This American hero has refused to become a slave to the almighty dollar, surviving on his own ingenuity, barter and trade, and what he calls “gift economy.”
In 2000, Daniel Suelo gave away all his worldly possessions, left his last $30 in a phone booth and wandered into the wilderness of the American Southwest. This, he says, is when his life began.
The author of his biography, Mark Sundeen, had known Suelo for 20 years before he walked away from money and civilization. At first, he thought Suelo had lost his mind.
“He said money was an illusion, and I didn’t really believe that,” Sundeen says in the video below. But when the economy collapsed in 2008 and “money just disappeared” Sundeen thought “maybe Suelo had a point.” In 2009, Sundeen began writing Suelo’s story.
Suelo has lived without a penny to his name for nearly 15 years. He refuses to use or accept money, government assistance or even barter and trade.
“My philosophy is to use only what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running, whether or not I existed,” Suelo writes on his blog “Zero Currency.”
“Our whole society is designed so that you have to have money,” he continues. “You have to be a part of the capitalist system. It’s illegal to live outside of it.”
As well as quitting cash, he threw away his passport and driver’s license and changed his legal name, Shellabarger, to Suelo, Spanish for soil, Britain’s Daily Mail reported in 2012.
Suelo has spent most of the last decade and a half camping in the desert, living in caves, staying in communes around the country and occasionally spending the night in the homes of strangers.
For several years, he lived in a cave on the edge of a cliff in Utah’s Arches National Park, where he carved a bed out of rock, foraged for food, drank from springs and bathed in a creek. When Suelo was away, he left a note for hikers – “Feel free to camp here. What’s mine is yours. Eat any of my food. Read my books. Take them with you if you’d like.”
His food there included foraged mulberries and wild onions, scavenged road-killed raccoons and squirrels, expired groceries from dumpsters and meals cooked by friends and strangers.
While critics complain that Suelo’s getting a “free ride” and that the system would collapse “if everyone lived like him,” Sundeen points out the irony that “if everyone keeps living like the average American, the world will actually collapse much more quickly.”
Last summer Suelo decided to move back to “civilization” – Fruita, Colorado – to care for his aging parents. He still lives without money, but has had to reinstate his driver’s license to drive them around. He’s set up camp at a nearby river so as not to lose touch with “the real world,” where he still lives by his mantra of taking as little as possible and giving as much as he can.
“We can cultivate freely giving and freely receiving no matter what station of life we’re in. That’s our true nature. It exists in everybody.” Suelo says in the video above.
“Wild nature, outside commercial civilization, runs on gift economy – freely give, freely receive – thus it is balanced. Commercial civilization runs on consciousness of credit and debt – knowledge of good and evil – thus it is imbalanced. What nation can even balance its own budget or environment? Gift Economy is Faith, Grace, Love – the core message of every religion. The proof is inside you. Wild Nature is your True Nature, crucified by commercial civilization.” ~ Daniel Suelo
Read excerpts from Sunsteen’s book in The Atlantic.
And check out these people who live with no money – The Hadza: The Freest People on Earth Are About to Go Extinct
79 responses to “The “Man Without Money” Has Thrived Without a Dollar to his Name for 20 Years”
The true ascetic life that has been mostly lost with the advent of industrialization, ambition, and technology. The irony is that I read about this on the computer.
Love is the only true value system. We make every last bit of it all up. I still live in the world of materialism, but I see and promote the idea of love replacing money. Doing things for the good of our world and each other instead of little rectangles we have assigned value to.
wouldn’t it be a much better world if all mankind could adopt that attitude.
I see. He decided to live off grid, but instead of using intelligence to make that work he’s using the refuse of the very institutions he professes to eschew. His clothes, cardboard, material, eating out of dumpsters…there’s no dignity in that. There’s no refusal to attend to the developed world. He’s simply living off that world’s disposable crap. The dignity would be in truly doing it yourself and doing it with care. He’s just being a bum, living in squalor. I’m unimpressed. Show me the mother, raising children on minimum wage, buying thrift shop clothes and maintaing a decent household and getting her kids educated. I’d love that. THAT’S dignity. This guy just looks like a jerk.
I agree with you!
Coming from a woman who probably gets her nails done every week. Bit rich.
Each to their own. He’s not doing any harm and I don’t see the problem with living off the wastes of society. What’s your ecological footprint by the way? His is probably close to zero. Yours is most likely to be much higher than the global average. What job do you do that is of benefit to society instead of making money out of people and for a boss?
