The American who quit money to live in a cave

David Eckenrode made this short film for the BBC about Daniel Suelo, a man who stopped using money in 2000. I wrote a bit about Daniel in 2009, and had a brief email exchange with him (he uses a computer at a library within walking distance from his cave).

Mark Sundeen, the author of book, The Man Who Quit Money is a soulful journey into the spirit of Daniel Suelo. Suelo, gave up on money in 2000. He walked into a phone booth, pulled out 30 dollars and left it. Twelve years later, Suelo still does not have a personal ID, bank accounts, a modern home, does not take money, or live off of federal welfare. Suelo lives in caves in the canyon lands outside of Moab, UT. Suelo harvests wild foods, eats roadkill, and dumpster dives. Suelo is not an isolationist, he still is very active in the Moab community, SE Utah politics, and he is an active blogger.

Sundeen, knew Suelo from Moab, UT when they both worked together as cooks, but years later Sundeen came across Suelo in a market he payed him no attention, but after Sundeen, gave thought to the current economy and Suelo's philosophy he began to write his book in 2009. Sundeen's book focuses on one man, but the message of the book captures the American zeitgeist of a changing economy.

Buy The Man Who Quit Money on Amazon


  1. “Sundeen, knew Suelo from Moab, UT when they both worked together as cooks, but years later Sundeen came across Suelo in a market he payed him no attention, but after Sundeen, gave thought to the current economy and Suelo’s philosophy he began to write his book in 2009.”

    Me flunk English? That’s unpossible!

  2. heh, the phrase “Buy the man who quit money” at the bottom of this Blog posts seems a tad Ironic

  3. I don’t mean this in a “damn socialists!” way and I can admire his efforts, but he didn’t quit money. He just quit paying for things. You can do that when there are a lot of free services and “junk” around you. He’s still reliant on other people’s money.

    1. I think the point is nothing more than he doesn’t personally use money, not that he is completely removed from its effects.

      1. Agreed, the article doesn’t suggest anything more.  Haters basically.  I think some people feel threatened by this kind of hobo version of dropping off the grid vs. the cabin w/ solar in the woods kind. It is what it is, but it’s funny to see so many *angry* reactions.

        1. Nah, what you see here isn’t even remotely angry.

          This guy does what he believes in and feels is right so good on him. Thing is, he preaches that you “can live without money” and without being “part of the system” (yes, according to the video he does exactly that; not only suggests but flat-out states it as a truth); this only works because it’s only him doing it. If nobody had any money they couldn’t buy all the stuff people give him so freely.

          IOW, he doesn’t “prove” that “you” can live like this (as per the video); all he proves is that one likable oddball can do it and survive thanks to the kindness of others who are still “part of the system”. Again, glad it works for him and that he’s happy.

          1. Bingo.  Plus I doubt too many folks could all live off the land around there.  Not exactly a flourishing garden.

          2. The most famous proponent of “self-reliance”, Thoreau, was even more parasitic than this guy (Walden pond wasn’t somewhere off in the boonies, but on the estate of Thoreau’s wealthy patron, Emerson). As twianto says, it isn’t really angry to point out that such stunts are exactly that — stunts — rather than a meaningful generally applicable strategy. The real living-off-the-grid types may not be fully divorced from society either, but at least they are making an attempt.

          3. His issue seems to be with money though, not necessarily reliance on others. Even though the cave-living thing _does_ suggest self-reliance, granted…

            I’m not aware of any advanced civilization that functions/functioned without either money (or some other valuable object that could be traded) or forced labor. Not quite sure what the alternative to money would be; it’s not like money is a recent invention dreamed up by eeeevil capitalists.

          4. I’ll stand by my point.  Many people here seem to be overly critical of the guy for basically being a hobo. It seems a little petty to be fussing so much over how perfect his *personal* approach may be..

            If you watch the clip, you can see that it’s about illustrating the contrast between the way this guy is living vs. the way the average American does (the narrator says so) and that seems to be the point of the filmmaker.

            I personally think the barter only society the guy is hoping for is naive, but I think that’s obviously only one facet of the story, and doesn’t take away from the larger picture of simpler living.

        2. Pardon the meta-conversation here, but…
          “Haters” “threatened” “angry” “petty”?

          It would be nice if you could just join in without having to sharp-elbow everyone else just because they have a different take on the subject than you.

