I’m stunned that I’ve not seen this story until now. And since it was published in 2012, does that make it 17 years? May we all internalize the message she so eloquently, by her deliberate vulnerability and direct, unmediated exchanges with others, sends to the whole world.
I was telling my neighbor Rebecca about this story, and she tells me of a woman in nearby Bartholemew County who has lived for over 20 years without money. She barters everything. Oops! Not quite. Turns out she has a few acres of land, and does have to pay taxes. Otherwise, she’s like the woman in Germany. What does she trade? She grows stuff, and makes baskets, does other art work, like weaving and knitting.
May 9, 2012
by Sarah B. Weir
Most of us could go a day without spending any cash. But a week? how about sixteen years? That’s how long 69-year-old Heidemarie Schwermer, grandmother of three, has lived without money. Heidemarie’s odyssey is the subject of a documentary film, Living Without Money.
In 1996, Heidemarie, a former schoolteacher and psychotherapist, decided to try to live without money for a year as an experiment. As a child she had experienced deep deprivation as a refugee fleeing from Russian forces during World War II. her family had escaped what was then East Prussia and ended up in Germany “penniless.” She has always felt a sense of compassion and empathy for the homeless community in the city of Dortmund where she settled as an adult.
Two years before she began living completely without money, Heidemarie had opened a swap shop where people could barter services and goods. It was such a success it gave her the confidence to take the leap of quitting her job, giving away all of her possessions except what could fit into a single suitcase and backpack, and moving out of her rental home. According to the Austrian Times, Heidemarie says she “had become irritated by the greedy consumer society” she was witnessing.
She acknowledges that her friends were confused and her two grown daughters were initially shocked (she says they now accept her lifestyle).
Heidemarie lived nomadically, trading gardening, cleaning, and even therapy sessions for food and a place to sleep. She found it liberating: “Living without money gave me quality of life, inner wealth, and freedom.”
Heidemarie has written three books about her experiences. She says the first, “The Star Money Experiment” was quite successful and she passed out all the money she earned to people on the street. She waived her advances on the other books and asked the publisher to give her royalties to charity.
Even those of us who choose not to give up entirely on capitalism could do with a lot less. And less is the point of it all. With less stuff, this courageous woman found more space for joy, for learning, for opening herself up to relationships between people. Although her lifestyle may not be for everyone, her message welcomes deep and deliberate inquiry. Why do we work, if not to live?
For more information about the film Living Without Money, visit the websitehere.