The Man Who Quit Money
Mark Sundeen “The Man Who Quit Money” [Riverhead Books, 2012]
“In 2000, Daniel Suelo left his life savings-all thirty dollars of it-in a phone booth. He has lived without money-and with a newfound sense of freedom and security-ever since. The Man Who Quit Money is an account of how one man learned to live, sanely and happily, without earning, receiving, or spending a single cent. Suelo doesn’t pay taxes, or accept food stamps or welfare. He lives in caves in the Utah canyonlands, forages wild foods and gourmet discards. He no longer even carries an I.D. Yet he manages to amply fulfill not only the basic human needs-for shelter, food, and warmth-but, to an enviable degree, the universal desires for companionship, purpose, and spiritual engagement. In retracing the surprising path and guiding philosophy that led Suelo into this way of life, Sundeen raises provocative and riveting questions about the decisions we all make, by default or by design, about how we live-and how we might live better.”
“Daniel James Shellabarger (known as Daniel Suelo, or simply Suelo, and The Man Who Quit Money, born 1961) is an American simple living adherent who stopped using money in the autumn of 2000. He was born in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, and currently lives part-time in a cave near Moab, Utah when he is not wandering the country.
Suelo gained fame in October 2009 when his profile appeared in the US men’s style print magazine “Details”. This story was picked up by websites such as “The Guardian” in the UK, “The Huffington Post”, and Matador Change. He was also interviewed for the BBC in September 2009, by “The Denver Post” in November 2009, and the Brazilian INFO in November 2009. His story has since been repeated by many websites and news agencies around the world. Suelo was the subject of a 2006 video profile entitled “Moneyless in Moab” (2006), by Gordon Stevenson and a 2009 video profile entitled “Zero Currency” (2009), by Brad Barber as well as being featured on KBYU’s Beehive Stories (2010), also by Brad Barber.
Penguin approached Suelo about writing an autobiography, but he said that he would not accept payment for telling his story and he would be interested to do so only if the book was given away for free. Penguin was not interested in this approach, but asked a friend of his, Mark Sundeen, about writing a biography. Sundeen wrote “The Man Who Quit Money”, which was published by Riverhead/Penguin in 2012, and Suelo did not accept any money from his book but requested that the publishers give away a number of copies to people for free, which they did at promotional book tours. A short film about Suelo, narrated by Mark Sundeen, is on BBC News Online.
Suelo is one of a number of individuals who voluntarily live without money. These also include Heidemarie Schwermer, Mark Boyle and Tomi Astikainen. Suelo appeared as a guest writer on Mark Boyle’s blog in January 2011.”
“When I first heard the story of Daniel Suelo, I was immediately intrigued. After all, Daniel lives entirely without money and has done so for the past 12 years. In 2000, he put his entire life savings in a phone booth, walked away, and has lived moneyless ever since. Most frequently, he lives in the caves and wilderness of Utah where he eats wild vegetation, scavenges roadkill, pulls food from dumpsters, and is sometimes fed by friends and strangers. Daniel proudly boasts that he does not take food stamps or government handouts.
I found myself very interested in hearing what he has learned from the experience and how it might inspire me in my own journey to live with fewer possessions. So I contacted Daniel to see if I could ask him a few questions about his life and what views on money and possessions have shaped his existence. He graciously agreed. This is how our conversation went:
1) Earlier this year, your story was documented in a book titled “The Man Who Quit Money”. I opened this interview with a brief introduction. Am I missing anything here Daniel? Anything I should be adding to help us get a better understanding of who you are and the life you have chosen to live?
I don’t care for the statement, “Daniel proudly boasts that he does not take food stamps or government handouts,” because it can be construed that I put myself above those who must take food stamps or government handouts. I don’t judge those who do. I merely mention that I don’t take government assistance for the sake of those who might think I’m living on their tax dollars. I do boast about having few possessions and no money, because it’s ironic fun to boast about nothing special (wild creatures, after all, have few possessions or money and it really feels like no big deal), and to boast about what the rest of our commercial society debases.
I will add that I do make a small exception to taking government handouts: I use the public library to maintain my blog, website, do emails, and read books. This does cause ire in people searching for loopholes in my lifestyle. In my blog comments, a woman once responded to their anger by declaring that she pays taxes and doesn’t use the library, and that she donates all her library time to me. Then they were quiet.
