Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money

I received an ‘advanced reader’s copy’ of Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money from Tin House Books some time ago, and while I immediately read the first third of it, I then let it sit on my ‘to-read’ shelf until about a month ago.

I finished it the other day, and while I won’t be using this as a reference for my life (because I’ve found many other books with information much more pertinent to the way we live), I can recommend it as an inspirational read for those looking to live a simpler life.

“In the late seventies, at the age of eighteen, and with a seventh grade education, Dolly Freed wrote Possum Living about the five years she and her father lived off the land on a half-acre lot outside of Philadelphia. Known for its plucky narration and no-nonsense practical advice on how to live frugally while keeping up a middle class facade, at the time of its original publication, Possum Living became an instant classic.

Now, thirty years later, Freed’s possum lessons on independent thinking and personal economics are as relevant and inspirational as they were in 1978.”

The beauty of this book is in showing us one person’s experience with being very frugal and changing their life to support that. The downside is that for most people, in the thirty years that have passed since the first printing of the book, the price of both necessities and luxuries have significantly increased, which means that the financial examples in the book are very much outdated.

Having said that, a resourceful person could still manage to put into use the tips that Freed shares with us if they were willing to radically change the way they lived. You can start by saving money with coupons, thinking ‘buy used’ and frequenting thrift stores for most of your purchases, and be frugal with the money you do have.

I’m not convinced that just anyone could live well without a job (I think it helps to understand that no matter how you earn your money, those methods could be considered a job – because to stop doing them means that the money stops flowing in), but it certainly would be a change for most of us to consider how and why we do earn money.

Here’s a little excerpt:

“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 Wishing 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.

There actually are people living somewhat similarly for ideological reasons, though. In fact, there’s a growing cult of this sort of thing going on, as you may know. Unfortunately, many of these people tie in all sorts of outlandish religious, mystic, and/or nutritional theories with their possum living and give us all a reputation for weirdness. Many back-to-basics types also buy expensive and unnecessary equipment, clothing, and health-nut food (and wind up back in the money economy because of it) and so give us all a reputation for phoniness.”

While I happen to disagree with the author on a number of points, I do believe that her book can serve as a catalyst for people to reconsider the way they live their lives – moving to a simpler existence in order to be less entwined in what she calls “the money economy”.

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

One thought on “Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money

  • I love that they emphasise a non-ideological basis for their lifestyle. While I probably think those ideological reasons are more valid than the authors do, I also will completely cop to being a lazy slacker, and I’m glad to see someone take essentially that tack.


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