Do you think you could live without money? Rely only on what you find, what is gifted to you by others, and what nature provides? This many – the man without money – did. This is his story.
The Man Without Money
In the Fall of the year 2000 at the age of 39, Daniel Suelo chose to live without money. He gave away all of his possessions, left his last $30 in a phone booth, and walked into the desert in Moab, Utah to live off of what he calls “gift economy”. He lived like that for 15 years, returning in 2016 to care for his elderly parents. (1, 3)
His long-time friend and author Mark Sundeen decided to write a book about Suelo, titled The Man Who Quit Money. When his friend first told him of his plan, he thought Suelo was losing his mind. After the economic crash of 2008 and witnessing the way that Suelo lived, however, he started to understand the concept a bit more. (1)
“Here’s someone who is saying I don’t know what the solution is but I’m going to disobey. Our financial system is so big we can’t control it and in so many ways we feel enslaved by it. Worse, we feel powerless to change it.” Sundeen said. “The fact is, if everyone lived like the average American, the world would actually collapse more quickly than if everyone lived like Suelo.” (1)
So how did Suelo live for those 15 years?
Living on Gift Economy
Suelo did not accept money or consciously barter or trade with anyone. He did not accept food stamps or anything given out by the government. (1)
He changed his legal name from Shellabarger to Suelo, the Spanish word for soil. He threw away his driver’s license and passport and went completely off-grid. (1, 3)
He lived primarily outdoors, camping in the wilderness or living in caves. Occasionally he stayed in communes or spent a night or two in a kind stranger’s home. (1)
He lived in caves quite often, living several years in a cave on the edge of a cliff in the Arches National Park in Utah. The cave was 200 feet across and 50 feet tall. (1) He bathed in the creek, drank spring water, forged for food, and carved a bed out of rock in the cave. He made himself a make-shift stove that he would use to cook the roadkill that he collected. (1)
Any hikers passing by were welcomed to stay, even if he wasn’t there. When he was away, he would leave a note letting others know that they could use his home, eat his food, read his books, and even take them, if they wanted. (1)
After several years of living in that cave, a ranger discovered him and gave him a $120 ticket for violating the 14-day rule of how long you can camp in the park. When Suelo told him that he did not use money and didn’t even have a driver’s license, the pair drove into town the next day to see a judge to determine what to do.(2)
Thankfully for Suelo, the judge was kind, and they agreed on him completing 20 hours of service at a center for abused women and children, upon Suelo’s suggestion. After that, he went back to his life, moving into a smaller, harder to find cave. (2)
His goal in life has always been to take as little as he can and give back as much as possible. (1)
A Temporary Lapse
In 2001, Suelo was living in a commune in Georgia when he received a tax return in the mail. Needing to make it to a friend’s wedding across the country, he decided to cash it in for a brand-new convertible that he then drove across America. After that temporary pause in the money-less life, he continued about his minimalist existence. (1, 3)
Where is He Now
Today, Suelo lives in Fruita, Colorado, where he is caring for his aging parents and managing their finances. He had his driver’s license reinstated so that he can drive his parents around. (1, 3) He now operates a blog, Zero Currency, where he shares stories of his time living in the wilderness and covers topics surrounding capitalism and the environment.
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