2) I find it interesting that so many of the articles highlighting your story include something similar to this line: Suelo “came from a good family and has been to college. He was not mentally ill, nor an addict. His decision appears to have been an act of free will by a competent adult.” So, for starters, you are clearly not a crazy man. Correct?
A crazy man does not think himself crazy, so my opinion on the matter is meaningless. People will have to judge my sanity for themselves.
But it would be nice if we lived in a world that considered it crazy to cause harm to ourselves, others, and our environment or to praise those who do cause such harm. Then we’d have to say we live in a truly crazy civilization. A sane society would consider it crazy to kill living things and destroy food and water supplies in order to amass something that nobody can eat or drink, like gold, silver, and money. It’s crazy to sacrifice reality to the idol of illusion.
3) The thinking that led to your journey into willful moneylessness evolved by degrees during your travels. Could you share with us some of the foundational beliefs that have evolved in your life that led you to make this decision to give up money entirely?
My first thought of living moneyless came when I was a child. In my Evangelical Christian upbringing, I wondered why, if we were followers of Jesus, we didn’t practice his teachings–namely giving up possessions and doing not for the sake of reward (money and barter), but giving freely and receiving freely.
When I left home for college, I studied other religions and found that all the world’s major religions teach giving up possessions and doing not for the sake of reward. If all the separated witnesses are saying the same thing, it must be true. Ironically, few practice the one thing they all agree upon in word. What would happen if we actually practiced this stuff, I thought.
My dad also took us camping a lot, and I was a nature freak. I couldn’t help but see how perfectly balanced nature was, and it ran on no money. Why, then, couldn’t we?
As an adult, I thought it through more thoroughly. Nature’s economy is a pay-it-forward economy. This means one sows, another reaps, ad infinitum. For example, a bear takes a raspberry, and the raspberry bush demands nothing in return. The Bear takes with zero sense of obligation, zero guilt. The bear then poops somewhere else, not only providing food for soil organisms, but also propagating raspberry seeds. You never see 2 wild creatures consciously bartering. There are no accountants worrying what the bush will get in return. This is exactly why it works, because nobody knows how it works! There is no consciousness of credit and debt in nature. Consciousness of credit and debt is knowledge of good and evil, valuing one thing and devaluing another. Consciousness of credit and debt is our fall from Grace. Grace means gratis, free gift.
My next impetus for living moneyless came from observing the world economy and politics. Do our economy and politics function well? It’s self-evident, isn’t it?
My next impetus for living moneyless was to find authenticity for myself. To do out of one’s heart is to be real. To do for somebody, expecting something from them, is ulterior motivation, which is to not be real, which is to prostitute oneself.
My last impetus for living moneyless was to heal myself. Okay, I guess I’ll talk about my craziness. To heal myself was to first see myself as crazy, and only them could I become free of craziness. I was suffering clinical depression. Mental illness is rooted in having unnecessary, thoughts and to let go of unnecessary thoughts is to free oneself from mental illness. This is basic Buddhist philosophy. It is the philosophy of all the ancient religions. To cling to thoughts is to possess thoughts and this outwardly manifests itself in having unnecessary physical possessions. We accumulate what we don’t need out of fear and anxiety. This is true craziness. Unnecessary thoughts and unnecessary physical possessions (including possessing people) are inextricably linked. To accumulate unnecessary possessions is not to live in abundance, as we’re led to believe, but is to live in scarcity. Why would we have too much stuff if we believed the universe was abundant? Why would we worry if we weren’t crazy? Worry is simply lack of faith, faith that everything we need is in the here and now.
4) Your spirituality is clearly an important part of your journey. In what ways, have your spiritual beliefs strengthened you for this journey and lifestyle?
I mentioned above that this is about faith. Faith is eliminating unnecessary thought, trusting that everything we need comes as we need it, whether it is the right thoughts or the right possessions. Faith is being grounded in the Eternal Present. This is the common truth of the world’s religions.
5) What are some of the most important lessons about money/people/society you have personally learned over the past 12 years? And did any of these lessons surprise you?
Most important is that I’ve learned our true nature lives moneyless, giving freely and receiving freely. Even the most staid CEO is human underneath, and gives and receives freely with friends and family. By cultivating this nature in myself, I can see it in others, and it can be cultivated in others. When our real selves are cultivated, the gift economy is cultivated, our unreal selves (based on ulterior motivation) and all the nonsense drops away.
