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Words

Money Matters

Walking away from legal tender

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April is here, the longer days are evident, rain is broken up by occasional deliciously warm and sunshiny days and our collective thoughts turn to…taxes.

It’s a fact that Americans in April have money on our minds. As frustrating as tax time can be, have you ever really considered what it would mean to live without money? Not without income, but actually without using money in any form.

Daniel Suelo thought about it much of his life, but it wasn’t until he was 39 years old that he worked through his fears about quitting money for good. Yep. He pulled his last $30 out of his pocket, left it in a phone booth, and walked away.

That was 14 years ago, in the fall of 2000. Since then, Suelo has not used money in any form. He has not bartered. He does not panhandle or accept any form of government assistance. In his own words, he decided to “use only what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running.”

Mark Sundeen, author of The Man Who Quit Money, was a young river guide living a carefree and somewhat itinerate life around Moab, Utah when he met and befriended Suelo. Eventually moving on to attain a more “grownup” lifestyle—a career as a writer, teacher at a university, mortgage, nice car—Sundeen grew to enjoy the things money could buy that he formerly eschewed.

Over the years, he heard about Suelo living on nothing in the Utah wilderness. When the financial bubble burst in 2009, Sundeen’s curiosity about Daniel’s lifestyle peaked, and he trekked back to Utah to find him in the desert.

A lifelong spiritual seeker, Suelo grew up in an evangelical Christian family, went on to become an Old Testament scholar, and served in Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer. His first thoughts of living without money came as a young child following instructions about how to live a Christian life to their logical conclusion: giving up possessions, giving and receiving freely, living as Jesus lived.

Suelo’s life is an interesting story in and of itself, but the compelling part about this book is the way it reveals how deeply interconnected we are with money at our most core levels. Thinking about living without it radically challenges concepts of who we are and the place we hold in the world.

Similar to the way Jon Krakauer left it to readers of Into the Wild to decide if they thought Chris McCandless was inspired or deranged, Sundeen shares many perspectives of Suelo’s lifestyle, but leaves it to the reader to determine: Philosopher or prophet? Freeloader or ascetic?

Whatever you decide, the comments of those who come in contact with Suelo are compelling testimony about the person he has become, citing the peace he radiates, the clarity of his speech and thoughts, his kindness, happiness and willingness to freely share the “richness” of his life with others. 

Daniel answers burning questions like “Wouldn’t society fall apart without money?” and “Don’t you get scared or discouraged?” and my personal favorite, “How do you do laundry?” on his Living Without Money website (http://www.sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney). 

His library card gives him access to the technology needed to maintain a website and blog (which he cites as his one use of government assistance, in addition to walking on roads and sidewalks). Your library card gives you access to this title in print, ebook, or downloadable audio format.

Lisa Gresham is the Collection Support Manager for the Whatcom County Library System. Check out her “What Do I Read Next?” blog at http://www.wcls.org. As a resident of Sudden Valley, she is very happy about the opening of the new South Whatcom Library.

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