“Why is it that people assume one must be a hippie, or live in some dreary wilderness, or be a folksy, hard-working, back-to-nature soybean-and-yogurt freak in order to largely bypass the money economy? My father and I have a house on a half-acre lot 40 miles north of Philadelphia, PA (hardly a pioneer homestead), maintain a middle-class façade, and live well without a job or regular income — and without working hard, either.” — Dolly Freed, author of Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money
Being a worker bee is not all cushy chairs and dollars in the bank. Thoughts of winning the lottery and adjourning to a leisurely, dirt-under-my-fingernails kind of existence often cross my mind (mostly while propelling my body into a stuffed train car, washing the city off my face after a long day and paying off my endless student loan debt). Learning about scrappy teen Dolly Freed, icon of sustainable yet frugal living, makes that pipe dream seem possible.
Dolly wrote her testament to living the easy life in the late seventies, at the age of eighteen, and with a seventh grade education. Dolly and her father chose not to have jobs at a time when the economy was quite bleak (such as today) and were determined to live an independent, self-sufficient life on their small farm without having to break their backs in the process. Possum Living was intentioned as an instructional guide on how to “buy and maintain your own home, dress well, cope with the law, stay healthy, and keep up a middle-class façade — whether you live in the city, in the suburbs, or in a small town.” Dolly goes on to explain: “To me, the luxury of being my own boss and doing what I want, when I want, more than pays up for the luxuries of having a nice car and nice furniture… I’m just living independent on my little half acre. If you like your work and you really enjoy what you’re doing, good — then go out and work. I’m against people thinking that they have to work because they think they’re going to starve to death.”
Dolly and her father had the advantage of owning their home and small plot of land. This allowed them to get by on little to no money by raising chickens, fishing, slaughtering rabbits for meat, gardening, canning their own food and occasionally taking odd jobs to make money for the few things they could not provide for themselves. However, Dolly is quick to discount the idea that this is some exercise in restraint or strictly philosophical: she and her father simply didn’t want to work for the man, or very hard, for that matter. She states, “If you’re thinking spiritual or sociological thoughts, don’t waste your time with me, but if you just want to easy-up your life somewhat, why, then, you’re talking my language! We’ll get that Protestant Work Ethic monkey off your back!”
The Freeds lived a bountiful, easy life on their improvised suburban farm for five years before Dolly left for college. If you weren’t already impressed, prepare for your chin to drop a few more inches: Dolly went on to become an aerospace engineer after an education garnered on the farm and at the public library. Paige Williams caught up with Dolly thirty years after the documentary and cult popularity of the book. The profile is a fascinating read and shows that Dolly is still as curious and plucky as ever:
“By noon, Dolly Freed has composted peppers, studied a tadpole under an old Russian field microscope, sniffed and tasted a new supply of homegrown garlic, discussed Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, demonstrated how to turn an ordinary pressure cooker into a moonshine still, looked up ‘rose-breasted grosbeak’ in Peterson Field Guides, and harvested cherry tomatoes from her garden.”
Dolly’s vigor and lust for a thoroughly questioned life makes me wonder how to make my dirty fingered dreams a reality. Read Dolly’s inspiring blog at Possum Living and watch the entirety of the Possum Living documentary for free online. (Part 2 and Part 3 are available on YouTube.) You can purchase Dolly’s book on Amazon or from an independent bookseller.
Part 2 of Possum Living:
Part 3 of Possum Living:
Alison is Editor in Chief of the Etsy Blog. When she's not trawling Etsy for pottery, folk art, and vintage oddities, she enjoys historical nonfiction and cat videos.