I have been surprised at the intensely angry reaction thousands of people have had at my living moneyless. It used to bother me, but now I realize that anger doesn’t come from people’s true nature, but from the facade they build up. The facade is threatened by reality. Who wants to hear that the basis of our commercial civilization is an illusion? Money only exists if two or more people believe it exists. Money is not a physical substance, but merely a belief in the head. Money is credit, and credit literally means belief (e.g. credibility). Money is literally a creed, the most agreed-upon creed, or religion, in the world. And what fundamentalists won’t get angry if you question their creed?
6) The reality of today’s society is that most people will never make the full leap into moneylessness like you have. Do you believe that your lifestyle still offers important inspiration for individuals and families? And if so, in what ways?
As I said, we all live moneyless at our core, in our everyday actions with friends, family, and even strangers. People tell me almost every day that they find living this way inspiring and even comforting. Even if people don’t intend on giving up money, they can still find that it isn’t the end of the world if they lose their money. If you are not religious, it is comforting to be reminded that life has flourished in balance for millions of years without money, and why should it fall apart without money now? Nature evolved you from an amoeboid to a human over millions of years, with zero money, so why should nature give up on you now? How is it that, when natural disasters (tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis) hit towns and cities, people suddenly forget about money and start helping each other? It’s comforting that we have a true nature beneath the falseness and ulterior motivation of commercial civilization.
And if you are religious, it’s comforting to know there is profound truth at the core of your religion (whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Sikh) that actually works if you practice it, that it isn’t all a lie. If we don’t practice the core truth of giving up possessions and ulterior motivation that every religion teaches, then of course our religion becomes a destructive lie, as we see all around us.
7) What are the practical steps individuals can take to free themselves from their pursuit (and bondage) to money – even if they will never live entirely moneyless?
People get overwhelmed unless they realize that all the tools they have are here and now, and steps can be taken right here and now.
Everybody, no matter how entrenched they are in the money system, can freely give and freely receive. Freely giving and freely receiving is our true nature, is true human-ness. And everybody is human. As I said earlier, it’s about being real, cultivating our true nature, and everything else falls into place, and all the falsehood drops away, no matter what station in life people are in. Even if somebody is totally skeptical about what I am doing, I challenge them to make it their goal to be totally real, with themselves and with every human interaction, and I propose they will then know whether or not I’m living a pipe dream.
Somebody once commented that our cities and towns could not function without money. But I say they and the world can’t function right now in the present system.
Take classic American suburbia, for example. People don’t know their neighbors, and everybody has their own cars, computers, TVs, lawn mowers, washing machines, etc, etc, as well as stockpiles of food and land they could grow food on. All we need is right here, but the only thing that’s holding us back is not physical reality, but belief, dogma. What if we actually spoke to our neighbors and agreed to share, like we learned in kindergarten and in church? What if we realized we could share cars, computers, washing machines, have dinners together, etc, which would not only save us expense, but would save expense on the environment, and, as a bonus, put smiles on our lonely faces? Then cities and technology would start serving us, rather than us serving them. But what’s holding us back? Not reality, not scarcity, but only our thinking!
As far as going all the way and living without money, people often ask me to teach them survival skills. Often I feel like I don’t know many skills, that it’s really about determination and getting up the confidence more than actual skill. Sometimes I tell folks to imagine something really silly: what if somebody offered you a million dollars to live without money for a year? I guarantee most people would figure out how to do it, skilled or no. This is about finding a determination, a motivation greater than a million dollars!
8) I’m curious how concerned you are about spreading this message of living free from money…
Yes, I now have a strong urge to spread the message. At first I just wanted to live my own life, whether or not anybody else took notice or not. Then I realized a message was errupting in me that I could no more suppress than an erupting volcano. Our society is not sustainable and we are not only heading rapidly into, but most the world has already reached disaster, due directly to our being trapped by our own beliefs. I want to shout this out to the world. But talk isn’t enough. It must be talk with action, right now. We could debate whether or not Paul Revere was trying to gain attention for himself, or we could simply take notice that the British are invading and we have to get off our butts!
From: Joshua Becker “The Man Who Quit Money: An Interview with Daniel Suelo” becomingminimalist Full text available on-line at: