‘Many people, perhaps you among them, are not temperamentally suited for the 9-to-5 rat race but assume there is no other way to live.’ Thus begins a very engrossing & gripping tale of how the author Dolly Freed & her father spent living with no job & almost no money.
Many people are attracted to Quit the rat race & spend life in simplicity but they don’t have clues and/or role models. The book is full of philosophical reflections as well as of practical advice on how to live job-free. I’ve enjoyed the book for its philosophical nuggets. The practical advice is of no use to me ‘cos Dolly n her father lived by rearing & eating Rabbits, chicken, duck, fish etc. I am a hard core Vegetarian.Even otherwise the practical part may be bit dated because the book was published in 1975 but philosophy in it is evergreen. Dolly’s sense of humor & keen insights made this book absolutely un putdownable for me. The best sentence of the whole book is :
“It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things money can buy than to earn the money to buy them.”
Do you remember the story of Diogenes, the ancient Athenian crackpot? He was the one who gave away all his possessions because “People don’t own possessions, their possessions own them.” He had a drinking cup, but when he saw a child scoop up water by hand, he threw the cup away. To beat the housing crunch he set up an abandoned wine barrel in a public park and lived in that.
The central theme of Diogenes’ philosophy was that “The gods gave man an easy life, but man has complicated it by itching for luxuries.”
Apparently he lived up to his principles. When Alexander of Macedon, the future conqueror of the known world, was traveling through Greece, he honored Diogenes with a visit. Alexander admired Diogenes’ ideas to the point of offering him any gift within his means. Diogenes, who was working on his tan at the time, asked as his gift that Alexander move aside a bit so as to stop shading him from the sun. This to the richest and most powerful man in the Western world.
Parting, Alexander remarked, “If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.” Diogenes went back to nodding in the sunshine.
Diogenes was fair and just to all but refused to recognize the validity of man-made laws. He was a good old boy, one of the first back-to-basics freaks in recorded history. He lived to be over 90. Alexander, The Mighty Conqueror, drank himself to death at age 33.
Well, this “Saint Diogenes” has been my father’s idol for many years. I remember when I was a little girl Daddy painted a picture of Diogenes sitting in his barrel tossing away his drinking cup. He wrote “Are You a Diogian?” as a caption and hung it on the living room wall to inspire us.
~Having told what we do spend money on, let me now say what we don’t spend it on. In a word, hardly anything we can do without. Some people seem to be actively seeking ways to dissipate their money, and get nervous and upset if they fail to get rid of it all on a given shopping spree. It’s burning that proverbial hole in their pocket.
Here are a few things we don’t spend money on:
* Insurance gets never a penny. Once when Mom and Daddy were still married, an acquaintance went into the insurance business and tried to sell them life insurance.
“If I should die,” said Daddy, looking Mom in the face, “money would mean nothing to her.” That was probably the first time in the history of the world an insurance salesman didn’t have a word to say.
We don’t have fire insurance because we have a brick house, a fire extinguisher a hose long enough to reach all parts of the house, a lightning rod, sound electrical wiring, neither of us smokes, and we’re never away from home for long periods of time. We don’t need flood insurance since we live on a hill, and we also don’t need theft insurance (our movable possessions total less than $260 in value). We just see no reason for liability insurance. Not having a car saves us all the insurance associated with that.
* Vacations, another common expenditure, are not required–our whole life is just one big vacation. We don’t need to “get away from it all” because there’s nothing we want to get away from.
* Hobbies don’t cost us much. Mine, birdwatching, requires a pair of binoculars and a book for identifying them, but they both last for many years. We both have $17 running shoes, but they last pretty long. We bought a badminton set for $11 (listed under “Luxuries”), but that, too, should give us years of enjoyment.
* Christmas doesn’t exist for us. December 25 is just another day here. Tis the season to be greedy, ostentatious, treacly sentimental, frenzied, hysterical, morbidly drunk and suicidal, and we see no reason to pretend otherwise. So we ignore it in the hope that it’ll go away. Christmas has become like a horse with a broken leg. You can’t enjoy the horse and simply ignore its broken leg–the only decent thing to do is put it out of its misery and be done with it. If you’re religious, you surely realize that the potlatch orgy of December 25 has little to do with Christ. Mammon or Bacchus, maybe, but not Christ. So do yourself and your religion both a favor and refuse to play the game. If we all ignore it, it really will go away.
* Income tax wasn’t listed on the budget, as you may have noticed. We don’t pay any, because we never have enough income to require paying. You can’t imagine what a difference it makes blood-pressure-wise if one is a taxpayer or not while one is reading the news!
We pay property taxes, because we have to (they really will sell taxes. When the man came around about the “Occupant headtax,” we simply told him we didn’t live here–we’re just here fixing up the place as a rental. He never came back. About two years ago we got a form in the mail about an “occupation tax,” but since we don’t have an occupation, we figured it didn’t concern us.
* Being true misers, we find we can do without all sorts of little nonessentials that do add up: haircuts, “grooming aids,” pets, “knick-knacks” and other decorations, snacks and convenience foods, furniture, beauty parlor visits (I don’t need them), magazines and newspapers (we use the library), telephone service, movies, toothpaste (we make our own–equal parts of salt and baking soda dissolved in water), tobacco, charity, gifts (a quart of wine or moonshine or a dressed rabbit does for gift-giving)–but you get the picture. We keep a record of every cent we spend, so we do know just where it goes. Let me urge you to do the same: You’ll be surprised at all the things that take your money–which means your time and energy. If you’re buying anything on time, you want to find out what the actual interest rate and service charges are, of course.
“But don’t you want Nice Things?” people ask. “Don’t YOU like to go out and have a Good Time?”
“Nope,” we answer. “Get a lot out of staying home reading.”
~We’re incredibly lazy. You wouldn’t believe it! We have an anarchy here wherein neither has to do anything we don’t feel like doing. (Except to feed the creatures. You can’t neglect animals in your care.) Normally I do the housework and the Old Fool does the garden, the heavy work, and the care of the creatures. Not because we have sexist roles, but because the housework bugs him more than it bugs me, and vice versa. If I don’t feel like doing the dishes, say, for a couple of days, why I just don’t do them. I often feed the animals if Daddy feels like goofing off, and he often does the dishes. The anarchy works for us because we love each other and don’t abuse it. It amazes me that so many people must either dominate or be dominated, like a bunch of monkeys on Monkey Island at the zoo.
Often my conscience tries to nag me when I’m goofing off, but it doesn’t get very far any more. Daddy says it’s just the same with him. Actually, it’s hard to understand how it is that laziness has fallen into such disrepute in our society. Well, I’m tired of being a Closet Sluggard! I’m lazy and proud of it!
We can afford to be lazy because we satisfy our material needs with little effort and little money. Of course, you know that money doesn’t buy only goods and services, it also buys prestige and status. Being somewhat egocentric, we don’t feel the need to buy prestige or status. The neat trick that Diogenes pulled was to turn the tables on those of his contemporaries who believed that “Life is a game and money is how you keep score.” He didn’t keep score. We don’t keep score. You needn’t keep score either if you don’t want to. It’s entirely up to you.
Money per se isn’t the only status thing involved. Some people make a big machismo deal out of employment itself. You know, mighty-hunter-bring-home-the-bacon stuff. Folks old enough to remember the depression of the 1930s tend to take a very solemn attitude about jobs, and unless you like to argue, it pays to sidestep the issue with them. It doesn’t matter that you’re not on welfare or accepting charity but are earning your own way in life (albeit in an unorthodox manner), the mystique lies with that Holding Down a Job concept. Don’t ask me why.
Sometimes people who secretly resent it that they have to work (or think they do), and we don’t, point out that Daddy has no security for his old age. Daddy always knuckles under and mutters something like, “Gee, you’re right, mutter, mutter,” because it makes them feel better and doesn’t cost him anything, so why not?
Once he was fishing and an old gentleman came along and struck up a conversation. Coming to the conclusion that Daddy couldn’t find work, he started commiserating with him about the “hard times.” Then Daddy made a mistake and let it out that he didn’t want a job. The old boy got himself into a state of righteous indignation because he was retired) and had earned the right to go fishing on weekdays, by fifty years of hard work, and here Daddy was just going ahead doing it. Daddy mollified him by pointing out that he’d be up shit creek when he got old, and that thought cheered the old gentleman up to the point of giving Daddy a nice catfish he had caught. However, what he truthfully thinks is:
* Sure, you have security, but the slaves on the plantation didn’t starve either.
