Path To Simple

Live simpler. Live happier.

Is it possible to live without money?

The Delicate Arch in the morning in Arches National Park.

I know it is possible to live with zero money. Abundantly.

Daniel Suelo

In the year 2000, Daniel Suelo1, then 39, quit money.

Quit money?

Yes, quit money.

With the conviction of an alcoholic smashing his final bottle on the ground or a chain-smoker crushing the butt of her last cigarette under her heel, Daniel walked into a phone booth at a truck stop in Pennsylvania, pulled out his last few bills from his back pocket—$30 in total—and left them on top of the telephone, a nice surprise for the next wayfinder needing to make a call.

In the years since, Daniel hasn’t made or spent a single dollar.

He hasn’t panhandled or paid taxes.

He hasn’t used food stamps or any other form of government welfare.

When he works, as he often does, be it in a homeless shelter or with the Youth Garden Project, he takes no payment.

As if taking inspiration from some yellow-paged wilderness-survival novel, Daniel has made a home for himself in the Utah canyons, near Moab and Arches National Park.

He feeds himself by foraging for mulberries and wild onions, dumpster diving for expired groceries, eating roadkill, and, yes, like Henry David Thoreau, a kindred spirit 149 years his senior, who even while in his sojourn in Walden couldn’t resist his mother’s cookies2, also by accepting food from friends and strangers.

His philosophy, as he explains on his website (which he runs for free using Google Sites and maintains from the public library), is to “use only what is freely given or discarded & what is already present & already running.”

Garbage in dumpsters is discarded. Friends offering a meal or a spare room in their home is help freely given. Mulberries and wild onion are already present. Water in the creek is already running.

All of it fair game and absolutely free.

A brief history of money

Money is a human invention.

Life existed before money and all lifeforms on this planet, humans excluded, continue to live just fine without it.

The lion doesn’t pay rent to the savannah and the savannah doesn’t pay tribute to the sun for its warmth.

The squirrel doesn’t pay rent to the tree and the tree doesn’t pay tribute to the sky for the rain.

Despite no dollar bills being exchanged, animals still manage to eat and live and learn and play; trees still grow; rain still falls; the sun still shines.

Money then, despite the enormous importance and status we grant it, is simply a medium of exchange.

Bartering is how it all started. A gallon of milk for a dozen eggs. Two chickens for a pair of shoes. A bundle of lumber for a coat.

Kids still practice this ancient art when they trade their Fruit Roll-Up for a Capri-Sun at lunchtime.

As our dominion of the earth expanded, however, and we mastered agriculture and spread ourselves throughout the land, bartering grew inconvenient.

Carrying around our chickens was cumbersome and making a trade required finding someone who had what we wanted and who, in turn, wanted our chickens and not Phil’s goats.

If our land produced more crops than we could eat, we had no good way of turning our surplus into some durable form in case the next growing season wasn’t as plentiful.

A new solution was needed and human ingenuity introduced commodity money—whale teeth, seashells, cacao beans, salt, tobacco, to name a few.

If we tie all our goods to a common scale, trade becomes much easier—the issue of matching my needs with yours is solved by our joint use of this agreed upon medium of exchange.

Yet commodity money brought its own problems.

The consumable commodities (cacao beans, tobacco) could spoil, while the more durable commodities weren’t uniform (two whale teeth aren’t exactly the same) or particularly useful (I can eat the cacao beans or smoke the tobacco; what do I do with the seashell?)

It was also unlikely that a foreigner accustomed to using whale teeth as currency would accept our seashells instead.

And so we come to gold.

Gold has always been admired for its appearance.

It doesn’t spoil or tarnish.

It can be easily divided, making it convenient to carry and more precise for trading.

It can be turned to jewelry or tools and so has some inherent worth.

And it’s a finite resource so a government can’t print millions of copies of it and erode its value.

From gold (or silver or copper or many other metals) we made the jump to coins etched with the face of the current ruler to give the coin legitimacy.

From coins we jumped to paper money and from paper money to the electronic money of today.

Along the way, without us thinking much about it, money lost all ties to ‘reality’ and transformed into an abstraction.

When money is no longer represented even by paper, it becomes a pure abstraction, numbers filed somewhere in the memory of a distant computer. In the computer it cannot be seen by anyone, neither its owner nor the bank clerk who does the accounting.

William Greider

A US dollar is not directly tied to the value of any metal; whenever it wishes, the Federal Reserve can print as many bills as it wants.

Soon, printing won’t even be necessary—a clerk will merely type a number into a computer and money will move through wires at the speed of light.

Above all, money is a function of faith. It requires an implicit and universal social consent that is indeed mysterious. To create money and use it, everyone must believe. Only then do worthless pieces of paper take on value.

William Greider

And so a US dollar is only valuable because you and I believe that a dollar today will buy roughly the same amount of stuff tomorrow, the next day, and ten years from now.

If we lose faith in the dollar, it ceases to function as a medium of exchange.

The history of money is a winding road of convenience and greed and innovation, of trust and faith—as well as downright illusion.

Is Suelo a role model? Or a phony and a mooch?

“Extreme” personalities can’t help but to be polarizing.