There is so much waste in this world. I think we should be using this as a lesson to teach ourselves to snap out of the obsession of acquiring stuff. Most people in the developed world are mentally ill and addicted to something (technology, money, sex, power, food, etc.) This addiction is deemed appropriate by corporations who want us to be lemmings addicted to their goods. If we had more awareness, discipline and integrity, we would be more like Daniel and less like our mindless, present selves. I expect lots of annoyance and excuses from the “worldly” population; we need to support our family, we deserve to enjoy our hard work, progress is a good thing, blah, blah, blah. If you believe you need anything but God’s love, a clear mind, a lack of desire for stuff and enough food to stay alive and healthy…you’re delusional and probably do a lot of harm to others and the planet. But, you don’t care as long as you’re comfortable. You never really cared about helping real people in need (non-family), reducing your consumption or avoiding materialism. It takes guts and potential suffering to accept simplicity. Most folks don’t have real guts. They hate the hard way. Suit yourself. See where it gets you.
Actually he’s doing quite a bit of harm if he is living where he is saying he is living in our national parks he’s also trespassing and illegally camping
There is a lot of difference between what is legal and what is moral/ethical. There are many laws that are made to control us and keep us in our sad little place. Just because it’s legal it doesn’t mean it is morally right and visa versa.
He had the intelligence to see what all of those processes already occurring around him were having on the world and he decided he was not going to add to them.
Where is the intelligence of the mother raising children on minimum wage? How is her life of poverty going to contribute to society? Her condition leads them to likely be involved in a life of crime and social hand outs.
I doubt she would be able to maintain a decent house living in poverty.
I also doubt she is giving them a good education
Being a single mother use to be a social mark of shame. You are now calling it a mark of dignity. To buy thrift shop clothes. But you remove that dignity from Suelo because he does not work for corporations and support such corporations that exploit children over seas.
A mother should not have to live in poverty if our economic system were just and compensated the work of raising children as the socially valuable work that it is. But you calling Suelo a jerk seems to be a case of projection and insecurity.
Joe – I grew up in poverty and my hard working, single mother kept a very decent home.
I was a single mother I provided for my children just fine. I had Cal Works which sent me back to school I got a better education I fed and clothed my children on my full-time job and even paid for daycare I bought maintained my own car and my own apartment so slamming single mothers isn’t going to get you very far with single mothers or women in general
Also, my children were given the same education everybody else in the state was given which is unfortunate because they would’ve done better had I homeschool them off the government grid
I was think about the same thing. He may not earn or accept money but he is living off other peoples money.
Using electricity to run a free computer in a library that someone else’s tax dollars are paying for. Joke
The electricity has already been produced. He chooses to use a free outlet, that’s what it’s there for. I imagine it is free for everyone, not just Suelo?
You obviously don’t get it.
“Show me a mother raising her kids on minimum wage”, and teaching her children how to be wasteful and letting them inherit a world destroyed and deranged by money lust.
Sure the world will quickly be unable to sustain human life, but at least their mother worked 40 hours a week for $7.25 an hour so some rich white person can have several homes, several cars, and all the conveniences his heart desires.
There’s no dignity in creating even more need by selfishly knocking out kids so you can ‘survive on welfare’. I take your points about this guy and see somewhat of the irony in the way he’s surviving, but it’s still far far far less destructive and consumerist than the mainstream. He’s doing it to make a point; no matter how imperfectable that point can be made whilst in a flesh prison.
how easy it is to hate when one does not attempt to cultivate an understanding of another.
You are an idiot.
Totally agree that this man has completely lost it. He has forgotten that money is a means to trade and exchange things or service. He should be preaching living frugally and being thrifty instead of living off the grid and on refuse.
Poor poor blind America.. Fyi Ellen, Slavery is live and well in the good olé USA.
So it’s his looks that bothered you I see.
I was thinking the same thing. We just need to make sure the “stuff” we own doesn’t become more important than the needs of others. We need to promote kindness and love for each other. I don’t have anything negative to say and I hope he find what he is searching for.
“don’t put the person down unless helping them”
true bum is a person that can’t survive without money
Yes, just another bum, story would be impressive if he was living off of he land
And who is going to care for him in the winter of his life and pay his medical bills? The tax payers.
You mean the very same tx-payers who are living a lifestyle that is unsustainable for the future of the planet? Not all can live like Daniel, but the more who do, the better chances the planet has to survive for the grand children of your grandchildren. You should salute this guy and everybody living like him, and happily pay for his medical bills the day he needs them.
Ps. He has said in an interview that when time comes for him to go, time comes. He won’t accept medical help.
He said he was willing to let natural selection take him when his time came.
So no, the tax payers would still not be paying for him. That is part of his principles.