* The social security system is an obvious pyramid game and can’t be trusted.
* There’s really nothing I do now as a young man to live that I won’t be able to do as an old man.
* It’s unmanly to worry so about the future. Did Caesar worry about his old age pension when he crossed the Rubicon?
* Jesus clearly and specifically taught against concern for future security (Matthew 6:25-34). Like it or not, it’s un-Christian to plan for the future.
* I refuse to spend the first sixty years of my life worrying about the last twenty.
* Dolly will take care of me.
These same resentful people might also bring up that “You aren’t doing your share–you aren’t contributing to society.” While it’s impossible to have too much contempt for this beehive mentality, to avoid an argument you can answer:
* I am too being useful! You can always use me as a Bad Example!
* While I’m not contributing to economic growth, a dubious good, I’m also not contributing to pollution, a definite evil.
~Now that you have the overall idea–is it for you? Possibly not. It depends on the instincts you were born with and your present family circumstances. For example, my Mom wants no part of “this squalor,” as she puts it. Daddy and I are instinctive possums–we break out in hives in elegant surroundings. Also, you have to trust your instincts. ”Philosophize with a hammer,” as Nietzsche advocated, “testing idols to see if they ring true.” Does the money economy ring true for you? Does possum living ring true? It isn’t enough that you know a false idol when you gee one; your family must agree with you. If your kid gets the shakes when the TV goes on the blink, forget it. If your spouse gives you the fish-eye look when you mention rabbits in the cellar, forget it. If the thought of quitting your job blows your mind, don’t do it. If it makes you feel good, on the other hand, do it! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!
The implementation of buying prestige and status is often through the medium of clothing. I hate to say it, but this seems to be especially true of women.
Once when Daddy worked for Manpower he had a two-week job working for a business that sold fashionable women’s clothing. Ladies would come in–all sorts of ladies, from all sorts of backgrounds, usually with several friends–and start buying (on time payments, naturally). The distinct impression was that they didn’t have as much need for clothing as they had to impress their friends and the saleslady with the size of the bundle they were dropping. Then, right out in public, they’d agree among themselves on what lies they would tell their husbands regarding the cost of the various items.
I completely fail to understand this mentality. No doubt they would fail to understand us, so that makes us even. We get all our clothing at the thrift shop. We’re fortunate in that our local church thrift shop is extremely reasonable (there are thrift shops and there are thrift shops). Daddy’s entire wardrobe, excluding running shoes, cost about $10. Mine, also excluding running shoes, cost about $15.
Well, I know what you’re thinking: I’m some poor, dowdy little thing and Daddy looks like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. Now, how can I say this without seeming immodest? The truth is that when I get dressed up I’m a knockout. I go out on dates and no one seems ashamed to be seen with me. And while Daddy usually does look like a scarecrow, he, too, is presentable when he wants to be.
Okay, you say, how does all this fine clothing wind up in a thrift shop? That’s easily answered: The ladies who need to show off their spending power also need to make room in their closets before they can buy new clothes. Then, too, many people go on diets and lose weight, treat themselves to a whole new wardrobe to celebrate, and then gain the weight back and have no use for the clothes.
In our society the automobile is many things to many people. To the suburbanite it has become what the horse was to the Plains Indians–the whole basis of the culture. To a great many men and boys it’s the premier status symbol. Daddy says that when he was a young man the guys would do almost anything to get “wheels,” because the girls wouldn’t even look at you otherwise, and hormones win out over common sense every time. Environmentalists see the automobile, both in its manufacture and operation, as the main ingredient of our monumental pollution problem.
We haven’t had a car for three years now, and there has been some inconvenience because of it. But then there’s an awful lot of inconvenience to owning a car, too: insurance, maintenance, gas worry, traffic jams, parking–and mainly money. Freedom of mobility doesn’t come cheap.