Many people think Daniel Suelo is a phony and a mooch and are quick to offer up a long list of objections:

  • Isn’t using the public library cheating? Don’t our taxes pay for the library? Heck, don’t our taxes pay for the roads he walks on and the parks he squats on?
  • Isn’t it cheating to accept help from friends who presumably hold a job and use money to pay for the food and shelter they’re giving him?
  • What is he ‘giving back’? Isn’t he just a lazy bastard?

And while I understand the sentiment, I disagree completely.

We, as average Americans living average American lives, have a carbon footprint of 20 metric tons per year.

Given that a tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, it’ll take the poor sap about 46 years to absorb one metric ton.3

20 metric tons, then, is roughly equivalent to 1,000 tree-years.4

This means that each of us requires about 1,000 trees annually to offset our carbon footprint. (I’ve got two on my front lawn, so only 998 to go for me.)

These numbers are staggering at first glance, but they start to make sense when we analyze our day-to-day lives.

We drive our cars to the grocery store and fill up our carts with quinoa flown in from Peru and avocados trucked in from Mexico.

We constantly heat up and cool down all the bedrooms in our homes, even though we’re not using most of them at the time.

We take hot showers, then fall asleep watching a show on TV or listening to a podcast on our smartphones.

All of these activities (as well as the production required to make these activities possible) consume nonrenewable sources in the form of energy (fossil fuels) and materials (metal, plastic, etc.)

The cherry on this sundae is that in order to pay for this lifestyle we work 40+ hours a week in jobs we might not particularly like (or straight-up abhor) or find stressful or that go against our core principles.

Suelo’s carbon footprint, meanwhile, is closer to 0.1 tons, similar to that of the average Ethiopian. That’s a footprint 200 times smaller than that of the average American.

Suelo doesn’t drive, doesn’t buy food imported from far away, and he reuses resources that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

I don’t expect everybody to live in a cave and dumpster-dive. I do implore everybody to take only what they know in their own hearts that they need, and give up excess to those who have less than they need.

Daniel Suelo

His more ethical and environmentally-friendly lifestyle aside, the real reason I admire Suelo is because he has bigger balls than a North Atlantic right whale.

We all complain about the evils of capitalism, only to wake up every day and drag ourselves into our (figurative) cubicles, our eyes fixed on the clock, counting down the hours ‘til we’re free once again.

As my wife can attest, I’m particularly prone to this woe-is-me, whine-itis.5

All this whining does, however, is throw me onto the train tracks where the Existential Express threatens to split me in two.

“What is life? What is the meaning of it all? What do I want?” I wonder as the train barrels towards me, unable to work up the motivation to quit the unhelpful navel-gazing and roll myself to safety, ultimately finding comfort in the stasis.

And so knowing how difficult it is to make a change, I admire Suelo for having the courage to be different and the strength of character to turn his ideals into reality.

Especially so in today’s world of YouTube gurus, Instagram influencers, and lame politicians who preach the opposite of what they do and believe only in self-preservation.


To answer the original question: Yes, it’s possible to live without money. Abundantly. It just takes a life radically different than the one we’re accustomed to.

Though I believe in the ideals of a moneyless existence—this ultimate goal of replacing our money system with a “gift” economy where bullshit jobs are replaced by hard work of a saner kind, a world in which communal living and sharing are the norm—money pervades my every waking moment.

My wife and I bought a house last year and tied ourselves to fifteen years of mortgage payments and property taxes.

At the end of every month I tally up my net worth, feeling a little burst of dopamine when I see that the numbers went up.

In my job I push to get promoted so that my salary goes up and I can pay off my mortgage quicker and see my net worth rise faster.

Nearly everything I do—from my morning coffee to turning on the shower to filling up my gas tank to stocking my fridge—requires an exchange of money.

It’s all quite anxiety-inducing, at least for me.6 But I’m too invested in the system. I can’t manage to find a workable way to break free.

And yet, in those moments when my mental thunderclouds clear and the sun manages to shine through, I feel that I’m on my own path to a sort of moneyless existence.

Or if not moneyless, at least money-less—a peaceful, minimalistic life defined not by net worth, but by self-worth.

A life of abundance because abundance is simple when your needs are small.

A life of giving without expectation of receiving.

The idea is still foggy. I don’t know how or when I’ll get there. Or if I’ll know when I arrive.

Until then, it remains a comforting thought.


  1. If you’re curious to learn more about Daniel Suelo, read The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen.

  2. Kathryn Schulz unfairly lambasted Thoreau for this in an article in The New Yorker in 2015. As others smarter than me have pointed out, she completely missed the point.
    The Criticism section of Thoreau’s Wikipedia page covers both sides of the argument with footnotes to recent articles.

  3. There are 2,205 pounds in a metric ton and 2,205 ÷ 48 = 45.9375.

  4. 20 (metric tons) × 46 (years) = 920, meaning it’ll take one tree 920 years to absorb 20 metric tons or 920 trees one year.

  5. Though I’m getting better with time 🧘🏽‍♂️ ☮️

  6. Anxiety that’s compounded by guilt that I’m incredibly well-off compared to the great majority of this world and what thankless scum am I to be complaining?