated store (purchased at auction for $6,100 in 1974), brought in a little money from odd jobs such as babysitting and gardening, brewed their own wine and shine, raised rabbits and chickens in their basement (they had a 1/2 acre lot, but they also had a lot of coyotes), kept a large vegetable garden, foraged for edibles, fished almost daily, caught and ate turtles, bought their clothing at thrift stores, made their own entertainment, eschewed insurance, and got around without a car.

When you finish reading Possum Living, or if you have already read it, check out this article that our friend Phil forwarded to us. [Note from the future: The article, “Finding Dolly Freed” by Paige Williams, is no longer available online.]

— Amanda


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