When I picked up this book, I expected it to be a self-help style, “here’s what I did and maybe you can make some positive changes in your life too” kind of book. It’s not that. Let’s just get that out of the way first. This is much closer to a coming of age story. It’s the story of a man who lies without money and the life events that led him, almost inevitably, to such a decision.
Daniel Suelo lives (most of the time) in a cave. He scavenges for his food in dumpsters, takes advantage of free meals in town, or harvests from forgotten vegetable patches that have gone wild. He blogs from the public library and rides a bike, walks, or hitchhikes to get around. He has a lot of friends and followers who provide him with food and open offers of shelter for nothing more than an exchange of ideas with him. His life is extreme, but he believes fully in what he’s doing. A spiritual rejection of capitalism and consumerist culture, he lives his life closer to an Indian mystic or a Biblical prophet.
But The Man Who Quit Money is not an attempt to advocate for Suelo’s lifestyle or convince us all to quit our jobs and start eating expired packages of Chips Ahoy. Instead, it’s a picture of one life, so far. Suelo was raised in a small evangelical church in the American West in a loving family that never had much money or stability. Suelo bought fully into his family’s religion until he left home and started studying other religions and experiencing how Christian missionaries live throughout the world. Over many years, he became disillusioned with his ideal picture of a clean, pure life. He suffers from depression. He couldn’t seem to fit in with several of the jobs he tried. When he finally admitted that he’s gay, his family reacted poorly. He attempted suicide.
But author Mark Sundeen presents Suelo as one of the happiest, most at peace people you could ever hope to meet. For Suelo, checking out of the system of who he was “supposed” to be was his salvation. Still a Christian, Suelo blends in similar philosophies from many major religions and points out that all of them preach giving up material wealth in favor of spiritual awakening. He takes the “What would Jesus do?” idea very literally. Jesus wouldn’t commute two hours each way to work in an office that he hated jut to make a paycheck to buy a house and a car and insurance. Jesus would rely on God to provide for him (like the lilies of the field) and would spend his time helping others in whatever way he could. And that’s what Suelo tries to do every day.
I really appreciate that Sundeen doesn’t try to raise Suelo up to Prophet level, even though he takes him very seriously. He doesn’t try to say that these choices are right for everyone—not everyone can or should live like Suelo any more than everyone should live like Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. But he paints a fascinating picture of humanity, illustrating how our life experiences lead us to be the people we come through the choices we make. After reading this, I’m not ready to live the scavenging lifestyle of an ascetic philosopher, but I have more respect for those who do. And I love seeing someone so confidently turning his back on the whole broken system.