Would You Give Up Everything to Be “Intentionally Poor”?

With all the craziness going on these days, you probably yearn for “the simple life” every so often, don’t you? Something calm, carefree and uncomplicated that lets you live exactly as you want to live. Then you sigh, look around your crummy cubicle and get back to the grind because there are bills to pay. Is that you?

For some people, experiencing such a moment brings an epiphany. They want freedom. Acting on their notion, they take the concept of simplifying their lives so seriously that they become “intentionally poor.” They reject the modern 9-to-5 struggle and everything it brings with it.

Take Dan Price of Joseph, Ore. He lives in a hole in the ground. As far as holes go, it’s rather nice. It’s an 8-foot circular room lined with wood. It has carpeting, a power source, lighting and a hot plate. You can’t stand up in it, though.

Price gets into his underground home by crawling through a door that’s two and a half feet square. (See a 360-degree panoramic tour of his home here). Clearly, he’s not claustrophobic. Price has been in this teeny tiny hole home for 15 years or so. He’s happy.

Watch a YouTube video of Price’s underground “hobbit hole” lifestyle here:

You’d think a man might be living like this because he has to. That’s not true for Price. Twenty years ago he was a photojournalist, husband and father. He gave up the rat race after reading a 1974 book called Payne Hollow that described one man’s Thoreau-like rejection of modern, industrialized life in favor of primitive simplicity and self-sufficiency.

Fired up for this new no-frills subsistence lifestyle, Price moved his family to Oregon, where his marriage broke up. Presumably, the family wanted more than life in a tent or a hole. Go figure. Price, however, is still happy with his decision. He has no mortgage, no credit cards, no commute, no boss, and seems to be enjoying his life.

Price pays $100 a year for the land he lives on, which is a horse pasture near a river where he does his laundry. He walks or bikes around town. He does not use food stamps or receive welfare.

“I like being able to do what I want to do,” said Price to NBC News. “I don’t believe in houses or mortgages. Who in their right mind would spend their lifetime paying for a building they never get to spend time in because they are always working?”

Price isn’t living without certain creature comforts, though, and that’s part of what makes his “intentional poverty” different than life for those who don’t choose to be poor. Price has a mobile phone, an iPad and a MacBook Air computer. His notoriety has gotten Price a lot of freebies that he happily accepted – a jacket from Patagonia, a tent from Sierra Designs, shoes from Simple Shoes.

Here’s the best part. When it gets cold in the winter, Dan Price is not freezing in his hobbit hole. He’s off to Hawaii to surf until the summer rolls around again. He’s living his dream.

Price earns the $5,000 a year he needs to support his stripped-down lifestyle by publishing drawings, observations and his writing in online journals he calls the Moonlight Chronicles. He sells each edition for $5 a pop to 100 or so subscribers. Price also does odd jobs around town.

Why can’t all poor people live so contentedly with almost nothing? For one thing, not everyone wants to do so. Most people living in poverty want a shot at the job, the mortgage, the car and the other things that Price and likeminded people reject.

Being “intentionally poor” is often, but not always, a lifestyle choice – one that can be changed whenever necessary in many cases. Price, for example, could go back to photojournalism and earn a mainstream living again if he wanted to.

People who voluntarily opt in to being poor are “looking for something real that goes beyond commodity,” Karen Halnon, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, told NBC News.

On the other hand, Hanlon says that those who live in poverty because they have no other choice can’t understand why privileged people would ever give up money and comfort, “especially if you grew up yearning for these things.”

The grass is always greener.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Fallon Leclerc
Fallon Leclerc2 years ago

It's my dream to live like this, to have everyone I love live like this with me. This assures me that's achievable.

Jane R.
Jane R.2 years ago

I think this lifestyle would be fun for a couple of months out of the year, but not plausible as a lifetime style of living. There will come a time when you are older and unable to continue on. There will be no one to help you or care for you. What do you do then? You won't have anyplace to return to, since you left all family behind. They would simply tell you "go back to the life you chose".

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

we have an intentionally poor homeless man in my town.. he's incredible and so bright. i'd love to live out of a backpack and walk the coast.. forever. alas, my two little boys need me.

Marianna B Molnar Woods


Brian Steele
Brian Steele2 years ago

It is a lifestyle choice and clearly one that works for him, but there are wider implications.

He chose to do something incompatible with family life, so he voluntarily said goodbye to that. Tough for the wife and child, but at least he got to live his dream.

He doesn't make any demands on the state - no welfare etc. - but what happens when he gets older and can no longer live in his hole in the ground or needs to be care for?

The difficulty with many people who make choices such as this - and I think particularly of the Traveller communities in the UK, of whom I have direct experience - is that they want to opt out of society on a day to day basis, but are still happy to take what society has to offer when they need something out of the ordinary.

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e.2 years ago

we can all live with less.

Citizen Citizen
Citizen Citizen2 years ago

bemp, p. what exactly do you fancy that you are paying for?

Diane M.
Diane M.2 years ago

What a wonderful example Mr. Price gives us how to live simply, make things ourselves, travel by bicycle, pursue our interests, and be self-sufficient. Of course not everyone can get 3 acres of land for $100 a year, on a stream with all the necessary resources to build. I wonder if his underground hole home has any problems with leakage, dampness, or freezing?

Berny p.
Berny p.2 years ago

When do you consider someone poor???
it depends of the country and the USA or europe do not have ..real poor people!

You want to be poor...ok...but dont expect the rest of us to pay for it!

Aud Nordby
Aud nordby2 years ago