[…] Return to Now […]
Free giving and receiving…thank you for bringing what’s become ‘secrets’ out of age-old closets and showing life’s basic simplicity by living it!
Thank you, Daniel, for bringing ‘free giving and receiving’ out of a roomy closet with the label: ‘Secrets’… it’s time to get real !
[…] For further reading check out Daniel Suelo’s blog Zero Currency. Also read more here. […]
[…] Video by David Eckenrode, a independent film maker based out of Colorado. For further reading check out Daniel Suelo’s blog Zero Currency. Also read more here. […]
While I don’t think this is a realistic way to live today, I do believe we all can live more frugally than we do. I grow and can food, I used to eat meat from my fathers farm. No longer, he doesn’t have animals. But I and my sons should. We also had our own chickens that I am thinking of getting again. But it does prove we are very wasteful today.
[…] The Man Without Money […]
Awesome story, thanks for sharing.
Sure, that’s absolutely normal and sane and healthy in every way.
[…] Photo credit: The Man Who Lives Without Money. […]
But, there are very few caves and deserts here in the UK
In this overcrowded isle we have planning regs and planning generally
I’m all in favour of sustainable living but it needs to be interrelated to the other humans on the planet
Hi Sara, I recently discovered your site and appreciate your mission; keep it up and don’t fret the negativity.
And isn’t it a male priveldge to do so. As a woman it wouldn’t be feasible or safe.
What makes you think it is safe for a man? And, if you mean he can defend it better than a woman, how is that a privilege? I’m just wondering about what the hell you mean by it, and what alternative you might offer. Perhaps it would be even better if he were there with a woman, as a couple. Or better, with a unit of couples. No single person, male or female, is “safe” living in the wild, and they certainly aren’t privileged.
I doubt it’s that safe for him either. His gender should have nothing to do with it!
Geesh, sounds like you want him to feel guilty for being a man
The Peace Pilgrim came before he did.
Thank you for sharing this I feel like quitting society people have lost their souls
Tremendous issues here. I’m very happy to look your article.
Thanks so much and I’m taking a look ahead to touch you.
Will you please drop me a mail?
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He just a standard homeless
Person. He just in a rural area no different than the thousands around every city. Collecting what he finds. Lives on handouts and charity of others. Nothing special about it
The special thing is he does not except money or government hand outs. Standard homeless have no problems excepting money and or government handouts.
Because of those principles he had to work out a way in this system to live in a manner that this system illegal to live, completely without money.
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Reminds. Me of the freeloading dirty hippies of the sixth. Panhandling Livining on others property sponging off of other people who feel sorry for him.
And irresponsible. Driving without car insurance. Hobos.have Been around many years. When he gets sick I am sure he expects others to cover his bills. A bum
in my heart I have said almost verbatim some of the things that Daniel has said about giving and receiving and how the whole system with money is corrupt and hurting people as humans
Absolutely ridiculous! Where would he be without other people’s refuse which is the procduct (s) of the civilization he decries. Stone age mentality!
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Really enjoyed this article. Great.
He was the one who inspired Mark Boyle in Bristol who lived the moneyless life for two years on a friend’s farm between Bath and Bristol while working on it for his rent. He wrote too books and with the proceeds set up a commune in Ireland teaching people moneyless skills.
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Great post !!! Absolutely beautiful. Thanks a ton
He moved back to the city but still doesn’t use money! Then how did he renew his drivers license? That costs money. Putting gas in the car that he will drive will cost money. Oh I get it,he uses OTHER peoples money. Sounds like he is a lazy bum mooching off of anyone he an find
Suelo is Spanish for floor
If there were no people producing waste products how would he or millions like him survive? If we all decided to live without money, assuming it could be pulled off, in the real world the Russians or China would take over!! A person here or there can pull this off. I am glad it worked for him. Just wondering if he will get “money” from the sale of the book? Someone will.
I’d love to live like that,, just take some tools n bare needs n take off it’s beautiful
We have such an unpleasant trait in humankind – if I don’t understand/agree with you I will attack and diminish you. If more people were truly content with their life and choices I wonder if they wouldn’t feel the need to do this.
Well…living off the waste isn’t ideal but I think he’s on the right path. In India we have had Sadhus/hermits since the very beginning. They live off the grid, meditate in caves or on the tip of the mountains. Al that even before money even existed.
So he became a bum and we are supposed to admire that?
I really enjoyed this article. I got a warm feeling from his story. Then I read the comments. How very sad that so many got triggered by this story. I didn’t feel like this article was trying to shame anyone. It was a story about one man’s belief and choice. Good for him. If that’s not for you, then good for you. If you got offended, then good for you. You have found something about yourself to work on.