    2.  Maybe he is also pointing out how much we throw away?  The amount of edible food that we toss is disgusting.

    1. Using the library is not the same as receiving welfare.  Unless you consider yourself a welfare recipient?

      1. Using the library while not paying taxes could certainly be argued to be a form of welfare. Other people are paying so that he can have internet access.

        Same thing’s gonna happen when he gets injured or sick. Emergency room is going to have to stabilize him, and cheerfully distribute the charge amongst paying patients when it turns out he’s got nothing to pay with.

        1. Have to laugh at the idea that libraries are something that anybody would conjure up in reference to what’s commonly considered getting  “welfare”.  I guess when Reagan was demonizing so-called “welfare queens” he was talking about single black women who check out too many books…

          1. Sure it’s not “Welfare” in that he’s collecting a government stipend, but he’s still using public services that cost money and not contributing anything into the system and my first reaction is that makes him a bit of a hypocrite.  “Hey, I can live without money!  But please keep paying for my stuff!” 

        2. There will always be people who can’t function in society for whatever reason.  As long as they are a small fraction I can deal with it.

    2. “Truly uninspiring”

      I know right?  I was into cavemen before they sold out…

      Some people got bored of them when the Geico commercials and the TV series came out. Others thought The Troggs jumped the shark, but I said they were played out about 75,000 years ago.

  4. While interesting in a “Huh, there’s all sorts of people in the world” sort of way, it’s clearly untenable unless you live somewhere where lots of OTHER people provide the infrastructure that you live off of.

    1. Sure, not everyone can do what he does.  Not everyone can do what you or I do, either.  This is the nature of specialization.

      This fellow contributes to global society by provoking discussions such as this one, by political participation, and surely in countless other ways.  In exchange, he takes very little from his society that would not have gone to waste were it not for his claiming it.

      I am nowhere near certain that I make anything like the net contribution to social good that he does.  Are you?

      1. “I am nowhere near certain that I make anything like the net contribution to social good that he does.  Are you?”

        I’m quite certain of it.  In two years, nobody will remember this guy.  For the next 50 years or so, I’ll be paying taxes that support libraries, hospitals, public services, and other infrastructure that will still allow him to live.  Not to mention the social value of volunteering, being a good neighbor, and an all-around nice guy. ;-)

    2. That’s what I thought too. Just like minimalist travellers, he requires a lot of infrastructure and other people to survive – except he leeches off of services everyone else pays taxes to fund.

      There are plenty of people living in similar situations around the world – not by choice, unlike Daniel.

    3. Clearly untenable. If it weren’t for science, government, infrastructure and lots of other people, where would food come from? 

  5. I applaud this man for his persistence and minimalist approach to life, however, he has not completely removed himself from “the financial system”. The food that he gets from dumpster diving, and even the roadkill that he retrieves, is there because of “the financial system”. 

    I agree with the sentiment that there is something rotten in the way in which our economy works, but blaming “money” is like blaming water for the damage caused by a tsunami. Yes, it is the medium through which the damage was done, but completely getting rid of it would make things a whole lot worse.

  6. I find survivalists more interesting than “Freegans”, because the survivalists live off the grid by creating their own, rather than being simple scavengers. Freeganism isn’t an entirely unadmirable lifestyle (aside from the grosser aspects of dumpster diving), but it’s still utterly reliant on the existing grid.

    1. You could argue that freeganism is more efficient, more environmentally considerate, and more ethical, than the ‘more interesting’ survivalism:

      Build-your-own-grid survivalists have a higher ecological toll, from their construction activities.  Freegans recognize the waste in the existing grid, and live off of that, rather than unnecessarily disrupt ecosystems by building infrastructure unnecessary to their material well-being.

      I’d put that several notches above ‘not entirely unadmirable’…

  7. I found it interesting that he mentioned the No Labels movement like it was a real thing.  Makes me feel like there is a hidden agenda here.

  8. That’s neat… I guess. Unfortunately there aren’t enough caves to go around for everyone to emulate such a life style.

    I hope he is ridding his waste in a sanitary manner as to not pollute his surroundings and/or endanger others. (I always wonder where people poop when I hear such stories.)

    1. In an area where burial is impossible, like canyon lands or above treeline, the technique is called “smearing”.

    2. Oh dear. And here I was just wondering how he got his glasses. Lots of berries = lots of fiber…

  9. 1 Vagabond wanders aimlessly.
    2 Bum sponges off of others.
    3 Hobo migratory worker. 

