In The Man Who Quit Money (Riverhead Books) award-winning author Mark Sundeen has found a subject who defies the universal longing for the American Dream: Daniel Suelo, a man who has opted out of money, both making it and spending it, who chooses to live without plush comforts in Utah caves, foraging food from the wilderness and dumpsters. Part of Suelo’s motivation is to live “honestly,” apart from a system dependent on money and ownership. Another part is his connection to the Earth. During 2001, he spent three months tree-sitting in an Oregon hemlock with other activists. Adds the author: “And clearly his lifestyle has a lower impact than virtually anybody else’s in America. Without a car or a home to heat and cool, he produces hardly any carbon dioxide.”
It’s impossible for Suelo to separate himself from money entirely if he wants to maintain any connection to society at large. He uses the Internet at his local public library, funded by taxpayer dollars, and while he avoids government programs, he does depend on the kindness of strangers and their open-door invitations to join their communes, house-sit or camp on their land.
Suelo was raised the youngest of five children to a fundamentalist Christian family living in Denver, and he references the difficulty—the outright illegality—of living like Jesus in modern-day America. It becomes clear as the story unfolds that Suelo is grappling with emotional demons. He’s a “seeker” looking, like others before him, for a way out of a society he can’t understand or embrace. And part of that coming-to-terms clearly has to do with his being gay in a family where such an admission could not be fully accepted. There is a persistent loneliness to Suelo, and while his story offers a glimpse at an alternate way of living, and surely a way of living with minimal waste and use of resources, there seems little else to recommend it.