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. Schwermer's odyssey is the subject of a documentary film, Living Without Money, by director Line Halvorsen, which is screening internationally and is also available on DVD.
In 1996, Schwermer, 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, Schwermer 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, Schwermer 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). Schwermer 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."
Schwermer 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, "in five mark coins," Germany's currency before the euro. She waived her advances on the other books and asked the publisher to give her royalties to charity.
Director Halvorsen told Yahoo! Shine, "Heidemarie's unique story made me want to create a film that challenges the viewer into questioning their own relationship to money and possessions." She explains, "The film does not teach you how to live without money, but is a portrait of a woman who has made a very courageous and inspiring choice."
Living without money in the United States
Schwermer's experiment is obviously extreme and Germany does have more of a social safety net than we do in the United States. But there are many ways to live with less money here. You can get everything from a bicycle to kid's clothing without spending a penny by logging on to websites such as Freecycle. Craigslist also has a section devoted to giveaways. Apartment swaps and couch surfing are ways to travel on the cheap. Yahoo's Conscious Consumer blog has many other ideas for getting free stuff easily.
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