Can We All Join Grandmother Heidemarie Schwermer in Living Without Money?


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.


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Photo from, Promo image


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank your for sharing.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K5 years ago

Money is just a means of exchange that has no backing of value, it is produced out of thin air as debt by a select group, who then want it back as our labour and want a premium on top. Ms shwermer has got it right.

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


Serge Grenier
Serge Grenier5 years ago

About OpenCurrency...

Money is information, it is a symbol of something else, its true value is derived from what it represents, not from itself. The problem is one of «general semantics», the people mix the symbol (paper or coin) with what it represents (product or service). I'm afraid making better coins won't solve our problems with money.

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

Why do I see all these cats wherever I go? ;-)

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

I'm not living without money, but I have started to wean myself off the Federal Reserve teat. I have discovered the American Open Currency to keep my money local.

Carole R.
Carole R5 years ago

It probably wouldn't work for me but it is a good idea for those who could do it.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe5 years ago

I don't think I could live without money. I like buying stuff too much. I'm too set in my ways to do all that trading.

Portland N.
P. L. Neola6 years ago

Her lifestyle would be quite an adjustment for me!

Serge Grenier
Serge Grenier6 years ago

The problem with money is not as a means of exchange, but as a means of control. People argue for money because they say they need some to pay their rent. But this is a secondary use of money. The primary use of money is to control the masses, to wage wars, to enable the 1% control over the 99%. Only a tiny fraction of the money is really used to exchange work for products and services between people (mostly transactions of less than a thousand dollars once or twice a day). Most of the money is used by corporations and governments (transactions in billions of dollars carried out by computers many times per second).

I'm not saying that we should all revert to bartering like that grandmother. I'm sying that we should consider alternatives to money that would both work for us normal people and prevent corporations from controlling our lives.