Written by Christine Lepisto
Living without money. It sounds so carefree, as long as you consider that it is a voluntary situation rather than abject poverty. The testimony of Hiedemarie Schwermer, the 69 year old grandmother of three who claims she has lived without a single unit of currency passing through her hands the past 16 years, resoundingly supports the visceral attraction of the concept. Line Halvorsen explores Schwermer’s experience in the documentary Living Without Money.
After successfully starting a swap shop called Gib und Nimm (Give and Take), to help people in the depressed economy trade possessions or skills for things they need, Schwermer decided to try living without money for one year as an experiment. One year grew into a decade, and now the lifestyle is closer to two decades along.
Schwermer trades her skills doing small jobs, and her presumably very enjoyable company, for housing, food, and everything she needs in life. It appears that those skills even include juggling, a standby for people wandering Europe in hopes of a bit of support and a great touring experience. But the irony of Schwermer’s lifestyle is that it relies on the charity of people who have money (and time, room, or food) to spare. If we all jumped off the money bandwagon, who would be left to send us tickets so we could travel without cash to spend some time in their company?
Furthermore, Schwermer implicitly relies on a society with strong social support systems, which would disappear, or at least struggle through a difficult transition to alternative modes of looking out for our neighbors, if all tax collection were stymied by a pure barter system. But maybe that is exactly the point: if we looked after each other, would we need a government to look after us?
Schwermer hit internet big-time on the Yahoo rotater, where Yahoo’s blogger got the mood wrong by ending the article with advice on how to get more stuff for free — sort of missing the dematerialistic point of Schwermer’s experiment (and also missing the offer of Schwermer’s book for free – for anyone who knows or wants to learn German). But Weir’s Yahoo article does raise an interesting point about the repercussions of Schwermer’s example: 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, Schwermer found more space for joy, for learning, for opening herself up to relationships between people. Although Schwermer’s lifestyle may not be for everyone, her message should be the subject of deep and deliberate consideration. Why do we work, if not to live? Our actions answer: so we can buy more stuff. Is that the answer we want to give?
This post was originally published by TreeHugger.
Photo from livingwithoutmoney.org, Promo image