“The Man Who Quit Money” by Mark Sundeen
c.2012, Riverhead Books
$15.00 / $17.50 Canada
By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
Just about fifteen cents.
That’s all you ever find between the sofa cushions. It’s never a huge amount of money
but for some silly reason, it makes you inordinately happy.
Same thing when you find a fiver stashed in last winter’s jacket, or a couple Washingtons in an old forgotten purse or wallet. It’s as if you just won the micro-lottery. You feel strangely rich.
Now imagine never finding money. Imagine never wanting it at all. In the new book “The Man Who Quit Money” by Mark Sundeen, you’ll read about the author’s friend, who’s penniless on purpose.
Back in the days before Mark Sundeen had a mortgage and a successful writing career, back when most of his possessions fit in the bed of a pickup, Sundeen lived a carefree life as an itinerant river guide, sleeping in his truck and eking out a living in Moab, Utah.
He wasn’t alone in that unbothered existence. Many people, discouraged by government actions or corporate greed, left the grid to live in Moab.
One of them was Sundeen’s friend, Daniel Suelo.
Born into an ultra-conservative fundamentalist family, Daniel Suelo was a sensitive child who took his faith extremely seriously. Still, during college, he re-examined his beliefs and began to hypothesize about certain aspects of God. After a stint with the Peace Corps, he started questioning the validity of organized religion. He’d noticed the wide chasm between The Haves and The Have-Nots and how money seemed to change everything, which seemed unchristian-like and wrong. Further muddling his deeply introspective thoughts on religion, Suelo realized he was gay.
Finding a community where eccentricity was barely noticed and tolerance is expected was, therefore, a godsend for Suelo. In 2000, after a stay in the Canada wilderness, he left his last $30 in a phone booth and moved to Moab.
There, Sundeen says, Suelo lives with few possessions in whatever shelter he can find. He dines from a Dumpster, volunteers, and enjoys an active social life.
There, he lives “abundantly” with zero money.
Could I do it?
That’s the question you’ll ask yourself over and over as you’re reading “The Man Who Quit Money.” It’s a tantalizing thought, this chuck-it-all life, and author Mark Sundeen lets his readers ponder it as he tells the life story of his friend, Daniel Suelo.
But this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill biography. Sundeen lends his readers a good sense of who Suelo really is, while still preserving the enigmatic aspects. He lets us scoff a little, then he pulls us back into wholeheartedly agreeing with Suelo, almost to the point of wanting to live in a cave, too.
Notice I said “almost.” Sundeen is stingy with romanticism and freely relates hardships while he also examines the morals behind money and why most of us chase it.
I think that if you’ve ever seriously considered your cash and wondered if you could really live without it, here’s your chance to reflect. For you, “The Man Who Quit Money” is a book to take to the sofa.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.