Unfortunately, there’s virtually zero public transportation in our area, so we walk, run, or bicycle everywhere we go. There’s a little town 2 miles from our house, and when we need anything–groceries, hardware, etc.–we walk there pulling a grocery cart (the geek-mobile).
It doesn’t seem to have to do a bit of walking and cycling have harmed us. In fact, we enjoy it. Walking or cycling, you really do notice a lot more about the things going on around you than you do from a speeding car, trite as that may sound
A word or two about our chief mode of transportation: A good three-speed bike is better than a ten-speed bike for practical transportation purposes. It’s easier to ride, easier to maintain, less a target for thieves, and less expensive then a ten speed. We bought our bikes at yard sales rather than from dealers. However, don’t look for a terrific bargain, because if you get one you’ll be buying stolen merchandise. Don’t encourage thieving–your bike might be the next to disappear.
~ Daily Living
Now that you know how to become a member of the leisure class, you may wonder just what it is we leisure-niks do all day.
Sometimes people will tell us that if they didn’t have a job to go to, or a regular routine of duties and responsibilities, they wouldn’t know what to do–they’d be bored to death. Boredom is not to be underestimated. Murders, suicides, and even full-scale wars have come about from pure boredom. (Napoleon justified his career on the grounds that he gave men the opportunity to die with military glory rather than of boredom. Women, too, are vulnerable. “Housewife syndrome”–the daily occurrence of eventlessness–is a major problem in our society. In 6th-century Constantinople, Empress Theodora established a convent for reformed prostitutes, so they wouldn’t be forced to resume business. Some of the “saved” girls manifested their gratefulness by leaping out of the windows–literally bored to death. But occasionally being bored is part of life, so don’t overestimate it, either. (Nietzsche said, “Against boredom even the gods struggle in vain.”)
TV is, of course, the modern way to alleviate boredom, but we don’t have one. People are always trying to give us their old TVs, but we decline. We can’t handle TV. It absolutely fascinates me when I see it, but I always feel nervous next day when I wake up and realize I’ve attuned my thoughts to a TV program I’ve seen–something unreal! My instincts warn me there’s a stalking horse in the field. What predator might not be hiding behind the stalking horse of TV? If you can handle TV there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy it–it’s just not for us.
We haven’t found boredom to be a problem except during the dismal months of the last two winters, which were exceptionally nasty ones. Generally if we are able to get out-of-doors, to exercise properly (run) on a regular basis, eat properly, and be free of outside pressures and harassment, all else falls into place–life is good.
We aren’t hermits and neither need you be if you take up this life style. We have friends who invite us to their parties even though they know we aren’t in a position to reciprocate (which proves them to be true friends). Friends and neighbors stop by here for a drop of the creature and a hand or two of cards, and we do them the same way. I get the impression some of our friends like to visit here to get a respite from the gracious living they’re forced to endure at home. Here they can throw ashes and nutshells on the floor and put their feet up on the table if they want. I go on dates same as any other girl. If you want to be a hermit or a hippie there’s no reason you shouldn’t, but you don’t have to be one just because you don’t happen to have any visible means of support.
~What’s Gonna Happen Next?
It might occur to you that getting off the 9-to-5 treadmill is what you want and need right now but that spending the rest of your life on a half-acre Garden of Eden isn’t the whole answer either. Good thinking.
One thing that living possum-style does is to give a person the confidence to have freedom of choice. It’s quite likely, for example, that I’ll get a job some day: to see what’s going on out there in the “real world” and to meet–well, you know–men. But I’ll never, never get myself into a situation where I need a job. If a job annoys me at all–back to possum living here at my Snug Harbor.
This freedom I harp on isn’t restricted merely to whether or not to have a job. Now that we have some practice at it, I’m pretty sure we can possum live anywhere. And that means we can travel. I have an idea in the back of my head to build a flat-bottomed boat small enough to be rowed or poled but big enough to afford sleeping room for two under a canvas shelter. We would then take off down the intercostals waterway from Philadelphia to my birthplace in Florida, and return. The whole trip would take about a year, and we’d live off the land (and water) the whole time. What an adventure! We’d rent out the house for the year, which should more than pay for the boat and expenses. (Now all I have to do is to talk Daddy–or someone else–into coming along to help do the rowing and poling.)