    Column 2. 

  10. The only problem I have with this, is that it appears as though the cave he is living in is actually an ancient Anasazi ruin. I have done years of hiking in the canyon lands with scientists and archeologists and I recognize the tell-tale signs of an Anasazi ruin with the soot marks from fires, and pictographs on the walls. I feel like he should be able to live in a cave if he wants to, but I think he should not be living in an archeological site of the native american Anasazis that no longer exists. 

    1. But you have to admit, it is kind of poignant, that society has lost its way and caused some thinkers to seek refuge, in old places and first principles.

  11. I’m not surprised by the backlash and hating that goes on. When someone chooses to live life by a different model, people become threatened because their mainstream existence is called into question.

    Monks and renunciates in many cultures have lived on dana, or generosity. When monks in other countries vow not to handle money and sit with begging bowls, no one spits on them, or calls them bums. In our relatively young and materially-obsessed culture, we throw away more food than any other country. We get tired of things long before they wear out.

    If you think he sponges off others, and is a bum, I’ll argue that he doesn’t take or use more than he needs, or than is freely given. How about you?

    1. I really don’t see the comments as hate.  I am seeing a lot of, “good for him, but it’s more complicated than that” comments. Not hate, just different perspectives.

      1. Scrolling down I saw a lot of cold and unsupportive comments. People trying to criticize this person’s actions, rather than contribute and illuminate the bigger picture. It pains me a little, but whatever.

        1. Cold and unsupporting?  Welcome to BB, where it’s hip to be cynical (says me in a hip and cynical way).  We must either be outraged or “meh”, no in between.

    2. No, it’s the ” I am better than you” sentiment that is so irritating.
      Sure, live however you want, but then to say that “I am right and you are wrong” just makes the story about something other than his lifestyle.

      Different is good and interesting. Arrogant  and reactionary is not.
      None of us takes more than we’s just that your measure of what I need and my measure of what I need might differ.

  12. I do not have a problem with someone living such a minimalist lifestyle – I would like to minimize my lifestyle as well – if not to such a degree. 

    My problem is that this video presents money as something that is separate from value. Even if ‘money’ where to be gone things would still have value.  Everything has value – from the time it takes to grow food to the effort to create art. Some things are more valuable than others. Value varies based on whats happening (water is more valuable in a drought than a flood). In the end you just end up chasing the same problems. Money is a convenient representation of value. Perhaps the way we have chosen to represent value is broken – our monetary system is broken. The idea of value is intrinsic to the world we live in. 

    The man in the video has chosen not to use the representation of value that we all do but he is still a participant in our value based society and uses “money” as a straw man. 

  13. So he doesn’t pay taxes, but has no problem using the public library’s resources? Who pays for those computers, the lights, the heat, the broadband,  and all the other resources he uses while there?

    He’s taking advantage of the system – that’s all.

  14. As pointed out in various ways, he can, because others don’t.

    From my perspective, whatever. Don’t think he isn’t a leach on society.

    I don’t think this should be something that is portrayed as inspiring or particulary positive.

    As an social experiment on what is money, it is sort of interesting, and sparks the above debate. However apart from that, it is wholly lacking in any value (pardon pun).

    If you want inspiring, check out the story/movies of Dick Proenneke, who retired from his job as a welder in his 50’s, then moved to the wilderness of Alaska and lived there alone for 30 years into his 80’s. He of course used money, and bought supplies.

  15. It seems that quite often people that live a unique lifestyle are held up as models for worldwide societal change.  Scaling the lifestyle up to that level is often done hastily but the “if everybody did that…” argument pro or con is a pretty complicated calculation.  I have some friends that have been subsistence homesteaders for about 35 years and I really appreciate their approach to this issue.  They see it from the opposite perspective: trying to envision a sustainable society of diverse and complicated people and basing their individual decisions on that concept.  It developed into sort of model system that even took the form of a book they wrote up recently.  It is interesting to ask the question WWFSD? (what would fictional society do?)

  16. As the video says nicely: not everyone can live like him, but not everyone can live like the average American either.  We take constantly from the global hinterland to have the lifestyles we do.

    From reading about this guy, I think the real miracle is the peace and joy he finds from not dealing with money.  This isn’t about welfare or about criticizing you; the lesson is about letting go, fearlessness, simplicity, and taking time – things that are much more valuable than money.

Comments are closed.