So that’s how the last four years have drifted by for us.
Now, then, don’t you have a hobby you just don’t have time to pursue? Golf? Tennis? Partying? Studying? Music? Painting? Pottery? Hang gliding? Whatever? Even fishing or gardening–wouldn’t you like to change these from merely recreation to partly occupation?
Yes? Then why don’t you simply do so?
It’s feasible. It’s easy. It can be done. It should be done.
Today we live in a materialistic & acquisitive society where people have status according to the car they drive, the size of their house, designer clothes, exotic holidays abroad, etc etc.
But is this honestly leading us towards any happiness??If purpose of life is to be happy, shouldn’t we at least pause from the maddening rat race & take a moment to reflect?
I have been lucky enough to quit the rat race at a ripe old age of 34 & am now enjoying my days idling, doing a little bit of house work & generally resting, idling , reading, thinking, blogging n mostly loafing during the day. This time abundance to me is the ultimate luxury, more valuable than money. n stuff that money can buy. Though I must admit that the decision was not a simple one to make. Time n again I have doubted my decision. Though I can afford not to work if I scale down my expenses a bit & rejig the lifestyle a bit, not working is a breeze for me…but still doubts kept pestering me, what if I come to regret this later? What if I get bored of all this after a few days? Not working when everyone else is climbing the so called career ladder of success can be a bit scary at times. During such times I have gone to books as usual, when in doubt read books & did a bit of research. I have gleaned wisdom from all possible kind of sources including a 1975 book called ‘Possum Living’, to an even older , classic ‘The Importance of Living’ which is a primer on living an idle life, to a contemporary book called ‘How to be free’ & from Ancient Greek Philosophers. The findings have been pretty Interesting. I will kickstart the Inspiration from the Greek Philosopher Epicurus.
According to the Wise Philosopher Epicurus wealth beyond a certain level is waste, it is like water overflowing from a full bucket…yet people in their quest to earn more n more forget such simple truths.
“When we say…that pleasure is the end and aim of life, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not by an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not by sexual lust, nor the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.” —Epicurus
The most important mistake people make, according to Epicurus, is that they associate the idea of happiness with having lots of money. He also managed to explain why we tend to make such an erroneous association. Though Epicurus proclaimed that pleasure is the most essential thing in life, he appears to have led a rather simple, moderate life: simple clothes, simple home, drinking water rather than wine, and having frugal meals.
The basic concept in his philosophy is that we are starkly unable to understand what can make us happy. We are therefore very much attracted to material things rather than spiritual ones. And what do we do? We go shopping for useless things. Thus we replace our real needs with things like clothes, furniture, cars, nice houses, and such like. But as this Greek philosopher tried to prove, there are only three things we need to be happy: friends, freedom, and an analyzed life.
“What’s good is easy to get.” We need food, water, shelter from the elements, and safety from hostile animals and people. All these things lie ready to hand and can be acquired with little effort or money. We don’t need caviar, champagne, palaces, or bodyguards, which are expensive and difficult to acquire and keep. People who want more than they need are making a fundamental mistake, a mistake that reduces their chances of being satisfied and causes needless anxiety.
Being cheerful is the key to being happy. As long as we are cheerful it takes very little to keep us happy, but without cheerfulness we cannot really enjoy even the so-called ‘pleasures’ of life. Being cheerful is a state which is full of pleasure
He also believed in freedom. He felt that allowing your boss – be they employer or political master – to tell you what to do couldn’t help you achieve happiness. This is where the garden came in. With his followers he brought a house and a garden on the outskirts of Athens in 306 BC where they grew all the food they needed to live. It wasn’t the finest food in the world, just simple, rural fare. But it did for them. It gave them time to think, which is the third of Epicurus’s ingredients for a happy life.
we need to be happy is “an analyzed life”. That meant taking time to think and consider our worries, what stresses out and why. Epicurus was of the opinion that our worries might decrease simply by analyzing them very carefully and rationally.
The fundamental obstacle to happiness, says Epicurus, is anxiety. No matter how rich or famous you are, you won’t be happy if you’re anxious to be richer or more famous. No matter how good your health is, you won’t be happy if you’re anxious about getting sick.